Read an Excerpt
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,
- 41 percent earn more than $100,000 per year from their consulting
work, with 12 percent earning more than $200,000.