(The Coffee Shop Chronicles, Part 2)
Time for coffee at last! Maggie already has a table reserved for us.
Gail: Maggie-great to see you. How’s the consulting life?
Maggie: Just about to wrap up one project, another one about to start, and it’s soccer season—the twins are really into it this year. Here’s George!
George: Ladies! Time to put our heads together again.
Chris arrives, smiling broadly.
Chris: Hey, everyone, have I got news! I have a gig! No kidding. It just dropped into my lap. Now I really need to decide what to do.
George: Good for you! So you’ll like my question for Gail too. Someone said I should have a business plan if I am going into consulting. Do I really need a business plan?
Gail: Yes, George, you really do. Your business plan is your proposal to the world. It’s the declaration of your intentions as an independent consultant and in the process of developing it you are going to become a lot clearer about your goals, how to reach them, and how to measure your success.
George: Well, I wouldn’t start an evaluation project without a design. I guess it’s sort of the same thing. It’s just harder when it’s about me!
Gail: You know the old saying, Fail to plan, plan to fail. If you’re going to invest your own time, money, career, and family support into this activity, you want to succeed.
Maggie: [smiling] Actually, George, it’s really fun. You’re doing research on yourself and your own plans for a change. When I made my decision to be an independent consultant, I took two of my friends up to the cabin for the weekend and we had a retreat—flip chart paper, yellow sticky notes, felt pens, the whole workshop thing.
George: How did it work out?
Maggie: We talked for hours, drank a little wine, and took time to dream a bit. I came back with a list of things to do and haven’t looked back since. Now I’m in the middle of Year Two of my three-year plan. I’ve made lots of changes along the way but I feel pretty confident because I’m meeting my objectives and I know what I want to do next.
Chris: (laughs) Well, now I need to take a leave of absence from the City while I’m doing this. My fiancée is pretty anxious about it. Still, I’ve already got a client, so why worry about a business plan?
Gail: What happens when this project is over? When I went into consulting full time I already had one on-going project. Because I had some money coming in, I was able to spend a bit more time on my plan and I felt more realistic about what was possible.
George: How long does it take?
Gail: Probably a couple of months, spending anywhere from 5-10 hours a week. Even half a day a week is good but you need to work at it consistently.
George: Now I’m in trouble! I knew it would be a lot of work.
Gail: Well just set up a template for your plan and then fill in the gaps as you go. It should be about 10-12 pages long but each topic is very concise. The biggest focus is on your marketing plan.
Maggie: There’s lots of information on the internet on preparing a business plan. I liked doing the information interviews. They helped me clarify my thoughts.
George: Well, I’m a pretty good interviewer so it might be a good place to start. How do I go about it?
Gail: You need to identify some potential clients. Make a list of the organizations you want to work for. Ask around—friends, colleagues, people you meet through networking. Then search on the internet to get contact names. Send them a very polite email explaining the types of services you’re exploring and attach your resume. Be genuine. You aren’t looking for a project, you’re asking for their advice about your business plan.
Maggie: When I tried to set up my interviews, some people were willing to meet with me and some weren’t, others referred me to someone else, and—sorry, Gail—but one person actually said, “Can we get together on Friday?” I got advice and my first project at the same time!
Chris: Lucky you. What kinds of questions should I ask?
Gail: Well for example:
- How are they meeting their research and evaluation needs?
- Are they satisfied with the services they have received?
- Do they see any service gaps in your geographic area?
- Do they currently have any unmet research needs?
- Would their organization be interested in the services you plan to offer?
- What are they looking for most in a consultant?
- Who else should you talk to?
And don’t forget to send a thank you afterwards.
George: Well, lots to think about. Maybe we can talk some more next time about other key parts of the business plan. Meanwhile, I’ll get busy and see who I can talk to.
Chris: (His cell phone rings) Got to run. Wish me luck!
Gail: You’ll do a great job, Chris.
All: Bye. See you next time!
For more on the continuing adventures of new consultants Maggie, Chris and George, see:
Barrington, G. V. (2012). Chapter 7 Your Business Plan. Consulting Start-up and Management: A Guide for Evaluators and Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE. pp. 76-86.
Government of Canada, Canada Business Network provides links to sample business plans and templates. http://www.canadabusiness.ca/eng/page/2752
U. S. Small Business Administration provides lots of information:
Next up: The Cash-flow Wars