There is really only one requirement for becoming a consultant, and that requirement is shared by all successful business ventures:
Everything else is in furtherance of that goal. Let’s break it down a bit.
In order to have a service to provide, you need to choose an area of specialisation where a need is not being sufficiently met, or where there is room to expand on the services that people might want. One of the ways in which you can create that sort of niche is to learn things that not many people know. What everyone else knows can only be a foundation upon which to build. You will not find specialised knowledge in an undergraduate college course, a certification program, or a conference seminar. Independent study and experience are the best ways to obtain it. A wise mentor can give you a boost in the right direction, but you need to outgrow your mentor before you can truly claim a niche.
Technical professionals, the true geeks anyway, often enjoy learning their trade — and the more esoteric the better. But they sometimes ignore the last half of the requirement: “for which people will pay you.” That means that your specialised knowledge must be applicable to the problems faced by enough potential clients to provide a reasonable demand for your services.
Furthermore, nobody will be willing to pay for your services if they don’t know you exist. Solving that problem is called “marketing.” Marketing should always begin with the honest conviction that you can solve the prospect’s problem, and then proceed to the strategy for letting them know that. If your business proposal presents a rock solid case for the benefits they will receive from using your services, you should be able to get the contract.
But do not get discouraged if you don’t. Prospects have many reasons why they might refuse. Company policy, politics, and budget constraints can get in the way. Sometimes, they may simply have a better option available. If you did your homework and presented your case as well as you could, there is really nothing more you could have done. But there is almost always some lesson to be learned. Look for it.
Of course, landing the contract is only the beginning. To insure that the client will keep on paying you, you must deliver on your promises. If you ever surprise your client, it had better be a pleasant surprise. Doing more than you committed builds great customer loyalty.
You might find, for instance, that how you project yourself to your clients breaks out of the stereotype. Yes, you are a consultant and they are your clients, but far above that you are both humans. The typical roles assigned to each of you have evolved as a way of dealing with certain recurring concerns, but that does not mean you cannot adapt them where your specific concerns differ from the norm.
In fact, it’s almost axiomatic that by the time societal roles become well-established, they’re already obsolete.