Written by Leah A. Roman, MPH, MCHES®
Since I started my consulting business in 2013, I have received lots of inquiries from health education professionals looking to do the same. It is not surprising. We are living in an era of entrepreneurship and the “gig economy:” a phenomenon of more and more workers taking on part-time flexible work. According to Forbes (2018), more than one third of U.S. workers (approximately 57 million people) make up the gig economy.1 With video and file sharing technology making it even easier to work remotely, it is no wonder that more Health Education Specialists are pursuing this flexible career path.
However, many aspiring consultants struggle with fears about how to get started and how to run a successful business. They ask, “Do I have enough education and experience to be a consultant?” “How do I find clients?” “How do I stand out from the competition?” “How do I know how much to charge?”
To reduce anxiety for aspiring consultants, I remind them that they already have the skills they need to answer these questions. They should tap into existing health education skills to pursue their business idea:
1. Conduct an Assessment: Consider your ideal client, e.g., small nonprofits, and do some research into the types of services they need to outsource or conduct in collaboration with an expert consultant. Are their needs being met? You can look into this by researching practices at your current/former employers, talking to knowledgeable colleagues, and reviewing online contractor and consultant job postings on sites like Idealist and LinkedIn. You can also assess your potential competition. Research other public health consultants and review their areas of expertise, services, and pricing, if available. What service areas seem saturated with consultants? Do you notice gaps or niches that need to be filled? How do these gaps intersect with your personal skill set?
For example, I found that there were limited business and consulting resources specifically for public health and health education professionals. I was interested in filling this niche because it aligned with my love for networking, training, and technical assistance.
2. Build Partnerships: Strong relationships and partnerships are essential for building a successful consulting business. Over the past six years, approximately 90% of my business has come directly from personal relationships and referrals. Many consulting projects are never advertised. Therefore, I recommend taking some time to evaluate your referral network: current/past employers, alumni networks, volunteer activities, networking groups, professional associations, etc. Take a close look and think about where you need to strengthen your network.
If you have consulting colleagues, see if you can identify individuals with skillsets that complement yours. For example, if you are a program evaluator and know a talented statistician, you can collaborate on projects and refer clients back and forth since you have related services.
3. Write a Plan: Plan for your business the same way you would plan for a health education program or intervention. Take the time to write up a formal business plan. The strategic planning that goes into developing the plan is just as valuable as the plan itself. Write down the mission of your business, as well as your short and long-term goals. Identify your target market or ideal clients, and be as detailed as possible. For example: “The ideal clients for business X are small nonprofits in the Chicago area that serve women and children.” Describe the products and services that you will offer, and detail the rollout and marketing strategies for those products and services.
4. Evaluate Your Efforts: Health Education Specialists are experts at using data to evaluate both process and outcomes. I encourage you to use these skills to look at your business plan and execution. How effective are your client outreach and communication strategies? Are there processes that you can streamline to recruit and onboard or maintain clients more effectively? How do your key indicators, e.g., revenue, total clients, social media engagement, etc., align with the goals you have set for your business? Use your data to inform your business plan and any necessary mid-course corrections. For example, the data may tell you that most of your ideal clients find you on Instagram, so spending hours on other social media platforms is not necessary.
In summary, I encourage you to approach a consulting business the same way you would approach a new health education program. Assess the need, tap into partnerships, be strategic with your plan, and evaluate your efforts.
For Health Education Specialists looking for additional resources, I have created a two hour, online self-paced course called “Contemplating Consulting.” This course has been approved for (2) Category I CECHs for CHES®/MCHES®, and can be accessed at romanphconsulting.com.
1Forbes (2018): https://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2018/08/31/57-million-u-s-workers-are-part-of-the-gig-economy/#6e7ee3d97118