After 23 years as a radio executive, Selma Dodson Tyler is considering a station break--possibly a permanent one.
"I think it's time for a change," said Dodson Tyler, a 45-year-old Long Beach resident. "And I want to determine whether I'm cut out to be a consultant. I've toyed with it in the past, and people have always told me I'd make a great trainer."
For help she went to Peter Block, a Connecticut consultant and author of "Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used" (Jossey-Bass, 1999).
Block, who reviewed Dodson Tyler's resume and writings about her achievements, asked her to name the passions and special talents she could bring to that line of work.
Dodson Tyler hesitated. She had only hazy answers to Block's query, she said. She loved--and believed she was skilled at--motivating, empowering and educating people. She had done this for two decades in her radio station management work, she said. She was deeply interested in psychology, spirituality and religion, but was skeptical about whether she could incorporate those interests into a consulting practice.
"You have everything you need to be a successful consultant," Block told her. And he recommended ways she could position herself in the marketplace while remaining true to her values.
Dodson Tyler could visualize her consultancy as a ministry, Block said. She could show prospective corporate clients that she could bring spirit and passion into their workplace, boost morale, empower their employees and "humanize" their business relationships, he said.
"It's frightening to consider," Dodson Tyler said. "Because that's not something I've ever been paid to do before."
Block conceded that in recent years corporate leaders' interest in relationship building has been waning. But he added that this shouldn't adversely affect Dodson Tyler's consultancy plans.
"Right now all they care about is shareholder value," Block said. "Materialism has the upper hand at the moment. But you don't need whole corporations behind you--you just need one manager at a time. The culture can be going in the opposite direction to your business, but all you need is three clients."
Dodson Tyler can augment her chances of winning clients by positioning herself as an authority on organizational relationship issues, said Edward Meagher, chief executive of Woodstone Consulting Co., in Steamboat Springs, Colo. The more specific her consulting niche the better, added Beth Gamble, chief executive of Tucker Street Associates in Wellesley, Mass.
"From my experience, one of the most common mistakes new consultants make is describing their services too broadly, hoping that they won't lose any business," Gamble said. "They try to be all things to all people. But instead, they end up not getting any business, because people can't figure out what they do."
Once she comes up with a menu of services, workshops, classes and lecture topics that she'll offer, Dodson Tyler can introduce them to prospective clients through oral presentations and marketing literature, said Wisconsin consultant Elaine Biech, author of "The Business of Consulting: The Basics and Beyond" (Jossey-Bass, 1999).
It may take a year or longer for Dodson Tyler to build up revenue exceeding her current $88,000-a-year salary. During their first year, new consultants tend to generate billings for only about 100 days' work, Biech said.
Despite projections of a slow financial start, Dodson Tyler should be discriminating about the early assignments she tackles, said Leslie Kossoff, owner of Kossoff Management Consulting in San Mateo, Calif.
"Remind yourself that you're building your reputation," Kossoff said. "So if there's a strong chance you'll fail at a project or aren't the best person for the job, don't take it."
Block encouraged Dodson Tyler to incorporate coaching, training, speaking and strategizing into her consultancy. She can begin by trying to land jobs in broadcasting, the industry she knows best. She could solicit her present employer to be her first freelance client, Biech said, because Dodson Tyler is familiar with its corporate culture.
For additional consulting experience, Dodson Tyler can co-consult with a pro or accept an assignment with an established consultancy, said Susan Silk, president of MSI Strategic Communications in Chicago.
To establish cachet as a consultant and get involved in major projects, she might consider a gig with a prestigious Big Six accounting firm, said Ray Rood, president and senior consultant of Human Technologies International in Glendora.
Years ago, the Big Six firms--and most of their corporate clients--demanded MBAs or even PhDs of new consultants. But this has changed. Field experience like Dodson Tyler's is now considered more valuable than a graduate credential, said Kevin Ford, president of the Armstrong Group in Fairfax, Va.