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Consulting’s $500 Billion Future – And How it Benefits You

By | Consulting Industry

What We’ll Cover in This Piece:

  • Size of the consulting and staffing industry – and why it’s experiencing explosive growth
  • How this industry growth benefits you
  • How to thrive as a modern consultant/contracto

Estimated Time to Read: 5-10 minutes


We spend a lot of time telling people how big and broad the consulting and staffing industry is, because there’s a misconception that it’s a lucrative career path—for a small handful of people.

This assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

The reality is, consulting and contracting is one of the biggest industries in the world, growing at breakneck speed. Everyone we tell this to asks the same two questions:

  1. How big is the consulting and contracting industry? Combine the net worth of the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB, and you’re looking at a value of $147 billion. The consulting industry is worth $425 billion—roughly 3 times as much!
  2. How fast is consulting growing? The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts the consulting industry will grow 6% in total over the next 5 years, exceeding $450 billion. They’re wrong. Consulting and staffing will grow at least twice that fast.

The reason for this explosive growth is simple:

In the very near future, nearly all professionals will be consultants or contractors.

If you understand what is powering this change, how you can benefit from it, and how you need to navigate the new market, then you can position yourself to take advantage of the greatest opportunity of your professional life.

What’s Behind Consulting’s Explosive Growth

On a very basic level, the reason for the growth of the consulting industry is simple: companies need more consultants and contractors, in a wider variety of roles, than ever before. This is true and obvious to anyone in the corporate world.

However, to really understand the pace at which the consulting industry is growing, you need to understand a greater economic trend.

For the last 70 or so years, your professional career was defined by your company. You started off at an entry level position, and worked your way up.

You didn’t trade services for money, you traded time. Your company signed you to a full-time deal, gave you a salary, and you gave them your time in return. This model worked very well for a long time, and helped create a lot of America’s prosperity in the 20th century.

But that same model has stopped working for companies for a number of reasons:

  1. The pace of change has accelerated. It is well known that business moves faster now than at any time in history – and this is only increasing with new technology and evolving market forces. Companies need much more flexibility and nimbleness to be able to adapt and thrive.
  2. Bloated workforces cripple a company’s finances. With the traditional full-time model, companies cannot expand and contract to meet demand. A company’s workforce, and therefore personnel costs, remain static while their revenue fluctuates.
  3. Firing full-time employees is expensive. One of our clients recently had to let go of over 1,000 employees. Each of those employees received 12 months of salary as part of their severance package. That high price tag makes it very hard for companies to be flexible and adapt their workforce to their needs.In order to achieve the adaptability that the traditional full-time employee model prevents, companies are turning to flexible workforce solutions, or FWSs. These are solutions that run most of a company’s operations through a team of contractors or consultants, while a small core of full-time employees oversees the entire company.

Workforce of the (Not So Distant) Future

consulting industry workforce diagrams

This transition is changing the makeup of the workforce. Companies in the near future are going to have very few full-time employees, but will in turn need access to a lot of consultants.In turn, professionals who today are full-time employees at different companies and firms are almost all going to be private contractors or consultants.

How The Growth of Consulting & Contracting Benefits You?

The growth of the consulting and staffing industry benefits everyone, and even if you aren’t currently a contractor, you probably will be very soon.

There’s some common confusion around what a consultant or contractor actually does. Most people hear the term “consultant” and think of management consultants – the consultants who are paid for high-level strategy and analysis.

Only 5% of consultants are hired to do that sort of high-level strategic planning. The other 95% are hired to execute in specific roles, from overseeing an entire project, to basic administrative and accounting work.

As a modern professional, this means you’re either currently a contractor or you will be in the future. In both cases the growth of this industry affects you. And if you prepare right, it benefits you tremendously.

1. Current Consultants Are About to Earn More

The math is simple. Companies are shedding their full time workforce, and thus will need more consultants and contractors than ever before. The increase in demand means more jobs and better pay.

Why better pay? The main reason is supply and demand. Consulting and staffing firms simply cannot hire quick enough. I see this even at my own consulting firm. I have far more work than I have quality consultants to give it to, and I spend a large percentage of my time looking for talented new consultants to bring onto my staff.

2. Future Consultants Will Be Able to Jump Right In

The widespread adoption of flexible workforce solutions is opening up consulting and contractor positions in a variety of roles. Whatever profession you work in, some company is going to need a consultant or contractor with your skills and services.

Technology is also making it incredibly easy to find work as a new consultant. Using services like BenchWatch, you can profile your skills and put yourself on the radar of a multiple companies immediately, ready to be hired.

Instead of building a network slowly over years, you can make yourself easily discoverable to anyone who requires your expertise.

But regardless of whether you’re a future or current consultant, this rosy future relies on one thing: Your ability to navigate modern technology and the current employment market.

How to Thrive as a Modern Consultant/Contractor

Success as a professional used to come down to working your way into a good company, and grinding your way up the ladder for 30 years. It was that simple.

Those days are coming to a close. As I talked about before, the lifelong job is over. As a modern consultant or contractor, your success is contingent on two things: positioning and visibility.

