Website or No Website? Answers and Help for Independent Consultants

Website or No Website? Answers and Help for Independent Consultants

As a self-employed consultant do you really need a website?

I’m asked this a lot, particularly if a consultant gets most business from referrals or they contract through agencies or boutique firms. Besides, it’s highly unlikely that a prospective client is going to stumble upon your website and decide to hire you. Surely creating a website is a waste of time and money, right?

I used to say that if you had a really strong LinkedIn profile and you keep your network warm, you probably didn’t need a website. Indeed, I know dozens of independent consultants making six-figure incomes without one.

Now, however, my answer is, yes, absolutely, you need to have a business website. Here’s why:

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Consulting's Secret Club

Consulting's Secret Club

Last August I wrote a blog post about how labels matter, specifically that you should make more money by calling yourself a consultant instead of a contractor. But it’s not just about labels and language. It’s not enough to simply replace contractor with consultant on your résumé and LinkedIn profile.

I’ve been studying the LinkedIn profiles of various contractors and consultants I know and reflecting on how they usually get their work. What differentiates the well-paid rock stars of consulting from the plug-n-play contractors? Several variables affect the person’s brand. They include prior work experience (internal with a company vs an external consultant with a firm), their consulting niche, and how they market themselves, but the real difference is how they find and frame their work. 

Contractors find work through agencies or staffing firms while consultants are more likely to find work on their own, usually as a result of their professional network.

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How to Figure Out Your Consulting Bill Rate

How to Figure Out Your Consulting Bill Rate

Dear Liz, 

I have a quick question. I know a consultant who is going to do some work designing a company’s program for high-potential employees. The consultant has talent but not much experience. What hourly rate would you consider low, fair, too high? Can you ballpark this for me?

- Louis

Although the question is brief, a helpful answer is not. Pricing consulting services is notoriously difficult, particularly for self-employed consultants. You need to consider the real and perceived value of your services, expertise, and experience, as well as geography and market conditions. Several factors need to be considered:

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Quote Your Consulting Billing Rate with Confidence

Quote Your Consulting Billing Rate with Confidence

It takes practice to quote your consulting billing rate with confidence. The tactics in this article will help if you bill by the hour or by the day. There are other ways to bill for your talent and expertise but those will be covered in another article.

Benchmark so you know your rate is reasonable. There are lots of ways to do this. Talk with other consultants, do a web search on typical management consulting rates in your city or state, and/or try converting your employee salary to an hourly rate. Warning: this last calculation will be quite low since it doesn’t include profit, expenses, or the time it takes to run your business; try increasing this number by 40- 50%.

It also helps to have an idea of what consulting firms charge for consultants of similar background and expertise. Although rate information is a closely guarded secret, based on my 20 years in the industry here are very rough ballpark numbers for “management consulting” (not IT consulting, project management, training development, etc.).

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Contractor, Consultant, or Both: It Matters!

Contractor, Consultant, or Both: It Matters!

With the rise of the free agent nation and gig economy, there’s rampant confusion around the terms contractor, consultant, and independent contractor. If you are a self-employed consultant, you don’t want to be a contractor but do want to be an independent contractor. This article explains why.

Contractor or Consultant

How you perceive yourself matters because it influences how others perceive you. This affects how much money you can charge for your services and expertise.

Let me give you an example. Recently I met a sharp, professional woman with about 15 years of experience as a project manager and change management specialist. For the last few years, she’s been designing and implementing change management efforts for multinational companies. She’s been working through various agencies as a contractor and making anywhere from $90 to $110 an hour. Last week I recommended her to a client as a consultant with a pay rate of $135 an hour. This means that for a three-month, full-time project she’ll make about $12,000 more as a consultant. Annually, she’ll probably make $30,000 to $40,000 more as a self-employed consultant than as a contractor. (It’s hard to estimate because of unpaid time between projects.)

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Shift Your Perspective to Make Business Development Easier

Shift Your Perspective to Make Business Development Easier

Most consultants I know struggle with business development, and it’s a top concern among those thinking about going independent. “I don’t know how to build a pipeline of leads” or “I’m not good at sales” are common refrains.

