One Year In...Some Tips on Consulting
1. The art of the hustle (and patience)
Unless you are lucky enough to have started with a client or two upon hanging your shingle, you will need to hustle. I've read somewhere that half a consultant's time is spent in business development, which may be true.
However, hustling becomes your full-time job when you first open your shop.
Day 0 is when you announce your new venture to your network, and Day 1 is when you start upping your networking game and hustle your ass off.
I spent my first few months cultivating my network by leaning hard on the groups I was a member of and joining four new ones. I made contacts, shared information, and hustled, hustled, hustled.
Over the past year, I've learned which groups are valuable and which I will be transitioning out of.
And throughout, patience became my essential virtue and mantra. Nothing happens overnight, and prospective clients can take weeks or months to sign up.
I have pitches from months ago that I track to follow up regularly. This is key, and twice I've been able to move them from prospective to official clients just because I was able to follow up and get the ball rolling
2. Billing & pricing
Billing and pricing are two of the most challenging aspects of consulting. You need to communicate the value of your services to your clients clearly, and you need to be able to price your services competitively.
This isn't the place to discuss value-based pricing versus hourly. You can Google that yourself. But no matter where you land on that issue, coming up with your prices is difficult.
I erred on the side of low-balling my prices initially, and you probably will.
However, this can be ok when starting, as you are also gaining valuable lessons on how to be a good consultant. Or at least, this is how I justified my initial lower prices.
3. Reviewing deliverables (and learning to love share screen)
This is something that I've learned the hard way.
I develop a lot of deliverables once positioning and messaging are complete. Unfortunately, I got caught up in a three-week snag where I kept sending assets to my client but wasn't receiving any feedback. I didn't think anything of this because obviously my work is magic.
This all came to a head during a meeting where my client disclosed that they were unhappy with the messaging and hence, unhappy with the assets.
Once the client had allayed their concerns, I could correct copy and make changes to all the assets quickly, but it added a lot of work for me as I essentially had to do everything twice.
Since then, I have ensured that every deliverable is reviewed with the client via share screen. That way, we can work through any issues directly. Of course, I still kick myself assuming the client was happy with the products I was delivering as I wasn't receiving feedback, but that was my bad for assuming.
So, when providing the client a critical deliverable (such as messaging), stay on them until you get feedback. Or better yet, don't email them but set up a video call to go through everything step by step, address concerns, and explain your reasoning.
That original client was so happy with the finished work that my original contract was extended to work on additional items.
4. Paying it forward
During my initial few months, I was hustling and networking but still was looking to fill my time. So, I started some pro bono work with local nonprofits and made sure that I always had time for peers and friends who needed some advice.
Of course, in a perfect world, we are always generous with our time, but my goal was to fine-tune specific skills while also eating up some of the hours of the day.
I never volunteered my time thinking that it would necessarily translate into paid work, but I was pleasantly surprised when it did happen. One afternoon of beers counseling a friend at a new startup in an industry I wasn't familiar with paid dividends when a potential client in that same industry came calling a week later.
I was able to have that friend offer me insight into that industry which set me up well and turned that potential client into an official one.
5. Relearning time management (even if you are a Type-A nut job like me)
Consulting is a feast or famine-type job.
You might have several clients and work nonstop or wait around for clients to get back to you with approvals or necessary information. For example, one client of mine was on the road during the workweek, and the only time we could meet was on Saturday mornings which turned Saturday afternoons into a workday.
You need to be flexible and juggle your workload, your paperwork, and your business development.
So, what do you do when you have those days with nothing to do?
Always be upskilling yourself. I'm sure you have certain accounts or blogs that you follow. I've supplemented that with the excellent resources on LinkedIn Learning and certain professional corners of Reddit.
Technology is constantly changing, new ways of work are continually being introduced, and there is always a new shiny object in your field. Make sure you are devoting time to keeping your skills sharp.
And on that topic – make sure you carve out time for yourself. Reading, exercising, and having a lunch or happy hour with friends every week are essential for my physical and mental well-being.
I even schedule a weekly Culture Day where I have a nice solo lunch and visit a museum or a park or something to get me out of the house and remind myself why I chose to become a "solopreneur."