I'd Like To Be A Consultant

Dear Management Doctor

I have been a planner for 15 years and have done some consulting on the side for several small rural towns. I have a Master's Degree in Public Administration and my desire would be to work my way into the (Public Sector) Management Consultant business full time. I believe I have a keen understanding of public sector organizations and many of the inherent problems within the structure. I'd like to be able to help public organizations become more innovative and creative within the parameters of the organization and help them find possible solutions to (some) employee morale problems. I have visited your website and have read many of your documents.

I have a question I hope you can provide some insight for; what is the best way to "learn the ropes" within the consultant business? Although I have secured some jobs for small towns, it's extremely difficult to compete with companies like David Evans or others that have the resources to provide a much larger array of services, not to mention the polished submittals to the RFQs.

My second question is; have you ever heard of Resource Associates Corporation? It is a company that consists of an international network of consultants that will help a person like myself through a system of training, mentors, and tools to begin and be successful in practice. I have contacted them and plan on researching them, however with your diverse experience and years in the business, I thought I'd give a shot at you hearing about them at some time in your career?

I'd appreciate any information or advice you may have for me. If you put this on your website please keep my name confidential as I still work full time in a government agency and they do not know I plan to pursue other career options later this year.

Sign me anonymous

Dear I'd Like To Be;

I suggest:

  1. Part-Time Consulting
    Continue doing your small part-time consulting. The more experience and diversity you have the better.
  2. Niche
    Successful consulting comes from finding a niche. It is not clear in your email what area you want to specialize in.
  3. APA
    APA has a private practice division that seems to focus on small consulting firms. They have a number of publications and, I believe, a newsletter.
  4. Sub-Consulting
    When I started it was by sub-consulting to a number of large management and organizations firms. They taught me how to do my budget and a few techniques. What they mostly taught me was that they got most of the money and I did most of the work. But, you need to start somewhere.
  5. Small May Be Good
    It is true that you may not be able to compete with the big guys. However, many organizations are looking for the small firm with less overhead and more personal attention.
  6. Resource Associates Corporation
    I don't know this firm but did pull up their website. It was hard to understand what they actually do, no resumes, etc. I would tend to tread lightly until you get more info and some good references.
  7. Good News
    The good news is that the world is changing rapidly and I believe it is easier today then ever to become a consultant. Just find your niche, get a few contracts under your belt and you are on your way.
Best wishes and I hope that your niche is not the same as mine.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

I second the good Doctor's advice about the Private Practice Division. I've been a member since it was founded back in the stone age. We do have a newsletter that's very worthwhile. We do sessions at each Conference. This year there will be one on the ABCs of RFPs and RFQs and a Mobile Workshop to local consulting firms among other opportunities. Join us for the business meeting Sunday morning at the Conference here in Vegas.

Probably the best part of the group is being around others who are in the same business. Give it a try.

Polly Carolin, FAICP

Some additional activities that might be useful in starting a small consulting firm:

  • Work for a small consulting firm to learn the ropes - prospecting, pricing, scheduling, billing, etc. I didn't do this, but my mentor did. If you can't work for a small firm, observe consultants at work by attending meetings or other events where you can see how they develop and deliver presentations, answer questions, interact with their clients and the general public, and dress.
  • Find a consultant that is willing to be your mentor. I had a great mentor. Before I left my government job, she encouraged me to work with her. She is very successful now, and although I eventually chose another path, I would work with her again today if the opportunity arose.
  • Get your name out to other planners by writing articles for newsletters and offering workshops. Many of the divisions and chapters produce newsletters and it's usually easy to submit an article. Writing and presenting can also give you a chance to showcase your expertise.
  • Broaden your skills. Consulting demands many skills, including writing and presentation. If you need to learn a new skill or brush up on one that you already have, do it before you become a consultant.
  • Partner with other small firms or individuals on larger projects. It is very common for a consultant to identify a possible job and then assemble a team of consultants. Larger firms will also partner with individual consultants or small firms that have a specific expertise.
  • Save money. The first check from a client may not be in the mail for a while. You're going to need office space, internet service, office equipment, supplies, business cards, etc. Try not to buy anything that you don't have to have. During my time in consulting, Kinko's became my other office.
  • Develop a presence on the web, and use email effectively. Paul is a master at this. He writes a free newsletter, emails it, and gets others to contribute their expertise at no cost. What could be better? Listing your firm on the APA website and otherwise marketing on the web is essential these days.
This started out as a short list, but I just kept thinking of things. I hope some of them are helpful.

Former Planning Consultant