Right after people ask me how I got into safety consulting, they begin to ask further questions that get into the gritty details. Safety is fun, it’s my passion, and it’s the best job in the world. But… I still have to get paid! This post is about the top three gritty topics I’m asked about.
How did you start?
Safety pros disagree and discuss this topic a lot. I’ll tell you my path, and it may or may not work for you. Remember that I did not plan to be a safety consultant, it happened out of necessity. The freelance work I did using Elance.com was contained in that site, there was no need to establish myself as an entity. As I grew into direct consulting with clients, they requested that I establish myself as a business, including a business bank account, so that they could write me checks – business to business.
If you’re planning to consult someday or if you’ve started dabbling, you should follow this next advice no matter what. Go to your state’s Secretary of State website and click around to find how to register an LLC. This could be a derivative of your name, you don’t need to be super creative at this point if you’re not ready, just get established!
Once your LLC is established, apply for a federal employer identification number.
Now that you have a business name and an FEIN, you can go to your favorite bank, I suggest a credit union, and establish a business checking and savings account.
I explained these steps pretty breezily, but I must tell you that I went through these steps in a tornado when a client I began working for requested it. Do yourself a favor and be proactive.
Side note: Where did name “The Ferri Group LLC “come from? At the time, both my husband and I were working independently. The name was something we could both use for our respective industries and it has stuck even though I bought my husband’s share in the LLC to become a woman-owned business! I consider the “Group” to be my clients – past, present, and future.
How did you get clients?
My first clients were companies I knew from my full-time working life, or referred to me by those in that first ring of peers. Word of mouth remains the strongest and most effective way for me to gain clients. I realize that is a super cliche and loaded statement because it involves networking and maintaining your reputation. I’ll explain.
Word of mouth: You must put yourself out there! I routinely talk to former clients and remind them that although we may not have a current project together, I appreciate them recommending me to their colleagues at other companies who have similar goals.
Networking: If you’re a paying member of an association, you must make it work for you. I am an active member of ASSE and the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. I am currently inactive with my local Chamber of Commerce, but it may be a good fit for your business. I am involved on committees, groups, and social events in the associations I’m a part of and have gained new business out of these activities. Another cliche – you never know who you will meet, so show up at events, even if you’re not actively promoting something or in need of work.
Proposals: I receive automated emails from multiple state and local entities when RFPs are released that match keywords I have setup (i.e.: safety training, safety management, safety inspection, etc). Sometimes, the work is too much for me to handle as one person, other times it’s a perfect fit. I have gained long-term clients by responding to RFPs found via online searches.
Certify your business: I scrambled to put together a package for an RFP that included a requirement for certification as a small or disadvantaged business. If you are a woman, minority, veteran, or other “disadvantaged” group, make sure to certify your business as such. Here in Minnesota, there are multiple avenues for this through cities, counties, and state agencies. I will admit that this process can be a huge pain in the butt, especially as a solo consultant, however the benefits outweigh the pain! I recently added a new SBE/WBE certification for a project for a state department and received a call from another state department a week later inquiring on my availability for more work. If the paperwork is too much for you, outsource it!
How do you market yourself?
This topic deserves it’s own post…stay tuned. Right now, I am loving and following most of Gary Vaynerchuk’s advice about every company being a media company FIRST, and for me safety is second. It’s an interesting way to approach marketing and makes it a hell of a lot easier and more natural for me.
Hi Abby! Thanks for sharing your story. I am starting my own consulting business because, like you, I need flexibility in my work schedule. I’ve tried using sites like Upwork and PeoplePerHour but I can’t seem to find any EHS-related gigs. Any insights into how you were able to find those particular postings?