Most of us never had sales training so this concern is understandable, but reframing how we think about business development can turn concern into action. Read any definition of business development and you won’t find the word sales.

A shift in perspective can make a significant difference in how you approach something. For example, before you go parasailing the first time you might think, “I’m excited to try this!” or “Oh my god, I’m going to die!” You’ll have a lot more fun if you approach it with an “I’m excited” attitude instead of “I’m scared.”

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Use Work Samples to Seal the Deal

Use Work Samples to Seal the Deal

Let’s face it, consulting often gets a bad rap. It’s perceived as nebulous, too theoretical, too touchy-feely. Plus, it's expensive. To combat this bias, use work samples and deliverables to show prospective clients how you do what you do. Demystify your process. This goes a long way toward removing uncertainty and skepticism. 

For 10 years as an independent change strategy consultant, I used this tactic to win several projects. Many clients don’t understand the difference between change management work and the more complex change strategy work. Most know that communications and training are involved but don’t understand how to achieve the buy-in of cross-functional stakeholders in a way tailored to their situation. 

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10 Minutes and $20 to Fine-Tune Your Image

10 Minutes and $20 to Fine-Tune Your Image

Consulting is a people business. Clients hire people who are smart, proficient, affable, and trustworthy. You probably perceive yourself this way, but do others? When people see your LinkedIn photo, what do they think of you?

Research from Cornell University shows that a first impression from an online photo usually persists. We make judgments when we see a photo, usually unconsciously, and these perceptions stay with us even after we’ve met the person. This lasting impact is formed in about a tenth of a second. Obviously having a really good, professional photo matters, but other things affect someone’s impression. It’s the background, the hair, the eyes, the smile, the posture—literally dozens of details. So how can you be sure that the photo you are using online conveys the qualities you want?

Thanks to Photofeeler, you no longer have to guess or rely on friends and family for feedback, who by the way will be biased because they know and presumably like you. Use the Photofeeler website to upload your photo(s) and get anonymous feedback on how competent, likable, and influential you appear. It’s easy, affordable, fun, and quite interesting.

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Part 3: Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile with Skills, Endorsements & Accomplishments

Part 3: Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile with Skills, Endorsements & Accomplishments

This is the third and final part in a series of articles. You can download the entire series as a reference guide here.

Most independent consultants have no budget for marketing or advertising, yet they all wish they had a bigger client list. Having a well-crafted LinkedIn profile is free and one of the first things potential clients will look at when they hear about you. Make the most of it!

The first article in this series about how to optimize LinkedIn profiles explains how to create an excellent first impression with a photo, background image, and a succinct “tag line” to summarize your brand and expertise. The second article provides tips for how to market yourself as an independent consultant using the Summary and Background sections. This article summarizes the importance of LinkedIn’s Skills and Endorsements, and Recommendations sections, which are misunderstood and underutilized. It also includes practical tips for how to beef up these sections, as well as the Accomplishments section.

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Part 2: Telling Your Story to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile

Part 2: Telling Your Story to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile

This is the second in a series of three articles. You can download the entire series as a reference guide here.

With over 133 million users in the U.S. and another 334 million around the world, LinkedIn has become an indispensable tool and reference. If someone is interested in hiring you as a management consultant, it’s a good bet that they’re going to look at your LinkedIn profile, even if you have your own website. It’s critical you put your best self forward.

The first article in this series explained how to have a “top-notch top box” on your profile. If this top section is your storefront window, the mid-section is your main-floor merchandise. This article presents tips for how to market yourself as a professional self-employed consultant using LinkedIn’s Summary and Background sections. (Hint: it’s not by rehashing your résumé.)

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Part 1: How to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile for Independent Consulting

Part 1: How to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile for Independent Consulting

This is the first in a series of three articles about how to optimize your LinkedIn profile. You can download the entire series as a reference guide here.

