When you hear the term “consultant,” you probably think of someone in a fancy suit, talking about strategy in a corporate boardroom.
But Jonathan Dison, author of The Consulting Economy, says most consultants don’t actually do that. Consultants are just normal people with skills, who get hired to work on projects.
And if they pursue consulting full-time, it’s possible for them to earn $250,000+ per year.
In this episode, you’re going to learn:
- How to get started as a consultant
- How you can land your first clients
- How to make a full-time living doing work you love
Get Jonathan’s book The Consulting Economy on Amazon.
Check out Jonathan’s company Bench Watch.
What is the #1 take away from The Consulting Economy?
The main idea is that you can make a job out of being a consultant. It’s not like you need to go out and advise the biggest companies in the world. That’s like 5% of the consulting market.
The first step is to carve off your niche. The process starts with thinking about what you really like to do and who you like to do it for. In other words: what type of industries or clients are you interested in.
One of the biggest hurdles that we see — and we’ve done this hundreds of times — is people have a tendency to want to tell people that they can do more, that they can do everything.
And then the client doesn’t know what you do really well, and better than anybody else.
This was something that I learned early in my career, in a super painful way.
We had gone to a client, Hewlett Packard. This guy got us a trusted interview and introduction there, and we’re trying to sell him some work.
We went in there and man, we told him we could do everything — from mergers and acquisitions, to technology implementations, to project management.
It was a smooth pitch. We walked out of there, we thought we had it made.
And this guy, this former executive at HP did us a big favor, which was very painful.
“You’re not going to get anything out of that, and I’ll tell you why:
You told them you could do everything and they don’t believe that. I don’t even believe that, and I’m your friend.
You didn’t tell them what you do better than anybody else.”
Carving off your specific niche is almost counterintuitive. To narrow down to the ONE thing that you do really well, and that you like to do well.
Because that’s the other thing: people want to buy people that love what they do.
If you’ve got an energy and a passion about something, that’s part of what they’re paying for. Because they don’t want to do that well, so they believe that you’ll bring the passion and just pour yourself into doing a really good job for them.
Pick the one thing that you like the best.
Even if you put it out there and it fails, you can still rebrand yourself to the next thing quickly and easily.
Because there are so many people out there looking for you that the market’s going to tell you pretty quickly whether they’re buying what you’re selling. And for you to change that to the next thing on your list is about a 30-minute process.
So if you really love the digital marketing, put yourself out there in that niche. There are thousands of consulting and staffing firms that have clients already, that are looking for people like you that they can sell to the client and put a markup on top of.
You’re going to know real quickly if “Charlie the Digital Marketer” is your niche.
I would encourage you to focus on the thing you like doing the most first. Put it out there quickly, and you’re going to know within 15 to 30 days if the market loves it or not.
If the market doesn’t love it, just change yourself to “Charlie the Writer” and people are going to find you for that.
It’s not like you’re stuck in that for the next 30 years of your life.
How do you get hired by a big company — like Google or Amazon — as a consultant?
The easiest way to get in front of them is through the consulting and staffing firms that they’re already using.
These companies have been providing resources to those companies — and thousands of other companies — for a long time. They basically get paid to find talent.
And how do they find talent?
They’re using technology. Their recruiters are always on LinkedIn.
If you research staffing firms, technology staffing firms, or communication staffing firms, you’re quickly going to figure that out.
Recruiters get paid to have a network of people they can call up on demand to place. Reach out to them!
If you connect with these guys, they’re going to have 10 jobs for you.
BenchWatch is another tool. That’s something we’ve created that basically helps these staffing and consulting firms quickly figure out who is available.
What recruiters spend most of their time doing is trying to figure out who is available in their network.
The big concept is to think of yourself as your own little business entity, so you need to connect with all these staffing firms.
There are thousands of them! They have the relationships, they have the projects, they carry all the complex things like general liability insurance that protects a company like Google if you slip and fall on their property. All those things.
The fastest way to get dollars in your bank account is by connecting with people who are already looking for you.
Those people work at staffing and consulting firms.
What do people do wrong on LinkedIn or BenchWatch that prevents them from seeing these types of opportunities?
The first thing that they’re doing wrong is listing everything they’ve done.
This is why carving off your niche is such an important thing.
In that headline or first section on LinkedIn, you can really define yourself and what you’re interested in.
You know how easy that is to change right?
One of our clients at BenchWatch is a company called Vaco. They’re a national staffing firm, 32 offices, hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue a year. They’ve got connections to everybody in the Fortune 1,000.
These people are literally looking for you.
That is their job.
So if you reach out via Linkedin and tell them what you’re good at, what your niche is, and what you’re better at than other people, then they don’t have to go out and find you.
If you tell a staffing coordinator in your city that works for Vaco, or BG staffing, or Manpower, or any of these big staffing companies…
If you tell them that you’re available and what you do better than anybody else, they may have 10 opportunities already. They may just call up a client that they know and trust, and ask them if they could use you.
If you’re great at digital marketing, they’ve got connections into the marketing divisions of all these global companies, Fortune 500 companies. They call them up and point them to your profile, or they show them your resume.
If that company can hire you instead of hiring a full time employee, they’re going to hire you. Because you’re flexible, they can get rid of you easier, they can match the work that they really have to the skills that they need at the time.
It’s just so easy to do. Update your LinkedIn profile. Reach out to staffing firms through LinkedIn or BenchWatch.
