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The dictionary defines a consultant as "an expert in a particular field who works as an advisor either to a company or to another individual." Sounds pretty vague, doesn't it? But unless you've been in a coma for the past decade, you probably have a good idea what a consultant is.
Businesses certainly understand what consultants are. In 1997 U.S. businesses spent just over $12 billion on consulting. According to Anna Flowers, spokesperson for the Association of Professional Consultants in Irvine, California, the association has recently noticed an increase in calls for information from people who want to get into the business. "The market is opening up for [the consulting-for-businesses] arena," Flowers says.
Melinda P., an independent consultant in Arlington, Virginia, thinks more people are getting into the consulting field because technology has made it easier to do so. "The same technology that has helped me to be successful as a consultant has made it easier for others to do the same," she says.
A consultant's job is to consult. Nothing more, nothing less. It's that simple. There's no magic formula or secret that makes one consultant more successful than another one.
But what separates a good consultant from a bad consultant is a passion and drive for excellence. And--oh yes--a good consultant should be knowledgeable about the subject he or she is consulting in. That does make a difference.
You see, in this day and age, anyone can be a consultant. All you need to discover is what your particular gift is. For example, are you very comfortable working around computers? Do you keep up with the latest software and hardware information, which seems to be changing almost daily? And are you able to take that knowledge you have gained and turn it into a resource that someone would be willing to pay money for? Then you would have no trouble working as a computer consultant.
Or are you an expert in the fund-raising field? Maybe you have worked for nonprofit agencies in the field of fund-raising, marketing, public relations or sales, and over the years you have discovered how to raise money. As someone who has turned a decade of fund-raising successes into a lucrative consulting business, I can tell you that fund-raising consulting is indeed a growing industry.
Things to Consider Before You Become a Consultant
According to a recent survey, here are the top 10 reasons organizations hire consultants:
1. A consultant may be hired because of his or her expertise. This is where it pays to not only be really good in the field you have chosen to consult in, but to have some type of track record that speaks for itself. For example, when I mentioned earlier that I had become an expert as a fund-raising consultant, I knew that every client who hired me was doing so partly on the basis of my track record alone. After all, if you are a nonprofit organization that needs to raise $1 million, it makes sense to hire someone who has already raised millions for other organizations.
2. A consultant may be hired to identify problems. Sometimes employees are too close to a problem inside an organization to identify it. That's when a consultant rides in on his or her white horse to save the day.
3. A consultant may be hired to supplement the staff. Sometimes a business discovers that it can save thousands of dollars a week by hiring consultants when they are needed, rather than hiring full-time employees. Businesses realize they save additional money by not having to pay benefits for consultants they hire. Even though a consultant's fees are generally higher than an employee's salary, over the long haul, it simply makes good economic sense to hire a consultant.
4. A consultant may be hired to act as a catalyst. Let's face it. No one likes change, especially corporate America. But sometimes change is needed, and a consultant may be brought in to "get the ball rolling." In other words, the consultant can do things without worrying about the corporate culture, employee morale or other issues that get in the way when an organization is trying to institute change.
5. A consultant may be hired to provide much-needed objectivity. Who else is more qualified to identify a problem than a consultant? A good consultant provides an objective, fresh viewpoint--without worrying about what people in the organization might think about the results and how they were achieved.
6. A consultant may be hired to teach. These days if you are a computer consultant who can show employees how to master a new program, then your telephone probably hasn't stopped ringing for a while. A consultant may be asked to teach employees any number of different skills. However, a consultant must be willing to keep up with new discoveries in their field of expertise--and be ready to teach new clients what they need to stay competitive.
7. A consultant may be hired to do the "dirty work." Let's face it: No one wants to be the person who has to make cuts in the staff or to eliminate an entire division.
8. A consultant may be hired to bring new life to an organization. If you are good at coming up with new ideas that work, then you won't have any trouble finding clients. At one time or another, most businesses need someone to administer "first aid" to get things rolling again.
9. A consultant may be hired to create a new business. There are consultants who have become experts in this field. Not everyone, though, has the ability to conceive an idea and develop a game plan.
10. A consultant may be hired to influence other people. Do you like to hang out with the rich and famous in your town? If so, you may be hired to do a consulting job simply based on who you know. Although most consultants in this field are working as lobbyists, there has been an increase in the number of people entering the entertainment consulting business.