Use your contacts

Since most consultants have previous experience in their fields, obtaining leads from your prior contacts is often the best way to begin looking for clients. This method worked for D. Gary Madden when he was founding RM Enterprises.

"My first client had been a European client of my previous employer," he says. "I made some calls to them and told them I was thinking about starting a consulting practice that focuses on sales and marketing." Madden asked for referrals but got business instead. His second account was a former client in Chicago.

The Chicago company, Madden says, "made a judgment about my ability and talent based on the fact that I had sold them [equipment] before with an average sale of $700,000 to $800,000. . . . At that level, the decisions are made on your integrity; they are, in effect, buying you."

Be careful about taking clients with you when leaving a company, says Century University's Lawrence Wilson. Your employment contract may forbid it.

"By law, you are prohibited from taking proprietary confidential information like research, client lists and products developed," he warns. Talk to your attorney before attempting to recruit a former client.

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