1. How to Position Yourself as a Consultant or Contractor

Positioning yourself as a consultant or contractor is about narrowing down your particular field, and proving that you are the expert in it. There are three steps you need to take to do this right:

  1. Define your niche. A lot of consultants and contractors struggle with this. They want to show clients they’re the best at everything. The problem is, no one is the best at everything, but everyone can be the best at something. Figure out what that something is for you.
  2. Build your resume. This doesn’t just mean pick a pretty template and list all of your jobs. Be very specific about listing the skills, experience, and references that apply directly to your niche and give you an advantage over your competition.
  3. Update your LinkedIn. These days, potential clients are going to look at your LinkedIn before they ever ask to see a resume. LinkedIn lets you make your expertise a matter of public knowledge, and its endorsements give a level of social proof that will help you.

Once you’ve positioned yourself as the expert in your niche, it’s time to make yourself visible to the entire market.

2. How to Maximize Your Visibility

Whereas positioning is about building up your profile with credentials and endorsements, visibility is about projecting that profile out into the world. You need to do two things to make yourself visible in the modern consulting and staffing market:

  1. Register with Consulting and Staffing Firms. There is no easier way to get hired than to show consulting and staffing firms that you are available. BenchWatch and other systems like eRecruit and Bullhorn make this easy for you. Firms manage their database of consultants using these systems – and if they can easily see that you are available with the right skills, they will present you to their clients.
  2. Set up a personal website. Having your own website outside of LinkedIn or any other social platforms gives you complete control of how you present yourself, and it showcases a higher level of professionalism. It’s also incredibly easy to do with services like Squarespace.

There are other things you can do to increase your visibility. You can write a book, produce content, attend meetups, and much more. All of those things, however, take a big commitment of time and money.

Why Trust Will Always Be at The Core of Hiring

While almost everything about the consulting landscape is changing, one thing isn’t: trust.

Trust will always form the foundation of any professional relationship, whether the relationship involves full-time employees or consultants/contractors.

As the demand for consultants and contractors explodes, so too does the pool of available talent. Companies simply don’t have the resources to sift through all the consultants and contractors in the market and build relationships with the very best. They need a trust agent to help them figure out who they can rely on.

As a consultant or contractor, you need to find the channels and institutions that your potential clients are using to find people they can trust. Connecting with these trust brokers is going to be the key to your success. For the foreseeable future, advanced staffing firms are those brokers of trust. Powered by technology like BenchWatch, eRecruit, Dynamics, and Bullhorn, they are the only way companies can hire trustworthy consultants at scale.

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If You’re A Consultant, You’re A Business

By | Marketing Yourself, Professional Development

What We’ll Cover In This Piece:

  • Why the business world is moving away from full-time employees.
  • Why being an independent business is better for you and consulting firms.
  • How to get your independent business set up and running in an afternoon.

Estimated Time to Read: 8 minutes


One of the major economic trends of the 21st century will be the shift to what many are calling the “Individual economy,” in which work that is currently done by full-time employees will be done by contract workers.

You’ve probably seen this dissected in business articles with titles like “The Death of The Full-Time Employee,” but for all the drama and speculation, no one’s answered the most important question:

What does the “individual economy” mean for you as a consultant or contractor?

The short answer is this: If you’re a consultant or contractor, you’re a business now.

Let me unpack this. In the past, you’ve almost certainly been part of an employee-employer relationship. You’ve worked full-time for one company, trading your time for a salary.

In the individual economy, however, the standard employer-employee relationship is gone. In its place is the client-contractor relationship, in which professionals like you operate as independent businesses, servicing as many companies (clients) as they like.

This shift should seem familiar to you. If you’ve ever called an Uber or hired a TaskRabbit, you’ve been on the client side of the contractor relationship (though most people would call this the “gig economy” the basic idea is the same).

Services like Uber and TaskRabbit are just the beginning. The change is only going to get bigger, and it’s going to expand to other parts of the economy, like professionals. In fact, as the individual economy grows, most professionals—lawyers, accountants, consultants, etc.—are going to be independent businesses.

A lot of consultants are afraid of this change. We disagree with them. We think consultants should be excited. If you are a consultant, we think this is the best thing to ever happen to you professionally.

Why You Should Be Happy You’re A Business

I understand why so many consultants are nervous about becoming independent businesses. We traditionally associate the phrase “full-time” with stability. As a full-time employee you typically have benefits, a predictable salary, a 401k, severance pay if you’re fired—it’s a lot to give up.

Fortunately, you don’t have to. By being an independent business, you can have the same stability, make more money, keep more money from the government, and be happier in your work than were you were as a employee.

How You Make More Money As A Consultant/Contractor

If you are an employee taking a regular salary, you’re leaving money on the table. Your salary doesn’t change regardless of how many hours work.

However, if you are an independent consultant or contractor, you set your own bill rate and hours worked. The firm that connects you to your client will take some percentage, but your billed hours still translate directly to your income.

You work more, you make more. It’s that simple.

The other financial benefit to being an independent business is the money you save on taxes.

The entire U.S. tax code is built to incentivize business ownership. There is no better way to lower the amount you pay in taxes, and keep more money, than to start your own business.

As a full-time employee (as I’m sure you’re painfully aware), all of your income is taxed. If you make $250,000, you pay taxes on $250,000.

As a business, however, your business expenses are not taxed. If your firm makes $250,000, but you invested$150,000 of that back into the business, you only pay income taxes on $100,000.

