You may daydream of quitting your 9 to 5 and going out on your own. Make sure you do your research and plan before hitting the eject button.
If you provide services as an employee of a firm, it’s probably occurred to you that you could make more if you went out on your own as a consultant in your field. While it’s true: you’d get 100% of what is billed to the client versus your current rate, it’s a lot harder to branch off as a consultant.
If you’re in any of these fields, you can start a consulting firm of your own:
- Project Management
The key is understanding who your customers will be, and not breaking any laws by taking clients from your current firm.
Stay Within the Lines
Sometimes employers have employees sign a noncompete agreement that prevents them from starting a business in the same field for a certain number of years. If you’ve signed one of these, go over it with a finetooth comb, and consider consulting a lawyer to see if it would stand up in court. An agreement like this can be a serious obstacle if you’re starting the same kind of consulting company as the one you currently work with.
Also make sure you didn’t sign any other sort of agreement that prevents you from taking your clients with you. While some consider it unethical to take an employer’s clientele with them when going solo, with no legal leg to stand on, you may be able to do so.
Essentially make sure you won’t be breaking any laws by starting your own business. If you have signed any such agreements, look for loopholes, like offering different consulting services that don’t compete with your current employer.
Identifying Your Customers
If you work for another company, you might not even be involved in securing new clients, so it will be eye opening when you have to do so. Think about whether you want the same type of clients, or whether you want to change your focus slightly. If you’re working with corporate clients now, you might prefer to focus on small businesses, or a particular niche that you enjoy working with.
Brainstorm on where you can find this type of client and ways to reach them. This might include:
- Attending industry events
- Speaking at these industry events
- Asking for referrals
- Joining an industry organization
- Offering pro bono work to get experience as a consultant
Setting Up Shop
Starting as a consultant takes more than a desk and a computer in the spare bedroom. You need to choose what type of business entity you will run under and register as a business in your state. You’ll need a business bank account, business cards and a website too.
It’s also a good idea to get the types of documents you’ll use regularly together as templates so you can easily modify them:
This makes it simple to custom build a quote and get it to a potential customer in minutes, rather than starting from scratch when you’re under deadline.
Making the Transition
It’s a good idea to keep as good a relationship as you can with your current (and soon to be former) employer once you go on your own. Let your supervisor know your plans. You may be surprised that he is supportive of you. Begin to transition out of your job, while working on your consultancy after hours. Don’t work on your new business during office hours, or you may get fired before you’re ready to leave.
In the event that the bridges are not burned, keep in touch with contacts at your former company, as they may be able to refer business to you, especially if it falls outside of what the company specializes in. Many consultants are pleasantly surprised to get new business from a previous employer!