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Get your consultant business going in 90 days

Veteran business consultant Les Rubenovitch offers his personal strategy on how to go solo.
Veteran business consultant Les Rubenovitch offers his personal strategy on how to go solo.
  • Countless laid-off employees have "gone solo" as business consultants
  • 25-year veteran offers tips on launching your consulting firm
  • He tells how to quickly establish credibility and gain clients
  • He also talks about the personality traits that are best for a consultant

(CNN) -- Countless victims of recession layoffs have re-entered the workforce on their own with a new title: business consultant.

By taking skills they've been sharpening during their entire careers and working for themselves, these soloists are testing the waters of their new independence.

The potential for critical mistakes is large.

Hitting the ground running is rare. But experts say it is possible for new consultants to make a living as soon as 90 days if they're fortunate and they follow a solid business plan. More likely, it will be at least a year before these new consultant businesses are in the black.

CNN asked 25-year business veteran Les Rubenovitch, president of Toronto, Ontario-based Winning Edge Consultants Inc., for tips to help those considering becoming an independent consultant.

In a nutshell, newbie consultants should define their value, target their clients, establish credibility, conduct a self-examination and remain motivated.

CNN: How do potential independent consultants determine if they have the basic ingredients required to launch a successful consultant business?

Rubenovitch: First, if you want to start a consultant business, you should define what specific value you offer your potential clients. Then ask yourself: How should I describe that value?

Each person's life and work experiences are different, and what you may take for granted, or assume everyone else is capable of doing, is often uncommon or unique to you.

This is a critical "definition" stage.

It is when you should list your previous experience, skills, successes, completed projects and initiatives.

Scrutinize this list for common themes. This list is what you use to describe the value you can bring your new clients.

That description is often referred to as your unique selling proposition (USP).

CNN: Once they've decided they want to launch, what's the best next step?

Before you start down this path, this is a good time to take a hard look at who you are.
--Les Rubenovitch, Winning Edge Consultants Inc.
  • Ontario
  • Business
  • Small Business

Rubenovitch: Ask yourself this key question: Who would be my best -- or strategic -- customer? You want to define a very specific and detailed profile that will include enough clients to provide you with your target income and lifestyle.

This profile should exclude companies that won't appreciate you and the value of what you bring to the table.

The more specific your profile is, the better.

Focus on these factors: Define the industry, company size, number of employees and distance from your office.

Example questions you might ask yourself include: Is my target client technologically sophisticated? Is the owner highly educated? Is the client business owned by one person or partners? Is the leadership young or mature? Male or female? Is the business a nonprofit?

You get the idea: The more detailed this strategic customer profile is, the earlier in the selling stages you'll know if you should work hard to get this new client.

If not, it may be best to thank them for their time and leave so you can focus your energy on the "right" clients. Not all companies will be the right clients for you.

CNN: How do I get started? Doesn't everyone expect that I would have experience if they are going to hire me as a consultant?

Rubenovitch: This is where there's an opportunity to differentiate ourselves from countless others who are also looking to start a consulting practice.

Credibility is important, and you need to be able to establish it immediately.

I'd suggest offering to do presentations or speeches at your local college or any industry association that's having a meeting in your community.

Later, you can reference this to build your credibility.

Call the dean of the faculty that's most relevant to your area of expertise and offer to do a no-charge "real-world" presentation to their graduating class. If they're not receptive, ask for suggestions for an alternative topic or perspective. Thank them, think about it for a few days and call back with a proposal along the lines of their suggestion.

Persistence will pay off.

This same approach can be used with the trade associations, boards of commerce, etc. Search online or look through exposition hall schedules for upcoming meetings, and you can take the same approach.

Another very effective communication technique for immediately earning credibility is documented by Robert Cialdini, in his book "Influence."

He suggests that you should be the first to admit a weakness (say, lack of practical consulting experience) and then say "but," followed by a relevant strength (your unique selling proposition).

With this sentence, you've acknowledged a weakness, and most people will discount or even forget about it once they hear "but" followed by a strength they're interested in. Possibly a difficult or brave technique to try, but you'll find it will help you deliver a very persuasive message.

CNN: What personality types generally do well in the consultant field?

Rubenovitch: As an independent consultant, your success is exclusively based on your performance.

For some people, this is a lot of responsibility, while for others, this is very liberating.

Either way, you need to be prepared to generate business by doing what it takes to attract new clients and retain them. So, with your unique selling proposition and strategic customer profile in hand, it is time to go forth.

Are you prepared to do this? Before you start down this path, this is a good time to take a hard look at who you are.

Do you genuinely like to help others? If your only motivator is to make money, it's unlikely you'll be perceived as the kind of person that others would want to engage with.

Do you have self-confidence? This should not mean having a huge ego or arrogance, but a self-assurance that you know how to be successful at what you do best -- your USP.

Will people see your passion when you talk about your area of competence?

Passion is infectious, and it is important for potential clients to see and know that you care.

Remember: They're considering entrusting problems and challenges they can't solve alone, to you, an outsider.

Potential clients need to have confidence that you are eager to help them, good at what you do and passionate about it.

CNN: How important is motivation in the consultant game?

Rubenovitch: Critical. Every day, it's up to you to make it happen.

Whether you're looking for your first, second or third client, or if you have to complete a project or present suggestions for future engagements, the drive to propel yourself forward is totally up to you.

While you're facing customers, you're "on stage," as they say at Disney.

Many new consultants find their first clients and then stop marketing or selling their services while they deliver on the commitments made to these first clients.

What frequently happens is the "hill and valley" syndrome: Cash comes in, and then, when the projects end, there is no cash flow.

This is where the consultant must stay motivated and highly disciplined to continue to promote their services, even though they most likely don't have time to support additional clients.

This ongoing motivation is essential to minimize the likelihood of experiencing uneven cash flow, or worse, no cash flow when the projects end.

CNN: We always hear that setting goals is very important. How much of that is key to your strategy?

Rubenovitch: It's a core part of a successful business; for your consulting practice as well as for your client's businesses.

You should define where your business should be -- realistically -- in three years. This can be defined in terms of financial or numerical targets such as revenue, average revenue per client, number of hours billed -- or it can be as simple as number of clients.

Then repeat the same planning process for the one-year time frame. Because this is a closer horizon, you can be more specific and detailed.

Here, you can also set targets for number of referrals, speaking engagements, percentage of time facing customers versus the total hours you bill clients out of your work week.

Next, priorities should be set for the following 90 days. This model helps you define what your longer-term, or three-year, goals are. It also sets you up to know what you need to achieve in one year, so you're positioned to achieve your three-year goals.

Then, the 90-day goals and activities can be viewed as a 13-week sprint, in a one-year race, knowing that if you achieve all of the priorities that you set for each 90-day period, then you'll have achieved the one-year goals.

After that, it's time to sit back and enjoy a hard-earned glass of the champagne of your choice.