What Is A Consultant?
There is a large number of people who fit under the consultant title. They simply prefer other labels, such as operations manager or a strategic advisor. They charge fees that vary in rate and frequency, while advising on matters that can take hours to years. The name “consultant” gets a bad rap in society. Poster child businesses such as Mckinsey & Boston Consulting Group have a notorious reputation for their involvement in almost every existing industry and their knack for expediency. I strongly suggest you read The Firm by Duff McDonald , an excellent book that delves into the world of Mckinsey Consulting.
To call yourself a consultant, you must do the following things.
Provide Advice & Recommendation
Consultants are sought out for something they specialize in, in which that their specialty will be utilized to solve a client problem in exchange for a fee. Consultants can simply provide advice, or recommend a strategy, or even actively implement the strategy themselves.
*One of the pharmacy chains I worked for many years ago were going through major restructuring. They consulted a lawyer who specialized in the pharmaceutical industry. I remember sitting at the table with one of the executives negotiating with the lawyer. At the end of the meeting, the executive was given a single piece of paper. On that paper, there were certain guidelines which allowed a pharmacy to remote dispense; ability to set up multiple pharmacies across multiple locations by only using one licence. The lawyer charged $45,000 for that piece of paper. That day, he was not a lawyer. He was a consultant*
Advise Comes From Specific Knowledge
The advice provided by a consultant, derives from their specific knowledge, accumulated through years of education, training and application. The advice is difficult to replicate, and when implemented, it provides a positive change to the client.
Advice Is Implemented & Delivered
The key job of a consultant is to be able to communicate the advice through to the client. This sounds obvious, but most consultants do not pay attention to this point. Reading advice or a recommendation is one thing. Being able to implement it, is entirely another. Implementation usually requires the consultant to get his hands dirty in some form or another. The conventional way of doing this, is for the consultant is to visit the business, connect with key people that will extract the consultant’s advice, and implement it under their guidance. Times have changed. Now consultants can engage in zoom calls to deliver their advice. Being physically present is no longer a prerequisite.
The Relationship With Clients Are Temporary
Consultants work with clients on temporary basis. The length of the consultation ranges from hours to months. It’s uncommon for consultants to work with clients indefinitely. The title “consultant” is distinctive from other titles such as advisors and managers because the name represents outside counsel; a representative that has no association with company it consults with. They are engaged to solve a specific problem, then add the client to their network, and be on their way.
Value Is Added Through Positive Change
Value comes in variety of forms. For a consultant, it could mean better management practices, setting up systems for efficiency, reducing variable/fixed expenses of a business, organisational adjustments, marketing and product differentiation. The value will derive from the consultants specific skill set.
A consultant is a specialized independent advisor who adds value by helping clients solve complex problems within their field of expertise.
What do I do?
I’m a management consultant who works in the health industry. I specialize in improving cash flow via revenue and costs, product differentiation, vertical integrations, staff restructuring and implementing efficiency systems. I also provide more unconventional value such as hiring/firing staff, career strategies, conflict resolution and improving employee performance. So my consulting is not strictly limited to management, as I find myself doing the opposite half the time; un-managing to increase creativity for the growth of the business.
About 15 clients online, sought me out for a consultation from their own accord (without me needing to advertise) since I have established my UM brand. I advised them on career strategy, office politics, getting a promotion, and on how to manage people. I have had one client who I successfully consulted with over a zoom call, in developing a business strategy to improve revenue.
The reason why I accepted these clients was not because of the money. Most were not charged. I did it to observe whether my area of consulting is scalable online without losing the results it normally delivers offline. I simply have no time to pursue this avenue even though it presented itself to me merely as a result of me writing and building the UM brand. Currently I am consulting a large business and to compensate for the demand for my consultations from my followers, I set up the lobby on my telegram channel where I can consult with members in an efficient and affordable way.
Is online consulting possible? It definitely is. So from here on wards, I am going to show you step-by-step how to successfully consult online to make money. What you are about to read is not a get rich quick scheme. This requires preparation and hard work.
1. You Will Need Specific Knowledge
This step cannot be skipped. If you want to become a professional consultant you will HAVE to specialize. Many people in this day and age resent education and the schooling system, and for good reason. The content taught are becoming fast outdated, the education is becoming egalitarian, and students are being charged ridiculous fees. But all of that suffers in comparison to that piece of paper you attain that they call a degree. Truth is, credentials from education STILL matter. People regard it as evidence that you know what you’re doing, which is absolutely NOT the case. But that’s how things are.
