Ask Women in Product: How would you get started in Product Consulting?

Photo by Lars Poeck via Twenty20

Answer from Katie McCann, Startup Consultant & Advisor

When I mention to product people (and non-product people) that I’m a product consultant, I’m frequently met with surprise and curiosity. “Wait, you can do product as a consultant? How does that work?” is a typical reaction. While people are used to marketing consultants, freelance designers, and contract engineers, you encounter far fewer product consultants. And it’s likely that this is the case because you have to do a little extra work to get a product consulting business off the ground.

1. Define What It Is You Do

One of the great things about working in product management is the broad set of skills you develop as you do the work. There’s strategy, roadmapping, UX, user research, the software development process, analytics… the list goes on. That same broad skillset, however, can make it difficult for a prospective client to envision how a product consultant might fit into their organization.

  • I help large companies take new products to market by applying lean methods while working within existing processes.
  • I help healthcare startups improve the patient experience by identifying patient needs while having a deep understanding of industry privacy regulations.

2. Decide How Best to Package Your Service Offering

In my experience, most product consulting engagements fall into one of these two types of consulting gigs:

  • Part-time PM: In this type of consulting engagement, you have a generalist “product manager” role within a company on a part-time or fixed-duration basis. Companies enter into this type of engagement to fill a gap (e.g., while an employee is on a sabbatical or parental leave) or while the company is hiring someone to fill the role on a permanent basis. In some cases, the company needs a PM but isn’t ready for a full-time employee just yet. This type of gig lets you use your full range of product skills, and can also be a nice “try before you buy” situation if you’re considering a full-time role down the road.

3. Make It Easy for Your Network to Help You

Almost all of my consulting projects have come through my network. When you’re ready to make the leap to freelancing, let everyone in your circle know that you’re looking for consulting work. Post it on LinkedIn. Send an email to relevant contacts. Shout it from the rooftops.

  • State what type of consulting work you are looking for
  • Indicate the type of companies you would want to work for
  • Highlight your expertise — functionally, within an industry, and/or within a domain
  • State your availability — in hours per week for part-time, or weeks/months for full-time
  • Include where you are willing to work. Are you open to remote work? Travel?

4. Make It Easy for People to Learn More About You

When you reach out to your network, be sure to attach a resume or include a link to your personal website or LinkedIn profile so your connections can easily forward it on.

5. Cast a Wide Net

I recommend casting a very wide net; you may be surprised where your leads come from. One of my favorite consulting gigs came through someone I had worked with over a decade earlier — when I lived 400 miles from where I do now — and he now works for a company 3,000 miles away. The consulting project started out as a three-month, fixed-scope engagement to develop a product strategy for one of the company’s primary verticals. It later morphed into a year-long consulting “Head of Product” role while they were looking for the right person to take on the job permanently.

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