What makes this amazing for you is that when you’re a business, you can include business purchases that also benefit your personal life in your write-offs. This includes:

  • Office space in your home (effectively tax free rental income to you)
  • Cars
  • Technology (computers, TVs, phones, wireless routers, iPads, etc)
  • Business-related dinners
  • Business-related travel

The steep discount the government gives on these business expenses is the single greatest tax benefit you’ll find.

But the benefits of being your own business go beyond the financial. The personal benefits of being a business are incredible.

Why Owning A Business Makes Your Personal Life Better

You don’t accidentally become a professional. If you’re a successful consultant, you spent years developing your skills and making the connections you needed to succeed.

You did grunt work, you studied hard to learn new industries and functions, you took tough feedback from your mentors and pushed yourself to develop new skills.

You should be proud of that.

In order to achieve all those things, you must be a person who takes control of your life. You make the major decisions about where your life goes, you put in the work required to make things happen, and when you’re done, you get to look back and take pride in what you’ve achieved for yourself.

Owning your own company takes that pride and amplifies it.

You control who you work for, what services you offer, and how you build your business. When a client hires you, they’re hiring all of those experiences, skills and relationships that you’ve invested to build.  

I’ve never met a person more fulfilled or proud of their life than a successful business owner. Someone who can look back and point not just to the career they forged, but the business they built from the ground up.  Even if it’s a one-person business.  

The other side of owning your own business is that your work-life balance is completely up to you. Maybe you don’t take meetings after 4 pm so you can spend time with your family.  Or maybe you don’t work on Fridays.  

If you’re working for someone else, that’s a conflict. If you’re a business, those are your hours.

Why Staffing Firms Want You To Be A Business

This is where a lot of consultants get hung up. They can see the upside to being their own business for them, but they can’t see why a firm would want a contractor instead of a salaried employee.

Think of it from a consulting firm’s perspective. If the firm is paying you a consistent salary, then the cost (and risk) you represent to them doesn’t change. If they bill a client 200 or 10 hours for you in a month, you cost them the same amount of money.

Every single consultant the firm brings on as a full-time employee is, to some degree, a financial burden to the firm. If the firm suddenly loses work, they have to pay severance, lay people off, and deal with the expensive inconvenience of downsizing.

Alternatively, if the firm brings on a bunch of new work, they have to weigh stretching their current workforce thin versus hiring a bunch of new talent they might not need in six months.

Simply put, full-time employees make it impossible to be flexible. That’s why most consulting firms have adopted flexible workforce solutions (FWS), which are teams comprised of contracted professionals who each operate as independent businesses.

Firms can scale on-demand now, hiring consultants as needed and paying them on a project-to-project basis.

If you’re looking for work as a consultant or contractor, it’s actually going to be harder for you if you’re not an independent business. The best thing you can do for your career is to set one up now.

How To Set Up Your Business

Many find the idea of registering themselves as a business daunting. Follow the steps below to make it easy There are only three critical steps to setting up your company, all of which can be done in an afternoon:

1. Register A Business Entity

There are few ways to do this, but the best way to register a small business is to use LegalZoom.

LegalZoom is a service that provides legal services online at a low cost. To set up your company, simply go to their website and under “Business Formation” select “LLC.”

You want to set up an LLC and elect to have it taxed as an S corporation.

A Subchapter S (S Corporation) is a form of corporation that meets specific Internal Revenue Code requirements, giving a corporation with 100 shareholders or less the benefit of incorporation while being taxed as a partnership. The corporation can pass income directly to shareholders and avoid the double taxation that is inherent with the dividends of public companies, while still enjoying the advantages of the corporate structure.   

2. Open A Business Bank Account

You want to keep your business banking activity separate from your personal financial activity. In order to register a bank account for your business, you need your company to have a Federal Tax Identification Number. This is a 9-digit number which identifies your business to the IRS.

If you register your business through LegalZoom, you will have the option of letting them issue a Federal Tax Identification Number for you, which I’d recommend you do.

3. Get A Business Credit Card

Every independent business needs a credit card that feeds directly into their business bank account and integrates into their accounting system. Beyond that, the perks of specific credit cards can benefit your business.

After trying almost every credit card, we’ve settled on two that we prefer. We recommend the American Express Platinum card to businesses that do a lot of travelling, and the American Express Green card for those who don’t.

Aside from their rates, it’s their perks that make them so useful. For example, we get deals on flights, upgrades, and access to members’ lounges because of our Platinum card. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you fly as much as we do, it’s incredible.

If you don’t travel, the Green card is cheaper. Both cards offer protection on rental cars and other benefits that help your company.

There are other considerations to take, like handling your insurance and benefit plan, but these are the bare essential steps to getting your business off the ground.

The Future Is All About Independence

The old school view of employment is over. The 30 year job doesn’t exist anymore, the notion that it’s a company’s duty to employ the world is dying.

Instead, our future is one in which every professional is independent, responsible for their own success, free to live on their terms, and capable of achieving so much more.

Being an independent business is the best thing that can happen to you professionally, and it only takes you an afternoon to become one.

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How To Write The Perfect Consultant Resume (With Examples)

By | Marketing Yourself

What We’ll Cover In This Piece:

  • Why a resume is a foundational piece of building trust as a consultant.
  • Mistakes the vast majority of consultants and contractors get wrong with their resumes.
  • A step-by-step process for creating the perfect consulting resume.

