You’ve been doing your job for years. You’re an industry insider who knows everyone and everyone knows you. You have a particular area of expertise and knowledge. You like solving problems and giving out advice. And picking who you want to work with has a certain appeal.
On top of this, maybe you’re working for a company that expects to struggle during an economic downturn. Their decline could cost you your job as they trim staff to cut corners. Your entire industry could suffer -- further limiting your job prospects.
Many marketers turn to consulting to make ends meet or to follow a dream of being their own boss during a downturn. It becomes the hardest job they ever had. And they sometimes don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from, but they have the drive to get out there every day to find clients willing to pay for their expertise.
Do you feel like you can be a consultant? We interviewed several consultants who went out on their own and came up with a list of 10 traits you definitely need to have as well as 5 traits that could doom your best efforts. We also put together a quick quiz you can take to see if you have what it takes (see hotlink below).10 Traits You Definitely Need
Consultants share certain traits -- no ifs, ands or buts. To be successful, you simply can’t do without them. Here are the top 10 traits of marketers who have made the transition from corporate jobs to independent consultants:
-> Good Trait #1. You have enough experience
Working her way up over 15 years from Assistant to the President to Director of PR for a Chicago PR firm before becoming a consultant was the perfect experience, says Mary Garrett, President, MG Public Relations Inc. It gave her access to like-minded people who became mentors. She learned what goes into developing business presentations for clients, including Quaker Oats and Weber Grills.
“I think having the big agency experience … learning how to deal with big clients, moving up in an organization like I did was invaluable,” Garrett says.
Reggie Brady, Founder, Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions, had 28 years of experience as a corporate marketer and a client before starting her own email and direct marketing consultancy.
“To me that’s kind of a perfect background because I sat on both sides of the fence,” Brady says. “It helps me have a better understanding of what’s going on in the client’s mind [and] how to bring in other resources.”
-> Good Trait #2. You have an outgoing personality
Outgoing means you are comfortable with “putting yourself out there” -- selling yourself, meeting new people, networking and building relationships, says Jeanne Jennings, Founder, JeanneJennings.com Inc., an email marketing consultancy.
Outgoing also means being a highly motivated self-starter, says Garrett.
“You have to like people,” says B.L. Ochman, a blogger, Internet marketing and social media strategist and consultant. “Do your research well, listen before you speak, communicate your ideas clearly, be willing to revise your thinking as you get new information.”
-> Good Trait #3. You have plenty of connections
PR consultant Valerie Chan, Owner, Plat4orm PR, knew a lot of people before getting into consulting. Working for large companies like Oracle, Microsoft and PeopleSoft helped. People started noticing the work she was doing, and then she started getting requests from companies wanting to hire her as a consultant.
-> Good Trait #4. You speak with authority and people listen
Call it a blog, a column, an email newsletter, a book, regular articles … whatever. If people are reading your views and opinions, or following your advice, you have a good basis for becoming a consultant.
Jennings says it was her email marketing column in ClickZ that got her some important first clients when she became a corporate casualty during the 2001 recession. “I really beat the bushes. I wrote articles, started speaking around the country and world. I think that’s really helped me get business because you kind of stand apart from the rest.”
Brady agrees. All of her business comes through referrals -- whether it’s through an article she’s written or someone who has heard her speak or through her network of professional contacts.
-> Good Trait #5. You’ve got money sense
You need to know when to take a risk. But you should make sure you have a fairly substantial amount of money to fall back on should it take longer than expected to get paid. Often, consulting is feast or famine, Jennings says. You might not have work for a month and be swamped the next.
-> Good Trait #6. You have a strong work ethic
You don’t mind working long hours, including late nights, early mornings and weekends. You also need self-discipline to set your own hours and work them, Chan says. And you have to be able to thrive in an environment where there’s no one to have casual conversations with between tasks.
“You have to really want it,” Jennings says.
Brady says she never worked longer hours before becoming a consultant. “It’s all driven by wanting to please clients. Sometimes there are very short turnaround time frames. If something needs to be on the client’s desk on Monday, then you have to work all weekend.”
-> Good Trait #7. You get results
“It’s all about being able to perform and deliver,” Chan says. “If you’re able to deliver, then you’ll have ongoing clients.”
Delivering results means being able to show exactly what you’ve done for the fee you’re charging a client, she says.
-> Good Trait #8. You know the market
Knowing the market includes:
o Knowing how your client compares to competitors
o Spotting trends so you can prepare the client for what’s next
o Reading industry-related material to stay ahead of your clients on new strategies, tactics and tools that really work
-> Good Trait #9. You listen well
Being a good listener is important. Chan tries to find out what a company’s true objectives are when she goes in for consulting work. She listens carefully because what they say isn’t always what they need.
Ochman says: “You need to make sure you maintain the curiosity to keep learning. If I ever lose that, I’ll throw in the towel.”
-> Good Trait #10. You have tact
You need diplomacy and tact, Brady says. You must be able to work with teams internally and externally. Getting key people within and, perhaps, outside your client’s organization may be critical to reach objectives. This might require gentle nudging to get people to do what needs to get done.
“So it’s figuring out how to marshal resources appropriately to keep things moving,” she says. “In other cases, it’s finding the right network of resources for copy, design, SEO, whatever … so I can bring a full solution to the client.”5 Traits That Don’t Work
OK, being a consultant also means you really can’t have certain traits. If you do, you probably shouldn’t take the plunge. At the least, going from corporate marketer to independent consultant will be a much more difficult transition.
-> Bad Trait #1. You’re in it for the money
Making your clients successful -- not yourself -- should be your number one motivation, Chan says. You can’t show results without putting your clients first. You won’t be able to maintain the client base you need to be a successful consultant.
“Money comes to you if you care about what you do and you do it well,” Ochman says.
-> Bad Trait #2. You are shy or introverted
Do you have a hard time talking to people or selling yourself on a project to your higher-ups? You’re going to have a hard time being successful as a consultant.
-> Bad Trait #3. You love the structure of a corporate job
Do you find comfort within the guidelines of being told what to do? Do you need someone to give you approval? “Your own approval has to be enough” in consulting, Ochman says.
In fact, the whole reason some consultants choose the work is because they want to pick who they want to work with instead of being handed a client or a task. Garrett wants to decide what’s best for her clients based on her expertise and experience, she says.
-> Bad Trait #4. You don’t listen well or read much
Do you love hearing yourself talk more than listening to others? Is reading up on what’s going on in the industry not your cup of tea? Consulting probably isn’t a good fit for you.
-> Bad Trait #5. You just like to execute tactics
Someone who wants just to execute tactics wouldn’t be a good fit for consulting.
“You have to look at the big picture,” Garrett says. And you have to do everything from developing comprehensive PR and marketing plans to developing contacts to putting stamps on envelopes and finding resources to fix your computer when it goes down. Useful links related to this article: Are You Consultant Material? Take Our Quick Quiz
Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions:
Valerie Chan’s LinkedIn profile:
Mary Garrett’s MG Public Relations Inc.:
B.L. Ochman’s blog: