A few weeks ago, I became a real-life business consultant. I've been taking Krav Maga lessons from Krav Maga DC, in Chinatown. A few months in the owner sent out an email saying he was looking for help managing KMDC's Facebook and Twitter accounts.
I set up a meeting to discuss this request.
Laying the groundwork
I was (very) nervous going in and meeting him. I've never consulted before, and I was positive it was obvious. (Maybe it was?) and had no idea what sort of arrangement we would come up with. (We ended up giving me a free membership for as long as I'm working with him, but more on that later.) I was half ready for him to stand up, flip the table, and tell me to get out of his sight and never come back.
Thanks to the awesome content put out by Brennan Dunn and Ramit Sethi (I highly suggest signing up for both newsletter) I knew to pay attention not just to his explicit problems (using FB and Twitter) but to the underlying needs and concerns.
He had asked for help with marketing, but that's not what he really wants help for. Business owners are looking to generate more revenue. So are you, and I, in fact. We all want to generate more revenue.
I prepped with a few different ways his business needs could line up with my skills. He wants a new website, but I'm not ready to take on project like that. I told him I could help him and his staff get up to speed on their Facebook page and Twitter account, but that wasn't where real solutions lay.
I explained that the metric by which I would evaluate success would be how many new members he gets per month. This is a pretty solid number, because it correlates well with business growth. If he normally gets ten new members a month, and I can help him get to twenty, that doesn't just double his income, it doubles his growth. (But let's not go too overboard with projections...)
What I offered
I offered a product, or a service (I guess I'm freelancing, rather than consulting. A consultant provides opinions, a freelancer provides a product or service.)
I am providing a two-part service:
- I am soliciting positive feedback to be used in marketing materials. As a "third party" to the business-customer relationship, I can ask in a way that he could not. More importantly, however, he does not have to deal with this himself.
- I am packaging the positive and the negative feedback into useable, implementable suggestions ranked on ease of implementation and size of impact. This is a big deal because we're not just getting customers to talk about KMDC, but KMDC has a chance to implement their suggestions!
These two services compose product that I believe scales to a large number of small businesses. Any business with a customer base dependent upon repeat business stands to benefit by figuring out how to better provide value to their customers, and better communicate that value added to potential customers.
I'm counting this work as building my portfolio. I'm doing it for him on a month-by-month basis in exchange for comping me my membership. So I'm not getting paid, but I'm not paying for an otherwise-expensive gym membership.
The end goal
If he doesn't take the suggestions, or at least experiment with them a little, it will appear as if I've added no value. This would feel like a failure on my behalf.
I will be more confident if I can define success in such a way that I can achieve it even if he does not make the changes, yet I struggle with this daily.
I must define success as having tried, and learned things about what does and does not work. Yet I still feel like I'll be devastated if this doesn't pan out exactly how I want it to.
Solve problems. There's always a market for solving problems.
I started consulting. Just like that. If I can do it, you can. And here's why: I focused on solving his problems.
"But Josh" you say, "I can't solve another businesses problems."
That's a great point. You can't. (Does the business suffer from excessive database maintenance costs because it's built on an outdated and unsupported framework? If you majored in English Lit or Political Science and have not become best friends with Stack Overflow, you're right. You can't solve that businesses problem.)
If you can identify pain points for you when interacting with a business, and can imagine a possible solution, you've got most of what you need to start consulting. All you need now is to convince the business owner that you can help them. If I had the secret sauce for how do do this, I'd give it to you. I promise.
Here's one tidbit: Businesses revolve around delivering joy and happiness to their users. No longer is there a monopoly for services - customers want to be delighted. Help businesses delight customers and you'll die a rich and satisfied person. Maybe.
Your turn. Become a problem solver. Anytime you're not satisfied with a business interaction, figure out how that business could solve that issue. If you can package this solution in a way that is a win for you and them, you are in a good position.
Practice your pitch. Set up a meeting. Pitch.
If it crashes and burns, congratulations - you've made your first big win. It's OK to fail. If you can accept regular failure, you're bulletproof (er - Anti-Fragile) and you're ready to do it again.
Keep throwing stuff against the wall and see what sticks.
PS: If this is useful to you, share it with others. Give me feedback - I love to talk about these things.