What/Who is a Professional Independent Consultant?

If you tell people you are a consultant, many of them will not understand that you are an independent professional in business for yourself. They have good reason to be confused. Many people who call themselves consultants are employees of large global firms like Accenture, and others perform temporary assignments through a staffing agency. Still other people market themselves as consultants when they take on projects between (or in addition to) full-time jobs.

Being misunderstood by people in social situations can be frustrating. Being misunderstood by prospective clients and networking partners will hurt your profit.

As professional independent consultants, we need to present ourselves not only as senior professionals but also as business owners. When we are perceived that way, corporate procurement and HR departments will consider us for more substantial projects, be more likely to hire us as independent contractors on a 1099 tax basis, and may pay higher rates.

As we "go to market" or talk about ourselves, there are three main concepts to get across:

Professional

We deliver services based on our expertise (often a license or credential), specialized skills or knowledge, or decades of experience. Some of us began our careers at consulting firms such as McKinsey or Deloitte. Many of us have one (or more) advanced degrees or professional licenses, such as an MBA, J.D. or CPA. Some of us have respected industry certifications such as Project Management Professional (PMP) or Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). Others of us hold no formal credential but gained our expertise leading Fortune 500 projects and teams.

Independent

We are not employees deployed to larger organizations by consulting firms. We are also not temporary staff placed by third-party agencies. Rather we operate solo- or micro- businesses. We may employ assistants or other support staff but we usually deliver the professional services ourselves. As professional independent consultants we use our own tools or methods, not those of the client. We have our own legitimate businesses and pay our own taxes. We are our own boss.

Consultants

We provide strategy and advice to people in corporations in order to solve a problem, improve a situation, or make something happen. During an engagement, our activities may include a wide variety of activities – from system analysis and design to coaching executives, technical assistance, and producing intellectual property. Typically, we are not paid for tangible work products but for the total body of work fostering the desired results. Our work is focused on business challenges, not personal matters like weight loss.

Walk the Talk

To increase your perceived value, act like a business. Some ways to foster that perception are:

  • Use a professional email address. Instead of John.Smith@gmail.com you can have John@SmithConsulting.com for less than $100 a year.
  • Form a business entity. The primary reason to incorporate or form a limited liability company (LLC) is to help protect your personal assets from litigation. However, LLC or Inc. after your business name also promotes the image that you operate a company rather than just doing projects on a freelance basis.
  • Be deliberate in defining your service offerings like project management or human resources strategy rather than listing your skillsets. (See Know Your Niche.)
  • Carry business cards. Distribute them at conferences and networking events, and give them to people who might hire or refer you. Inexpensive sources include Vistaprint and MOO.
  • Polish your LinkedIn profile. With over 450 million users, LinkedIn is often the first place people look when they want to find out more about someone in business. Moreover, 90% of the time your LinkedIn profile is one of the top three results in a Google search on your name.
  • Publish a website. Many successful independent consultants don’t have websites because they grow their business through networking and referrals. Nevertheless, having a web site sends a message that you are the owner of a business, not just an individual for hire. Note: Websites are a lot easier and less expensive than they used to be. Try Weebly.com or SquareSpace.com.
  • Get a business license. Nothing says you are really in business like having a business license. Not every client will care if you have one but larger clients will ask. A license may be required to qualify for a client’s vendor program.
  • Clarify expectations with written contracts. They are a hallmark of a business-to-business relationship.

You might never be able to explain what you do quickly over cocktails but it’s imperative that you can easily summarize what you offer, how you work, and how you deliver value. PICA exists to help put all the pieces in place to help you truly be a professional, independent, consultant.

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