Estimated Time to Read: 8 minutes


As a consultant, your business comes down to two things: your relationships, and your resume. This article is about how to create a great resume.

Recruiters and clients might find you using their internal systems, on BenchWatch, through your website, or on LinkedIn, but until they get you on the phone or meet you in person, your resume is how they are going to judge you.

In fact, if your resume is wrong, they will never talk to you at all.

You have to understand, by the time you speak to a recruiter or client, 90% of the hiring process is already over. There have been conversations about what this role looks like, what kind of consultant they need, what the budget looks like, and which candidates look the most promising.

Because you can’t be there in person for those conversations, you need a resume that speaks for you, and puts you in that conversation so they DO reach out to you.

The biggest mistake we see consultants make with their resumes is simple: they have resumes with a lot of words, that don’t say the right things.

Think of it this way: If you were called in for an interview with a client, would you open the conversation by bragging about where you went to school? Or would you talk about people you knew in common?

Do you think a client would ask you questions about an award you won that has nothing to do with the job, or about a project you executed that was similar to the one they’re interviewing you for?

Clients and recruiters only want to know that you can execute in the role you’re being hired for.

They want to trust your ability to get their specific job done.

A good resume creates that trust by showing them you have the skills and experience to succeed, not by flashing your academic pedigree or focusing on other things they don’t care about.

What Does A Good Consultant Resume Look Like?

There is a strict formula for crafting a good consulting resume. As you’ll see in the examples below, the formula can be adapted to your personal style, but the basic format remains the same:

  • At the top of your resume, 2-3 short sentences to define who you are—your industry, your broad experience, and your niche. You want to use words like “Trusted” and “Proven” to signal reliability and quality.
  • Underneath your introduction, list your top 3-5 skills and specializations. Make sure those skills are relevant to the job you’re applying for. If the client is looking to do a company-wide implementation of Oracle, don’t boast about your Salesforce knowledge.
  • Beneath your top skills, list your relevant experience. Detail projects you worked on that are relevant to the role you’re applying for, and go in depth about what you did on those projects and the skills you developed.
  • Below your experience, list testimonials and press coverage. If you can, list testimonials from people either in your prospective client’s field, or people you know they’d respect. Similarly, if you have so much press coverage that you must be selective, pick relevant or high status press.
  • Finally, talk about your education. At this point, the client or recruiter has already made their mind up, so don’t overemphasize your education (as so many people do). Keep it brief and to the point.

Let’s look at some real world examples of resumes that follow this format.

1. The Perfect Opening Is Simple

A good opening summarizes your talent, focus, and experience neatly, while signaling that you are a consultant that can be trusted to deliver:

writeresume02

He gets straight to the point, and in three simple sentences lays out who he is, what he’s good at, and what he’ll bring to your company. He then immediately dives into his work experience, laying everything out in terms of the skills required to execute. His work experience goes on in this fashion for two full pages.

To see his full resume, click here.

2. Only Your Most Relevant Skills Matter

The greatest advice I ever received as a consultant came from a prospective client who didn’t hire me.

I was young at the time, had just started my consulting company, and was trying to close a massive client. While meeting with their executive team, I ran through everything they could possibly want. I basically told them that if they wanted it, my firm could do it.

On the way out, one of their executives (a friend of mine to this day) pulled me aside and told me they weren’t going to go with me, and here was why:

I told them I could do everything, but they weren’t looking to hire someone who could do everything. They wanted the consultant who was the absolute best at the one specific thing they needed.

I see consultants make this mistake all the time. Instead of listing their 3-5 most important skills, they list everything they can do:

writeresume05

This is an otherwise perfect resume. The introduction is solid, the rest of the resume (which you can see here) goes into perfect detail. The problem is that he lists more skills than a client could possibly be interested in.

3. Experience Is Everything

The experience you list on your resume has to be relevant to the job you want, and it has to tell employers what they need to know, namely:

  • What roles you’ve held in the past.
  • What skills you applied to those roles.
  • Who you worked with in those roles.
  • What you delivered for those companies.

Here’s an amazing example of this:

writeresume01

That’s just one job this person has held, and they’ve mined it for all of that information. Each bullet point lists the project they worked on, the role they held on that project, the skills they developed, the people they worked with, and what they delivered.

Listing one relevant job with that level of detail and value is much more compelling to a hirer than listing 20 irrelevant jobs with quick summaries.

To see the full resume, click here.

4. Testimonials Should Come From Relevant Professionals

Anytime you can get a past client or employer to write a testimonial for you, you’re in a good spot. Ideally, however, you have enough testimonials that you can tailor your resume to the particular job you’re pursuing.

Even better, if you’re applying to a company you’ve worked with a company before, you should try to get testimonials from people within their organization.

For example, here’s an excerpt from my resume tailored to Chevron:

writeresume03

All of my testimonials come directly from within the Chevron corporation. On top of that, all of my work experience is on Chevron projects.

5. Your Degree Is The Least Important Detail

Once a hirer makes it through all of this information, they have a pretty good idea of who you are. They know what you can do for them, what you’ve done for others, and they have some examples of clients who were willing to go on the record and give you a testimonial.

