It’s hard to know where to specialize when you are just launching your consulting practice. “What services can I offer?” you wonder. But then reality sets in and you think, “What services should I offer?” And then, finally, as you feel a bit overwhelmed, you ask, “Where can I begin?”

While the marketplace will always have the last say, here are some things to think about while searching for your consulting niche:

1.     Your skills: Review the full spectrum of evaluation services, stretching from evaluability and needs assessments to design, implementation, and data collection; from data analysis, and reporting, to communications, evaluation use, and knowledge translation. What interests you the most? When you studied evaluation in university or worked on clients’ projects, what were you doing when you received the most praise? Do you have some new century skills that stretch beyond the skills of your last century colleagues and professors? Wherever you shine—take those skills and start focusing your marketing efforts.

2.     Your passions: What aspects of evaluation excite you the most? When you leap out of bed in the morning to find out what happens next, what kind of work are you doing? What projects have given you a sense of pride for a job well done? If you were going to teach somebody something about evaluation, what would it be? If people say, “You really get it!” what do they mean? There are lots of ways to clarify you areas of excellence. Build on what you love.

3.     Emerging trends: Listen to the chatter on Twitter and evaluation blogs. What are your colleagues talking about? What topics are hot at conferences? What’s new in Requests for Proposals? Often current focus areas can be identified by the workshops and webinars being offered because they suggest there is an expressed need to build capacity in these areas. Follow the news. The government mantra of doing more with less could well be a prelude to new evaluation projects.

4.     Funding sources: While the phrase “follow the money” may be attributed to Watergate, it makes a lot of sense in our context. You want to find out who is funding projects right now, what kind of projects they are funding, and who is getting the money. There is usually a lag time between new ideas and their implementation so expect a lag between trends and current funding patterns. Think about both.

Aligning your skills and passions with emerging trends and funding sources will help you plan for both career success and your own personal satisfaction. Once your niche starts to take shape, you will need to look around to see who else is doing the same thing. More work may be required to clarify your competitive advantage but happily this is our topic for next time!

Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up and Management: A Guide for Evaluators and Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.

 Photo: Stock Photo by channah