5 Things I Learned During My First Year as a Consultant

2010 was my first year as a full-time consultant. Below are a few things I’ve learned.

  1. “You might be a consultant if…” What is a consultant, anyway? It always seemed one of those vague job titles of the unemployed, or of those with something to hide. What made things click for me was a book my former boss gave me as a going-away present. Getting Started in ConsultingIt’s called “Getting Started in Consulting,” by Alan Weiss. I’m allergic to most business and self-help books, but this one really helped me get started, and a lot of the tips below come from this book. I’ve always been a jack-of-all trades, and Weiss’s book helped me see this as an asset. Although I still struggle with telling people what I “do,” the term “consultant” at least starts the conversation. If you have a broad range of skills, both strategic and tactical, that can be deployed for clients, you might be a consultant. In my case those skills mostly relate to online marketing and website development, but that hasn’t stopped me from consulting in other areas.
  2. Charge for value not hours. Probably the chapter in Weiss’s book that everyone skips to is how to price your services. One point that he drills home is that charging by the hour can be a disservice to both you and your clients. I don’t know about you, but after so many years of experience, there are certain tasks that I can complete very quickly. Why should I be penalized for doing something in one hour that might take someone else four? Likewise, I don’t want clients to think about the clock ticking every time they call me. Better to agree upon the project’s scope and price up front. There will still be times when hourly billing is appropriate, but it’s not as often as you think.
  3. Go beyond your comfort zone… In the first couple months of the year, I felt like I had to say yes to everything. I was afraid that if I didn’t say yes the work would dry up and I’d be broke. So I did things like learn Drupal (a web content-management system) in a weekend. It was the right move at the time because now I’m fairly knowledgeable about Drupal and can advise clients on its pros and cons. But…
  4. But don’t go too far. If this same project fell in my lap today, I would turn it down. I learned a lot the first time around, but if I did it again it would be like beating my head against the wall. I’m not a Drupal developer and don’t want to be. But it’s useful to know a little something about Drupal
  5. Enjoy the downtime. When you work a regular desk job, there’s all this pressure to give the illusion of working nonstop, eight hours a day. I say “illusion” because no one works this way. We’re not wired to keep nose to grindstone for such extended periods. The difference for a consultant is that no one is watching to be sure you look busy. The results are all that matter. As long as you can deliver the results—which requires a lot of discipline when you don’t have a boss—it doesn’t matter if you also took time to read a book to your child, or go to the dog park, or watch videos of cats on YouTube.
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