Preparing for a Career as an Indpendent Consultant

In my last column, I evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of working as an independent consultant. Working for yourself might sound attractive, but I'm willing to bet that few of you are in a position to take the leap anytime soon. Here are some steps that I strongly advise you take before submitting your resignation and heading out on your own.

  • Save some money. Independent consultants run small businesses, and small businesses often fail because of overwhelming debt and a lack of operating funds. To help ensure the survival of your new consulting business, start out on the right foot by paying down debt and establishing a cash reserve of 6 to 12 month's living expenses. Many businesses have successfully launched with funding from credit card debt and home equity debt, but many other similar start-ups have failed.
  • Gain experience. While you're building capital, find a job that will give you the experience and skills you'll need as an independent consultant. After you identify target clients, learn the skills that those clients want. An ideal place to gain valuable experience is with a large Value Added Reseller (VAR). If you work with a VAR, you'll learn from dealing with small businesses while enjoying the security of a regular paycheck.
  • Maintain your certifications. When you're working for a company, you might become complacent about your certifications. After all, the people you work for know what you're capable of, whether or not they know which certifications you've earned. But as an independent consultant, potential clients won't know what you can do until after you've convinced them to hire you. Your certifications can help you convince them by providing the credentials that clients look for in a consultant.
  • Educate yourself. As an employee for a company, you might not have to worry about factors such as marketing, taxes, accounting, and billing. Before striking out on your own, read everything you can get your hands on about independent consulting and running a small business. You might learn that working for yourself entails more work than you're willing to do and more risks than you're willing to take. Now's the time to make such discoveries—not after you've committed yourself to your new career. Good luck, and I hope the job market in your region is on the upswing.
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