I recently received a reader question about consulting:
About 10 years ago, while living in the Midwest, I started my own HR consulting business. I left it (kinda, it’s never been out of my mind) to take a “real” consultant job and move to Arizona. I was laid off in last year and want to establish my business again. I want to offer “virtual” HR services and be the HR department of small and medium sized businesses. I’d appreciate any advice/support you can give! Thanks!
I’ve written before about my life as a consultant. You can check those posts out here, here, here and here. Since I’ve already written about my consulting life, I wanted to give you a fresh voice in answering this question. So, I called professional colleague and blogging buddy, Alicia Arenas, to share her thoughts.
Alicia brings over 15 years of experience as an HR leader in Corporate America to her client companies. Her last corporate position was director of training and development. And, she’s SPHR certified. Her business, Sanera, is dedicated to helping small business owners become successful in their business. Take it away, Alicia!
Becoming a Consultant
Well, this is it. You’ve decided you want to become a consultant. Congratulations! Welcome to the exciting world of entrepreneurialism. Now what?
You, like most small business owners, may have the naturally intuitive idea that the more you know how to do + telling the world about everything you do = business success. It seems logical to think that, if you offer a plethora of services to all kinds of clients, you are guaranteed to get business. Been there. Done that. And it doesn’t work. That strategy will deplete your time, energy and your savings.
It’s like deciding you want to drop food coloring into a lake to turn it red. It’s going to take a lot of food coloring before that lake even shows a tinge of pink. Unless you can buy the red food coloring in bulk, (which is incredibly expensive) the process of turning the lake red will take a loooong time. In fact, the conditions of the lake may be such that your red food coloring will be absorbed and processed by the plant and animal life in the lake. In that case, your efforts were worthless.
But what if you aim to turn a glass of water red? How quickly could you accomplish that? How much less food coloring would it take?
That is what niche marketing does for you.
If I could share only one piece of advice with you it would be this: identify a niche and market the heck out of yourself to that niche.
These are some of the Guiding Principles I use when helping clients identify their niche market:
- Something You Love Running your own business is challenging. There are going to be lots of good times and times spent in the valley too. If you are doing something you’re not passionate about, the times in the valley will feel endless. In these times, it’s often your excitement about what you do that will sustain you.
- People You Like See above. This is huge folks. If you think being in the valley is hard, imagine working on a long-term project with a client whose personality rubs you raw and whose values do not match yours. Do what you love to do with people you like. It fills you with energy, gives you passion and enthusiasm which is contagious and makes you fun to be around. (PS – That usually equals more clients and money.)
- People You Can Reach Evaluate your network. Ideally, your target market will be in your first level contacts. If it’s not, look at your second level contacts. Is your target market there? Can your first level contacts introduce you to them? Are there networking groups or Chambers of Commerce than can help you meet your target market? You may like professional sports players, but if you can’t reach them, seriously consider the amount of time, effort and money it would take to break into that niche. Analyze your network.
Thanks Alicia! As you can see, Alicia really understands the challenges of being an entrepreneur and uses her experience to helps others be successful. If you aren’t familiar with her business, I hope you’ll check it out. She focuses her practice in three specific areas. (1) Passion. So often business owners go into what they think they “should” do rather than what they want to do or what they are passionate about doing. Big mistake. (2) Profitability. Alicia told me about a current client she has who is bringing in $40k+ a month in revenue and is netting $2k a month. Something is wrong there. And, (3) Personal life. We don’t go into business for ourselves because we long to work 80 hours a week. We do it because we want our business to help us achieve something in our personal lives – more family time, better quality of life, etc. But small business owners (particularly solopreneurs) really struggle with finding time for personally fulfilling activities.
Many thanks to Alicia for sharing her expertise with us. As I read Alicia’s post, it reminded me that the year I started my business – as well as the year I purchased another business – I used coaches, like Alicia, to help with that transition. If I had only known her back then…
I’m sure there are several people out there who are considering consulting right now as a career option. There’s every reason to believe that consulting and freelancing will be considered the new normal as our economy recovers. Creating a good foundation for your business – even freelancing business – will make you successful.
Image courtesy of erix!