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With the economy in overdrive and com-panies hungry to stay ahead of the competition, consultants are in high demand. Consulting is a $100 billion-dollar-per-year industry with more than 1.5 million practitioners, according to Winford E. Holland, a Houston consultant with Holland & Davis Inc. and author of Change is the Rule (Dearborn Trade Publishing).
No wonder entrepreneurs with a lot of expertise but little start-up capital find consulting appealing-for the price of some basic office equipment and a stack of business cards, they can fly solo. But is making a living as a consultant really as easy as it looks? Holland provides insights into the business of helping businesses.
Pamela Rohland: When an entrepreneur says he or she wants to be a consultant, what does that mean?
Winford e. Holland: "Consultant" is a generic term. There are five types of consultants, and before people print up their business cards, they need to decide what kind of consultant they'll be.
Executive coaches help clients deal with a wide variety of business, and sometimes personal, issues. Expert consultants have a specific area of expertise based on their schooling and their work experience. Process consultants specialize in the methodology of planning-we don't make strategic plans for clients; we guide them through the process. Other consultants serve as temporary help on a given project, such as installing a computer system. And there's another category of people who call themselves consultants because they've been downsized and haven't found another job. They can serve as an extra set of objective eyes for their clients, but really have no long-term interest in consulting.
Rohland: What are the hottest areas for consultants right now?
Holland: Technology, absolutely-anything involving automated information systems and the Internet. Technical consulting firms are experiencing 15 percent growth rates; nontechnical firms have a 5 to 7 percent growth rate.
Rohland: What are the professional skills necessary to make it as a consultant?
Holland: Successful consultants have to be good at solving problems, passionate about what they're doing and able to market their skills-the latter is often the biggest challenge. I could go to a large city, pick out a thousand educated white-collar workers and make 400 of them competent consultants. Out of those, however, only two were capable of feeding themselves. You need to find the work and close the sale as well as deliver the skills.
Consultants aren't like dentists-clients don't come back to us every six months for a check-up. When we've finished what we need to do with one client, we have to find another. Our pool of clients has to constantly be replenished.
Rohland: What's your best advice for prospective consultants?
Holland: Do it if you love helping people, because that's what a consultant really does. If you want a taste of it before going out on your own, join a consulting company that has rainmakers so you won't have to worry about generating the business, and see if you have what it takes.
Pamela Rohland often writes about the joys and tribulations of entrepreneurship for a variety of regional and national business publications.