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How to Become a Professional Consultant & Charge Professional Fees for Your Advice

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Becoming a consultant is an exciting career choice. Clients will value your knowledge, experience and skills -- and think of many possibilities to use these resources to solve a host of business challenges. Before you embark on this path, set professional goals and develop a formula that translates your abilities into precious dollars. A business plan is a practical tool to cover these and other planning bases.

The first step is to decide exactly what you want to do. Identify a main focus, like fundraising, marketing or accounting. Then choose specializations, such as online fundraising and event planning. While your consulting practice will have a formal scope, in reality you'll draw from whatever know-how you have to tackle challenges each day. As a consultant, you don't have to work for yourself. Consultants commonly work in private firms. Your business environment will drive your day-to-day reality, including work content, clientele and compensation. It will also affect whether you independently license and insure a practice.

Your next step is figuring out how much time you'll devote to consulting. Will it be a part-time or full-time endeavor? Do you want to work year-round or on a limited basis? Work-life balance is a key consideration. Many consultants spend a great deal of time traveling or chasing deadlines. Decide what you want your general schedule to look like before you make your professional transition. Your time commitment will not only shape your professional and personal lifestyles but also the money you receive.

Third, determine how much money you'll charge for your time. If you'll work for an established firm, you may earn a base salary plus a performance bonus. Compensation might also reflect senior vs. junior positions. Establish your own fees if you work independently. In some cases, consultants opt for an hourly or per diem rate. Other consultants charge per project. In addition, decide whether you'll require deposits from your clients and have them absorb the costs of certain materials and supplies. In general, take your market value into account as well as the value of your services. Balance your need to profit with ethically serving your customers.

Finally, start building consulting relationships and selling your services to clients. If you don't have a built-in client base, market yourself through networking, a website, print advertisements or other media. Build trusting relationships and understand prospects’ needs before attempting to close sales. Draft a service agreement once you have a common vision of success and specific objectives for working together. Detail services, time to complete work, professional fees and other accountability measures in all final contracts.