An Insider's Guide to Building a Successful Consulting Practice

An Insider's Guide to Building a Successful Consulting Practice

Authors: Bruce L. Katcher, Adam Snyder
Pub Date: March 2010
Print Edition: $18.95
Print ISBN: 9780814414361
Page Count: 272
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814414378

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AT APPROXIMATELY 2:00 PM on Thursday, February 18, 1993, I

was sitting in my Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, office at a large

international consulting firm. My new boss came into my office and

said, “Bruce, we are going to have to lay you off.” I was devastated.

Immediately, my mind started racing. How was I going to support my

family? How much severance would I receive? How soon would I have

to leave? Should I look for work at another consulting firm, or a corporate

job, or go back to teaching college?

I was anxious, scared, and angry. I felt powerless. What happened

next changed my life. A lightbulb went on in my mind. “I am not

going to let this ever happen to me again,” I said to myself. “Nobody

is ever going to have total control over my financial fate again. I am

going into business for myself so that I can control my own destiny.”

The experience reminded me of that famous scene from the classic

movie, Gone with the Wind, when Scarlett O’Hara returns at the

end of the Civil War to Tara, the magnificent Southern plantation

where she was raised. She finds that her home had been used as a

military headquarters. All of the artwork and furniture are gone. The

slaves, of course, have left. Her father has gone mad. She is devastat-

ed. She doesn’t know what to do. She’s hungry, but there’s no food in

the house. She goes out into the field in search of food, but it has

been totally picked over. She manages to find a root in the ground,

grabs it, holds it up to the sky, and declares, “As God is my witness,

they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this, and when

it’s all over I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk.… As

God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

That’s how I felt. At that moment, I made up my mind that I was

going to make it on my own. I knew that if I put all of my energy into

building an independent consulting practice, I would be financially

independent and never have to worry about losing a job again.

More than seventeen years have passed since that day, and I have

never looked back. I am not the world’s most brilliant marketer,

salesperson, or consultant. But I have learned over the years what it

takes to make it as an independent consultant. Through a combination

of continuous learning from my fellow consulting colleagues,

trial and error, and perspiration, I have made myself into a successful,

valuable consultant. And you can too.

It’s not rocket science. All you need is the willingness to expand

your comfort zone, learn, work hard, and meet the needs of clients.

You may ask, “To get started, do I need to incorporate, have a

website, a separate checking account, or disability insurance?” You

will most likely need to consider them all eventually, but the truth is

you don’t need any of these things to get started. You need only two

things: a client and a method for finding more clients. This book will

provide you with everything else you need to know to get started.

If you are already an independent consultant, this book will help

you to accelerate your practice. It will discuss how other consultants

have been able to grow their businesses into vibrant and dependable

sources of continuous income.

Who will benefit from reading this book?

- The Restless Employee: Employees who are tired of working for

someone else and the shackles of the corporate world, and who are

willing to take a risk with their professional lives. What you hold in

your hand is a guidebook for those who are sick and tired of having

their work schedule and activities dictated by someone else. This book

will help those who long for more control over how, where, and when

they work to decide if the time is right to leave their job.

- Those Seeking Financial Independence: Wouldn’t it be nice if you

didn’t have to worry about being laid off because the company where

you work merged with or was acquired by another company, or decided

to downsize, or your boss didn’t like you, or your employer was

being outsmarted by the competition? As an independent consultant,

you call the shots. You determine your own destiny.

- Those Desiring More Income: A career in consulting can be much

more lucrative than working for a corporation. Think about it. Your

employer is making a profit from your work. It stands to reason that

if you can satisfy the needs of customers without an employer, you

can keep your share (i.e., the salary you earned as an employee), as

well as your employer’s share (the profit).

- The Wannabe Consultant: Although working for yourself has

always been a desire of yours, it has been on the back burner. The

pressures of monthly bills, mortgage, car payments, college tuition,

health insurance, and saving for retirement have made the idea of

working for yourself seem too impractical and unrealistic. This book

will provide you with the tools you need to make the leap. It will

demystify marketing and sales and show you how many others have

successfully started and sustained independent consulting businesses.

- The Independent Consultant at an Early Career Stage: You still

haven’t quite figured out how to get to the next level of your consulting

career. The allure of a monthly paycheck is tempting you to

return to the corporate world, but you are not ready to give up on

your dream of making your consulting business viable. You want to

increase your income and make certain you are doing everything possible

to stay independent.

- The Experienced Consultant Seeking New Energy and Methods:

You have tasted the good life of independence and are not looking

back. You know that the key to your success is to refine your consulting

skills. Your goal now is to keep your business alive and growing.

What you need is to learn new techniques from experienced consultants

that will help you to propel your business forward.

- Junior Consultants Working in Consulting Firms: You work for a

successful consulting firm. Senior consultants expect you to do most

of the work. Other consultants have refined the methods you use. You

realize that the only way to get ahead in your firm is to learn how to

market and sell so that you can be the rainmaker.

- Senior Consultants Working in Consulting Firms: You understand

that in order to continue to grow your consulting practice, you need

to get back to the basics of marketing and selling. This book will provide

you with insights from the perspective of the solo consultant

that will help you get back to the only two things that matter in your

work: selling consulting services and keeping your clients satisfied.

Each chapter is self-contained; the book does not have to be read

in one sitting and can be used as a reference to address a particular

problem. Each chapter focuses on a particular challenge faced by

independent consultants (e.g., establishing credibility, staying

focused and motivated, and setting the appropriate fees) and is organized

in the following way:

-Introduction: Each chapter begins with a story that demonstrates

a particular challenge faced by a real, live independent consultant.

- The Challenge: This section describes the challenge in more detail.

- Solutions: A number of different ways to overcome the challenge

are then presented.

- Conclusion: This section summarizes the challenge and the solutions.

Throughout this book I will share the experiences of other consultants

and the lessons they learned the hard way. In addition, we

conducted a survey of two hundred independent consultants to learn

how they got started and what has helped them to become successful.

The results of that survey are interspersed throughout the book.

So find a comfortable chair, sit back, and enjoy reading An

Insider’s Guide to Building a Successful Consulting Practice. It

could change your life. I encourage you to have a pen and a notepad

nearby—not to take notes, but to start a to-do list. Include items

that will accelerate your consulting business and make a personal

commitment that you will follow through on each one of them until


If I did it, you can too.

Introduction to The Consulting 200

In preparation for this book, a Web-based survey was sent to established

independent consultants. The survey asked a variety of questions


- The type of consulting practice they operate

- How they got started

- How they feel their consulting life compares to their former corporate


- How they market their services

- What advice they would offer to new consultants

The survey was e-mailed to 368 consultants I have met over the

years while networking with other independent consultants in the

New England area. Two hundred responded, yielding an excellent

response rate of 54 percent. Although this is by no means a statistically

representative random sampling of all independent consultants,

it does include consultants in many different specialty areas who have

developed and established thriving businesses. Here are a few characteristics

of the sample:

- 78 percent have been an independent consultant for more than five


- 7 percent started their consulting business before the age of thirty,

71 percent started between the ages of thirty and fifty, and 22 percent

started after age fifty.

- 80 percent work out of an office in their home.

- 73 percent are solo practitioners, and 18 percent own firms that

have at least one employee other than themselves.

- 63 percent had never worked for a consulting firm before starting

their own consulting business.

- The industry sectors The Consulting 200 serve most frequently

include financial services, computer hardware, software, and business

services (e.g., advertising, marketing, consulting, legal, printing,

and staffing).

- 41 percent earn more than $100,000 per year from their consulting

work, with 12 percent earning more than $200,000.

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