Whether or not you have a website for your independent consulting business, it’s critical that you have a polished, professional profile on LinkedIn. When someone does an internet search on your name, 90% of the time your LinkedIn profile will be one of the top three search results. It’s also likely to be the one they click on first because the format is familiar and easy to skim. 

As a self-employed professional, think of your LinkedIn profile as your storefront window where you display your most unique and appealing merchandise (services). Your goal: entice viewers to learn enough about you that they want to meet you in person—and ideally hire you to solve their problem.

This article offers tips for creating a “top-notch top box.” This includes your headline, photo, and background image. If you do nothing else to improve your LinkedIn profile, make sure you optimize this section!

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Why and How Personal Branding is Vital for Independent Consultants

Why and How Personal Branding is Vital for Independent Consultants

Everyone in business recognizes strong brands and understands their importance. Coca-Cola. Nike. Apple. These brands represent certain values. Their branding helps drive sales by keeping their products or services fresh in the consumer’s mind.

Independent consultants need to think the same way. You need to be top-of-mind when the need for your expertise pops up so the client thinks to call you, or their colleague thinks to refer you.

In our field this is called personal branding. It’s not about creating a fancy logo or website; it’s about being known for something and consistently emphasizing your expertise. It’s about your reputation. It’s about your image, how you’re perceived in the workplace and online. It’s how you promote yourself and “go to market.” And it’s an ongoing effort.

Personal branding is not just some touchy-feely, trendy idea, or something that just happens. It takes conscious thought and repeated attention.

 

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Do Independent Consultants Still Need Résumés?

Do Independent Consultants Still Need Résumés?

The biggest stressor for self-employed management consultants is business development: how to cultivate meaningful regular work. It’s vexing for a variety of reasons. First, consultants are good at helping clients solve problems but usually aren’t trained in sales or marketing. Second, when knee-deep in projects and facing deadlines, consultants are hard-pressed to find time to publish thought-leadership articles or create, launch, and manage marketing campaigns.

To meet the challenge I recommend changing your frame of reference. Instead of thinking of how companies or consulting firms typically handle business development, use an approach more like how we work as individuals and soloprenuers. Take for example real estate agents, who are experts at keeping their names fresh in people’s minds:

  • At least once a week I get a postcard listing recent home sales in my neighborhood.
  • Once a week I get an email with an interactive map showing which homes in the city closed escrow and at what price.
  • Once a month I get a memo pad with the realtor’s name, photo, and area of expertise.
  • Once a quarter I get a postcard of upcoming social and sporting events in the city.
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Your Consulting Niche vs Jack-of-All-Trades Myth

Your Consulting Niche vs Jack-of-All-Trades Myth

Many people who embark on the independent professional path think they should define their services broadly so they will look like a good fit for many projects. The exact opposite is true.

My company represents self-employed professionals across the country, and over the last seven years I have interviewed, coached, or worked with more than 200 independent management consultants. Thanks to all these interviews and projects, I am convinced that the people who always seem to have work are those who “own” a particular consulting niche or service area.

Let’s look at some examples.

I know a highly talented professional with over 20 years of experience with several Fortune 500 companies. Several years ago, my company agreed to represent her. She believed in the jack-of-all-trades myth: she would get more work if she described her expertise in a variety of ways. Here is a verbatim snippet from her résumé at the time:

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One Easy Step to a Polished Professional Image

One Easy Step to a Polished Professional Image

When you're a self-employed management consultant, conveying a professional image is critical to maximizing pay and profit.

Consultants who present a professional image as a stand-alone business can charge more for their services. It’s all about perception. If you look like you are doing consulting on the side or between jobs, clients won’t take you as seriously as someone who is a dedicated professional.

You will pay less in taxes—possibly a lot less—if you take advantage of business-owner tax deductions and contribute to your own retirement plan. To do this you should be paid on a 1099 tax basis instead of on a W-2 basis like a temp worker. To understand why, watch the 70-second video, “Why Friends Don’t Let Friends W-2.”

To be paid on a 1099 or business-to-business basis, you will likely need to demonstrate that you are an established business. There are dozens of ways to do this, but let’s keep this simple and pinpoint just one: your email address.

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