Dear Niche Doctor,
As the New Year approaches, I’m seriously thinking about leaving my traditional 9 to 5 job of nearly 25 years and starting a consulting business. I’ve done a lot of research, asked a lot of questions, and am determined to avoid mistakes others have made when making a similar change. I enjoy your column and would appreciate any advice you can share to help me limit my risks going into this new venture.
First off, I want to congratulate you on your career decision. Since you’ve been in the workforce for at least 25 years, I’m assuming you’re not a kid; you’ve had the opportunity to develop skills and, most importantly, have experiences you can’t get from books alone. The following are several tips to help you launch and hopefully maintain a wildly successful next career:
First and foremost, get yourself focused. Identify a single priority target audience. Everything you do will be aimed to make that audience smile and seek you out. You can have secondary audiences, but your target audience should be in capital letters and, if necessary, on your forehead.
Never forget you are not starting over – this is one of the biggest and most destructive mistakes newbie consultants make. You have at least 25 years of rich work and life experience. Again, it’s the kind of experience you can’t get from just reading books. If you ever doubt what I’m saying here, think of where you’ve been as “basic training” for where you’re about to go. It’s those 25 years of life you get paid for going forward. And, you should get paid very well.
Remember, you set your professional fees, not your clients. If you have carefully determined who your clients are going to be (and who they’re not), you will have no issue with this important rule. Additionally, there should be no haggling or negotiating fees; you don’t go on sale. Payment terms can be made convenient for your clients, but no fire sales or Black Fridays on your professional fees. If you have a book or product it is okay to offer a special price from time to time, but your professional fees are never up for grabs.
Regardless how wonderful your service is, no matter how much it’s needed or how unique it is, you don’t stand a chance of being truly successful unless you are nothing less than a household name in your potential client’s eyes. The best part of becoming a household name is that it doesn’t have to cost a great deal of money. Much of the best visibility can happen by applying low-cost, no-cost strategies, such as speaking, writing blogs and columns, etc.
Finally, never forget that in consulting (or any professional practice, for that matter), people buy people. Your clients are buying you. They are buying your success and the success you have helped others achieve. They are buying the confidence you exude about your capacity to help them be in a better place than before they arrived at your doorstep. Sometimes it may be hard to exude that confidence, but remember if you don’t have confidence in yourself, don’t expect anyone else to.
Although there are many other elements that go into building any successful business, the foregoing are things I can say with confidence that you should never leave home without! Congratulations and best of luck as you move forward with your life and exciting new venture.
Dr. Lynda Falkenstein is a business consultant and author of NICHECRAFT: Using Your Specialness to Focus Your Business, Corner Your Market, and Make Customers Seek You Out. To contact her with questions or comments, email DrNiche@vbjusa.com or call 503.781.0966. Please note that the Vancouver Business Journal and Dr. Niche reserve the right to publish your letter or an edited version in all print and electronic media.