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This chapter is from the book

Experience and Contacts

The more experience you have in your chosen field and the more contacts you have, the more likely you are to start your consulting practice and quickly generate revenue. In addition, extensive experience and contacts help you do the job well.

Experience and Getting the Job

Think about a time when you worked for someone else. Can you recall when you were asked to do something new, something you didn't know too much about? If you're like most people, you learned on-the-job and hopefully completed the task successfully. When you work for someone else, you have some leeway to learn as you go and still get paid.

When someone hires a consultant, he or she wants a consultant who will walk in the door with the experience and skills required to do the job. That's why experience is so important. The client will want to know whether you've done "this" before. Where have you done it? In the client's sector? With what level of success?

The client will avoid hiring someone who needs to learn on the job or whom the client sees as inexperienced. That's one reason why a consultant who has worked in his or her chosen field for an extensive period of time is likely to be more successful, as compared with, say, a recent university graduate having limited experience.

If there's something to be learned here, it's that you should choose areas of practice in which you actually have significant experience. By that, I mean real experience, not just "book learning."

Experience and Doing the Job

The more experience you have in your field, the more likely you are to complete your consulting assignment so that the customer is delighted with the results. Experience helps you in diagnosing and in suggesting solutions that have track records. Experience also enhances your credibility in the eyes of the people you must have as partners in the project.

If a single piece of advice fits here, it's that you must be very careful not to accept assignments way beyond your experience levels. However, do accept assignments that stretch you and give you new experience to use in future projects. In other words, take moderate risks, always trying to ensure you will succeed and please your client.

Consulting Confidential

The greater your experience, the greater your ability to identify patterns and situations you have seen before. For example, experience in working with groups helps you identify the early warning signs that sometimes appear in group dynamics—signs that indicate problems under the surface.

Contacts Keep You Alive

Contacts are your lifeline in the consulting business. Let's say you are a fitness fanatic. You even have a degree in physical education, and you've been working as a phys. ed. teacher. You're tired of the school system and want to do what you love—help adults become healthier and physically fit. So you quit your teaching job and become a "fitness consultant," offering to develop and supervise personal fitness plans for individual clients.

You're going to be in big trouble. You may be fit and skilled and have all the knowledge you need, but if you don't have the contacts in the field (both practitioners and potential customers), how do you let people know you can help them?

Well, you market. You place ads. And you struggle.

Now suppose you plan ahead and develop important contacts before you leap into the business. You might instruct at a fitness gym as a contract employee, join local fitness professional associations, and so on. The situation has now changed immensely. Because you've taken the time to develop some contacts, you at least have some easily accessible sources for potential clients when you do hang out your shingle.

It doesn't matter which field you work in. Your initial contacts in the field are going to allow you to generate income much more quickly than if you had no contacts. They will tide you over until your other marketing techniques kick in and start generating business.

Consulting Confidential

In the first few years of my consulting practice, almost all my income came as a result of the contacts I had. People who knew me from previous jobs knew I was good at what I did. It took several years for the effects of more aggressive marketing techniques to bear fruit. If I hadn't had those contacts when I started, I'd have given up or gone broke.

Contacts aren't important only at start-up. They are also important when you've been in business for a while. They help generate income during tough times when business is slack. Keep in mind that many consulting assignments come as a result of word of mouth rather than aggressive sales and marketing. Your contacts are your livelihood. Cultivate them before you start your business, and continue to expand your contacts whenever possible.

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