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Finding your niche in IT consulting

Do you ever feel like your skills and talents are going to waste? It might be because you haven't found your niche within the IT consulting market. Contributing writer Edwin Smith explains how it's done.

When family members and friends asked you as a child what you wanted to be when you grew up, you probably didn't say, “I want to be a technology consultant.” Many of us ended up as consultants by accident, out of necessity, or perhaps because we were presented with a job offer we couldn't refuse. Most of us also spent several years paying our dues by sharpening and expanding our skill sets, gaining expertise, and building a reputation before becoming an IT consultant.

Now that you’ve arrived at this point, you need to find out how you can best put your skills to work. In this article, I’ll focus on the benefits of finding your niche within the consulting market.

Why you need to develop a niche
Unless you are part of a large consulting firm with a wide array of consultants possessing every conceivable skill set, you will benefit from finding and developing a niche. Operating in a niche makes it both easier and more cost-effective to focus your sales and marketing efforts at a much more targeted audience, giving you a measurable marketing advantage over general consultants.

Many general consultants feel almost forced to pursue every opportunity—even those marginally related to their core skill sets. Your specialty will allow you to target only those clients and projects that you have a good chance of landing. You’ll understand more fully the unique needs of your prospects, which makes it easier to highlight and market your strengths in those areas.

Developing a defined market niche or specialty area can also insulate you from your competition. Large companies will likely see your specialty area as too small or specialized to be worth pursuing, while smaller competitors may not understand why your highly focused skill sets will appeal to potential customers, and will therefore not see you as a threat.

How to find your niche
One way to approach developing a specialty is to concentrate all of your IT skill sets in a particular market segment. For instance, if you specialize in building networks in the public education segment, other schools will recognize that you are already experienced in dealing with the politics of the academic world and will probably view you as having a shorter learning curve than a competing consultant.

The most obvious way to choose a niche, however, is to define your specialty by distilling it from the education, certifications, or skill set you already possess. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
  • List the skill sets you possess, rate and then rank each one, and determine how and where to best use your top 10 skills or your core competencies.
  • Based on past experience, go by what your gut tells you about your comfort level and where you fit best.
  • Analyze your past and present client base for any developing trends.
  • Review your network of contacts and potential alliances to help you determine what need there is that you can fill.
  • If you lack the experience or skills to do what you really want to do, you may want to consider working with several job shops, employment agencies, or recruiters to acquire the skills you need as quickly as possible.
  • Take a hard and critical look at your personality traits and characteristics to help you determine what market segments or specialty areas to pursue or avoid.
  • Use the preceding suggestions or any other approach to help you decide what it is you need to do to remain motivated and to get up each morning and say, "I can't wait to get to work and do what I love to do.”

Remember that any decision you make does not have to be "your final answer.” If you erred in your initial assessment, you need to be willing to change course. Technologies and business conditions are always changing. You need to adjust to the marketplace and be adaptable but without losing your focus.

Edwin Smith is vice president of training for IntraLinux, Inc. in San Ramon, California. He is also the founder and CEO of ITtalent.com.

Does an IT consultant need a niche? What’s yours? Why did you choose it? Post a comment below or send us a note.
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