So you want to become an Independent Consultant?

Written by BFAN Network

Numbers And Finance

flickr.com/teegardin

This article is based on a recent conversation between network members.

“What’s the best way of getting started?”

There are several ways: the way you choose largely depends on your attitude to risk, your own lead generation ability and the size of your own business network. 

The options include

  • Using a recruiter (indirect approach)
  • Finding your own clients (direct approach)
  • Potential clients finding you (referrals / networking)

Some consultants work exclusively for one direct client, some work for many different clients either directly or indirectly.

“Should I start my consulting career in a small or large company?”

It depends. Regardless of the size of the company, it’s worth considering the nature of the assignment on offer and what opportunities it provides for personal growth and development.

Tip: Be clear in your own mind what type of consulting services you will provide – ‘business as usual’ services such as maternity leave cover for day to day operations, or ‘Project Consulting’ for a new financial systems implementation? 

Generally speaking, larger companies will use Big 4 for project consulting / change management assignments.

“What is the best way to know what type of skills and expertise is in demand? Is there a market for my particular skill set?”

Regardless of what the market trend is, as a consultant, you can only play to your strengths. As you are not an employee, the client is not going to invest training dollars in your professional development or worry about your areas of opportunity. As a problem solver you are expected to ‘hit the ground running’, delivering the required results in each and every assignment.

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flickr.com/schaeffer

Unlike an employee, you are only as good as your last assignment. Your success in the consulting space is based on the reputation you establish in the marketplace, based on your delivery of results. 

Tip: To help develop and maintain a track record of success, a personal SWOT analysis is highly recommended for new consultants. Compare the SWOT findings with market trends, based on the types of roles advertised most frequently. Is there a good fit between your own strengths and what’s happening in the market? If not, develop some gap closing strategies which may include training.

“I’m going to use recruiters to secure my assignments. Which are the best?”

There are hundreds of recruiters in the finance and accounting industry. Some operate in both the permanent and contract space, others focus solely on contract placements. Bear this in mind: there is no link whatsoever between your success as a finance and accounting consultant and choice of recruiter.

Tip: Focus instead on the contract role on offer and the potential professional development / resume enhancing opportunities it provides.

“Which is the better consulting route: short term assignments or long term projects?”

This largely depends on one’s attitude to risk. Longer term assignments, as mentioned above, may take the form of a maternity leave in the ‘business as usual’ environment and could result in a steady cash flow situation from anywhere between 6 and 18 months.

Shorter assignments on the other hand, tend to be more project / change oriented and require a somewhat different skill set. A track record of success in areas such as change management, process improvement and re-engineering, mergers and acquisitions, restructuring is a critical success factor. Consequently since these  usually happen in parallel with business as usual activity, they are more prone to cutbacks and cancellation by the client, following re-alignment of the company budgets, resulting in potential gaps in the consultant’s billing cycle.

“Should I get my own website?”

A website can certainly play a useful part in developing your personal and professional brand, depending on the type of website you develop, its purpose and the type of content featured. Is it solely for advertising your services, sharing knowledge and advice, lead generation or taking payments for services ? Depending on where your focus is, the timing of when you develop and launch your website may be different.

Tip: Decide at the start the purpose of your website. If it’s to showcase your work, launching one at the beginning of your consulting career (when there is not yet an accomplishment history) may weaken your personal brand.

 

 

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