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Consulting is perhaps the most accessible entrepreneurial business one can undertake because there's basically zero start-up cost. There's no office to rent, no inventory to buy, no special equipment, no franchise fees, no incorporation costs, and you can spend as little or as much as you want on advertising and marketing. Simply put, all you really need is to know how to do something that most people don't know how to do and would be willing to pay money to either learn how to do or have it done for them. Just about anyone can hang up their shingle and say, "I'm a consultant".
Of course, that's why consultants have developed a bad reputation in some ways. Jokes abound about it:
- "A consultant is someone you pay to tell you what you already know."
- "I got laid off last week."
"So you're unemployed?"
"No, I'm a consultant."
- Q: How many consultants does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Let me do some research and get back to you on that.
Many professional organizations have popped up, both for the consulting field in general and for particular areas of practice, in order to address these issues. They provide standards of practice and certifications to raise the level of professionalism in the industry.
Some would argue that knowledge is a consultant's most important intangible asset, but in reality, reputation is. Knowledge can be easily bought, or even sub-contracted, while reputation can't. You could know everything in the world, but if no one knows you know it, you're not going to make a living with it. The most effective form of marketing is still word-of-mouth referrals, and that relies entirely on reputation.
Some consultants are fortunate enough to start out with an established reputation in their industry. If you're fortunate enough to be one of those people, then congratulations to you - you've already got a huge head start! But in either case, there are several things you can do to build reputation when you're first starting out, even before you have referenceable clients:
- Be prolific.
- Be ubiquitous.
- Be generous.
- Be dependable.
- Be credible.
Let's look at each of these in more detail.
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