The education section of your resume is a “nice to have.” A hirer checks it to see if there’s anything incredible (like if you have a Harvard MBA or an amazing list of awards), and that’s about it. They already know if you have the necessary skills based on the previous sections of your resume.

Because of this, your education section should be the shortest part of your resume. For example, this is what mine looks like:

writeresume00

It’s by far the smallest section of the whole resume, and 80% of it is dedicated to awards I’ve won for actually doing business, not my degree.

Think of it this way: do you think an oil company looking to hire a contractor cares more about an award from executives at Chevron, or a passing grade from a business professor who has never been in the oil business?

The Pro Trick: Multiple Resumes

Using the example resumes you’ve been given, you should be able to create a killer resume tailored to getting a specific job in your niche. That’s the first step.

However, no matter how particular your area of focus is, there is never going to be only one job you’re a fit for. For example, I’m an expert in the oil and natural gas industry, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with Chevron.

In fact, as you saw above, I have an entire resume that is tailored to Chevron, listing my experience with Chevron projects and featuring testimonials exclusively from Chevron employees.

But as the managing partner at LightRock Consulting, my team and I service a variety of companies outside of Chevron:

writeresume04

Executives at Spectra Energy aren’t going to hire me because I have the perfect resume for Chevron. Similarly, my experience with a particular software suite is irrelevant to a company with a different IT infrastructure.

I have multiple resumes, each tailored to different industries, project types, and in some cases, specific companies to make sure that I am the ideal candidate for each contract.

This has been one of the greatest tricks I’ve learned in my career. Your resume needs to say you’re great specifically at the job your client is hiring for, not that you’re generally good a lot of different things.

Having multiple resumes, each of which are perfect to a different category of client, lets you fish with a wide net without sacrificing that specificity.

If you’re an experienced consultant, go back and look at all of your past projects. Group them by industry, project type, and your most frequently contracted clients. Ask yourself what would each group want to see most in a resume, and use that information to create a perfect resume for each.

If you’re a newer consultant, do the same exercise, except instead of thinking of the clients you’ve previously worked with, imagine the clients you’d like to service.

Why Multiple Resumes? No One Hires You To Do 1,000 Things

I’ve written about this before, but one of the problems with hiring in the internet age is that many think of it as a numbers game—when really, it’s a matter of trust.

What the internet has done is made it extremely easy for recruiters to find 1,000 potential candidates for a role. As a result, consultants have created very general resumes and profiles that qualify them for as many positions as possible.

The issue is that being qualified for a role isn’t the same thing as being perfect for a role.

No hirer really wants 1,000 candidates who are qualified for a role. They want the one candidate who is perfect for the role—everyone else is useless to them (This need was a huge part of the initial motivation to build BenchWatch).

When you make your resume so general that it qualifies for 1,000 jobs, you are guaranteeing that it is not perfect for any job.
That’s why it’s so critical that you create a different resume for each specific job in your niche. You want to make sure that when a client sees your resume, there is no doubt in their mind that they can trust you to deliver the one thing they need—whatever that thing may be.

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How To Carve off Your Niche

By | Marketing Yourself

What We’ll Cover In This Piece:

  • Why carving off your niche is critical to getting hired
  • How to carve off your niche
  • How to adapt if your niche isn’t working

Estimated Time to Read: 5 minutes


Understanding how to carve off your niche as a consultant is difficult, but critical for your success.  I learned this lesson the hard way and want to save you some pain.  Early in my career, when I was first starting my consulting firm, one of my partners got us a meeting with an executive at Hewlett Packard.  We walked into the HP offices and listed every service and skillset we we could think of: business transformation, mergers and acquisitions, process optimization, technology implementations—we essentially told them everything we could do (and more).  

I was confident we’d landed him as a client – after all, we had a trusted relationship and we told him we could do anything they needed. But as we walked out, this executive gave me one of the biggest lessons of my career:  

“You guys are telling us you can do everything, and we know that’s not true. We want to know what you can do better than anyone else.”

What he was saying was that we didn’t have a niche.  We didn’t get any work – and we learned a hard lesson.  We thought listing more skills would help ensure we hit on something they needed, but that wasn’t true at all.  

That conversation taught me that less is more, and that for consultants there is hardly anything more important than carving off your niche.

Why No One Wants A Consultant Who Does Everything

To be an effective consultant, you need to understand where you fit in a company.

People who do everything, who wear ten different hats, manage multiple departments, and have their hands in everything a company does should be part of a company’s full-time core team.

Consultants, on the other hand, are hired to execute in a specific area. You have one piece of a project to manage, one objective to achieve. If you aren’t clearly articulating why you’re the best for their one specific need, a company has no reason to hire you.

Plainly put: generalists don’t get hired – specialists do.  Your other skills will allow you to help the client in other ways and possibly grow your role.  But to get hired, they need to match you with a box they need to fill.  

Another way to think about this is trust.  If you’re new to a client, they need to be able to “put you in a box”. When your skills and experience neatly match a role the need, they’re much more likely to trust that hiring you will work than if you’re ambiguously “good at everything.”

Psychologically, this is because trust is about risk assessment. Dr. David DeSteno found in a recent study that in all relationships, trust requires one party to expose themselves to the other.

This vulnerability is easier when one party knows exactly how the other party is going to behave. In other words, if you’re an unknown quantity, you pose a much greater risk, and are therefore harder to trust.

