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How to start a consultancy career

People have many reasons for wanting to become a consultant. A portfolio career can be very attractive, allowing you to take a step back from the full time commitment to one company or one employer.

The key benefit of working as a consultant is that suddenly your time is your own. You can decide how much you want to work and you can take holidays when it suits you and you will be rewarded accordingly. Life as an entrepreneur, working as a consultant and being in charge of your own destiny, puts control in your own hands. You can work as much or as little as you like. Decision making is all yours and this can be a great thing but sometimes you may miss the contribution of others.

Self employment, running your own business, being a consultant, brings life under your control and you will reap what you sow.

A good way to start would be to work out what you are leaving behind when you leave employment. Life insurance, pension contributions, insurances are now all down to you. You are responsible for your own tax and NI contributions so how do you structure your self employment? There are a number of options available, including setting up as a limited company or moving to a partnership and self-employed status. Make sure you take proper advice from a qualified accountant. It is easy to make fundamental errors without even knowing it, and fall foul of IR35 and VAT regulations. How many potential traps are there that you are unaware of? Before you begin, get the right advice and work out what you need to do to be structured properly.

The message therefore is that you need to work actively to manage your own business. You are now in charge of finance, sales, marketing, PR, administration, operations, project management, IT and office cleaning. Whether you choose to outsource any of this is another decision to make, but from day 1 it is down to you to decide.

When you work in a business as an employee, finance send out invoices and someone chases payment. Cash in the business is managed by the CFO together with the banking relationships, ensuring that the annual accounts are produced, audited and filed. Insurances are all in place. Colleagues in the business manage sales, marketing, finance, PR, engineering, operations, IT and your ‘only’ responsibility is to fulfil the demands of your job description. When you are consultant, suddenly everything sits with you.

You may have decided to become a consultant as you are excited at being personally responsible for projects or diverse assignments. However, you will have to turn your hand to everything. Do you have a website? Do you need one? My view is that a website probably won’t generate sales on its own, but it will give you the credibility that you need. A website doesn’t need to be expensive so long as it is well written and looks professional. A social media presence for your new enterprise will also be essential, so take the time to review Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook and decide how you want to handle them.

The temptation as a consultant is to plunge into what you know best. A good plan is to begin the task that you dread or vaguely dislike. The most successful people are those who stay in control of all areas.

If you don’t have a ready-made network of accountants, pension advisers, insurers or IT specialists, use your own network of trusted friends and colleagues for recommendations. They will gain kudos from their contacts for having put you in touch and you will be a warm connection rather than someone who has walked in off the street.

Getting the basics right of how your business will be run in a legal and safe way with all angles covered is the right way to begin. Once you have launched into action with business development and moved into the delivery of your projects, you won’t have time for the more mundane yet essential aspects of your own business. Self discipline will see you through, knowing that when you begin to win new business you have a robust process and system to support you.

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