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Key Steps for the Independent Consultant

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Key Steps for the Independent Consultant

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James Black shares insights gained from years of experience as an independent consultant.

Seven years ago, I put up my shingle and set up an LLC to work as an independent consultant, working on growth strategies, marketing strategies, and insights for clients. During this time, I’ve learned a lot about the space, and myself, and wanted to share my perspectives with others.

1. Define the target market you’re seeking to serve (and periodically revisit it).

At P&G, everything started with the “WHO” (the target). To define my “who” and their needs, I regularly connect with a handful of past clients and non-clients to understand the issues they are challenged with and when and where they will bring in an independent consultant. I also monitor the mix of clients I serve to understand what is driving whom I work with. Initially, I assumed my business would be largely CPG/retail based on my background (it wasn’t), and primarily NYC Metro-based (it wasn’t). In fact, across 7 years, CPG/retail has been less than 40% of my work—I do a lot of work in tech, pharma, and other verticals. Interestingly, the vast majority of my work has been outside NYC, including even the Middle East and Japan, well before “remote work” became the “new normal.”

2. Determine what skills and offerings you can provide the target to help them solve their problems.

I approach this in two ways. First, I periodically tally all of the projects and proposals I have completed in a given period to understand what issues are re-occurring. Then I also scrutinize proposals that I “won” or “lost” to better understand what capabilities I need to grow. On “losses,” did the client want more or different: 1) Industry expertise? 2) Functional expertise? 3) Topical expertise? And then I would seek out projects to strengthen my profile for future work to fill in these gaps or to build on wins.

3.  Determine how to establish and grow your business.

There is countless free and for-fee advice on how to grow your independent consultancy, as with any business. The approach that works best for me is to conduct a semi-annual “business review” to help me step back and assess: 1) where my business is coming from. 2) what types of projects and clients I am working with? and 3) what are the dynamics in project size and pricing? This enables me to re-focus my work and priorities on an ongoing basis. This has taught me important lessons in 1) setting a “floor” in terms of the minimum project value I will work on and 2) understanding how to replicate the “random” project that seemed to come across my desk. Additionally, this is where it’s also helpful to compare notes with peers to see what they are experiencing.

4. Prepare for important shifts in your business, ideally ahead of time.

In my first year as an independent consultant, I secured four large projects with one client, a client who approached me on LinkedIn. This was very exciting. But I knew this “hot hand” might not last. And it didn’t, as will other “hot hands” over the course of the years. Ultimately, I recognized that I needed to expand my outreach to diversify my sources of work, and drive the balance between new and repeat business, as well as to figure out the right reconnect strategy with such clients.

Key points include:

  • The benefit of a business review
  • Reconnection strategy
  • Understand the role of different channels in your business

Read the full article, 7 Things I Have Learned in My 7 Years as an Independent Consultant, on Linkedin.