As a fractional consultant, you have the opportunity to work with some of the world’s leading companies and organizations. But achieving success as a consultant requires more than just technical skills. It requires an understanding of the market, knowledge of best practices, and an ability to build lasting relationships with clients.
If you want to play the game, you have to know the rules.
What is an Independent Management Consultant?
Before we dive into the how, let’s establish the what.
An independent management consultant is an expert who comes into a business on a short-term basis to provide strategic support, filling a skill gap or a capacity need on the team. . This can either be sprint work for a high-impact project or an ongoing commitment to support your team.
Consultants are not full-time employees but provide specialized insight and expertise, and often have the same experience and career maturity as your executive team. This makes them highly valuable and able to execute the tasks you need rapidly and with a high degree of skill. In addition, the variable cost model also allows organizations to keep overhead low and scale up or down as needed.
Finally, a fractional consultant can be either a one-person operation or part of a firm that specializes in consulting services.
Defining Success for You
As with all things in life, success as a consultant has different meanings for different individuals. For instance, as a consultant at a renowned firm like the McKinsey & Co., for example, your vision of success may revolve around reaching the C-Suite.
As an independent consultant, however, your definition of success may involve having the freedom to choose interesting projects, working with inspiring clients, and achieving a comfortable lifestyle. Let’s explore how you can attain this kind of success.
When our fearless leader, Lauren, was 31 years old and a project leader at BCG, she never intended to become a partner. In fact, she was set on learning from them and then taking that knowledge into industry.
At the time, her definition of success was being the CEO of a big company. She was so wrapped up in the title and the prestige that comes along with it.
But if you asked her today what success looks like, she would paint a different picture. Flexibility, autonomy, longevity, and creative freedom—these are the main tenets of success in her world now. Of course, keeping a steady stream of repeat business and great financials is also part of that vision.
Sounds great, but how do you get there?
Keys to Becoming a Great Consultant
There are many ways to become a successful consultant, but let’s talk about the four key areas you should focus on:
Establish Your Expertise
To thrive in the consulting industry, it’s crucial to position yourself as an expert in your chosen niche, but finding out what that niche is can be daunting.
There are three things to remember when you choose your niche:
1. Select an area of expertise in which you have a genuine interest and expertise.
2. Research the market and see if there is a need for your services.
3. Make sure the pain point or issue you are solving is valuable enough that clients will pay for it.
Serve Your Clients
Your job as a consultant is to be a thought partner to your clients and provide them with the best solutions to their problems. This really comes down to two things.
Compounded action and becoming indispensable.
Great work is simply good work delivered consistently. When you continue to show up and deliver, you’ll build trust with your clients and they’ll come back to you again and again.
To do this, you need to understand your client’s business and industry. This means developing a genuine relationship with your client and their team, being able to speak their language, and anticipate their needs.
You may also need to be able to go beyond the scope of your job and provide creative solutions that solve the issue at hand. This could involve brainstorming ideas with the client or recommending new processes and procedures.
Know Your Value
We’re not interested in trading hours for dollars—tie your rate to value, not output.
As a consultant, you’ve sprinted through your 10,000 hours and then some. You have the experience and expertise to make a tangible impact, so make sure you’re compensated accordingly.
Understanding how to define a problem, structure investigations, assess options, and synthesize a solution is not easy—it’s worth more than churning out deliverables. Research what you could expect to earn in a full-time role with comparable responsibility plus stock grants and options. Break this down into a daily rate or a month-long engagement fee and adjust as required to set a rate that meets your expectations and needs.
When building a quote, consider the top-down value of your work and the bottom-up working time to land on a project fee.
Run Your Business Like a Business
As an independent consultant, it’s crucial to treat your consulting practice like a real business. This means having business processes in place to deliver projects on time and within budget. A good way to do this is by creating project templates that outline the scope of work, activities involved, timeline, and due dates for each project.
You should also establish a business entity to protect yourself and your business from legal liability. You can do this by setting up an LLC or S-corporation.
Finally, it’s important to understand the tax implications of being a business or self-employed. Research or speak with an accountant to understand the best way to minimize your taxes and invest the savings to compensate for the RSUs (Restricted Stock Units) you could have earned in a more traditional corporate role. Over 20 years, the savings from self-employment taxes and business expenses like your home office, retirement savings, etc. could reach over $1M.
Consulting is a great way to build a career that combines autonomy, flexibility, and income. It’s important to do your research about what it takes before diving head-first into this role.
There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for success, but with the right combination of knowledge, relationships, and skill sets, you can be a successful independent consultant.
If you’re ready to take your consulting career to the next level, join us at TheConsult.co. Our platform provides valuable assets and resources to help you position yourself for success, pitch work, establish your pay rate, and select the right business structure for you. Not sure you’re ready to join? Apply at TheConsult.co to learn how having the right support to become a consultant gives you the flexibility and freedom you’ve been waiting for.
Want to read more about starting your journey as an independent consultant? Check out Kickstarting Your Journey as an Independent Consultant.
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