Let’s face it. Becoming a consultant is the perfect job description for a multitude of young careerists. After all, who doesn’t want to be regarded as a connoisseur and receive large amounts of money to give invaluable insight and come up with viable solutions to problems? If you’re wondering how to become a consultant, you’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to become a successful consultant without being slimy, salesy, or pushy, even though nobody knows who you are or have no experience or special skills. You can ditch the 9-5 grind and establish a career on your terms.
Types of Consultants
A consultant working independently or with a consulting firm offers expertise and advice to organizations to help them boost performance in strategy, operations, management, profitability, and structure.
While the workload can be heavy, there’s no denying that consulting is a sociable career that ushers in many networking opportunities. The work spills over to various fields such as marketing, supply chain management, strategy, human resources, management, finance, and IT.
Although the projects you’re involved in coupled with the tasks you’re given are based on your specialty, the general responsibilities of a consulting job include:
- Conducting surveys, research, and interviewing a small business to better understand what they do.
- Evaluating the cons and pros of possible business strategies.
- Gathering and compiling information visually, in writing, or orally.
- Implementing agreed solutions.
- Recommending improvement by using computer models to present the findings to a business owner.
- Analyzing statistics.
- Formulating and implementing new techniques methods of training.
- Identifying problems in a business and coming up with foolproof ways to mitigate them.
A management consultant or management analyst is typically employed by professional service firms, the strategy sections of financial organizations such as accountants, or an international consulting business.
A business consultancy firm can range from specialists within various fields of business consulting such as IT or strategy to generalist consultants offering a vast assortment of services. Consultants are contracted for business consultancy by various organizations in all sectors seeking advice and help about business-related issues.
The types of consultants are:
1. Management Consultant
Also referred to as a business consultant in practice, a management consultant is an organizational advisor who focuses on various concerns about strategy and the array of elements within management.
Management consulting is a collective term used to describe the services that fall under HR consulting, operations consulting, and strategy consulting. For this reason, a management consultant forms part of the vast majority of the advisory branch. More than 50% of all advisors can be defined as management consultants.
2. Marketing Consultant
As an independent consultant, a marketing consultant is an expert and thought-leader who can help any business owner radically revolutionize their marketing systems and pipeline. The job description of a marketing consultant includes:
- Implementing a strategic marketing plan that is aligned to sales forecasts for long-term goals.
- Developing an Inbound Marketing Scheme to improve the business structure.
- Formulating a content marketing plan and helping a business owner implement it.
- Aligning all marketing goals with a solid marketing funnel scheme that is tied to all phases of the marketing plan.
- Helping create plans for lowering churn rates while elevating conversion rates usually includes designing a system for lowering the number of unqualified leads and boosting the number of qualified leads.
- A senior marketing expert who is usually a marketing consultant can help a company identify novel opportunities for more lucrative marketing processes, such as discovering new demographics to be marketed to or coming up with a buyer persona plan affiliated with marketing regions.
3. Business Consultant
Usually confused with other types of consultants such as a management consultant or a strategic consultant, a large or small business consultant is a specialist (usually one with a finance degree and years of experience) who helps with the optimization of the internal inner workings and internal workflow of a large or small business in its entirety. Business consulting entails:
- Tweaking and optimizing the business hierarchy to properly streamline how teams work can positively impact how a company operates.
- Recommending that more teams within a particular department are created, and others dismantled, or change management.
- Helping a large or small business with streamlining projects, operations, workflow, and other tasks whose optimization can elevate an organization’s bottom line.
- Helping a business owner create a code of ethics or deal with inter and intra-departmental problems in the workplace.
4. Financial Consultant
As one of the most renowned forms of consultancy, a financial consultant is a professional consultant who works with the strategy consultant/ internal business strategist to help a business align its tactical short-term goals with its long-term financial and strategic goals. The financial goals range from ROI, profit margins, and spending habits to overheads.
A plethora of tasks that a financial consultant (working independently or with a consulting business) can help an organization with are strategies to cut down on expenses while maximizing profit, investment strategies, scaling into other markets, reducing customer acquisition costs, insurance, and taxes.
