2020 Study: Why Smart People Start a Consulting Business (And What Holds Them Back)

So, you want to start a consulting business? Or interested in taking your consulting business the next level?

Most high-achieving professionals at some point in their career dream of ditching the pressure of the 70-hour workweeks and start a consulting business. But there are many factors that hold them back.

This year, we created a survey that we administered to both new and seasoned consultants to learn more about what drives smart people to start their own consulting businesses and what stands in the way of their success. And we're super-excited to share the findings below. 

Read on if you'd like some instant validation that consulting is right for you, insight into the predictable challenges that most consultants face and strategies for overcoming hidden barriers to success.

Why Smart People Start Consulting Businesses

Starting a consulting businesses is a massive career transition. There are five reasons that drive accomplished professionals to a make a move of this magnitude.

1. Changes to current job

While some people start their own businesses purely out of vision, the majority find themselves pushed there due to undesired changes to their job such as a layoff or redefinition of reporting relationships or responsibilities that makes their current job intolerable as some of our survey respondents explained:

[I got into consulting because] the company I worked for was bought an equity company. Through cost reductions, I was released from the company. I had a choice to look for a new executive position at 57 or start up my own business.

[I started my own business due to the] uncertainty in the job market. At the time, the company I worked for restructured and I had to move on...

2. The drive for control over career, independence and freedom

For consultants, it's not just the job changes that got them to move into full-time business ownership. It's how the job change created a burning desire for control over one's career, time and earning potential as some of our survey respondents explained:

I want to be in control of my own destiny 

[I'm looking for] independence, including more time with my family

[The best part of having my own business is] driving your own direction and being responsible for building your own success - kicking ass and taking names!

I love the freedom, flexibility and earning potential. Plus, earning according to how hard I worked, not just the same money whether I dialed it in or worked really hard.

3. The desire to ignite grow in self and others

For consultants, making a difference equates to helping others grow and succeed as some of survey respondents explained:

I love having my personal breakthroughs at the same time as discovering who I help.

[The best part of being a consultant is] helping my client succeed 

[The best part of being a consultant is] seeing the impact I can make on the lives of leaders and their people

4. The joy consultants experience from solving problems

Consultants by nature are problem solvers. They are drawn to consulting because of how the profession allows them to solve complex problems as some of our survey respondents explained:

My absolute favorite part is talking with a client and sniffing around their business to find out what's wrong with it and craft a solution to it. Honestly, that is the thrill. I absolutely love figuring things out. 

I love actually impacting the customer's operations and providing a new prospective or process that changes the way they do business forever.

[The best part of being a consultant is] being responsible for making a difference in the performance of others with my strategies.

5. The career growth that comes from working with a variety of clients (vs. a single employer)

Part of the draw of starting a consulting business is working with many different clients, sometimes in different industries and countries as some of our survey respondents explained:

Besides the usual adding value to my clients, I enjoy the variety of having multiple clients at the same time. This keeps me fresh and interested in what I am doing.

Variety. Also, respect--in the sense that clients tend to appreciate a fresh face. They give me the benefit of the doubt.

6 Common Consulting Success Challenges

While the drivers for starting a consulting business are clear, the path to consulting success isn't always as clear. There are 6 questions both new and seasoned consultants have a hard time answering.

 

1. What is the best way to start a consulting business...without wasting time or money?

New, aspiring and seasoned consultants all share questions around what is the best way to start AND run a consulting business as well as how to deliver results with excellence as some of our survey respondents explained:

[My biggest challenge is] trampling over the uncertainties of starting a practice. 

One thing that I can get stuck on (probably because it's one of my favorite parts of running the business) is planning and strategizing.  I'd like to see tips / information for how to take the step towards implementation.

I need tips on what to focus on first! I would like to have my foundation set up before I start marketing myself. Knowing that the base of what I want to offer may change throughout the course of my education and development, I'd like to have a solid grounding of my business operations. I want to have the tools/software/platforms to help me streamline the business before beginning. That way, I am not backtracking and playing catch up when I am ready to launch the business.

2. How do I find the words to describe the value of my consulting?

Most, if not all consultants, struggle with seeing and owning the value that their consulting creates and thus have a hard time putting that value into words on a website or in response to the often-asked question, "So, what do you do?" This lack of clarity is what appears to keep many consultants stuck as some of our survey respondents explained:

Not sure where I fit in the professional world of consulting, so I needed your help to define and organize.

