Blood, Sweat and Focus: How to Become a Consultant
By Hilary McCarthy
When it comes to consulting, Bruce Katcher has pretty much done it all. A management consultant for 30 years, he has a doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology. He has been president of The Society of Professional Consultants, has written two books on consulting and employee engagement published by the American Management Association and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe and others. He sells real estate on Cape Cod and has conducted surveys for companies from Alcoa to Zildjian.
In June, he taught a course on “Becoming a Consultant” at PDC with colleague Norm Daoust. We met with him ahead of the class for insights on what people need to know about consulting.
Q: How did you get into consulting?
Bruce Katcher: As an industrial and organizational psychologist, I taught for a few years. Then I joined a big consulting firm in Wellesley Hills and was laid off from there. I said to myself, nobody is ever going to do that to me again, and I have been on my own since ’93. I love the independence and autonomy. I am an apostle for self-employment.
Q: What kinds of consultants do you work with?
Katcher: I work with all types of consultants. For example, financial, IT, HR, marketing, sales and manufacturing.
Q: What is the most surprising thing about being a consultant?
Katcher: How much hard work it takes. You need to be regimented. You need to be marketing all the time, networking all the time. Business won’t just come to you. You have to go get it.
If you try to be a consultant because you think it is a fun thing to do, don’t take it seriously or are not hungry, it will not work. A lot of times I ask people: Are you the primary breadwinner at home? If not, it’s going to be much more difficult.
Q: What are some common mistakes consultants make?
Katcher: They lack focus. They try to do all things for all people instead of something specific for a particular niche that has a need. A lot people get laid off because there’s no need for what they do. They can still use those skills and experience to address other needs.
They don’t do enough marketing. They don’t think it is important. They lack focus in marketing and do everything versus doing one thing well.
They don’t charge enough. They’re scared and don’t understand the economics, which we go over in the workshop. If you don’t charge enough, you won’t be able to make ends meet. Someone might get $300 for something and feel good about it. But, if you do the math, $300 is not going to get you far. Even $500 a day is not enough.
Q: You mention not focusing on marketing; could you expand on that?
Katcher: There are about 100 ways to market, and every one of them works. Social media, direct mail, cold calling, writing articles and white papers, giving speeches, attending meetings of other consultants or people who are your potential customers. If you dabble in all of them, they won’t work; if you do any one or two well and consistently, it will work for you. Pick one, and learn how to do it well.
Q: Which work for you?
Katcher: For me it was networking and my electronic newsletters [“Improving the Workplace”].
Q: On your website, you mention getting more mileage out of your practice. How can consultants do this?
Katcher: In real estate we say: What is the big “why”? You need to constantly remind yourself why you are doing this. It could be because you have ideas on how you can provide good service to clients, because you want to promote a cause, because you need to support your family. You have to remind yourself constantly: Why?
Q: You also mention recharging your batteries.
Katcher: I encourage people to network with other consultants to support each other in what is often a very lonely existence. It is important for people to be around other people, and when you are an independent consultant you are alone.
Q: What will resonate most with people attending your class?
Katcher: The importance of focusing, and the economics of being a consultant. This will be the most valuable course they have ever taken in their life. They’ll learn everything they need to know to make it as a consultant.
“Becoming a Consultant,” which was taught in three sessions on June 2 and 9, 2017, at Career Source Career Center in Cambridge, is tentatively scheduled again for November. For comments and suggestions, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hilary McCarthy is a marketing consultant, content strategist and writer for business and technology companies. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.