Find a way to specialize within a field. Look at options online where you can apply for several courses that provide a credible degree. I understand not many countries provide fee-help with regards to colleges and therefore looking at online options such as Coursera can be an affordable way to obtain a certificate.
Once you do all the theory, you need to then apply it. Connect offline with people who you could offer your services to. Do it for free and request a letter of recommendation in exchange. Testimonials along with your credentials will go a long way in establishing your presence online as a consultant. Do not assume your credentials will win you clients. Clients are mostly interested in your track record. A portfolio of testimonials will get you more clients than a qualification will. But the combination will make you stand out and kill competitors. I have an MBA from an institute that is regarded as the “Harvard University” of the country I live in, and ranked 8th in the world. My barrier to entry into any business is very low on the competitive landscape.
What Field Should You Pick?
This really comes down to passion. If you are really passionate over a topic, it will become specific knowledge. Having said that, I know plenty of individuals who have no passion in what they do but excel in it. I really believe it is a combination of temperament, emotional detachment, and self-discipline that allows a person to excel at what they do without loving it.
For arguments sake, I will in general, advise this; pick a field that is relatively easy to be able to provide specific knowledge online. Here’s a list from easiest to hardest:
- IT & Tech Support
- Web development
- Marketing & Social Media Management
- Personal Finance Management
- Career Strategist
- Options & Derivatives Stock trading
- Tax & Accounting Advisory
- Management Of People & Organisations
- Strategic Management of Businesses
There’s a stark difference between managing people & organisations, compared to managing a business. It is much easier to provide consultancy with regards to employees and HR. To be able to affect the bottom line of a business, I believe physical presence to be crucial, which is why I have listed it at the bottom. But technology is changing fast, and with the available tools, the ability to manage businesses remotely is changing positively. You also have to consider the rules, jurisdictions and policies of different countries if you pick a topic such as Tax & Accounting.
There’s a whole lot I have also intentionally left out. For example, a successful consulting business can be built around providing relationship advice or how to score on your next date. But I do not believe these avenues to provide value for clients despite the available market that can be capitalized on. The list I have provided is what I believe provides maximum amount of value with respect to the current and future conditions. If you see a market that I have not listed, comment underneath & I will approve.
I have also left out topics that can be easily be obtained online
For example I have had requests to consult with regards to leadership and improving character. I’ve simply referred them to books and literature. Remember we are not conning people here. Consulting is not about accumulating what is already available on the internet, just to repackage and sell. It is about providing specific knowledge that is difficult to find without having to spend ample amount of time and research. Ultimately, you need to pick a domain where you will end up having a comparative advantage over others, enough to convert that advantage to a service in exchange for money.
Also consider what you currently do as your line of work. Can it be offered online? Is it possible to study a course for it and add some credibility to it? You can always discuss this matter in the lobby and get some pointers. It may be unnecessary to deviate from a field entirely if you can strategize on how you can take your existing expertise online.
Competition determines market
Also make a note that before deciding what you pursue, competitive domains will mean less clients for you. And conversely, domains that have less competition will provide you with more clients. This usually means specializing more and more in what you do.
2. Set up Your Presence Online
I am not going to spend too much time discussing this point. Mostly because I am no expert in establishing a presence online. I built the UM brand with a lot of help and advice from my web developer (who is a young twenty-something year old living somewhere across the globe). And I was fortunate enough for my content to gain the likes of large influencers who helped my exposure. Nevertheless, here are the fundamentals;
- Have a social media account to gain followers.
- Connect with influencers & provide value.
- Have a website to set up your offering.
- Be able to provide specific, experiential content.
- Funnel followers to view your website.
Content is literally king. Your writing will draw random people and increase your exposure. Stay away from platitudes. Influencers who post platitudes have no specific knowledge. You are trying to establish yourself as a consultant. You have to provide dense content.
There’s two parts to writing content
When you write content, it should derive from your experience and domain of expertise. The type of content written will either be generic or specialized. But it is never platitudinous. When I tweet, I often do it from a generic, experiential perspective. My generic tweets often appeal to a good amount of followers who can relate. In the lobby, I often write specialized content for the members. This is because they ask me questions and the dialogue develops in complexity, demanding me to articulate my experience and specific knowledge in a manner that extends outside simple generic advice. This article you are reading is specialized advice. It contains my career experience intertwined with strategies that can integrate itself on the internet to increase client exposure.
