Getting into consulting, especially independent consulting, can be a challenging proposition. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about getting started as a business analyst consultant.
How do you land your first clients?
When I was originally consulting as a business analyst, I explored a lot of possibilities. I went to networking events, small business meetings, IT meetings, and any event under the sun within my limited budget.
I found many of my first opportunities through technical recruiters – I thought of them as my high-paid sales staff. (And the nice thing is that the “pay” they get is a surplus on your contractor rate, so you don’t shell any money out of pocket.) Recruiters provided an in to some contract positions and this became the foundation of my business.
I have also found a few clients through word of mouth and direct referrals. One client I had met a few years back, kept in touch through LinkedIn, and then was able to provide some help when he posted a question on LinkedIn. This led to an initial meeting and, a few months later, a short contract.
Believe it or not, your past co-workers could be your best avenue to your first consulting clients. If they’ve moved on to a new organization, they might be in a position to recommend you or even hire you. And don’t be surprised if an organization you previously worked for full-time is willing to hire you back as a consultant or contractor to help with a project.
When planning out how to land clients, consider where people in a position to hire you are likely to be and make yourself available in those places. Keeping in touch regularly with your professional network is also a good way to get referrals and remind people you are open for new opportunities.
When you first started out, do you offer a discounted rate, or free, for your first clients?
I did not do this. In the beginning, I considered a year-end promotion to give away “two weeks of business analysis” to a non-profit. I was thinking of this as a way to contribute and get my name out and build some consulting experience. But then I landed a contract and set the idea aside.
However, if you’ve been looking for new clients for more than a couple of months, offering a small amount of discounted or pro bono (i.e. free) services can be a great way to expand your experience and get a couple of consulting projects under your belt. It’s also not unusual for pro bono work to lead to paid work, so always follow-up and see if the client is willing to hire you once your pro bono project is complete.
How do you charge for your work?
Most BA consultants charge on an hourly basis and if you are just starting out, set rates that are competitive with BA salary in your local area. Realize that if you find work with the help of a recruiter, their surplus needs to be taken into account since the employer is often paying 25-33% more than what you make as a contractor. When you land a contract directly, you can most often charge a much higher rate.
While you might be pressed to create a fixed bid, that’s challenging when offering BA services. To offer a realistic fixed bid contract, you need to define scope. Once you define scope, you’ve delivered a significant amount of your business analysis value.
Another option is to charge for your services under a retainer agreement. A retainer is essentially a guarantee to be paid upfront each month for a set number of hours. This model will provide more consistency in your revenue stream. It works well for follow-up work on projects that are in implementation mode or when there is an ongoing stream of work to handle.
What sized companies are most receptive to BA consulting services?
This depends on your BA qualifications. I have had most success with smaller organizations because I use a less formal business analysis process and am very flexible. I also have typically worked in smaller organizations and built new BA practices in 2 separate organizations. I find that a potential client for me is a small IT shop that is taking on a project larger in scale and complexity than they normally have to deal with. They may not need a business analyst full-time, but they greatly benefit from BA support for special projects.
A larger organization would likely have a BA team in place on a full-time basis but they might be receptive to contracting with a business analyst for a special skill set or to help them mature their business analysis practice or provide coaching for their BAs. Oftentimes larger ERP deployments, CRM deployments, or accounting system migrations require BAs with domain knowledge.
On the other end of the spectrum are very small businesses. While these businesses might need a business analyst, I’ve found they are more receptive to someone who can manage a project end-to-end and wear multiple hats, including somewhat of an operational role.
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