For scientists and engineers between jobs, or for those with jobs but who may have some spare time, consulting work can keep skills sharp and morale high, and put a little coin in your pocket. Finding customers for your consulting practice, however, takes the same professionalism and perseverance as finding a job, Sital Ruparelia explains on the Career Hub blog.
How do you find consulting gigs? Ruparelia suggests tapping your network of contacts for leads. He speaks from experience. Ruparelia says that every consulting, freelance, or contract assignment he has landed in the past 6 years resulted from a referral or contact. Networking is a skill that takes time and practice to develop; Ruparelia advises readers to invest the time needed to cultivate a strong network; he defines it as “building and maintaining genuine long-term relationships.” With that network, Ruparelia says, you can “articulate the problems you can solve, the value you can offer, and the types of people and opportunities you want to attract”.
To establish your expertise in the consulting marketplace, Ruparelia recommends getting your name known to client prospects by writing and speaking. Writing professional white papers or articles for publications can answer questions of potential clients such as, “[W]hat’s your expertise? What are the problems that you are adept at fixing? What’s the value you deliver?” With the explosion of blogs, there’s a growing need for quality content, and if you’re willing to accept increased exposure as compensation — few blogs pay — you can often find outlets to express your ideas.
Speaking engagements are like writing, Ruparelia says, in that they help build credentials and confidence among potential clients. Local professional organizations or service clubs often need speakers, if you have something to say in which they have an interest. Training classes sometimes like to book guest speakers, to provide a new face and voice to make the material fresher. And you can record the talks, Ruparelia says, then post the audio files on the Web as podcasts, extending their reach beyond the immediate audiences.
Ruparelia notes that networking, speaking, and writing all complement each other. Networking — both personal and electronic — gets your name better known in your field, which helps build readership of your articles or papers. The publication record, in turn, helps attract speaking opportunities. The result of all of this work, Ruparelia says, is an enhanced personal brand, which will pay off in your career development over the long term.
Peter Fiske, our Opportunities columnist, offers more ideas on consulting work, even as a postdoc or graduate student.