Be Careful of Your Reputation
If my intention with UM was to make a living through online income, I would not tweet the way I do. I would not purge by dissing religion or go off on a karen-tangent over masks, conservatives and God. I would be agreeable and try to gain most amount of popularity and exposure as possible. But that’s not why I created UM. I created UM to help people think for themselves & navigate through life. If you want to become an online consultant to generate online income, you will have a reputation to maintain.
It is also worth noting that it is better to not have an anonymous presence online. The idea behind this is that when you are offering a genuine service, you need to show prospective clients your identity; who you are and what you do. You also want to be able integrate your online presence with your real life; providing people your business card who can then go on your twitter and follow you.
Being anonymous will hinder your growth as a consultant doing remote work online. When I started off as UM on twitter I had no intention of developing a site, writing content and creating the lobby for mentoring. But my content attracted followers who demanded that I explore this avenue. If I was doing this to build an online income to live off by, I would not be anonymous.
3. Be a Online Consultant
Now the fun begins. How do you actually become a good consultant? Here’s the blueprint.
As an online consultant, your job is to work remotely, from home or your office and recommend strategies for your client’s problem. Depending whether your client is an individual or a business, you will have to use tools to coordinate with employees, help evaluate the business performance, look for ways to improve the bottom line, or serve as a consultant on any topic within your expertise which they need help with.
You don’t have customers. You have clients. When someone requests your service, they become your client. If you decide to accept the request, you are obligated to engage with your client. The engagement typically is a phase where you do a S.W.O.T analysis on your clients specific problem (not the client themselves!). You make an assessment on your clients strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You then write up a proposal that aims to address the W.O.T. All this is done without charging the client. If the client is satisfied with the proposal; and they are confident that you will improve their W.O.T, you will then discuss the fees in exchange for your service.
Remember that you are not a leader, mentor or a coach; unless you specifically provide such services as a consultant. You’re a problem solver. You have no interest in their personal lives, or the internal politics of a business. You are hired for a specific reason and your entire focus should be to deliver on that reason. The game is summarized as; propose, deliver and close.
Charging your clients depends your field of expertise, the bargaining power of buyers in the market and how often you have to consult them. If the bargaining power of buyers are high, that means you probably provide service within a market that is saturated and the prices will be competitive. If you have specialized in a niche, you will likely get away with charging higher prices. Consulting your client for couple of hours, five days a week will equate to $1,200 a week if you charge $120 an hour. I personally would charge (as I have done offline) a set price for a project. I would do a S.W.O.T on their request, develop a proposal and charge a set fee with 60-75% upfront and the rest upon completion.
Remember to research your market. The market sets the price, not you. Your ability to charge more than the market rests upon your credibility and reputation of being the best. Testimonials and word of mouth is key to leveraging higher prices. The fee you charge almost entirely depends whether you are equipped with highly specialized, or generic knowledge.
Understand What You Are Getting Into
The best way to approach the avenue of becoming an online consultant is to treat it like a start-up and build it slowly while you maintain your other job. You need to understand that this is a self-employed business and that your ability to make money will depend on time allocation on your end. I highly suggest you maintain your other job while you build your consultancy online. Cash flow is something important to consider here. Consultants often get paid a lump sum and use that money to tie themselves over.
If your 9-5 generates $800 a week, don’t disturb this routine. Work on your consulting when you come home. Try to make $200-$400 here and there with clients while maintaining your weekly income. Do not disrupt your 9-5 until what you make in consulting out pays your weekly income. This will take time. This is what I did offline, when I was working as a manager, I also consulted independently to other businesses. I enjoyed doing both.
You will not be able to consult unless
- You establish a client
- The client has a problem within your field of expertise
- You can identify the solution to the problem of your client
- The client knows about you & perceives you are capable
- The client has set aside an amount to spend on you
Your Job is to Make your Clients Life Easier
As a consultant, you deliver change. That change derives from your S.W.O.T analysis. Your analysis is effectively a strategy that will help determine what you need to achieve for the client. Once determined, you implement the strategy through an action plan. Once successfully delivered, you engage in operational consultancy to ensure the new implementation is performing as expected. Your job as a consultant is complete when your service has achieved the standard your client expects.
Maximize On Your Service By Extending Scope
Your consultation should be aiming to deliver on a narrow area of your clients business. This could mean that there are other departments within your clients business that may need attention, given that the scope of work remains within your expertise. This is one of the simplest ways to maximize the delivery of your service, by providing a holistic solution to the several problems your client has. It is very important to utilize your connections here as part of your scope of practice. If you’re applying efficiency ratios for your clients inventory, offer that you have a great web designer who can increase the foot traffic to their site and improve inventory cash flow. Tell them that you would do it for a discount as part of the ongoing service you are providing.
