Business psychology

How to overcome imposter syndrome and become the business consultant you want to be

- February 7, 2022 6 MIN READ
Proud woman standing in office showing confidence

The major thing holding back talented potential business consultants is not a lack of expertise, skills or connections – it’s actually imposter syndrome, writes Michael Zipursky, CEO of Consulting Success.

Have you ever dreamt about escaping the shackles of your corporate career to start your own business? You’re not alone.

Over the past decade, I’ve helped hundreds of people quit their jobs and build thriving consulting businesses.

Unlike other businesses, consulting businesses are very low-risk – you don’t need to invest in products or manufacturing.

Why? Because you are the product. You’re selling your expertise — and your expertise is in your head.

If you can use your skills to create results for businesses (just like you’re doing right now for your employer), then you can become a consultant.

However, what holds people back from becoming a consultant often isn’t their lack of skill. What often holds people back is their mindset: imposter syndrome, fear of what their employer will say, and uncertainty about what those first steps should be.

In this post, I’m going to teach you how to embrace and overcome these fears. By the end of this post, you’ll understand how to overcome your imposter syndrome and fear of success — and have a practical plan to transition to running your own entrepreneurial consulting business.

Confident young male business consultant

Why do people become consultants?

Do any of these sound like you?

  • You want to be your own boss so you can set your own schedule and work only with clients you love
  • You want the ability to earn as much income as you want, instead of asking for a 5-10 per cent raise every few years
  • You want an adventure — to get the most out of your life and push yourself outside of your comfort zone to reach your true potential

If so, you’re among good company. According to the 2022 study by Consulting Success, How To Become A Consultant Study, these are the top three reasons people become consultants.

For me, it was a combination of the three. Through consulting, I’ve created an amazing life for myself and my family. But it hasn’t been easy.

To succeed in consulting, you’ll have to work hard, do things that make you uncomfortable (like marketing and sales), and face many unknowns.

Back when I first started, I dealt with all of the common issues that entrepreneurs face:

  • Imposter syndrome and second-guessing the value of my expertise.
  • Dealing with rejection when pitching my services.
  • Feeling like an outsider and not knowing what steps to take to move forward.

But whenever I’ve struggled to take action, I go back to my ‘why’ — my reasons for starting a consulting business in the first place. And that was to create freedom and flexibility in my schedule, achieve a higher income, and fulfill my desire to be a successful business owner.

Fear, doubt, and uncertainty are common when you want to start any sort of business. But know this: you’re never alone. There are many before you who have traversed the path you’re on and are willing to share what has made them successful.

Next, I’ll share with you the first steps to transition to consulting.

wooden blocks spelling out the word career

First steps to transition to consulting

So, you’re interested in transitioning out of your full-time role to start a consulting business. What are the first steps you should take?

The first thing to do is to start having conversations about:

  • The real value people think you can provide
  • The challenges that people in your industry are dealing with
  • The results that people in your industry are looking for

The goal of these conversations is to identify, validate and confirm your consulting business.

You might think you have a great business idea, but if you don’t talk to people and validate your idea, then you’ll struggle to find paying clients. What you think people want isn’t the same as what they actually want.

Inside of our programs, we teach a marketing campaign called ‘Network Reactivation’. Network Reactivation is where you ‘reactivate’ your network by reaching out and letting people know that you’re thinking about consulting. This is how you begin to take action, create conversations and start to validate your ideas.

Here’s a script you can use to reactivate your network and start conversations:

SUBJECT: Thought of you

Hey NAME, how are you? I was just thinking about you..

I’m thinking about transitioning out of my current role as a {POSITION} and doing some consulting on the side.

I’ve been doing a lot of work to solve {PROBLEM} which has resulted in {OUTCOMES}.

What do you think? Do you see a need for this or know anyone who might benefit from it?

Would love to know your thoughts.

Best,

YOUR NAME

Starting this feedback cycle by reaching out to your network is critical. These conversations provide you with valuable feedback. You’ll learn what people in your industry actually care about and what they are willing to pay for.

And you’ll only know whether or not that is true when you begin talking to people in your industry about their challenges.

So, start having these conversations with people. Ask them questions and gather data about the industry in which you’d like to consult. Then, by the time you do start, you’ll have the confidence to know there’s a demand for your business.

This will also prepare you for what comes next: talking with your current employer.

Two business women talking in office

How to talk with your current employer

The conversation with your current employer is one of the most important ones you’ll have in relation to your consulting business.

(NOTE: This is NOT legal advice. I don’t know your specific situation and employment agreement. Below you’ll find best practices worth considering.)

For over 50 per cent of consultants, their first client was a former employer. Talking with your employer is a big opportunity. Position the conversation as non-threatening and non-adversarial — simply that you’re thinking about starting to do some consulting, and you’d like their opinion. Make it a collaborative conversation.

Here are some talking points to help guide the conversation:

  • Your idea of doing consulting on the side
  • If your employer supports the idea or not
  • How it will benefit them if you do start consulting on the side
  • Whether or not they have any advice for you
  • If they know anyone you should talk to (referrals, mentors, etc)
  • Their thoughts about you serving them as a consultant instead of as a full-time employee

Talk about the benefits for them: if you start consulting, you’ll gain more experience and provide more value in your role. And if you shift from being a full-time employee to a consultant to their company, they can also save on the full-time wages and benefits.

If your employer is supportive of the idea and thinks you’ll do well, then they are open to you doing consulting on the side. There’s a good chance they can become your first client as well.

However, if your employer is totally against the idea, that’s also good to know. If your company does not allow side-jobs and aren’t open to the idea of you consulting, you have a decision to make.

You can either stick it out longer and build up your cash reserves … or, you can jump ship and go with the all-in transition.

But if your employer is holding you back from pursuing your dream instead of helping you with it, should you really be working for them?

Think carefully about that.

Adopting the elite consulting mind

When you embark on a new adventure — like starting a consulting business — you’ll have that familiar voice in the back of your head.

“Are you sure you can really do this?”

“You’re not ready yet. Give it another year.”

“What if you fail? You’ll embarrass yourself. It’s too risky to try. Just stay where you’re at.”

The truth is that most people listen to that voice. And that is what holds them back. That voice becomes their destiny.

I’m not going to lie. Overcoming the voice of doubt can be difficult – but you can overcome it.

One of the most important things when transitioning to consulting is to adopt the mindset of an elite consultant. Only then will you begin to behave like one. You’ll have to adopt new patterns of thinking, like …

Confidence is key: knowing that you have created results for your employer, you can create results for your clients. Don’t doubt yourself.

Getting in front of buyers: knowing that the quickest way to grow your business is to have conversations with ideal clients. Don’t spend too much time building things (website, marketing materials, etc) what really counts is conversations.

Abundance: saying ‘no’ to the wrong opportunities, so you have the time to say ‘yes’ to the right ones – the projects and clients that align with your values.

By adopting these mindsets, they will eventually begin to replace your imposter syndrome and limiting beliefs. You can become a successful consultant.

Get clear on your WHY and ask yourself:

  • Do I want to create true freedom and flexibility in my schedule?
  • Do I want to challenge myself, realise my potential and make a big impact?
  • Do I want to achieve a higher level of income?

Most 9-5 jobs won’t allow you to do all of that.

But by starting your own consulting business, you can write a different story — one where you are in the driver’s seat.


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