December 08, 2000, 11:31 AM —
The biggest impediment to starting a consulting business is fear. For most of us, the
thought of giving up the security of a regular paycheck activates our survival
instincts and brings terror to our hearts. But this fear is mostly psychological.
Though there is some risk involved in striking out on your own, you can always go back
to a "real job" if things don't work out. Remember: no risk, no reward. The rewards of
a successful consulting business are great, but achieving that success requires
complete commitment. Don't think of consulting as just getting consulting work; you are
creating a complete business. You will not only be the consultant doing client work,
but also the president, VP of sales and marketing, chief financial officer, and janitor
of your company. As for the fear, once you are established you will feel more secure
with a diversified client base than you ever did working for a single company.
Starting a consulting business is as hard as finding your first job. Once you have your
first job, there are either opportunities to leverage it to find the next job, or time
to line up something else. As for the beginning of your consulting business, the safest
approach is to arrange it while you are still employed full time. Maybe your employer
is willing to let you go to a part-time position. This gives you some reliable cash
flow while giving you time to develop your consulting business. If you're worried about
your employer's reaction, realize that he or she may be happy to have you part time if
the alternative is losing you entirely.
Another possibility is to get your first consulting job with your existing employer.
If that's not possible, concentrate on contacts and companies you already know. You
will find it hard to get work from people that don't know you until you are somewhat
There are a number of practical considerations in starting a consulting business, such
as insurance and taxes. These are not insuperable obstacles, but they must be
addressed. I recommend that you find a good accountant who can advise you on record-
keeping and tax issues. Meet with the accountant early on, but use the him or her
sparingly thereafter and take advantage of inexpensive but powerful software for your
day-to-day needs. I use Quicken for tracking all my expenses.