It's been suggested to me that I get into consulting and I am interested in the possibility of becoming an independent consultant, but I'm not sure where to start and how I would structure my rates. Most of the people I give professional and business advice to usually happen to be startups, particularly of the social enterprise and nonprofit kind, and individuals who don't have that much money to invest. Is this a valid concern or something that isn't as much of a concern as I'm making it out to be? I'm also not sure how to hone in on my expertise and make it obvious. I would love answers that even address any of those concerns, or if you see something else in my comments that I don't yet. Thanks for your help!
STOP!!! DON'T DO IT. GO GET A REAL JOB!! PLEASE!
You don't plan to be a consultant. You become a consultant because the experience and wisdom you have is so obvious that those around you are eager to pay you for your insight. It's a calling -- not a job.
Giving your "business advice" to a startup is like telling a 2-year-old to go "poo poo in th potty" -- anyone can do it. You just have to be a little bit more sophisticated than a baby.
To service people who have money (and who are serious about how they spend that money) you need to take you game to a whole new level. I suggest you intern or partner with an amazing consultant who does this already. Learn. Do the gritty work that no one else is wiling to do.
Everyone is a coach. Right? Drink a beer on game day and you supposedly know more than than the dude on the sidelines with the clipboard. But is that "really" the case? Of course not...
DON'T BE A COACH. BE A LEADER.
I agree with Laura's recommendations.
I've been involved in ECommerce for over 13+ years and only recently, I decided to start consulting part-time to test the waters. I must say that it's a learning process (but it's fun!). I had the same questions you have currently. The way I started is pretty simple: for my rates, I simply charged close enough to what I'm currently getting paid at my job. From there, I targeted clients whom I feel I can truly help within my industry. But in regards to focusing on a specific expertise, I'm still playing with that. I recommend you start helping all sorts of clients and from there you will be able to know which type of clientele you want to work with and the type of skill you excel at.
I've joined many blogs that talk about consulting, joined many Facebook groups/forums where potential clients are interacting and started helping them. I reached out to many conferences and offered myself as a speaker. I am getting my name out and I can truly say it's actually working (I'm still learning too). It's not easy but all u can tell you is just start and you will adjust when needed. I keep changing my rates & services every month.
Hope this helps. We can certainly talk more about the details within my consulting journey :)
It's a great question, for sure. (My background: was a software consultant then a marketing consultant, total of 5 years of consulting. Now inhouse, never was a fulltime freelance consultant).
If you're not sure what your expertise is, I'd say FT freelance consulting might not be the right gig for you right now. Instead, maybe try working for an agency for a bit to find what you are really good at. Then start putting yourself out there on the Internet to start attracting those clients (through blogging, relevant online forums, etc). I've never been fulltime freelance as I said, but I still get multiple freelance inquiries a week even though I've not done freelance work in over a year.
The business stuff - ie how much to charge, how to structure projects, etc - can be learned. But you need to learn how to drive demand and show your expertise first. Honestly I'd recommend doing a lot of reading on inbound marketing, conversion rate optimization (which gets into psychology), and how to generate traffic online.
Hope all this helps. Happy to hop on a quick call to hash through ideas if you'd like!
It's rarely spoken but always true - that which comes easiest to you is your power place, and the place from which you can best assist others. Taking the time to get deep clarity on your power place and the core values which would form the foundation of your consultant work is the first step. It's also the step most skip as they dive right into the framework, the target market, the ROI and pricing questions.
In my experience mentoring coaches and consultants, that cart before the horse process is common and sets you up for future struggles. All your questions can and will be answered if you first go through the business development process starting with your foundational exploration.
(And yes, keep your job while you explore, create your foundation and framework and then ramp up to a full-time income. You don't have to shadow another in your field, though it could be enlightening).
Understanding your value is the cornerstone of your future consulting practice. The who and why are people going to hire you has to be obvious. Once you've figured out your value then you need to assign a price that is consistent with that value. Here is my example: http://catapultgrp.ca/engagements/