All hiring is about trust. If you can define your niche and articulate your skills well, you will build trust. If you build trust, you will get work.

So how do you do that? How do you find your niche, so you can build trust? The first step is auditing yourself.

How To Audit Yourself And Find Your Niche

Auditing yourself starts with asking three questions:

What do I love?

It’s a fact of life that you will do better if you specialize in a field you love.

This might seem strange, but I love the oil and gas industry. I enjoy reading and learning about it. And because I enjoy it, I understand the context and challenges of the industry.  

I also enjoy “being in the trenches” of a project.  I like planning, executing, learning what’s working, fixing things that aren’t, and seeing a project through to completion. I actually enjoy this so much that I still execute projects at my consulting firm, rather than step back and sell more work.  

This “niche clarity” is they single most important reason our firm has grown.  Clients know what we are good at.  And when they need it, they call us.  And if their co-worker needs it, they recommend us.  

What are interested in, and good at.  Think back to classes that you’ve taken, projects you’ve worked on, books you’ve read. Among your favorites, what is the common theme? It could be a particular skill like project management, or it could be a field like the oil and gas industry.

Quite frankly, ask yourself: what do you like, or even better love, doing at work?

How can I create value at work out of what I love?

If I loved the oil and gas industry, but could only channel that passion into oil painting, I wouldn’t be creating any real value for companies like Chevron. You need to put a frame on your interests and skills that make them relevant to the people hiring you.

If you’re passionate about a field, frame that interest around a skill you possess:

  • If you’re a strong writer who loves the auto industry, say you specialize in communications for automakers.
  • If you love technology, pick 2-3 that are relevant to most businesses (Office365, Salesforce, SharePoint, etc.) and say you’re an expert in implementing or managing.
  • If you really enjoy planning and executing projects, organizing all the details and working with groups of people, talk about your focus on project management.

The key here is to find the vocabulary to translate your passion into a skill a company would want.

Once you’ve done that, you have to point to places in your past where you’ve actually used that skill. You have to prove you have it.

What experience can you reference?

Most people are unaware of how experienced they are. We have a tendency to see our experience with a very narrow view.

For example, one of the consultants at my firm spent years leading technology projects at on the biggest trash companies in the country (a client of ours).  After 20 years at the company, she was unexpectedly let go. She had no idea what she was going to do next.

I told her she should come work for me as a consultant, but she didn’t believe she could do it. She didn’t believe she had relevant experience—even though she experience implementing some of the biggest technologies in the world.  

We put together her resume, citing her experience in Salesforce and project management, and she’s now been employed on consecutive contracts for the last five years at Chevron.  They love her – and will probably never let her go!  

To figure out how to frame your experience, do this:

  • Make a list of every project (or change) you’ve worked on and every role you’ve held.
  • For every project and/or position, breakdown the skills and technologies you learned.  Pick the one’s you want to be your niche.  
  • List any experience related to your niche and leave out anything that’s not related.  

Don’t add any jobs that you think are impressive but aren’t relevant. Keep your resume entirely focused on the skills you’re articulating, and be prepared to talk about your experience.

But What If I Don’t Have Any Experience?

A lot of young people legitimately don’t have experience yet. If that’s you, it’s okay.  Below are some thoughts to consider, based on my experience hiring hundreds of consultants and contractors:    

1. If you have a little experience, focus on passion.

Showcase your passion for the project. If we’re looking at two applicants for a position, and Applicant A has more experience than Applicant B, but Applicant B says something like, “I’ve only worked on a few projects like this, but I loved them for these reasons and I want to make a career out of them,” we’re going with Applicant B.

I know that even though they have less experience, they’re going to absorb information faster and work harder than the other applicant. Passion goes a long way in predicting success.  

2. If you have no experience, trade money to gain experience.  

When you are young, nothing is more valuable than experience.  Please note, I said experience, not education.  Don’t go spend $50,000 to get a master’s degree. Take any job you can get that gets you the experience you want.

To make it easy to hire you, drop your compensation as low as needed to get the job.  And make this clear to the hiring manager.  Here is a statement that can’t be ignored:

“This is what I want to do with my career, so I really want to gain experience in this area.  I’m willing to drop my compensation to make this an easy decision for you.  What compensation makes that happen?”

If you say that to me, you are hired.  I understand your interest, your passion, and you are cheap.  In general, people want to help others (especially young people), so if you make it clear and easy, they will hire you.  

In the long-run, you will more than recover the money, because you’ll have experience that you can monetize.

If No One Buys Your Niche, Rewrite It

Carving out a niche means missing out on some jobs, and for many contractors, that’s uncomfortable. They have a fear that they’ll be stuck in a niche no one is interested in.

That fear is unfounded.  If you spend 4-8 weeks using BenchWatch without landing a contract, something is wrong. Ask a consultant or mentor for feedback, because you likely aren’t articulating your value well enough.  Or use one of our coaching services. 

Once you have feedback, redefining your niche can happen in an hour.  Simply update your BenchWatch profile, resume and LinkedIn profile.  You’ve completely redefined yourself and your consulting business at no cost/risk.

If pivoting your niche takes less than a day of work, then there’s simply no reason to be afraid of getting trapped in one niche. If no one wants to hire someone from your niche, redefine it.  That’s the beauty of this business.  Name another business where that’s possible.

