How to Evolve from an Employee into a Consultant

kathryn by Kathryn Hawkins on July 6, 2012
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Many people decide to become entrepreneurs while they’re slogging away for someone else. If you’re passionate about your job — yet would prefer to be your own boss — shifting into a consulting role may be the ideal path to becoming a small-business owner. As a consultant, you can use your accumulated knowledge to help others learn to manage their operations more effectively, perhaps even starting with your current employer.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the top six fields for consulting are accounting, computer and information systems, environment and conservation, human resources, management, and sales, marketing, and public relations.

Here’s how to evolve from an employee into a consultant:

  • Make the transition slowly. It may be difficult to give up your full-time job — and the security of a steady paycheck — to launch a small business. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to wade into the consulting pool instead of diving in head-first. As long as you don’t compete with (or poach clients from) your employer, they’re unlikely to take issue with you starting a consulting agency. Consider these tips for starting a business while still employed from the National Federation of Independent Business. Once you’ve established that a client base covers your basic expenses, you can leap into full-time consulting.
  • Tout the high-profile projects you worked on as an employee. When you create your consulting website and other marketing materials, provide comprehensive details about the role you played in your employer’s initiatives — and how your efforts helped the business. Invest time and effort into producing these case studies, because they’ll help you to sell your experience to future customers. You may want to run any potentially sensitive material by your boss as a professional courtesy; she may ask you to keep certain details confidential (particularly if a third party is involved).
  • Obtain the certifications you’ll need to get taken seriously. Even if you have decades of experience in your field, you may want to beef up your credentials as an independent consultant. For instance, if you’re billing yourself as a PPC marketing consultant, your experience running keyword campaigns for a large company will certainly count, but getting certified in Google’s AdWords program may give you a better shot at winning business.
  • Determine your marketing strategy. Being a free agent means you’re now responsible for promoting your own business. If your previous employer dissolves or scales back, you may be able to take on some of its clients as your own. Otherwise, you’ll need to start from scratch. Analyze your competitors to determine what services they offer — and where they advertise and promote themselves. Follow their examples, but don’t be afraid to conceive and test new initiatives, too.
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