Consultant needs niche to succeed

If you are a Baby Boomer, this year, you will be between the ages of 50 and 66. These are the years when you plan your retirement, or maybe even begin it. For many, however, retirement is not possible or even desirable, making many opt to become independent consultants.

It makes sense. A consultant is a person who possesses a certain expertise, and after many years in a specific field, it’s almost a given that one has some kind of expertise.

But what else is needed besides expertise? Passion, energy, motivation, self-confidence, a niche and connections. And the market must need what the consultant provides. An information technology consultant whose expertise resides in Cobol language, for example, is not likely to find much demand. But a multilingual import/export expert has potential to establish a highly successful consulting business.

Michael A. Couch, president of Michael Couch Associates, Inc., started his own consulting practice in 2007. His niche is helping businesses who are interested in growth or struggling with change.

Couch established his business by networking with other established consultants and by learning how to use technology to promote his business. He quickly grew a successful consulting practice and decided to help others with theirs by founding Pittsburgh Consulting Community.

“PCC is comprised mostly of people looking for ‘encore careers’ after having had a career in business,” says Couch. PCC has no membership fees, and it offers members ways of connecting in person and through social media.

Having personally met with many of the hundreds of PCC members, Couch is uniquely positioned to understand what newbie consultants do right or wrong. He believes the best way to build a consulting practice is to “write, speak, get your message out.”

Couch says he gives away free CDs “all the time,” and does not charge fees for speaking. He stresses the importance of having a niche, and says that “most successful consultants describe their niche not in terms of capability or passion but in terms of the market needs, meaning, what can they do to solve clients’ problems?”

Technology must be properly deployed, too. Couch cited an e-newsletter campaign that a landscape designer was using to market his business. Month after month, he diligently sent out coupons and offered discounts, but nothing was happening. Then, he had a breakthrough: he wrote an article about 10 plants that deer won’t eat. He sold out of those plants within two hours.

What do newbie consultants do wrong? According to Couch, the gravest error is not knowing how to network. He says “80 percent of the people who go to networking events just don’t get it.” He gave an example of someone who called himself a “financial planning consultant.” Couch said, “Within 30 seconds, he was twisting my arm for referrals, asking ‘who else do you know?’ and ‘who are three people you know I can contact?’. It turned out he was really selling insurance. There was no way I’d ever refer someone to him. What he was doing is bothering people, and I can’t think of anyone who would be happy with that.”

For those who have what it takes, Couch is very encouraging. He gave an example of a consultant who has taken the notion of being an “independent consultant” to a high level. This man loves to travel, is not married, and has no family. He is a renowned strategy consultant for companies around the globe, and instead of paying a mortgage, he lives in temporary housing wherever he is currently consulting.

He plans to continue bouncing around the world until he finds his perfect retirement location.

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