5. Strategy Consultant
One of the most crucial forms of business consulting is strategy consulting that entails a strategy consultant playing the role of an advisor to a business by helping to create a long-term strategic plan or blueprint. Such a plan improves the business structure while establishing the organization’s path in the long term.
It also creates a map that defines the direction a business will take in the short term to fulfill long-term goals. Strategy consulting includes collaborating with financial advisors to guarantee that projects are financially profitable and manageable and that it’s feasible to attain them with the company’s current financial assets and resources.
6. Operations Consulting
An operations consultant utilizes research and data to help a business streamline its operations and optimize its operational performance. For instance, they can be tasked with finding ways to boost business efficiency, lower costs, or elevate organizational productivity. Additionally, an operations consultant can be brought in by a consulting firm to focus on the operations of each time. Types of operations consultants are:
- A sales Operations Consultant
- An HR Operations Consultant
- A Marketing Operations Consultant
It’s crucial for people in this line of business consultancy to have a proven record of elevating operations within an organization, ideally several businesses. Furthermore, you must be comfortable with data and research analytics, which means having a background in business administration, an MBA, economics, or finance degree will give you an edge over your competitors in the consulting industry.
7. Education Consultant
Also referred to as an independent educational consultant, an education consultant or higher education consultant is usually someone with experience in business administration or teaching who now serves as an advisor in all things education.
Synonymous with a high education consultant, an educational consultant is a professional consultant who assists parents and students with financial aid and college planning. They focus on advising and training members of the educational community on student achievement, new technologies, and classroom policies.
An independent educational consultant is an expert in helping students find universities or colleges where they can thrive.
8. Tax Consultant
Tax consultancy is a business that entails providing invaluable insight to tax filers. An excellent tax consultant grasps tax laws and can create strategies that diminish obligations while lowering the likelihood of an audit that can trigger a conflict with the state tax agency or the IRS. Additionally, a tax consultant working independently or with a consulting firm can prepare documents such as tax returns on behalf of a potential client.
The Key Skills for a Successful Consultant
To thrive in the consulting industry means you should possess the following skills.
Creativity is a top priority in food, writing, graphic design, art, and other fields. While other sectors might not prioritize creative thinking, it goes beyond producing art. Creative thinking evokes ideas from people beyond the generic ways of approaching the business of the industry. It triggers listening to and brainstorming ideas from a multitude of people.
Thinking Practically And Conceptually
Conceptual thinking implies being innovative and visionary. You might have a powerful intuition or the ability to coax ideas from nearly anyone who has a hard time finding the words for an abstract concept.
As an excellent consultant taking on various business jobs, you might ask provocative questions during a brainstorming session to evoke conceptual thinking and help others form inspirational touchstones for an organization to believe in.
It’s only after creating your vision that your practical skills in business consulting will allow you to help others transform vision into deliverables and actionable items. You can help outline a particular strategy that narrows down the focus of a business.
You can help a business owner structure various projects accordingly and assign tasks based on the broad ideas you have personalized for your client.
You might be called in for a consulting job when permanent employees require extra expertise or guidance. Your role will usually entail problem-solving, possibly without substantial advance information on the problems your client has presented to you.
Depending on the type of consultancy you specialize in, you might be responsible for conflict resolution among staff, helping with the creation of a business plan for a self-employed client, providing training in a vast assortment of fields.
Your ability to listen keenly to the concerns the employees bring to your attention and react rationally to come up with viable solutions is one of the most valuable skills to have.
Empathetic and Clear Communication
After coming up with solutions to an organization’s problems, the client should value your ability to present them concisely, empathetically, and clearly. Depicting empathy means demonstrating an eagerness to hear how particular problems affect the staff directly as opposed to the bottom line from a production or financial standpoint.
For instance, if your business consultancy firm focuses on boosting the efficiency in a restaurant, the hostesses, servers, and kitchen staff (cleaners and cooks) will execute your suggestions. When you show understanding and kindness while concisely outlining the changes that the employees need to make, they are more likely to be receptive to what is required of them.
