A friend recently asked me about consulting and I shared with him my experiences and advice. As my enthusiasm built, I could tell he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and a little skeptical. As I probed a little I found he was excited about the rewards of consulting but deeply concerned about the risks. Of particular concern was the perception that he would be starting up a business he knew little about. Our conversation turned to whether there was a way to put a “toe in the water” of consulting before “jumping in over his head.”
The answer is yes, sort of. Depending on your capabilities and value proposition, it might be possible to “micro-consult” conducting tiny projects and services for a very modest fee (sometimes a few minutes consulting for as little as $5). The wonders of the internet have made it possible to match consultants and clients at very low costs thus enabling micro-businesses that would have been impossible in the past. Several sites serve the micro-consulting market including fiverr.com, liveperson.com, and elance.com to name a few. Each site has a different approach, but the premise is the same – very small quick-turnaround projects. Anne Kadet of SmartMoney magazine covers the topic quite nicely.
A disclaimer and word of caution – I have tried these sites without much luck. That is because I have an established practice and found the sites were a distraction and that my fees were just not competitive. Furthermore, I do not believe it is possible to build a large consulting practice with this business model alone. You would have to be extraordinarily productive to complete enough projects to have a relevant income. Rather, I believe these sites allow budding consultants to put a “toe in the water” and see if consulting is for them on a small scale before “jumping in over your head.” At a minimum it exposes the budding consultant on a very small scale to the realities of writing scopes of work, estimating time and fees and participating in a competitive market.
Michael Brown is president of StrategyMark Inc., which provides consulting services to the specialty chemicals industry.