You don't need a lifetime of experience to start a successful and helpful consulting business.
Consulting has quickly become one of the most attractive ways to be your own boss. From providing online training sessions and seminars to one-on-one consultations with other entrepreneurs, there are several avenues available for consultants to make a living.
Unfortunately, many people cut themselves off from this opportunity simply because they don’t feel that they are enough of an “expert” in their preferred consulting niche. In reality, while some level of experience is necessary, you don’t need to have a master's degree or 20 years of industry experience to make it as a consultant. In fact, there’s a good chance you already have everything you need to be a success. If any of these traits describe you, you may want to consider a consulting business.
1. You prefer doing something different each day.
For most 9-to-5 employees, the routine stays relatively the same day after day. Even when individual projects change, you are still dealing with the same basic products or services, the same target audience and so on.
The best consultants crave the possibility of doing something different each day and working with new clients who each have unique challenges. They want to challenge themselves with new experiences.
New experiences don't just keep things interesting, they may help with our overall health. According to Dr. Gad Marshall, associate medical director of clinical trials at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, learning new things and stimulating cognitive activity in the brain may be helpful in preventing Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
Successful consultants are level-headed and able to look at problems with an analytical mindset. They listen to others to better understand problems and potential solutions. Ultimately, they want to be problem solvers who find new solutions each day.
2. You have a genuine thirst for knowledge.
Successful consultants are always learning, and for good reason. As Dustin Wax explains in a blog post for Lifehack, “Learning across a wide range of subjects gives us a range of perspectives to call on in our own narrow day-to-day areas of specialization." He continues, "A broad knowledge of unfamiliar situations feeds innovation by inspiring us to think creatively and providing examples to follow.”
A study discussed by the Harvard Business Review notes that high-achieving consultants take this desire for learning into each new project. While they start with background knowledge in their niche, they must also “rapidly and discreetly gain knowledge of the client’s business” to demonstrate their credibility.
Consultants use several resources to tackle these challenges, such as finding parallels from past experiences, gaining insights from a client’s team and even monitoring people's body language. The knowledge-gaining quest doesn’t just require understanding the industry as a whole -- it also requires learning the ins and outs of each client you will work for.
3. You’ve already found success in your niche.
Past successes are the proof potential clients need that you have the knowledge you claim. Because a good consultant is always learning, you don’t need years and years of results to assist others. You can leverage the lessons from even one or two successes to build credibility and lay the foundations for a consulting career.
Christ Cantell, a product creator and online marketing specialist, realized his potential as a consultant after only a few forays into SEO. In a recent email, he explained, “When I decided to go into SEO, I realized I first needed to prove myself by getting my own site to rank. That initial project subsequently allowed me to gain several new SEO clients, which in turn led me to develop a digital information course."
Continued Cantell, “I actually spent nine months and all my money on developing that product, but because I knew I had a proven track record, I believed in the course’s potential. Within five months of launch, I earned over $1 million from the project.”
Cantell’s track record in SEO helped make the launch of his online course a success. Even a single case study or a few client testimonials could be enough to give potential clients confidence that you will be able to help them solve their problems.
4. Consultants want to help others succeed.
Great consultants are great teachers. You don’t want to simply show up and solve a business’s problems for them. You want to help them master the tools they need to succeed in the future, as well.
A Pearson survey of high school students found that the most effective classroom teachers share a few key traits: they demonstrate compassion and sensitivity to their students, they seek to understand the unique needs and challenges facing individual students and they are committed to helping students succeed and engaging them in the learning process.
A great consultant adopts a similar mindset, demonstrating genuine investment in a client’s challenges while also ensuring that they will develop the right skill set to attain lasting success after the consultant has moved on to another project. A true desire to share your knowledge and skills is a clear indicator that consulting is right for you.
Ultimately, some level of personal experience and background knowledge will be required if you want to establish a credible and effective consulting business. But just as important is developing the right mindset for consulting.
Running a consulting business is quite different from being a regular 9-to-5 employee, and as such, it’s not for everyone. But if you have the desire and the right psychological background, it could be just what you need to take control of your career.
Originally published May 3, 2019 on Entrepreneur.com