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How To Be Indispensable As A Consultant

By | Marketing Yourself, Professional Development

What We’ll Cover In This Piece:

  • Why expertise is the key to becoming indispensable.
  • The three fundamental concepts you need to understand about expertise.
  • How to apply each concept to your career today.

Estimated Time to Read:  8 minutes


When you’re first starting off as a consultant or contractor, finding work can be a grind (BenchWatch helps a ton!).

You spend that first year marketing yourself like crazy, just trying to get your foot in the door with companies. Slowly, you start landing projects, start getting referrals, and build relationships with clients that go beyond individual projects.

Then something amazing happens. You get a repeat client. Someone liked working with you so much that they want to do it again.

Then another client rehires you. Then another.

All of a sudden, you have to turn new work away, because you’re fully booked with repeat business.

That’s the way the consulting industry works. If you do a good job, after a couple of years consulting full-time, you can expect over 90% of your work to come from repeat clients. In fact, many consultants spend their whole career consulting for one main client.

You want this to happen. Working with repeat clients means you already have a relationship. They don’t have to evaluate you like a new hire, because they know you can deliver. You don’t have to learn a new company’s culture and processes, because you’re already familiar with them. Everything is easier.

From a repeat client’s perspective, you’re reliable, already up to speed, and have a track record of success. In a word, you’ve become indispensable to your client.

That relationship is the closest thing to job security you’ll find as a consultant, and developing it only requires you to do one thing:

To become indispensable, you have to become the expert in your field.

If you’re just a warm body who can operate the software or process your client uses, you might be able to find work, but you’ll be easy to replace.

But if you know everything there is to know about your client’s company—both the industry they’re in and the specifics of their organization—then you have something they can’t just replace. You have expertise, and expertise makes you extremely hard to replace.

I’m going to walk you through how you can become indispensable to your client by becoming an expert. It all comes down to understanding three key ideas.

The 3 Core Concepts of Expertise You Must Understand

There’s no magic to becoming an expert on something. You don’t have to be a savant or have grown up in the industry. You also don’t have to be the single most informed person on Earth about a topic.

Being an expert simply means you have a mastery of a topic, and know the most up-to-date information about it.

For example, I work in the oil and gas industry. I own a consulting firm that services that industry, and I’ve been a part of countless projects for Fortune 5 companies in that space. I know a heck of a lot about my field, but there are lots of people who know  ten times as much as me. They could write you a complete history of the oil and gas industry dating back to how fossil fuels first came to be our primary energy source.

That’s great for them, but my clients don’t care if I know who dug the first well in East Texas. They care that I know what’s happening in the industry right now, where things are heading, and how best to navigate them. That’s what being an expert is all about.

The fundamentals of expertise can be broken down into a few easy to understand ideas that you can take action on today.

1. Expertise Requires Interest

You can’t be an expert in a field you aren’t interested in. It’s that simple.

The science on this is very clear: people will put in much more effort, and be much more effective, when working on things they enjoy. Since being an expert requires constant learning, you must pick a field you like learning about.

If you don’t, you’ll dread your work, you won’t do a good job, you won’t put in the right effort, and you won’t ever become a real expert. Or, even worse–you’ll become an expert in a field you hate. Who wants to do that?

This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to clearly define your niche according to what interests you.

How Can You Apply This To Your Life?

If you already have a niche and love your niche, that’s great, consider yourself lucky and skip over this section.

Most of us are not in that situation. But that’s OK, you can find a niche that is interesting to you.

Before you even think about landing consulting jobs, audit yourself thoroughly and honestly. Don’t start by asking yourself what field seems the most lucrative, ask yourself three questions instead:

  1. List out EVERYTHING you are interested in. Make this list by asking yourself the questions below. Don’t worry about lining these up with work subjects yet. Think about this stuff in the broadest terms possible, give yourself the most room to explore:
    1. What general subjects am I interested in?
    2. What do I read about in my free time?
    3. What problems do I like to solve?
    4. What do I want to learn about?
  2. Look at that list and ask yourself honestly, “What am I good at?” Make another list that are marketable skills you know you have.
  3. Now the final question: Is there combination of a subject you enjoy and a marketable skill and fits into a legitimate business niche?

The combinations you have left once you answer question 3, are the topics you can become an expert in, and can be your field.

Using myself as an example again, let’s break down my list:

  1. What general subjects am I interested in? Oil and natural gas (No seriously, I really do LOVE learning about this fascinating industry.  I see it as foundational to our current standard of living, and love the complexity of the technology and geopolitics that impact it.  )
  2. What do I read about in my free time? Business news and the energy sector (also, Texas Longhorns football).
  3. What problems do I like to solve? I like executing difficult projects that create value and productivity for companies — and impact lots of people.
  4. What do I want to learn about? What’s going on in global business and politics, and specifically what macro-trends are impacting the oil and gas business.  

Looking at that list, it’s clear that I need to be involved in the oil and natural gas business. Now I have to ask myself what I’m good at that people in that industry will pay me for. To do that, I break down my relevant skills:

  1.  Business Strategy. I’ve spent years working in and studying business, particularly as it relates to oil and natural gas, and know how to plan for success.
  2. Team Management. I know how to put people together and get the best results from them, and I’m a natural servant leader.
  3. IT Solution Implementation. Microsoft 365, Sharepoint, Salesforce, Trading and Risk Management Systems—if it’s a relevant piece of software to the industry, I’m interested in it and know how to implement it for the whole company.

