To a project manager entrenched in corporate politics and organizational red tape, the idea of striking out on your own as an independent project management consultant might sound like a dream. You choose your own clients, you set your own pay, and you can stop jumping through so many hoops. But how do you know if you're ready, or if you have what it takes to be successful? And how do you go from wanting to be a consultant to actually being one?

Are you ready to be a Project Management Consultant?

Here are three signs you're ready to take the plunge:

1. You're experienced enough to have developed reliable expertise and finely-honed skill sets. You've not only mastered project management techniques, but also adept leadership, communication, and interpersonal skills.

2. You have a well-established, wide-ranging network of clients, colleagues, and peers you can draw on to help you find new work and endorse your skills.

3. You're stable enough financially to take on a risky professional move. (Or you’re retired with a reliable income, but want to keep working here and there.)

7 Steps to Success as a PM Consultant:

So you've got the skills necessary to be a great consultant. But how do you actually get started?

Step 1: Pinpoint your strengths. How are you going to position yourself as an expert? What specialized skills and knowledge do you have to offer potential clients? Back it up with demonstrated experience and references.

Step 2: Figure out how to market yourself. Now that you've determined the unique skills you have to offer, you need to spread the word and convince potential clients you have what it takes to deliver their project successfully. Decide exactly who you're going to target. Build a website (it doesn't have to be too flashy, just functional). Consider offering a promotional rate to land your first few projects.

Step 3: Keep building your network. Put in the effort to maintain solid relationships with colleagues and clients you already know, and keep expanding your circle. Make sure you tell everyone in your network about your new venture as a consultant so they can help spread the word. You never know who will help you snag your first gig!

Step 4: Lay the groundwork for your business. Being a successful consultant takes more than just being great at what you do: it takes good business sense as well. How will you handle billing and expenses? Will you charge by the hour? By project? What will your taxes be like? Do you need office space? What's the best way to keep records? How will you cover health insurance for yourself and your family? The time to answer these questions is now, not when you're staring down a pile of Urgent notice! letters.

Step 5: Create a financial lifeline. Because it's common for project management consultants to be paid monthly, you’ll need a reserve of savings to last you those first several months while you’re lining up work and still in the midst of completing your first projects. 8-12 months of living expenses is a good savings guideline.

Step 6: Nail down the logistics. Figure out the nuts and bolts of how you’re going to organize all your work. What tools will you use to track your current clients, potential clients, ongoing and completed projects? How will you stay connected with your project team and stakeholders, especially when you're not on-site? Find a cloud project management software that you like and compliments the way you work — just make sure it’s easy to invite outside partners to access certain projects while keeping your other information private.

Step 7: Take care of yourself! 9-5? Sick days? Vacation time? What’s that? When you’re working for yourself, it’s all too easy to push yourself too hard. You need to be just as dedicated to your "off" time as you are to your work. When you're harried and overworked, you're more likely to make mistakes. And as an independent consultant, mistakes are one thing your reputation can't afford. Block off "me time" in advance — and stick to the plan!

Do you have the confidence?

Ultimately, you need more than experience, networking skills, and a solid business plan. You need confidence in yourself and in your decisions. After all, you’ll be the expert everyone will look to, clients and project team alike.

If you're a project management consultant, we'd love to hear your perspective! What advice would you give other PM consultants just starting out?

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