If you're putting out a shingle as a consultant, you’ll fall flat unless you get the word out. Traditional advice tells you to network: join professional organizations to learn the ropes, mingle with potential clients, and make yourself available as a public speaker for local groups.
Enter the Internet, which helps you take marketing to another level. I’ll guide you to some sites that will help you make your name in the consulting world.
Entrepreneur Magazine's Consulting "Start-Up Kit" offers a road map for getting started in general consulting. For those gearing toward computer consulting , there's a kit for that too, including some valuable links in the Resources section.
The site talks about things to consider when preparing proposals or structuring your contracts. However, it doesn't include contract samples.
There are other kits if you'd prefer to hang out a shingle of a different sort. (Want to take up herb farming or medical transcription?)
Find clients and help them find you
PENgroup.com , which is affiliated with Dun & Bradstreet, boasts a database of 240,000 consultants in various fields, including IT. You can fill out a form to add your name to the list at no charge. However, becoming one of the "pre-qualified network of 1,200 PENgroup.com Affiliated consulting firms" will cost you: You’ll pay a startup fee, a yearly fee, and possibly a percentage of contracts you find through PENgroup.
All consultants can look at the postings, but affiliates get first crack at them. In a quick browse, I found someone in California looking for a database designer and someone in New Jersey in need of a consultant with Visual InterDev and SQL experience to make a quick code fix. Most of my attempts to respond to postings resulted in messages that a PENgroup affiliate had already staked a claim.
The National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses has allied itself with CareerPath.com to produce the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses , a place where IT professionals can post their resumes and search for positions at no cost.
Keep in touch automatically
Mailing lists are a great way to keep in contact with clients or just send them handy tips.
While you can find CGI scripts to install on your Web site to create listservs, consider Web-based services like ListBot and ONElist.com , which automate the process of creating mailing lists and sending out your messages.
By using a Web-based service, you eliminate the hassles and housekeeping normally associated with the more "hands-on" mailing lists. Recipients can join and remove themselves from the list at will by visiting the service's Web site. The hardest thing you'll have to do is write interesting notes.
- Freeway 101 bills itself as "your fast lane to effective online marketing solutions" and specializes in tips on marketing using the Internet. And if there's a marketing or business question you can't find on the site, ask. The site promotes experts on call to answer questions on marketing challenges and corporate taxes.
- Consider giving freebie Web sites to your clients as incentives or bonuses. WebNow.com , with its boilerplate templates, makes it easy to create and give out free Web sites—the kind without annoying advertising pop-ups. The site also offers tips on promoting yourself and your Web site.
- Yahoo has practically a phone book's worth of consultants eager to solve problems. You’ll probably want to be listed too.
- The Web Consultants Association home page , a simple page full of banners and promos, isn't very inspiring. The lights are on, but the owner seems to have moved out. Much of the site is outdated, but there's gold behind some of the links. The mailing list archive stops in 1997, but it's interesting reading. The experiences related are still relevant, such as what to do and what not to do to make yourself appear professional.
- Wanna be unconventional? One of the first pieces of advice offered at Internet Marketing Center is that "you must reject conventional ways of thinking." Another piece of advice, naturally, is that you buy its marketing course. But free Web promotion tips can be had by clicking a button. There's also a free mailing list you can sign up for.
And that’s what I’ve seen worth citing.
Lauren Willoughby is a Web editor at The Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville, KY, where she also writes the weekly "Technophobe" column. At night, she turns into an online auction junkie. When she's not spotting deals on refurbished 486s, she's reading a science fiction novel.