Looking at that those skills, and comparing them to my interests, it’s clear that I should be focused on developing my expertise as it relates to project management for the oil and gas industry.

Becoming an expert in this world isn’t hard for me, because it’s what I want to be doing with my time.

2. Expertise Happens Through Experience

Despite what you heard in school, formal education does little to make you an  expert on anything. You can take a course and become knowledgeable on a subject, but there’s a difference between being knowledgeable and being an expert.

Being knowledgeable means you have very specific knowledge about a subject that makes you functional. For example, if you took a course on commodities, you’d learn the basics of how to work in that industry. But no one would call you an expert.  Similarly, an engineering degree doesn’t prepare you to drill seven miles deep under the ocean floor for Chevron.  

Being an expert means you have a mastery of your subject, and mastery only comes with experience.

Using the commodities example again, an expert would know how to handle every real world situation that arose—and if they didn’t, they’d know how to learn quick.

Faced with a crisis, an expert wouldn’t reference a case-problem they worked in college, they’d think back to a similar crisis they’d seen before. 

The only way to acquire this experience is by getting out into the wild. You develop a mastery of a subject by living and breathing it, not by taking a course on it.

How Can You Apply This To Your Life?

Wherever you are in your career, you can always get more experience.

If you’re an experienced consultant with years under your belt, find someone above you in your field and make them your mentor.

No matter how many years you’ve spent in your industry, someone who has been around longer than you and has worked their way higher than you has experience they can share.

If you develop a good enough relationship, they’ll even become a resource you can use when you face new crises (see what I said before about knowing how to learn quick.)

If you’re a young consultant just starting out, I have slightly different advice for you: Pick a field you want to be in, and then take any job in it. Even if you have to take less money (or significantly less money).  

If you work two years in an entry-level job in your chosen field, learning skills that apply to what you want to do, you’ll be two years ahead of someone with an MBA.

You’ll have not just hands-on experience, but you’ll have spent time meeting and working in front of senior people from your industry.

Senior level professionals are much more likely to take you under their wing if they’ve seen your work ethic and they have some working relationship with you. They don’t care what school you went to.  Trust me, I hire lots of people and so do my clients.  One of the biggest misconceptions is how important your university is.  Nobody cares after you are 25 years old.  

3. Expertise Never Stops

I started my career at Arthur Andersen, a firm renowned for the way they developed their talent. During my first performance review, I asked “What’s the one thing I can do to go to the next level?”

I got a very simple response, which changed my entire life. They told me to get a subscription to The Wall Street Journal.  I was shocked.

They knew that I needed to immerse myself in the world of business and develop a real feel for how it works, for how one thing affects another in the business world. It was one of the biggest steps forward I took as a consultant.

But I didn’t stop as soon as I’d developed that feel. The world kept changing, and there was always more relevant information for me to find. To this day I read everything I can.

Everyday, I pick up a new bit of information, or just further develop my feel for the way businesses work.  I’m using myself as example, but this is what I see other successful consultants and contractors doing.  

Here’s another way of thinking through this. If you were an expert in the technology sector in 2007, you probably thought the following:

  • BlackBerry had a great position in the mobile phone market
  • HD-DVD was going to grow and compete with Blu Ray
  • Twitter was just a neat idea for a niche audience

Fast forward to now. No one you know owns a BlackBerry, HD-DVD is all but gone, and Twitter has a market cap of around $10 billion.

The point is, expertise is a fluid, changing thing. There is always more to learn, and the only way to stay on top is to keep moving

How Can You Apply This To Your Life?

Get yourself some newsfeed software. Personally, I use Google News, but you can use Feedly or whatever newsfeed you prefer. You want to compile your information from a few sources:

  1. Major news outlets
  2. Industry-specific outlets/trade publications
  3. Stock reports and analysis from your industry
  4. Thought leaders and experts in your field

When I have time throughout my day or before I go to bed, I check my feed and read everything that has been published that day. I don’t tell myself, “Today I’m going to learn about shale oil.” I plan everyday to learn whatever I can about my industry.

One day, that might mean I read a new stock analysis of a major oil company, and get some better insights into their inner workings and plans for the future. On another day, I might read about emerging technology in the field, or macroeconomic trends that could potentially affect the industry.

Because I’m so deeply entrenched in all of this information–and most importantly, I LIKE learning about it–I become an expert without really trying to. That’s the only way to become an expert.

You’re Indispensable Because You Love Being There

I’ve written about the importance of servant leadership before, of how working to serve your team makes you more valuable to your clients. Expertise has a similar kind of value.

You can’t be an expert without loving your field. Staying on top of all that information, obsessing over it night and day, it would be absolutely exhausting if it wasn’t so meaningful to you.

Not only does that make you a greater asset in terms of the skills and knowledge you bring to the table, it lets employers know that they can trust you. You aren’t there to punch a clock or because this was the most lucrative field you could think of.


You’re there because you want to be, and that sets a client’s mind at ease. Companies can’t put a price on that kind of reassurance.

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