How to become a business consultant
Typically, individuals with years of industry experience - business consultants - are hired by organisations to offer their expert advice with the ultimate aim of improving business performance in the shape of profitability, future growth and strategy, management structure and more.
Those who choose to go into a career as a business consultant will usually specialise in a specific area or have lots of expertise in one field. These areas can include anything from business management and strategy to HR, accountancy, finance, and IT. Although a potentially lucrative career and one that many business experts with years of experience under their belt could be made for, knowing how to change careers to become a successful consultant can be difficult.
Fortunately, Markel Direct UK is here to help. We have put together this handy guide to help you get your head around the (sometimes) complicated and confusing gateway into business consultancy. From looking in to the qualifications you may need and how to set yourself up as a sole trader or freelancer, to letting you know how to produce a realistic business plan and what safeguards and business consultant insurance policies you need to put in place to protect you and your new business, read on and begin the path to becoming a successful business consultant today.
What do you need to become a business consultant?
When it comes to what you need to become a business consultant, this can be broken down into three specific areas:
- skills and personality traits.
While you may not require all of the below to become a successful consultant, a combination of these things will certainly help you to establish yourself as a well-respected and trustworthy consultant in your chosen field.
While a ‘business consultant’ degree or specific qualification isn’t necessary in order to operate in this line of work, depending on your specialism, focused qualifications could certainly make you stand out and help you to demonstrate your knowledge. For example, having CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) qualifications in HR, or a BA in Business Information Systems, will only serve to help your exhibit your specialist expertise, knowledge and insight if you are positioning yourself as a HR or business IT guru, in turn boosting your marketability with potential clients. Indeed, for this reason, it is also common for business consultants to have an undergraduate degree in their chosen area of expertise, however this is by no means essential.
If you already hold qualifications in a specific area of business but are looking for a consultancy qualification to help you transition into your new role, the Institute of Consulting could help. As the accrediting body for consultants in the UK, they offer a wide range of workshops, training sessions, qualifications and awards designed to improve your skills and make you a more appealing consultancy option.
Overall, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day there is no substitute for experience. With this in mind, if you only have limited formal training and/or few qualifications, you can still become a successful business consultant if you have years of experience backed-up by a CV filled with relevant success stories.
As is the case with any career change, there is no substitute for years of experience. When it comes to becoming a business consultant, with so many areas for you to specialise in, an array of past experiences can come in handy. For example, previous professional experience in business management, IT, HR, project management, finance and accounting, and even the armed forces can be invaluable if you are considering becoming a consultant.
Aside from years of professional work, relevant work experience, placements and internships which relate to your specialist area, or even at an existing business consultancy, will also greatly help you transition into your new role.
Skills and personality traits
You can be the most knowledgeable person in your chosen field in the whole of the UK, however, the truth is, if you don’t have the necessary set of social and communication skills, as well as the right personality traits, a career as a business consultant might not be for you.
Skills and personality traits that can help you to become a successful business consultant include:
- Communication skills
While this may sound obvious, being a good communicator is perhaps the best skill to have as a business consultant. Knowing your area of expertise is all well and good, but if you can’t transfer your knowledge into practical and implementable advice for your client through clear communication, you will not succeed as a consultant. With this in mind, being able to confidently explain your methods to a group of people who may have absolutely no existing knowledge of your specialist area is essential.
- Social skills
Not only do you have to be knowledgeable and a good communicator, you need to be able to get on with people and forge relationships with clients in order to succeed. After all, if clients can’t get along with you on a personal level, how can you expect them to get on board with the ideas you may want to teach them and introduce to improve business performance?
- Organisation and planning skills
Unlike more traditional nine-to-five jobs, being a self-employed business consultant requires a lot of self-control and well-honed organisational skills. If you are successful, it is likely you will need to juggle the workloads of several different clients at once, as well as all the regular administrative work that comes with running your own consultancy business. Without good planning and organisational skills, this could soon become too much and you could run into problems.
- Secondary skills
Although not essential, another way to help you stand out from the crowd and make it as an in-demand business consultant is to demonstrate secondary skills and qualifications away from your area of expertise. Skills such as the ability to speak foreign languages can be hugely beneficial, for example, while previous experience in other areas of business (away from your key specialisation) can highlight you as a well-rounded and high-value consultant with much to offer.
How can I become a business consultant?
In order to take the plunge and become a business consultant, the first thing you need to do is come up with a realistic business plan and decide how you want to operate. You’ll then need to make sure your new outfit has the correct type of business insurance before finally looking at ways to land your first client.
Produce a business plan
The first thing you need to do to become a business consultant is put together a detailed business plan. This document should lay out how you will operate (either as a sole trader or self-employed freelancer), how you will fund your business, what your costs look like, how you will drum up business and how you will stand out from the crowd.
This document is essentially a roadmap and should help you visualise what you want to achieve, how you’re planning to do this, and even if you think your business will work in practice. It can also help you secure funding if, for example, you are considering taking out a business loan from the bank.
Register your business
Aside from applying for permanent jobs with existing consulting firms, if you want to become a business consultant you can choose between operating as a self-employed business consultant, working on a freelance basis, or starting your own limited company. Once you have decided which would work best for you, using your business plan to help you come to a decision, you need to register your business. This is a very important decision, as how you decide to operate impacts everything from the amount of money you will earn and the amount of tax you pay to the type of consultant insurance you want to take out.
- Sole trader
Registering as a sole trader is the easier of the two options, and sees you essentially become your own one-person company. As a sole trader, you are solely responsible for all the liabilities connected with your business, meaning if you start losing money, your own personal finances and assets could be at risk. However, if you are profitable, you stand to benefit more as an individual.
Perfect if you picture yourself as a self-employed freelancer, to register as a sole trader you have to ensure you submit all tax returns to HMRC on time, pay all taxes promptly yourself, and deal with your own National Insurance contributions. You may also want to look at taking out sole trader and public liability insurance.
- Limited company
If you opt to set up and register a limited company when becoming a business consultant, all liability for any financial losses is the responsibility of the company and not you personally (subject to there being no wrongdoing or mismanagement by company directors). This is an advantage over being a sole trader as your personal finances are more protected. However, as a director of a limited company, you have a legal obligation to file your accounts with Companies House annually. This means you will likely have to employ an accountant to manage your accounts on your behalf, which can be costly.
In terms of insurance, as a limited company you may be required to take out professional indemnity insurance and employers' liability insurance, while public liability insurance and legal expenses insurance are also sensible options.
Getting started and landing clients
Once you have your business registered and a solid plan in place, the final thing you need to consider in order to become a business consultant is how you plan on landing the clients needed to get your business off the ground. The easiest and most common way to get started is simply by making contact with individuals and businesses you have networked with as part of your professional career and offering up your services. Think about who you have worked with in the past, the businesses you have built strong relationships with, and what you can do for them. After that, simply give them a call or email pitching your services to them on a consulting basis.
Don’t worry if they don’t have any work for you right now - they might know a business who does and point you in the right direction. If this also isn’t the case, try marketing your services on social networking platforms such as LinkedIn or making contact with local businesses who you think would benefit from your services. Word of mouth is vitally important to new business consultants, so you may find after you have bagged your first client, your business grows quickly.
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