Collaborating with Various Job Levels
You might be hired by a particular department within an organization, a company’s board, or senior management in the consulting business. Having confidence when working with employees and stakeholders who will execute a plan can make all the difference.
Honing your listening and public speaking skills, in addition to developing friendliness, poise, and politeness, will serve you well in all circumstances.
Time Management and Organization
When an organization hires an independent consultant to help with altering the business structure or solve a problem, their time is equally valuable. While meetings are likely an inevitable part of the process, you can show respect for their time by conducting meetings with utmost efficiency and brevity.
You can collaborate with people in advance to come up with an agenda and be firm but polite in your attempts to keep a meeting on course. To do so, limit the meetings to the relevant employees, particularly for preliminary work that involves defining the scope of your consultancy project.
Prepare for meetings well in advance and ensure that electronic documentation and presentations are easily accessible, allowing you to discuss your suggestions seamlessly without awkward delays.
Given that the consultancy industry involves working with a boatload of clients, having a sense of curiosity can help you become a successful consultant. It entails asking focused and thoughtful questions and listening keenly to the responses.
Additionally, you gain a deeper understanding of how each business fits within the framework of its industry and the philosophy of a company and its innovation tactics.
If the client you’re hired to help lacks curiosity from employees and management, you can step in to foster curiosity among employees to explore their industry and ask the right questions about competitors’ practices.
Your credibility in the consultancy industry likely stems from your experience and reputation as a professional consultant who has helped a boatload of clients and businesses in measurable and legitimate ways.
Beyond these criteria, you can boost your credibility with a professional website that outlines your experience and skills, higher education, and available certifications.
You can offer to be a guest speaker on an established podcast, start a business advice podcast, or write a book, article, or academic paper explaining your business-related philosophies and ideas. Positive reviews from happy clients will give a new client the confidence to seek your expertise.
How to Improve Consulting Skills
It’s no secret that daily consultancy is a great place to hone your skills as a professional consultant. Upon critically assessing your daily interactions, you’ll discover your strong points and areas that could use some improvement. Let’s discuss a few ways to step up your game.
1. Hire an Independent Consultant
You’ll likely gain familiarity with consultants across a wealth of sectors who depict the skills you seek to hone. Learn how they acquired their skills and create a mentorship or training plan where they share their knowledge.
2. Enroll In a Consulting Course
There’s no shortage of institutions that offer training courses culminated in certifications. Keep your eyes peeled for consultancy programs that cover the skills that pique your interest the most and determine whether earning a certification from a specific organization is the secret to landing lucrative opportunities and well-paying clients.
3. Boost Your Exposure
Rather than sticking to the same type of consultancy for each consulting job you get, you can increase your exposure by taking on diverse clients. New experiences expose you to different things that can help you broaden your knowledge base. You can mold your career as a consultant based on acknowledging your greatest strengths.
4. Study the Words of Specialists
A successful consultant typically writes books, articles and discusses how to hone your skills. Find one with the skills and philosophies that match your professional goals, heed their advice, and learn their methods.
Educational Requirements for Consultants
Let’s delve into what you should study to become an independent consultant or work for a consulting firm.
Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree
Most employers only consider a consultant with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with a major in management, accounting, marketing, business, and finance. The coursework for college degrees should include organizational leadership, statistics, ethics, accounting, communications, and project management. Other courses in presentation and public speaking can help prepare you to present your suggestions and results to your client or a group.
As a tip, pursue a double major to specialize in your preferred industry such as tourism, healthcare, education, or technology. If you’re an aspiring consultant looking to work in the public sector, focus on developing skills for specific US consulting services or a particular government agency which can include transportation, agriculture, finance, education, or labor.
Step 2: Gain Work Experience
Experience can show a potential employer the success of a consultant in bettering organizations facing similar problems. Most firms prefer hiring professionals with at least two years of experience in the consulting industry.
Additionally, most employers gravitate towards consultants working in accounting, management, or other business positions. A consultant may get the ball rolling at a consulting firm before becoming an independent consultant running a successful consulting business.
