The baby boomer generation has been discussed, dissected and debated since its emergence in the mid-1940s. Seventy-six million strong, the group was the center of a new youth-oriented America with changing social norms, new suburbs, and growing modernizations and opportunities.
Boomers have also dominated the American workforce. As they reach the winter of their careers, their choices are certain to impact the economy. Will they retire, work part-time or start new endeavors? According to MBO Partners, a support service for independent consultants, boomers are a fast growing sector of the independent workforce. Armed with decades of experience and connections, the group is leveraging social media and cloud and mobile computing to build their businesses.
In its 2012 Independent Workforce Index, MBO Partners estimates that boomers account for around a third of all independent consultants. A small portion of those workers (around 20 percent) were consulting after retiring or unemployment, but the majority were seeking new challenges and more flexibility, even if it meant a smaller paycheck. Boomers also indicated a desire to make a difference in their industry and do something they enjoy.
While the thought of becoming a consultant may be alluring, it also can be a daunting task. Here are seven steps to start the process.
1. Own Your New Identity. Whether you are still working part-time or putting all your time into your new business, own your identity. Don’t introduce yourself to potential clients with, “I’m starting to consult,” or “I work part-time here, but I want to be a consultant.” Claim your title proudly, “I am a consultant for performing arts organizations, or I am technology consultant.”
2. Specialize. While it might be tempting to generalize your services so you can reach more customers, specializing is smarter. Generalizing your skills means you’ll blend into the crowd and face more competition for new clients. Specializing helps you stand out and connect with the right clients.
3. Set Your Price. A common question I hear from new consultants is, “How much do I charge?” Avoid charging too little, or you might end up feeling resentful. Don’t charge too much or you won’t be competitive for attracting clients. Research what other people are charging, while factoring in your unique expertise. Also consider the size or resources of each client when negotiating. Plus, be sure to research any taxes you need to plan for so you’re not hit with a large bill come tax time.
4. Set Up Shop. It has never been easier to set up a business. (It’s making it last that takes work!) Whether you need printed or digital resources, marketing or tax help, there are countless businesses and online service providers to help. However, avoid signing up for too many services at one time; you might end up paying for things you don’t use or need. Start by honing your social media profiles: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and set up your website. There are a number web hosts with ready templates and easy-to-use services. Some popular services include GoDaddy.com, WordPress.com, SquareSpace.com and Vistaprint.com.
5. Marketing, Marketing. Marketing is critical to connecting with current customers and reaching new ones. Many business owners I work with fail to realize one key fact…they are in a “marketing” business and most of them fail to take full advantage of the marketing strategies available to them. Start with traditional marketing materials: business cards, brochures and a five-minute sales pitch of your services. Then move to marketing yourself online via email, social media, online advertising, blogs or your website. Having an effective website is critical. Buyer beware — Just putting up a website is no longer enough. Make sure you get expert advice including the right social media apps to assist you in getting higher rankings.
6. Public Speaking. Public speaking is a great way to market your skills, and position yourself as an expert in your industry. Consider joining a speakers bureau and partnering with associations to find speaking opportunities. If you need experience speaking, join a speakers club like Toastmasters International where you can hone your public speaking skills.
7. Get an Advisor. When I first started my business over 20 years ago, I made just about every mistake I could make. Should I incorporate? Should I invest money in printed flyers? Should I hire staff? I had very little money at the time and I was the breadwinner for my family. My stubborn independent nature ending up costing me more money in the long run. If I had a good advisor, I could have accelerated the learning curve and catapulted my success by many years. A good coach can build your confidence, provide sage advice and help you chart your course toward success.