I love the way you tell us to take charge of our careers, and I want to do it. I want to become an independent consultant. The problem is that I’m not an expert in anything.
I’ve worked in Operations, Finance and Sales Administration. I know a little bit about a lot of different things. I’m not anywhere near expert level in anything, as far as I know.
I have a couple of friends who are independent consultants. One of them is a supply chain guru who charges $275/hour. The other one is an event planner who charges $125/hour but she also has a whole cadre of people she pulls in when she needs help with specific things like event lighting, floral design and so on.
I don’t see how I can step into an independent consulting role with my jack-of-all-trades background. What do you suggest?
Being an independent consultant means one thing. It means that you work for clients on a project basis, rather than working for one employer full-time.
My first consulting gig came about because I was active in the employers association in the city where I was living. I was 25. I was a newbie HR person who didn’t know anything about anything, but I knew enough to handle the small project the employers association asked me to take on.
They had a tiny budget, just right for a person with my limited experience. It is a fallacy that consultants are always high-priced experts. Of course, there are some clients who want massive expertise from a consultant, but there are tons more clients who don’t need deep expertise and don’t want to pay for it.
My second consulting project came about because a guy who owned a manufacturing company down the block from my employer called my boss and asked for a recommendation. The guy told my boss “I need some help with HR. I don’t know anything about it and I don’t have an HR person.”
My boss said “I have just the consultant for you! Can she come over and see you at 5:30 tonight? Her name is Liz.”
My boss told me “I got you a consulting job! It starts tonight at 5:30. Bring a notepad and pen.”
I was horrified. I was terrified. The employers association at least knew what they wanted. The manufacturing CEO didn’t know what he wanted me to do.
I walked down the street that evening after work, afraid I would embarrass myself.
The guy turned out to be super nice and very chill. He said “You tell me what I need!”
By then I was 28. I said “Well, do you have the mandatory employment law posters in your break room?” He said “Never heard of ’em!”
I got the posters. I wrote him an employee handbook. I did all the basic, simple HR stuff any 28-year-old HR person would do, but I felt taller and prouder and stronger for taking on that consulting project.
Later I became a full-time consultant and now I encourage everyone to grow their muscles by becoming a consultant, too!
You don’t have to be an expert to take on clients for projects.
All you have to do is ask yourself “What types of Business Pain have I solved for my employers?” Once you know what kind of pain you solve (“We have no HR infrastructure and we need one,” “Our social media campaigns aren’t working,” “We are spending too much money on travel expenses,” etc.) you have a niche.
That niche can change over time, and undoubtedly it will. You don’t have to have every detail in your consulting business nailed down when you launch it. You only have to be able and willing to start conversations with people you meet — conversations about Business Pain and solutions.
As a consultant you can charge a big hourly rate or $20/hour. There are clients looking for help at every point on the spectrum!
Don’t be afraid to step out and explore your entrepreneurial side just because you don’t believe you’re an expert on any topic. You know more than you think you do!
You will shock yourself with the expertise you didn’t know you had, once you step out of your comfort zone and start using your power!
All the best,