They are going to find you opportunities, that’s how they get paid.
Why don’t more people pursue consulting?
The first myth is that consulting is this big, fancy thing.
The second myth is “the 30 year job.” That’s gone, but our mindsets have not changed. People still seem to think that they need a job, in the traditional sense of the word.
If you can clear those mental hurdles, you’ve made giant steps.
For the longest time, my entire family thought I worked for the CIA, because when I came out of school, I went to work in consulting.
I worked for one of the biggest consulting companies in the world: Arthur Anderson Business Consulting.
Their question to me was, “Why would anybody pay you to consult them?”
Which makes total sense. But the thing that people don’t understand is, there are only very few consultants who walk into the big companies of the world, like Chevron or Google, and tell them what to do.
The rest of the consultants — a better word might be “contractors” — are there to help execute projects, such as implementing a new technology.
That may just be a communications person who is helping out with writing newsletters that go out to the whole company.
That may be somebody who is a digital marketing expert, helping them think about new and different strategies and then helping them execute those.
So that myth — that you’re going to walk in there in a suit, into the executive offices at Chevron — it just doesn’t happen.
And the one client that I had to wear a suit for? God, I hated that client. We ended up getting rid of him. It was terrible.
That’s just not what consulting is. It’s all about taking the skills that you know how to execute better than other people, and doing those on behalf of a client.
How did you know what to charge?
I made it up.
I knew kind of what the big firms charged. At the big firms, we would have been charging these guys $200 bucks an hour, which is the equivalent of about $400,000 a year.
So I’d ask, “How does $135 an hour sound?”
Well, that’s a huge discount for them. But I was still making $275,000 a year.
By the way, that was more than double what I was making in big time consulting. I literally doubled my salary.
I got to work directly with Chevron. I didn’t have all the administrative stuff that I still had to do because I had a “real job” with Arthur Anderson, performance reviews, those sorts of things. I could focus on the client.
You said you earned $275,000 a year, at $135 per hour. That’s a 40-hour workweek.
It differs for different firms, and it can differ based off of whatever you want it to be for you, but the people that work for us work 40 hours a week, nonstop, fully billable for years.
The companies we work with hire people for 9-month, 12-month, or even two year contracts.
Now, if that’s not what you want, you can define your niche and what you want differently. But from all of my experiences, big companies are hiring people for very long-term contracts.
Tell us a success story about someone who switched over to consulting.
Yeah, I’ll give you one of my favorite stories to tell.
This lady worked for a Fortune 200 company for 22 years. She was a tough cookie. She had a reputation as a bulldog.
She got let go in the downsizing. The company laid her off, and she was in bad shape. She loved the company, she didn’t know what to do, and she happened to call me. I wasn’t her first call, but she did call me, and I said, “This is easy. Just come work with me.”
I happened to be working at Chevron at the time. I said, “Look, they need people that have executed these type of projects before.” We were putting in this new web conferencing tool, and she had never worked with that tool before, but she knew how to run projects.
Long story short, I convinced her to do this and she has been rehired by Chevron consecutively for five years in a row.
She’s never missed a paycheck.
She makes a ton more money than she did before, and she’s just happy and appreciated by the client. They keep rehiring her because she’s great.
Instead of looking for the next job, she turned to consulting and it bailed her out.
Another really good one was a guy who I grew up with. He has social anxiety. He would get nervous in front of people, and it just limited him in a lot of ways. He’d never had a really good job. In fact, he was still living at home with his folks.
But he was super smart. I knew he was super smart because I grew up with him. He was also super trustworthy, and I had an opportunity to bring him onto a project where we just needed somebody who was a utility player, who we could trust, and that was cheap.
We got him in, and of course he did great. He was just one of these people who was like, “What else can I do? How else can I help?” The client loved that.
He had no specific niche, other than he was a utility player helping out with different things across the project.
He’s been rehired probably five times. He went from earning zero to $150,000 a year, which is a $70 per hour bill rate.
The client thinks that’s the greatest deal in the world. And it is the greatest deal in the world for them, because it’s super cheap.
Are there personality types that aren’t a good fit for consulting?
The people who care about doing a good job are the ones who do the best, and that’s actually hard to find.
In fact, that’s the number one element that we look for — because we can teach you everything else, or the client will teach you everything else — is if you just care about grinding it out and doing the right thing, you’re going to do awesome.
If you’re somebody that’s all about you, and you don’t like to wake up before 10 o’clock in the morning, this may not be for you. Because consulting, at the end of the day, is about service.
If you do well, people are going to tell other people that you’re great.
If you don’t do well, people are going to say that and you’re not going to last very long.
We end up becoming friends with our clients because we’re interested in the same things that they are interested in.
We end up having long term relationships and it makes it to where it’s not a job. And that’s really the holy grail of any type of job you can have. Because these people just keep rehiring you.
And you’re not out there selling yourself. It takes zero effort, it takes zero cost.
These folks at Chevron rehire us because we know their business. Other people have told them that we did a great job, and that’s all they really need to know.
If you get into the right things, that’s going to happen organically and naturally for you in your career as a consultant.
Where can our listeners connect with you?
BenchWatch is probably the best place. It has a ton of information about becoming a consultant, even more than my book.
I’m also on LinkedIn.
Get Jonathan’s book The Consulting Economy on Amazon.
Check out Jonathan’s company Bench Watch.