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From Professor to Consultant

Q: I hope to combine 10 years of college teaching experience in the areas of interpersonal skills and communications with my interest in training to move into the field of image consulting.  I am comfortable with my credentials and previous experience but lack direction and information on the best way to market my consulting services nationally. I would appreciate any suggestions and guidance you can offer.

A: Before attempting to market your services nationally, polish your material and presentation on a local level. Just like the comedians who work their way up to the Tonight show, people in training and development need to build their “acts” before they break into the big time.

Starting a service business is relatively inexpensive, but you will need to spend money on business cards, letterhead, a high-speed phone and data line, website and answering service. If you plan to work with individual clients, you'll probably prefer seeing them in an office rather than your home.  Some executive suites offer office and conference space, Wi-Fi, mail collection, typing and answering services for one overall fee per month. As an image consultant, you must present yourself as someone who understands the importance of looking professional in a business environment and on-line.  Creating this image is a critical part of your marketing plan.

Generally, your resume will suffice in lieu of a brochure at the beginning. Wait to develop your marketing literature until you have a solid idea of the programs and services basic to your business.  These often change dramatically in the first year, rendering obsolete your expensive brochures describing untested programs.

Every business should have a website, which has the potential to build your credibility and visibility around the world. Few people have the knowledge of search engine optimization, programming and graphic design to develop a website themselves. Working with a recommended pro will cost money, but so do those Dana Buchman outfits you wear to impress potential clients. They are both investments in building your image.

Also develop a following on Facebook, Linked-in, and Twitter and consider blogging. Update your comments at least once per week. Set up links with other websites or blogs you and your readers will find useful.

To mix with other career communicators and trainers, consider joining the International Association of Business Communicators, Women in Communications, the American Society for Training and Development, or your local professional speakers association.  Their members may become clients or colleagues who can provide you with business contacts.

Develop several “meaty” speeches to present at monthly meetings of professional organizations.  Ask someone to recommend you. Contact your library or Chamber of Commerce for names of groups in your target audience. Send letters to their presidents or program chairs; they are always looking for good speakers. For best results, follow up by phone. Your personal contact undoubtedly will be more effective than a letter alone. Be prepared to speak for free at the beginning, until your reputation commands a fee.

Put together an adult education program that colleges and universities can offer in their continuing education catalogs.  Usually they have many excellent seminars taught by real-world consultants who appreciate the increased visibility.  Your former college would be an excellent candidate for your first non-credit course in person or on-line. 

Writing a column about image and how to improve it can also build your audience. Using your own blog or making comments on well-known websites and blogs would be good places to start. If you take this approach, write regularly to build your audience. While it may be difficult to get space in a large daily newspaper, weekly papers and tabloids often need good copy.

Once you're established locally, contact the American Management Association, the American Institute of Banking, or the traveling continuing education branches of universities to serve on their part-time consulting faculty.  They will advertise your courses and possibly send you around the country to teach.

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