9 Key Steps to Transitioning to Project Management Consulting

Making the change from a standard project management role to becoming an independent consultant can be an exciting yet daunting career transition.

As more businesses recognize the value of bringing in external consultants for specific projects, the demand for qualified project management consultants continues to grow.

If you have strong project management skills and are interested in the flexibility and variety of consulting offers, following these key steps can help you make a smooth transition to PM consulting:

Evaluate Your Background and Skills

Before taking any leap, carefully evaluate if consulting is the right fit based on your background. Having at least 5 years of hands-on experience managing projects in your industry is essential.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have expertise managing all aspects of projects, from initiating to closing?
  • Have I led projects and teams to successful outcomes within budget and timeline?
  • Am I able to adapt my management style to different types of projects and clients?
  • Do I have experience identifying and mitigating project risks?
  • Can I communicate project status and manage stakeholder expectations?

Beyond core PM skills, successful consultants also possess key soft skills like flexibility, business acumen, and the ability to work independently. Determine any skill gaps you may need to fill before you consider consulting.

Build Your Network

project manager networking

Your network will be a critical asset when making the jump to consulting. Start connecting with:

  • Former colleagues who have become consultants
  • Professional associations like PMI chapters
  • Local small business resources and entrepreneurs
  • Project managers in your industry
  • Executives and project sponsors at companies you want to target

Leveraging LinkedIn can greatly expand your networking capabilities. Create a robust profile showcasing your project management expertise. Search for and connect with the types of individuals and organizations mentioned above. Join relevant LinkedIn groups to connect with industry professionals. Engage regularly by commenting on posts, sharing useful articles, and providing insights. Share your plans with your network and leverage their ideas in the consulting market.

Having a strong list of potential clients who know and trust you makes it much easier to get started.

Research the Market

Conduct thorough market research to determine the consulting demand in your location, industry, and project management niche. Identify potential gaps you could fill. Some key questions to investigate are:

  • What PM skills are most sought after by area businesses? Is there a need for your specific expertise?
  • Who are the target clients, and what are their pain points?
  • What is the going rate for PM consultants in your niche?
  • Who will be your competitors, and what is their value proposition?

Use market research to refine your offering and identify how you can compete in your region. Track industry trends so you can pivot your services to meet evolving client needs.

Develop Your Brand and Offerings

Clearly define your brand, services, and target market before promoting your consulting practice. Key steps include:

  • Craft your brand identity and positioning around your niche, skills, and value proposition
  • Determine the scope of PM services you will offer (e.g. project planning, risk management, agile coaching)
  • Create service packages that provide options and price transparency for clients
  • Build a website and collateral to showcase your brand, services, and expertise

Your brand and packaged offerings should make it easy for potential clients to understand your capabilities and hire you for projects. Focus on showing the value you bring over just listing PM activities.

Structure Your Consulting Business

There are important legal and financial considerations to think about when starting a consulting practice. Some key steps include:

  • Choose a business structure. LLC, S Corp, or sole proprietorship are common for solo consultants
  • Draft contracts to clearly define your engagements, scope, fees, and terms
  • Evaluate insurance needs and secure necessary policies (liability, errors, and omissions)
  • Setup business banking accounts and bookkeeping processes
  • Determine pricing and bill rates based on market norms, expenses, and profit goals

Working with accounting and legal advisors can help you make informed decisions about setting up your consulting structure and finances.

Market Your Consulting Services

Once your consulting practice is established, you need to actively market your services to secure clients. Tactics may include:

  • Promote your website, social media, and other branding to attract potential clients
  • Network at industry events and pursue referrals within your existing network
  • Join professional organizations and seek speaking opportunities to build visibility
  • Follow up on leads and provide free consultations to demonstrate your capabilities
  • Offer limited introductory discounts or free pilots to secure your first clients
  • Consider promotional offers like free project audits to generate interest

Ongoing marketing and relationship building are critical, even once your consulting business is established. Deliver exceptional service to turn every client into a longtime advocate.

Develop Processes and Tools

To maximize efficiency as an independent consultant, develop streamlined processes, templates, and tools that allow you to deliver consistent quality and minimize non-billable administrative tasks.

  • Document your proven PM methodologies to replicate success across clients
  • Create templates for statements of work, project charters, plans, and status reports
  • Build a library of checklists, guides, and sample documents to leverage
  • Organize files, templates, and reference material for easy access
  • Take advantage of time tracking, invoicing, CRM, and PM tools tailored for consultants

By investing upfront in honing your processes and toolset, you can focus billable hours on providing actual project consulting expertise rather than administrative work.

Continue Growing Your Expertise

To sustain success as a consultant, make ongoing education and development a priority.

  • Stay on top of the latest project management best practices and trends
  • Attend conferences and training related to your niche and industry
  • Expand your skillset so you can offer additional high-demand services
  • Earn any credentials or certifications that add credibility
  • Follow leading PM advisors and join professional groups to exchange ideas

Position yourself as an expert by constantly expanding your PM knowledge and networks. Let curiosity drive you to continue evolving as a consultant.

Trust the Process

Transitioning from project manager to consultant requires diligent preparation, but the rewards of being your boss are significant. With the right mindset, skills, and strategy, leaping into PM consulting can propel your career growth to new heights.

Trust the process and rely on the relationships you've built to stay resilient through the challenges launching any new venture inevitably brings. Soon you'll be reaping the work-life balance, income potential, and job satisfaction consulting offers.

By evaluating your experience, establishing your business, marketing strategically, and committing to ongoing learning, you can successfully join the ranks of professional project management consultants.

Focus on bringing real value to clients based on your specialized skills, and you'll be well on your way to thriving as an independent PM expert. The demand for agile, results-driven consultants is growing. Take these key steps to make consulting your next career destination.

Don't forget to read our article about the legal considerations for independent consultants, you will explore the key legal aspects to keep in mind when starting your own business.

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