Often in consulting, when you are trying to fix one problem, you will find that there is a web of other problems that it relates to. As long as these inter-related problems remain within your domain of expertise, you should be capitalizing on them.
4. Finding Clients
Remember this; A client must need help from a consultant to fix a problem. And a consultant must provide solutions for a clients problem. When the solution aligns with the problem, there is an opportunity to sell. The challenge is finding people with problems that are suited to your problem solving skills.
Consulting Is Networking
Consulting is a networking business. The more you connect with others, the more you play infinite games and build lasting relationships, the more likely their word of mouth will bring you business. Your network becomes your sales leads. Wherever you choose to build your social media presence, it will be the playground for your networking. “Cold Calls” in online consulting is the equivalent of dropping a message on business sites to provide a short intro on what you do; “Hi my name is UM, and I am consultant with 8 years experience in managing operations in X businesses. If you need someone to review your cash flow statement and see where you can improve, lets do a zoom call. View my work here”.
I’m not a fan of cold calls and sales. I seek power in negotiations when I want to do work for a client. Obviously your need for money will determine your bargaining power. I don’t usually see clients outside my current line of work unless the money is overly attractive. But despite your need for money, remember that it is always better for potential clients to hear about you from others, than you actively seeking them out.
Every post and tweet you put out there, is a vehicle that delivers a mini marketing campaign to people with needs. It is how you inform people of your capabilities. Your blog or website is you writing testimonials about yourself. Everyone in your network must be informed and aware of the services you provide.
Your Network Extends Your Scope
This was briefly touched on above but worth mentioning again. Having a list of diverse experts as contacts will always allow you to extend your offering to your clients. You will transition from a consultant in one area, into a consultant on everything.
Initial Proposal Offering (IPO)
This method is time consuming but quiet effective when done right. Basically you message a potential client to provide you a problem that needs solving. And in exchange you send them a free IPO. Time consumption on this is high. You have to sit down and strategize on how you will solve the problem, find a solution and develop a proposal for it. I have done this successfully before. I developed my own template that helps me narrow down on problems swiftly in order to develop a free proposal. But there is no guarantee you will win them as a client with this method. Which usually doesn’t pose as a problem as consulting is a numbers game. But the investment on this method is high.
By far the most effective method to getting clients in real life and online, is marketing.
Learn to market like a consultant. Not like a salesman. This means your marketing should be effortless. You’re not marketing for people, you are marketing for yourself. You write and tweet because you want your value to radiate out of you. If it captures people’s attention and turns them into clients, then that is a great side effect. If not, you do not care because you are simply building an extension of you online.
The Cost Of Opportunity
Lets pretend you found a potential client who contacted you inquiring about your services. You need to be swift on laying out what you offer and then deciding how far you will go to win this client. You have to consider the direct and indirect costs of chasing a client. The direct cost is your time & resources used to win the client. The indirect cost is the opportunity lost in chasing other potential clients. The fastest way to win a client is to evoke emotions in them. And I don’t mean this in a con-artist sense.
What you want to do is narrow down on your clients problem and develop an argument on how their problem is creating all these other adverse effects in their business or their life. What you’re doing here is creating some clarity around the problem which will inevitably enhance your clients negative emotions. Then you can offer what you can do to solve it, which would evoke positive emotions. This is a psychological persuasion tactic that brings two forces together; running away from something they don’t like (their problem), towards something they do like (your solution).
The key to really landing a client is to research and understand your clients problem.
This is something most consultant fail in. Because it is the most difficult and time consuming phase that you can not charge for. But it is mandatory if you want to build your clientele. I strongly suggest that you develop templates and models tailored to your expertise which will help you deconstruct problems and accelerate the this phase by preparing a solution. Clients never hire a consultant for generic, generalized problem. It will always be specific and relatively difficult. This gives you no choice, but to invest hours into first understanding the problem.
As soon as you find a client, here are the steps you must follow;
- Have an in depth understanding of your clients problem
- Find a solution to the problem and develop a proposition
- Deliver a compelling argument on why the proposal should be accepted
- Upon acceptance, is when you get to work and start making money
Don’t Fall for the Employee Role Just to Win a Client
When you are having early talks with a potential client, you might disagree with some of their points made with regards to their problem. Some clients speak as though you are their employee; “here is my problem, I want this and that done”. Remember that you are not an employee. You have been engaged to advise and consult. It’s important you maintain this frame. It is very easy to be exploited when you inadvertently accept the employee role. I have seen clients tell the consultant on what to do (and how to do it), then create a dispute that they didn’t solve their problems adequately. So it is important that you subtly correct your client in this case; that you have your own assessment and analytical tools that will help you develop your own set of strategies in solving your clients problem.
