In this week’s mompreneur: how do you launch the consulting business you’ve always thought about? Here are 7 tricks from a master.
A true trailblazer in the world of working mothers, Katheryn Gemberling rose through the administrative ranks of one of the nation’s largest school districts, serving as an Assistant Superintendent during an era when the role was overwhelmingly held by men.
An expert in using student data to create systems for data-driven decision making in schools, she turned her wealth of knowledge into a nationally-known and highly sought-after consulting business, “during a time when PowerPoint didn’t even exist.” Gemberling reflected on her decades of experience with me, and we identified seven questions that mompreneurs should ask themselves when considering getting into the consulting game.
1. What are you offering?
The most important piece in creating a viable consulting business is identifying what expertise, service or good you’re offering potential clients, says Gemberling. Recently, the child of a colleague asked for her guidance in getting established as a consultant, but when she pressed him to identify what he brought to the table, she found that he really didn’t offer much to prospective clients. “Sorry, but you can’t just hang out and then spout off your opinion and get paid for it,” says Gemberling.
When she was starting out, “data analysis was a relatively new field, so helping people figure out how to use it in education was a challenge and skill set that most people didn’t have.” Gemberling was able to provide a service that actually helped school districts create better systems and implement best practices. So make sure that you actually have something of value to offer your target market.
2. Are you okay with starting small?
Often, the idea of striking out alone takes the form of an either/or proposition: Do I risk quitting my job and starting this new gig or do I keep doing what I’m doing forever? Instead of getting locked in a false dichotomy, consider starting small and building your business on the side.
Do I risk quitting my job and starting this new gig or do I keep doing what I’m doing forever?
Gemberling notes that she didn’t actually set out to build a business. “I got calls from former colleagues asking me to do the sorts training I was doing with my employees with their people. So, I went and did it and the results surprised even me,” she says. She started small, with two presentations and they snowballed, allowing her consulting work to take off with a life of its own.
3. Are you prepared to travel?
Unless you live in a major metropolitan area and offer a service or a skill that everyone needs, chances are good that you’ll need to take your show on the road. Gemberling suggests making sure you’re truly willing to travel, and that your fee can absorb the cost of your trips without eating up your profit.
4. Are you willing to work for free (sometimes)?
Even if you don’t have to travel to meet clients, Gemberling advises attending and presenting at as many conferences as possible—and being willing to give presentations for free.
“Conferences are not only an excellent way to educate yourself and stay current on topics within your industry, they’re also a great opportunity to generate revenue,” she notes. “If you give a presentation and knock it out of the park, everyone in the room will come up to you afterward and ask you to work for them. It’s a great ROI.”
5. Can you say hard things?
As a consultant, you’ll often be called upon to act as the bearer of difficult news or to address the elephant in the room. Gemberling suggests making sure that you have the stomach to tell people unpleasant things that they don’t necessarily want to hear.
“Sometimes you have to deliver really hard messages that people don’t want to hear, but it’s your job because you don’t have to live with them. You have no agenda, you’re not trying to protect your job, so you can tell them the truth,” she says. On the plus side, if you’re able to do it in a constructive way, you gain clients’ trust and create long-term business relationships.
It’s simple, says Gemberling. “You say whatever you have to say with a smile and then you get on the plane and go home.”
6. Are you prepared for feast and famine cycles?
Like freelancing, consulting work often comes in waves, creating cycles of feast or famine that can be stressful for families that depend on the income. “If your services catch on, you’re working on all the time and you have to turn things down,” says Gemberling. “But if you turn down too many in a row, the faucet can run dry.”
Learning to say no is a key part of working for yourself, says Gemberling.
Minimize the stress of the feast or famine phenomenon by creating a plan to help your family’s budget withstand the fluctuations in monthly income—and make sure you have the personality to deal with the uncertainty.
7. Are you ready to learn a new word?
When you work for someone, you often don’t have the luxury of saying “no” or deciding that a particular task or project is not worth your time. Learning to say no is a key part of working for yourself, says Gemberling. “If people don’t keep their end of the bargain, you can and should go,” she advises, freeing you up to take your services elsewhere. Because at the end of the day, your success as a consultant depends on your ability to actually help your clients achieve their goals and objectives