Are you someone who loves your profession but feels stagnant in your current position? If your answer was “yes” to any of these questions, you may want to consider starting a consulting business. Consultant careers have become increasingly lucrative in recent years as more and more businesses and even individuals have turned to outside specialists for advice on everything from employee communications to landscaping.
Consultants are people who offer their services as experts in a particular sector of business. This valuable advice could be in career counseling, marketing, information technology, or human resources. These advisers might consult writers, entertainers, or even individuals seeking home improvement or tax advice.
Small businesses and large corporations alike hire consultants for a number of reasons. A consultant who has gained experience in a particular area can provide a company with an objective, expert opinion. Consultants may be able to identify problems and help a company make the changes necessary to help the business run more smoothly. Businesses that are just getting off the ground may need the organization and initial know-how that a consultant can provide. Hiring a consultant might even save money for a company because they can pay for the services on an as needed basis.
Consultants enjoy great flexibility in their careers. Not only is there a great deal of variety in the type of consulting, but in most cases all you need to be a consultant is knowledge. This might consist of a degree or certificate in a certain subject or be in the form of several years of experience working in a particular field. How you obtained the expertise is less important than whether you can market your skills and are able to establish that you have the very expertise that the company or individual most needs.
Being a consultant also allows more flexibility in terms of working hours and the nature of assignments. While consultants should do quality work in order to build a client base, they usually work for themselves and often work from a home office.
How does one get started in the consulting business? You will probably need to advertise your services. This might involve cold calling businesses that might have in interest in your area of expertise. You might arrange to speak at local business meetings. Some companies also place ads seeking consultation. Whatever your expertise, there are companies out there that need it. With a little organization and persistence you are on your way to that consultant career.
It’s not unusual to interchange the terms consulting and freelance when describing the services you perform as a contract worker. First, let us consider the formal definition of what it means to be a consultant as opposed to the definition of a freelancer. Then I will explain why the differences matter.
Consultant: a person who is paid to provide professional or expert advice in a particular field or specialty.
Freelancer: a person who works independently, selling work or services by the hour, day, or job, with no intent to pursue a permanent or long-term arrangement with a single employer.
Synonyms for consultant may include like-descriptors such as, advisor, guru and specialist. Synonyms for freelancer tend to be tied to a specific career field or job title, and most commonly that of writer, journalist and graphic designer.
Why does it matter? It’s all about client perspective.
When hiring a freelancer, customers tend to think of using your services for a short-term project with a very specific outcome. For example, writing a case study or designing a brochure. Typically, the work is done off-site, using your tools and resources. You control nearly every aspect of the project, including determining the best method for tackling the project and deciding the necessary time-frame for completion. Once the project is finished, your relationship with the client ends – at least until the next project comes along.
As a consultant, your clients look to you for detailed guidance on a particular area of expertise. For example, you may be hired as a crisis communication consultant or a marketing strategy consultant providing advice to the client. In many cases, the scope of the project is more extensive, and could include several smaller projects within the overall agreement. For instance, a marketing consultant may be hired to conduct competitor research, organize focus groups, oversee the development of an ad campaign, and write a marketing plan. For that reason, the work may occur as part of a long-term or ongoing commitment, as opposed to having a definitive start and finish date across only a few weeks.
If you are working on-site for the client, using the client’s resources, and have your schedule dictated by the client, then you may also be considered an employee (under the definition of the IRS). Is the work of a consultant more valuable than that of a freelancer? The value of your services lay in the quality of performance and whether or not the objective of the project is achieved. However, the way in which you categorize your work does shape how your prospective clients view your terms of service. As a freelancer, you may be hired on a project-by-project basis; while as a consultant, you could land a long-term gig that may even lead to permanent employment.