Once You Hook a Client, Proposal is Everything
If a client provides you with an opportunity to present a solution, you will need to provide an immaculate proposal; concise, beautiful, clear, and succinctly addressing the problem. This is called framing to win the client. Your proposal is not just a preliminary report on your service. It should be a piece that also markets you to your client. It can be text based or a presentation, but either way, it must address clients needs in a realistic way. The proposals I have done are usually 4 to 5 pages.
One proposal I developed was 12 pages long. It was a business plan that laid out strategies for a manager to execute in order to grow a medical clinic in a location that contained 8 other medical clinics within an 5 mile radius. I call it a proposal because I never did any work for the clinic, but I still got paid $750 for 2.5 hours of work writing the business plan. It ended up being successfully utilized by the clinic manager which she ended up improving patient volume by 15%.
How did I write 12 pages in two and half hours? I had internal systems, models and procedures in place that helped me fast track my solution to the problem. Because I’ve managed health practices before and I have extensive experience in growing such businesses. This is extremely important to understand. Your specific knowledge, combined with your experience will help you develop personal models and systems that will accelerate your problem solving skills. You will drastically increase your return on time.
When a client accepts your proposal, you as a consultant begin commencement. Your commencement follows with a engagement plan, or a project purpose, which is a document that outlines exactly what you’re going to do. Typically this document will be shared with your client, or a representative of your client. Consulting online often requires an employee of a company to remotely engage with you and execute your desired actions. I generally use two excel documents for this; download PROJECT TEMPLATE and PROJECT MONITORING.
The project template is a sheet that lets you write down all your objectives and the associated costs, attached to a nice quarterly calendar that keeps track of objective progress. The project monitoring spreadsheet is something I have developed to make communication between me and my client more efficient. You may need to message me in the lobby on these sheets (especially the project monitoring) on how to best utilize them.
The nature and length of your consulting will depend on the complexity of your clients problem.
Usually you will consult from anywhere between one week to one year. Remember that your engagement plan will have to remain comprehensive but also very flexible. This is why I use these spreadsheets as the objectives are easy to adjust. Always have the end in mind. You have to envision what you want the end result to look like. The engagement plan is simply the road between you and the end result you are trying to achieve. Examples of end results;
- 10% in user/customer volume
- 5% reduction in fixed expenses
- 12% increase in sales
- 20% increase in cash flow
Simply marketing to increase customers is not enough. You need to measure whether your strategy worked effectively by narrowing down on the percentage. Cutting costs is not enough. Evaluate the difference in cash flow before the end of every month and record the percentage.
Do not be a lazy consultant
It is very easy to talk about organizational change and cultural adjustment of a workplace. Fastest way to identify a problem is to blame it on the current roster and its culture. Don’t do this. This type of consulting is a low-resolution, surface approach that will make you look bad. Problems are often deeper than just incompetent employees and poor culture. There’s is usually logistics to it that requires management to rectify it. Dig deep and explore the root of the problem.
Assess Whether the Problem is a “What” or a “How”
This is a method I use all the time in my consulting. If the problem I have analyzed appears to be a process issue, then it is a “what” problem. That means I switch gears and become a advisor to guide the client towards fixing their own problem. If the problem is structural, then I need to get my hands dirty and use my expertise to find a solution. A “what” problem is a matter of delegation with guidance. A “why” problem is a matter of expertise. If your clients website is not responding, that is a “why” problem. If it lacks foot traffic, that is more of a “what” problem that can be fixed with a few tips and tricks. When doing online consulting, you will find that being a process consultant over a expert consultant much easier.
Being a process consultant will usually require one on one with a client and helping them with strategies to solve their problems. A career strategist is another example.
Being a expert consultant will require someone (whether it’s your client or a representative) to relay back and forth with you until you reach desired results.
6. Do not restrict yourself
To finish up, the most important behavior to maintain while you establish yourself as a consultant, is to not limit yourself to being nothing but a consultant. You will never know where opportunities could strike. You might end up meeting a self-employed business owner online as result of a contact in your network who experienced your sublime service. A start-up genius might request you to work with him in exchange for some private placement of shares. Understand that establishing yourself as an online consultant with a carefully built, reputable brand, is not limited to just making an online income. It opens a portal of infinite potential connections.