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Aug 18, 2008
Blog Post

SherpaBlog: Launching a Consulting Career? Don't Quit Your Day Job

SUMMARY: No summary available.
By Anne Holland, Founder

If you, like thousands of marketers, are considering working as a consultant, my advice is not to quit your day job until you're far too busy to juggle both. During this time, you should be doing three activities concurrently:

#1. Low-risk, try out
Pro bono work is a great way to test your consulting chops. You'll discover what being a consultant is really like. (Your feelings may surprise you.) Plus, you'll get testimonials and creative samples to land paying clients with in the future.

Your best bet is work for a trade association or business club in the niche market you're hoping to consult for. You'll get to meet members and grow your reputation with association officials who may recommend you to members later when you officially hang out your shingle. Many associations eagerly welcome help promoting their membership, events, awards due dates, and paid publications.

Another choice is pro bono work for entrepreneurs and startups in the niche of your choice. The experience of working with an actual client is invaluable, and they'll allow you odd hours in keeping with your day job. Plus, you can require that they allow you to submit the work and results for awards which can lend your future practice invaluable credibility. (Note: MarketingSherpa tracks advertising, PR and marketing awards in our Awards Calendar for Members. Trial Membership is free.)

However, you should swear pro bono business clients to secrecy on your relationship. I'd even suggest a formal contract including this point. The relationship should also have strict time limits and goals otherwise you can get sucked into free consulting for life or risk bad feelings. It's hard enough to establish solid financial value for consulting in some clients' minds. You don't need the "this could be free" whisper going around the community.

The classic pro bono choice is a charity or other non-profit. Frankly, unless you can see a direct connection between your work for the charity and a promotional opportunity to land new clients, I would not recommend this. You won't get valuable networking, and charities are different beasts than most clients so the experience will differ as well. Give to charity, but as a personal act, not as a start-up test maneuver.

#2. Reputation & connections growth
Definitely submit pro bono work for awards. In addition, aggressively start online efforts for self-promotion and networking, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and a blog.

Next, make a list of media to which you can submit articles. Media might range from trade association and trade journal magazines and newsletters to email newsletters from vendors in the field. If the readership matches your target niche, chances are the editor may welcome a marketing columnist. In my experience, vendor email newsletters can actually outperform trade association ones significantly.

Use the "about the author" blurb to include a hotlink to your blog, along with a tantalizing note about what the reader might find there, such as a tip sheet. Be sure to add an "As seen in" blurb to your blog as well, with the logos of the publications you've written for. (Note: Get formal permission to use logos beforehand.)

Don't rely on the Web for all of your networking. Most consulting clients come through real-life meetings. Nothing online can duplicate the impact of having met someone face to face.

Offer to speak at industry events, even local club luncheons. You'll get more experience at public speaking, plus your name will get out there. (Several client-side marketers who've spoken at Sherpa Summits have launched consulting practices partly on the strength of that exposure.) Otherwise, attend every possible in-person event you can to meet potential clients and allies. If it means using vacation days to attend a trade show, so be it.

Handy tip if your company won't spring for tickets: Some larger trade shows will let you in for free as press. Contact a trade journal or business website editor to see if you can get credentialed as a freelance reporter for the event. Include links to sample articles or relevant blogs you've written for in the past, and tell the editor you'll cover your own time and expenses. In all fairness, you will need to write an article or show review and submit it in a timely manner -- probably from the show floor itself. If you aren't a great, fast writer, don't try this.

#3. Financial padding
Set up a separate bank account for your consulting practice. You don't need to incorporate or trademark for this; it can be a "dba" (doing business as) account in your to-be company name. Place all consulting checks into this account. Silo this money away from your regular accounts so you're not tempted to spend it. This will be your financial cushion to pay yourself later when you go full time.

Your ultimate goal is a three-six months' burn rate (i.e., the amount of money you need to live, pay taxes, and run your business if there's no income for a month) in this specific account. In the future, when you've got steady clients, your company account should never dip below 45-60 days' burn rate. (Some consultants let company savings dip to 30 days, but I think that's dangerous because some clients take up to 120 days to pay bills.)

While you still have a steady paycheck, apply for a line of credit or a new credit card if you don't already have some available. You may only need $5-$10k. Shop for the best possible interest rate at sites, such as Don't plan on spending much of it though; this should be emergency funding. Just run a small charge every 90 days or so to keep the card in use so it's not cancelled by the issuer.

Last, don't splash out on fancy new office equipment beyond the bare minimum. You don't need an Aeron chair or top-of-the-line Mac to start a company. (I started MarketingSherpa on a plank of wood laid across two dinged-up filing cabinets.) Save fancy office purchases as rewards when you've had your first successful year with more business already contracted for the second.

OK, expenses are mainly anything you need for (tight budget) networking and promotion, which might include relevant trade shows and an email service provider for the back end to build and ping an opt-in prospect list.

Next week: Should you consider being an independent contractor for your current employer?

See Also:

Comments about this Blog Entry

Aug 18, 2008 - Michael Sick of Customatrix Consulting says:
Working as a consultant is very different than working in a corporation. I spend 25 years in the corporate world before becoming a consultant in 2003 and regularly coach people on the differences. If you want a steady paycheck and are uncomfortable marketing yourself, don't leave the corporate world. New business development is a way of life for most consultants and even when you are busy, you need to be spending time nurturing future opportunities. The recommendation for a pro bono assigment is a good one as it enables you to see how a consulting relationship works. You may be able to handle one client on the side but once you need to juggle multiple clients and a full time job, something needs to change. Good luck!

Aug 19, 2008 - Caitlin Angeloff of Second Nature Marketing says:
What a great article, thanks for this information! Funny enough, I did 2 out of the 3 tips and am super happy with the ways things are working out. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it isn't beginners luck. Keep up the great work there at Marketing Sherpa. I've loved you guys since the first day a colleague of mine introduced me to your site.

Aug 20, 2008 - mark stevens of msco says:
Starting by placing a toe in the water is fine but you never really take it seriously until your back is against the wall and the conulting business has to provide for your income. Itis the difference between a business and a hobby.

Sep 07, 2008 - Angela of Stringfellow Creative Marketing Communications says:
Great advice! I found that working with an employer of record helped make it easier for me to transition from full-time employee to full-time consultant. I'm still ultimately responsible for my own business and marketing my services, but the other benefits made making the leap a little less intimidating. Depending on which employer of record company you choose, you might be able to save on taxes, business insurance, or have access to group healthcare benefits. All things new consultants need to worry about in addition to finding clients.

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