You are either freshly out of collage or just decided to quit the job to enter a new world of consulting business. Either way you are out there looking for clients willing to pay a decent price for the services you have to offer! Its a hard start but not if you have some to guide you through your journey. Here are some of the points I would like to share with you from the years of experience I have in this industry:
1. Dress Appropriately
When you were in college you were free to dress like whatever you want to. But now that you are out in the real world, wanting to make some real cash you need to be presentable, need to make an impression, need to look good especially when you go out at an event or a client meeting. Dress to Impress!
You don’t have to wear a suit to the meeting but you should go with something similar to what your business clientele is dressing like. Something like dress pants and shirts for men (no tie though) and dress pants and a shirt or a work dresses for women. You don’t have to go out and spend some tens of thousands of dollars on your clothing but I would surely say buy some professional looking clothes and shoes to make you look successful and it will also help you boost your confidence.
2. Set Clear Expectations with Clients
This is a very crucial step to keep in mind before starting the work with clients. As clients are bad listeners and they may not be familiarized with the consulting terminology that you might be trying to explain him/her for performing the job. Explain yourself clearly in the language (here language mean industry terms and understandings) your client understands. Repeat yourself! Explain some more! Make sure client understands you. It will be your job to explain the client what they are getting for the price they paid for and in what time frame are they getting it! Again, this is a very important step before moving forward with the contract!
3. Work on Payment Terms
When all the details regarding the assigned job are worked on you next step is to agree on payment terms. How are you expected to get paid? When can you Invoice? Would it be pre-invoiced like most insurance companies or utility companies, or will it be post-invoiced which means you send invoice after you do the work. When will you be paid? Based on the type of service there are 2 types of ways that you can agree on:
1. You want to get paid based on the work. A fixed amount of money for the whole job
2. On monthly basis until the job is done.
Either way you will have to agree on payment terms! Some business have a accounts payable which pays every 15 days or some may pay every 30 days. Decide whichever is the most suitable option for you!
4. Get a Part of Money Upfront
Always ask your clients for a part of the payment upfront before starting the work! That is an assurance that you will perform the job responsibly and also that the client has now officially hired you to get the job done and wont change their mind later on when part of the job is already done! Gives a sense of security to you! A decent amount to ask upfront is in between 20% – 35%.
5. Legal Contract
It is important to have a legal contract signed before the start of the work which should include all the terms and conditions like payments matters, covered expenses, services provided, etc. Consult with your legal adviser on what all things should go on the contract to keep you out of any legal troubles.
6. Document Everything
Take notes. Write every single detail about your conversation, what your client’s needs and wants are. You do not want to deliver something that they do not require and you definitely do not want to re-ask about an important point few days or weeks later, that was already talked over! If something is unclear ask questions right then and ask some more! There is no harm in clarifying things rather than delivering it the wrong way! Documentation avoids any miscommunication and comes in handy for setting definite project goals and understanding project scope. Once your meeting is over, you have enough points to start your research on how to present the most appropriate solution!
7. Get Testimonials In Between The Work
Testimonials play a critical role in getting more business, and who doesn’t want to grow! And to get reviews, references or testimonial all you have to do is ask for them! Your clients are busy and may not presume that you are looking for testimonials! So go ahead and ask for one, assuming things are going well there and client is happy with what you are providing! But don’t wait till the end to get a testimonial, do it in between the project!
8. Negotiate on some Paid Expenses
Apart from the cost of your services there are other costs involved in any work, like some tools or equipment required for that job or may be some traveling costs, etc. Ask your client to pay for these expenses! Example you are a Network Consultant and you need to go to a store to buy some things, ask your client for the trip charge or if you are a web designer and need some stock photography purchased ask for that, or if you are asked to fly some where and attend a meeting for them then ask for travel expenses! If you think your client wont pay you the extra money, then I would suggest increase the cost of your services so that you can get your expenses covered with it!
9. Value Your Time
If you don’t value your time, no one will and it will be taken for granted! For this keep a track of your time! How much hours have you spent and on what projects? Some projects may require more attention than the others. You need to know how much time you are spending v/s how much return you are getting on it! Even though your clients may not ask you for the time sheets, its for your own benefit! Eventually it will be a habit and later on you will get an estimate on how much your time is worth and the more important fact that comes out of it is are you over-charging, under-charging or rightly pricing your service? Plus the added benefit of tracking time is, it will come handy whenever you have to justify the client for the work done!
10. Be Willing to Stop work when you aren’t paid
You don’t wanna work for free! You have a house to run or bills to pay or a payroll to do for your employees! Either way, you are not a volunteer. You need to learn to say No when you do not receive payments. It would be hard to do it the first time, as doing so can turn your relationship with the client a little sour but no matter how hard it is you have to do it! ‘No Payment, No Service’ should be your rule! To avoid getting into any such issues with the client, include the payment related conditions in the legal contract itself.
11. Communicate Often
Communication with the client is a very important step in building trust. Most clients do not check the weekly status reports but they always want to know what’s going with the project and they want to stay up to date! So keep your clients updated every now and then about the progress or even any problems and hurdles you are facing with the project no matter how bad of a news it could be for them! It gives them a sense that they are in control of the situation and that they are kept in the loop for the ongoing work!
12. Network Within to Build Connections
Networking builds connections and leads to more business. Ask your main contact in the company to introduce you to their boss or some one in higher management! Some times when you are working with big corporations, it happens that the person who was your primary contact until now has been transferred or has moved to another department or has even changed the job. If you have not networked yourself within the organization yet, losing contact with your primary contact is losing a lot of business.
13. Market Your Business
You are an entrepreneur and your business means everything to you. There are opportunities every where, all you have to do is grab them. You need to market your business, you need to market yourself! Always carry your business cards with you. Don’t be shy handing them over to some one you think might need your services and can be your future prospect!
Another thing to do is attend networking events, seminars in your industry, alumni groups, etc. Though sometimes attending events in your own industry wont do any good. Eg if you are Finance Consultant you sure want to meet your fellow Finance Consultants to know more in your industry but to grow your business you need to say, may be meet people in Real Estate Industry or IT Industry who are looking for people like you!
14. Manage your clients from time to time
Like I mentioned earlier communication is very important. But here I am talking about communicating with them even after the work is done! Go pay them a visit or make a phone call or at the least send them an email. Doing so will not only make them feel special and but also helps them remind of the good relationship that was build while working together and refresh their memory in case they have some more working coming. It also strengthens relationships and build more trust!
15. Work-life balance
Working as a freelance consultant means you are your own boss! You have your own set of rules, you decide your working hours, who you want to work for and how much you wanna charge them! I have know people who are full time consultants and charge any where from $65 to $500 per hour for their services. These are the pros of being your own boss but there are set of cons that are also attached to it. With increasing clientele comes more money, more work, more hours, more efforts, more expectations and in turn more stress! Learn different ways to reduce stress. Get organized, prioritize your work and set definite hours that you will dedicate towards your work. This way you will not be over-worked and will be able to deliver more!
16. Continue learning
With the advancing technology these days if you don’t keep up with it you are losing a lot of new opportunities! One month of lost learning is equivalent to falling 1 year behind your competition! So never stop learning! Read a lot, research a lot and stay on top of your competitors!
It takes a lot to be a successful consultant but stick to some of these basic rules! Be passionate about what you are doing and work hard towards it. Being successful is not an over night thing, you have to keep learning and keep improvising! Find out your weaknesses and try to over come it! Every project will give you a new stepping stone and a new learning experience! What are some of the tips you have followed when you started out new? What lessons did you learn from that? Feel free to comment if you have any questions are have any experiences and tips to share!
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