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Working as a Consultant

Question: I am very interested in using my expertise to become an independent consultant. Where do I start?

Answer: To begin, you should assess whether your personal style is suited to becoming an entrepreneur. Review the following questions and take an honest look at your responses:

  • Are you a self-starter?
  • Do you have excellent organization skills?
  • Do you have a lot of energy?
  • Can you work long and unusual hours for long stretches of time?
  • Are you good at administrative activities?
  • Do you have good interpersonal skills?
  • Are you good at sales and marketing?
  • Are you a good money manager?
  • Do you have your family’s support?
  • Can you sleep at night, without knowing when you will receive your next payment?
  • Can you recover financially, and mentally, if you do not succeed?

    McNeil Murdoch
    If you feel positive about your assessment, the next step is market research. You will need to ensure your area of expertise is marketable, and that your credentials will enable you to secure projects. You want to confirm that your skills and experience qualify you to do the work you are interested in. To do this properly will take some time, but it is critical to your success. The connections you make as you do this research will be very valuable should you choose to pursue your plan.

    You also need be able to define for yourself exactly what it is you want to do. Beginning to draft your business plan will help you articulate your vision. Your business plan will help you to identify your specific areas of expertise, niche market, unique selling points, the opportunities and threats you believe exist in the marketplace, examples of target clients, pricing, marketing strategies and financial projections. This document will become an extremely important guide to your business once you are ready to begin, so doing a thorough job now will pay off in the future.

    Once you have a clear idea of what you want to do, you will want to talk to as many people as you can who are already doing similar work. Prepare a list of questions for them; everything from how they got started and what barriers they encountered to how they landed their first client and how they determine their pricing. This research will be critical in helping you to decide whether you truly want to be a consultant and what you may expect along the way.

    Although you may be able to secure a few projects, and therefore income, in the early stages, it often takes 12 – 18 months to begin earning a profit. Consultants are often able to begin their work from home which helps to keep overhead costs to a minimum, but you will need to spend some money to develop marketing materials - letterhead, business cards and contract templates to get you started. Landing your first client will be a big win and should be celebrated. However don’t lose sight of finding the next client, and the one after that. Your early clients can be great references for you and will be an asset as you start to develop your reputation in the marketplace.

    There are excellent resources available to guide you through your early stages. Your local Small Business Centre, the Canadian Government websites such as Canada Business: Services for Entrepreneurs www.canadabusiness.ca, and Flawless Consulting – A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used by Peter Block is very practical guide to excellence in consulting.

    Becoming a consultant means leaving a predictable role, and a regular paycheque. However, in the long run, if you do your research, build a solid business plan, and are prepared to market your business, you can do the type of work you are interested in and you will have direct control over the pace and rewards you achieve.

    Karen McNeil Murdoch is Vice President of Career Management Consulting for Right Management is Southwestern Ontario

    Low Cost Recruiting

    We seem to be paying more recruiting fees than ever before, but we’re still having trouble filling key positions and our HR department is chronically under-resourced. How can we get better people without spending a fortune?

    Word of Mouth Is a Powerful—and Free—Recruiting Tool

    Paul Dodd
    Many small companies find themselves in exactly your position—growing so fast it’s hard to fill seats. But there’s good news. Recruiting doesn’t have to bust your bankroll or eat up all of your time.

    What it boils down to is the new CRM—Candidate Relationship Management. You want everyone who interacts with your company to rave about how great you are. This builds your reputation as the spot everyone wants to be. Instead of spending your time pounding the pavement for star players, they’ll be coming to you.

    It’s the Little Things That Count

    What people say about your company in casual conversation to friends and colleagues can make or break your recruitment efforts.

    Building your reputation with new candidates means paying attention to the small details. Use an autoresponder to acknowledge every single job application rather than letting candidates dangle in cyberspace indefinitely.

    Respect candidates and their time when they interview with you. Be punctual for your appointments. Don’t make them wait 15 minutes in the lobby. Offer them refreshments. Be friendly and focused. You might be worried about a dozen other things but make candidates feel as if their time with you is the only thing that matters right then.

    Follow up after the interview and let them know what’s happening. Even if they don’t get the job, they’ll have an impression that you were a place where they would have liked to work.

    Carry the positive experience through to the new job. If it’s all roses when they interview, but awful when they start the role, they’ll feel you pulled a con job. They will eventually leave, badmouthing you as they go, creating turnover costs, and necessitating more recruitment.

    Most corporate recruiters will tell you that their most powerful recruiting tool is their employee referral program. But only employees who are happy where they work will want to bring their friends into the fold. So employee appreciation programs are actually recruitment and employment brand building programs.

    Again, it’s the little things that count. Don’t feel you have to spend money on fat bonuses or lavish parties. It can be as simple as assigning new employees a buddy for their first month, a person who is there to make them feel welcome and show them the ropes. Or making sure their desk is ready when they arrive. Or making a welcome sign and decorating their cubicle with streamers. Anything that says, “We’re excited you’re here and glad to have you on board!”

    Web 2.0: Word of Mouth Online
    Nowhere does word of mouth spread faster than on the web. So use web tools—most of which are free—to your recruitment advantage.

    Not on Facebook? You should be. This and other social networking sites are fast becoming the prime conduit for interaction and communication. In addition to Facebook, there’s also LinkedIn, MySpace, and countless others. Join a community and post a profile. Get your name out there. You’ll be amazed at the people you will meet.

    Write a blog. Encourage your employees to write blogs about what it’s like to work at your company. Microsoft uses this tactic as a recruiting tool because they know how powerful it is. Blogs bring higher search engine rankings (because search engines love the constantly updated content that is the lifeblood of any good blog) and increased traffic to your site. Most important, however, blogs offer you the ability to build relationships with whole groups of people at a time—and they get your message out.

    Use your website. Ideally, have a clear and direct link to your jobs section right from the home page so that one click gets interested candidates where they want to be. Don’t bury the jobs section under some vague title such as About Us. Don’t make visitors click around trying to find the application form. Don’t make candidates click 10 times before they can read about jobs. Be direct, be bold, and make the route so simple that your granny could follow it. You’ll have a better conversion rate of visitors to job applications, and you’ll create a positive first impression with candidates. (Don’t forget to link to your job page from your blog!)

    Paul Dodd is the president of Head2Head (www.head2head.ca), a company that specializes in delivering innovative recruiting solutions by bringing bottom-line thinking to clients' HR and recruiting functions. Paul can be reached at 416-440-2030.

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