I am trying to figure out what value I really bring to the table as a consultant

I don't really know if I'm a good consultant. And I don't know how to know. 

Not sure where I fit in the professional world of consulting, so I needed your help to define and organize.

I am trying to figure out what value I really bring to the table as a consultant

3. What is a proven consulting process that I can use with a client once I get one?

For many consultants - both new and seasoned - delivering results via influence vs. positional authority is a brand-new job. Therefore, there is a high desire for access to proven methodologies, frameworks and actionable best practices as some of our survey respondents explained:

I am looking for a solid consulting methodology

More depth in setting up an engagement from start to finish. Current emphasis is business building and framing of a client's problem which is necessary. More depth on other phases, drilling down to the techniques, toolkits etc for each phase would improve success. 

Reinventing the wheel for a proven tool or methodology or technique. There would be some adoption, that is okay, but starting from scratch would be wasting time and effort. 

I’m still stuck on how to perform assessments for a company.

4. How do I set up my back-office administration and maximize my time? 

Many consultants aren't fans of the back-end administrative tasks that go along with running a small business and having to do it all as some of our survey respondents explained:

[My least favorite part of consulting is] not knowing what I should do next.  I want to take twenty steps in one direction, not one step in 20 directions.  But as a solopreneur, I have to do "all the things."

[My least favorite part of consulting is] All of the research required for administrative stuff and legal aspects 

[My least favorite part of consulting is] having too many different things to focus on day to day

Admin....zzzzzzzzzzz

5. How do I get consulting clients? 

Now the biggest challenge - marketing! Trying to figure out the best way to get clients coupled with blocks are marketing is a massive struggle as some of our survey respondents explained:

Trying to get a client is my least favorite part. I simply don't know how to sell myself, especially since I don't know how to be sure what my value as a consultant is. 

I'm selling ME - no hiding place behind teams etc the product is me !

Begging for an audience, regardless of platform

[My least favorite part of consulting is] constant lead generation and marketing 

My least favorite part is balancing the work portion with the prospecting marketing portion.

When you hit a drought with clients is very challenging. When it rains, it pours, but droughts are not fun. 

6. How do I overcome my money fears and imposter syndrome

Consultants - aspiring, new and seasoned - all struggle with fears of some kinds. There's fears about money, get rejected, being seen, not having what it takes and a whole host of other mindset traps that keep them stuck and spinning.

[My biggest struggle is] dealing with rejections

I am overwhelmed by financial uncertainty

FEAR! Where to start? Marketing Strategies/Sales

[I wish I could] actually be marketing myself more instead of thinking / talking / fretting about marketing....

I need help getting over the pitching fears

The Bottom Line

The draw to and challenges around consulting are two sides of the same coin. The excitement about creating a new career that provides total control can exhilarating. And having that control where your success is all on you and all about you can create crushing overwhelm and fear. 

One the one hand...you're in the driver's seat. Hooray!

One the other hand...you're the driver, navigator, mechanic and the car on a trip to somewhere you have always wanted to go but have never been to before. Oh my! 

Want A Roadmap From Expert Travelers Who Have Been Where You Want to Go?

No matter if you're brand new to consulting or have been it for a while, my team at Betsy Jordyn International can design for you a business platform and foundation that consistently attracts your ideal clients and establishes you as a sought-after expert that is worth premium fees and on-demand programs that answer all of your core questions:

  • How do I start my business right the first time? Our Clarity Coaching program provides you a custom roadmap to achieving both your business goals AND your total life priorities.
  • How do I find the words to describe the value of what I do? Our Brand Messaging & Positioning Mentoring will give you the clarity and confidence in how your consulting is unique and why your future ideal clients don't need just any consultant but you!
  • How do I get consulting clients? Our Website Design services are designed to give you more than online brochure but a marketing system that consistently attracts and CONVERTS. 
  • How do I set up my back-office systems? We got you covered. As your virtual operations team, we'll help you manage all of those details and get support you need for implementation of all your strategies.
  • What do I do with a lead once I get one? Get instant access to proven consulting processes and actionable best practices that you can use with your clients right now.
  • How do I overcome fear and imposter syndrome? All of our services are designed to help you transform your fears and questions into clarity and confidence. You don't will or wish your way to courage. You build it as you build your business. 
And of course, be on the lookout for actionable best practices, real-world consulting examples and cheat sheets here on my blog. If you want reminders of the latest and greatest sent directly to your inbox, sign up below.  

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