Tips on being an independent consultant

It has been said by Norman Ralph Augustine, "All too many consultants, when asked, 'What is 2 and 2?' respond, 'What do you have in mind?'"

Do you fit this picture?

You have been working for many years in different organisations. You can be considered as an industry subject expert. You have earned the respect of your peers and is the first person the media approaches if they need deep insights about your industry.

With all this in mind, you decide to be an in independent consultant and run your company. You feel that you have enough personal branding to go out on your own and you hope to create your own legacy.

Here are some tips:

1. Do your budget projections

Every business has to have a proper system of budgetary planning. This is vital because you do not want to lose a potential contract because you can't afford to take a plane flight to sign it!

If you are unsure, it will be advisable to meet up with friends in the same industry. But do your homework first and check if they will be in direct competition with you; they may not give you accurate advice because they may reveal vital information about their core competencies. Alternatively, you can source out information from your business association.

2. Get a private banker

Every consultancy needs good financial advice. Learn to delegate some financial requirements to the professionals. They may actually help you to avoid pitfalls that can impede the progress of your consultancy.

3. Private funding

If you believe that the foundation of your consultancy is built on a franchise or a first-mover opportunity, you should seriously consider getting private funding. However, before you start to "hit the streets with your business plan", get legal advice about the protection of your intellectual property and do a background check on the venture companies that you are approaching.

A big advantage of getting venture funds is that the principal sum is much bigger and there is better support.

4. Consistent pricing plan

In order to be credible and professional, you should put serious thought in the pricing plan for your services. The basis can be drawn from a Per hour/Per contract basis. However, you can make exceptions if you have intentions of creating alliances with you customers or embark in a co-branding exercise (online and offline).

5. Don't make too many promises!

As you start your new consultancy, you should give value-added services and not be too accommodating to your initial clients. The reason is that they may actually pass information about your "low" pricing plan and omit the fact that the pricing plan has a "use-by" date. We feel that it is better to get a few big contracts to boost your consultancy's credibility first. Also remember to seek permission to quote your clients as references.

6. Target public tenders

Regularly, there will be calls for public tenders for various projects. Your consultancy should gear up for these public exercises even though your consultancy is relatively new. The reason is that this will give you discipline and encourages you to be more aware of the business climate in your industry.

As a personal case-study, my consultancy learnt a lot about the minimum requirements and expectations about being accepted in our industry just by applying for public tenders. You can say that this is the best way of getting a reality check.

7. Build alliances with your employees

As you start your recruitment drive be mindful that your new employees have a difficult task of building new alliances for your consultancy. You can make their tasks easier if you could accompany them to networking opportunities.

8. Self-publish

It is important to try to document your consulting journey as a self-publication. This is not a vanity effort but a good way of building up a corporate culture that can be passed on to new employees. It can also be used as a future operational manual.

9. Pro-bono

Good consultants have to go through a stage of giving back to society and doing pro bono work is like a rite of passage. It makes you more thankful when you get your first consulting fee. There will be a sense of professional growth.

10. Join a trade association

It is a normal progression to join a relevant trade association in order to network with your professional peers and to be given a platform to further push your industy forward.

Finally, do enjoy your new consulting journey. It will be part of your working legacy and your defining moment.

Colin Ong Tau Shien is a current NTU adjunct lecturer in entrepreneurship/e-commerce, and also a popular A-levels tutor in economics and general paper.

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