As a tip, join the Association of Professional Consultants, the IMC USA, and other professional organizations for consultants that offer different membership levels. The IMC offers memberships for anyone aspiring to become a certified consultant or student but are yet to meet all the stipulated requirements.
Memberships provide additional networking and training opportunities that can result in business referrals.
Step 3: Get Consultant Certification
While certification isn’t always a requirement by employers, it proves that a consultant meets the certifying agency’s training, education, and experience standards. The IMC offers three levels of certification.
It requires at least three years of experience in management consulting, five years of additional experience in the consulting industry or a bachelor’s degree, and a minimum of five excellent client reviews. Furthermore, candidates must pass an oral and written certification exam.
Experienced Consultant Certification
It requires a minimum of 10 years of consulting experience coupled with the requirements for basic certification.
It’s for high-level management consultants with at least 20 years of experience in management consulting or as a legal nurse consultants, both of which require direct client consulting. Each certification has a validity of three years, after which renewal is required.
Step 4: Get a Master’s Degree
While most employers don’t always hire consultants with a master’s degree, it’s no secret that they may prefer a consultant with a master’s degree in accounting, management, finance, or business administration (MBA).
The coursework in these degree programs helps students sharpen their skills in management, communication, leadership, and economics, and the skills and knowledge learned can help them quickly climb the ladder in their consulting career.
As a tip, consider a combined master’s and bachelor’s degree program. Although some colleges offer the combination of an MBA with a non-business bachelor’s degree program, these programs allow qualifying candidates to specialize in non-business fields such as IT, engineering, and health care while receiving comprehensive training in business-related concepts.
Most of the dual programs are geared towards helping students earn both degrees in a 5-year timeline rather than the standard six years it would take to earn the credentials separately. The average salary of a certified management consultant, such as a legal nurse consultant, is $77,426.
How to Start a Consulting Business
Setting up a consulting firm ushers in the ability to choose your projects, come up with a schedule, focus on the goals you value, and form your career trajectory. Rather than start a business from scratch, offering a consulting service independently allows you to leverage your professional experience.
It can be a lucrative option as fields such as management analysis, law, or accounting have the highest earning potential for a self-employed consultant. Like any business owner, there are steps you should take when starting a consulting company to ensure you succeed.
1. Take the Time to Network
Networking allows you to connect with other consultants in your field, connect with key people, be on the radar of potential clients, and seek out introductions that can take your business to the next level. If you interact with someone on a professional level, find a way to keep in touch with them.
For instance, you can use professional social media platforms such as LinkedIn, exchange contact details, and send an email. You never know when the opportunity to reach out to them may rise, and online tools such as social media platforms make it a breeze to find people regardless of where and when you interacted with them.
2. Find Your Niche
Rather than trying to please everyone, apply your expertise to a niche market that needs your services. Doing so boosts your chances of establishing a successful consulting business by tailoring your services to ensure they add value to particular organizations or groups of people. To find your niche think about:
- Your specializations
- The problems you can solve
- The services missing in your geographical location or industry
- Who has the most to gain from your expertise and knowledge
After defining what you do and who you do it succinctly, you’ll understand your target market and the most ideal way to market your services.
3. Talking Points
These are like sound bites; concise descriptions of what you have to offer and how you do it. Documenting your talking points is the secret to advertising and promoting your consulting business. They should highlight the aspects that set you apart from the pack and reinforce the value you bring to your customers.
4. Create Systems
By putting systems in place, you don’t have to start each consulting project from scratch. For instance, you might need a proposal template, an array of on-boarding questions that you always ask, and a description of services you offer that can be sent to every potential client. You can opt for a template that will ensure you:
- Don’t omit essential documents or forms
- Maintain a branded and coherent look for all forms and documents
- Work with utmost efficiency
- Maintain uniform quality from one project to another
5. Set the Pricing
Creating a pricing structure might call for some trial and error coupled with analysis to know the duration a particular project will take. As you set the prices for your consulting service, consider:
- The time you expect to invest in a myriad of tasks
- Additional expenses that you’ll incur
- The standard in your industry
- What you require to stay afloat and rake in profits