3rd Annual Million-Dollar Ideas

Consulting is one of those businesses that most people aren't too familiar with. They know the term, but really, what do consultants do all day long? What do you consult about? We'll clear up the confusion: According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, a consultant is one who gives professional advice or services, an expert. It's one more thing, too, according to us: a damn good industry to get in on.

"Consultants offer a fresh, objective point of view when an organization is looking for answers to questions it never had in the past," says Elaine Biech, author of The Business of Consulting. And this is a particularly salient point right now with a recession lingering and layoffs occurring in all industries. "Layoffs don't signal less work for consultants," says Biech. "In fact, it's often just the opposite. The employees go away, but the work may not. Consultants can provide temporary people-power to complete projects that still remain."

To get a start in consulting, you will need solid experience and expertise. John Hrastar began his McLean, Virginia, consulting firm, InterSource, after building a $25 million business. "My expertise comes from being a real-world, serial entrepreneur, having an interest in a wide variety of industries, an understanding of the underlying processes that drive business growth, and the ability to quickly learn, distill and communicate a situation when working with a client," say Hrastar, who offers CEO advisory services; interim CEO services, where he becomes the CEO of a company for a brief period of time; and CEO roundtable discussion moderation.

"The key is to determine where your brilliance lies and then offer it to clients," advises Biech. "Do a thorough self-assessment: Explore your experiences, inventory your competencies and assess your consulting aptitude." Also, talk to other practicing consultants to get a feel for the business, the day-to-day operations and the challenges. "The third step is to determine how much money you'll need to make and begin to establish your business plan," says Biech.

Start-up costs for consulting practices are minimal: A desk, computer equipment and high-quality marketing materials. "You can get by with few expenses to start a consulting business," says Biech. "However, don't cut costs on your marketing supplies. Do not shortchange your image."

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This article was originally published in the January 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: 3rd Annual Million-Dollar Ideas.

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