Professional development - going solo

Materials World magazine
7 May 2012

Thinking of setting up your own consultancy? Rachel Lawler looks at some of the things to consider before you take the leap.

Being your own boss and running your own business is a dream shared by many. For those working in materials science and engineering, becoming a freelance consultant is one way of achieving this. Compared to starting up your own business, the costs are relatively low and the organisation is much more manageable. But it is by no means an easy option.

Before you can think about anything else, you need to look at your skills and experience. Do you really have a wealth of knowledge to offer clients? Your CV will need to include years of experience in a range of environments and a number of pressured roles. A good way to test the breadth of your knowledge is by listing all the projects you have worked on in the past. Consider what you learned from each of these and list the different types of task you have carried out. This will give you a guide to your own skills and will help you decide if you have the experience necessary to act as an adviser – and if so, in which fields.

Once you have established your level of knowledge, it is time to start thinking about how to market yourself. You need to package your experience into a format that can be sold as a product. The form this takes will depend on your particular area of expertise but could, for example, be an assessment of company energy efficiency or a day-long workshop for staff. This is much more appealing to potential customers than simply offering your services on a more generic basis. Knowing exactly what you’re going to offer will help you establish your price. Do some research on your competitors and find out what they charge for similar services. This will help you ensure that your products are financially viable.

While some people can generate enough work via existing contacts, others will need to consider promoting their newly defi ned services. Most consultants do all their own marketing using just their professional contacts and reputation – this can be difficult to manage alone. It is important to be realistic about your customer service skills as these are crucial to making your consultancy work.

All of these considerations make setting up a consultancy seem quite daunting, but there are lots of courses available to help ready yourself. Many offer a general introduction to the skills you’ll need, such as the classroom-based courses on consultancy skills from Progress International and Silicon Beach Training. Lots of skills are readily transferable to advisory roles, so one of these courses could improve your work, or help you find a new role within your company if you decide against a start-up.

Those who have already made up their mind about setting up a consultancy may consider taking a course to address specific problems they may be having. Courses on marketing, customer service and professional practice are available both online and in the classroom at a range of levels. Elevation Learning specialises in consultant training and offers courses for developing specific skills, including client engagement, presentation skills and consultancy set-up. One of these courses could help you close up any gaps in your set of skills or simply boost your confidence before you go it alone.

Have a look online for distance learning courses or see what classroom-based training is on offer in your area. Or if you are already working in advisory, speak to your employer about what they can offer you in-house. 

Further information

Courses for professional development