Consulting as an employment option

An expert offers an entrepreneurial approach

Jobs are a rare commodity in today’s marketplace. Georgia’s unemployment rate is still close to 10 percent. Confidence in the job market and job growth expectations dropped from 56 percent in the third quarter to 39 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s Labor Market Outlook survey.

Fifty-five percent of the employers surveyed said that they would maintain staffing levels, while 11 percent said they plan to cut jobs. Only 26 percent of human resource managers said they expect to hire in the fourth quarter.

“We find ourselves in an unprecedented job market, where there are at least five qualified job seekers for every job posting. The traditional resume-interview approach is no longer producing results in this radical economy,” said Ben Hudson, the president of Finding Work Inc. and author of “How to Find Work ... When There Are No Jobs.”

Believing that it’s time for a more entrepreneurial and active approach, Hudson wrote and published methods for obtaining consulting work that he has practiced and taught for more than 20 years.

“The good news is that there are still plenty of business needs,” Hudson said. “If you find the needs and fill them as a project consultant/contractor employee, you can improve your cash flow and build a consulting practice. Once you get your foot in the door, you might even be offered a full-time job.”

As a successful project consultant, career coach and business startup adviser, Hudson has refined his “Solutionship” method to finding project work.

“Most consultants set themselves up as an expert, or a ‘solution in search of a problem,’ but company decision-makers don’t want to be sold an off-the-shelf solution, especially today,” he said. “Solutionship means developing solutions to specified needs in partnership with potential clients. It allows you to position yourself in a different and more effective way.”

The first step to becoming a successful project consultant is to understand what benefits and values you have to offer prospective clients. Once you know your value, you research and network to identify potential corporate decision-makers. You ask for a 30-minute conversation.

“You make it clear from the beginning that you aren’t selling anything or asking for a position,” Hudson said. “Your intention is to help uncover ideas that could improve the client company’s bottom line.”

Through guided conversation and interest, you get the prospective client to talk about his company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (reasons they aren’t taking advantage of opportunities). You take notes and offer to get back with a written list of ideas after a few days. Ideally, this could lead to a project using your skills.

“But if the client can’t afford to hire you or can do it in-house, you give him free rein to use the ideas developed,” Hudson said. “Telling him that up front takes any defensiveness out of the meeting.”

Developing a conversational approach that establishes relationships and engages prospective clients takes practice, he said. He advises job seekers to start with family and friends until they are comfortable with the process, and to always ask for additional contacts.

“If they don’t hire you or use your ideas, you still have made a valuable contact,” he said. “You’ve demonstrated your value, so that if a job or project does open up, you’ll come to mind.”

Hudson has seen his methods work across industries and functions ranging from human resources to information technology. He said it is particularly appropriate for today’s market, when companies are reluctant to hire and are outsourcing more work. It fits a market, he said, where “there’s an awful lot of talent just sitting there waiting to contribute. And when they contribute in a focused way to real needs, productivity goes up for everyone.”

“What’s different is the mindset,” Hudson said. “You’re not there to sell anything, but to help someone.”

Ron Reardon, the president of Patents & More Inc., a registered patent agent in Lawrenceville, said Hudson’s advice works.

“Project consulting allows job seekers to use their skills, to get paid, to re-engage with the marketplace and to learn valuable new skills,” he said. “I was an introvert, so the conversational methods didn’t come natural. But the more you practice, the easier it becomes.”

Reardon retired in October 2002 from BellSouth after 32 years. He met Hudson through outplacement services, passed the patent bar in December 2002, and had his first patent by January 2003.

Reardon has helped almost 400 clients since then and continually develops his pipeline through networking.

“I give potential clients some initial services for free,” Reardon said. “A 40-question form and an hour of free consultation helps clients assess whether their invention has potential.”

If so, he charges for searching, writing and registering the patent. As an added value, he helps prospects envision their end results — whether they want to sell the patent, license it or start a company. He can also provide connections to other professionals.

“When you develop a relationship with your client, you start to see what benefits he wants and you know how to help him,” Reardon said. “It’s a step-by-step process that works.”