Starting a Consulting Business as Scrum Coach

Anyone can do it! – Starting a business is not a big thing anymore.  Especially in a “flat world” (Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat).

You as a person with very special skills, skills that you can turn into your gold mine, will be tempted to start your own business.  I talked to Jim York (Certified ScrumTrainer) the other day about being an independent coach.  One remark he made struck a chord: “The company I worked for, did not provide the services in a way I was willing to be paid for any longer.” He regarded himself not as an employee who was dependent on a company but he figured out that he provided a value for his company.

Consulting companies and especially agile consulting companies are a victim of this new rush to start one’s own business.  More and more freelancers and more and more independent consultants are out there trying to make a living. For example I do not see how Scrum consulting companis are able to hold their very experienced Scrum coaches. These Scrum coaches know they can make a very good living by being self-employed.

The downside of this development is that there are more and more people out in the industry, who do not really know how to run a consulting business and who make basic mistakes in marketing, sales and even in their own profession.

Here is one of the first hints to become a good consultant:

Let’s assume you want to become a consultant in a specific domain … for example Scrum. There are several questions you need to ask yourself before you start [Alex Dembitz, James Essinger: Breakthrough Consulting]:

  1. What kind of consulting service will I be offering?
  2. Is there a significant demand for these services in the marketplace?
  3. Can I bring something special to the marketplace that existing consultants in this field are not already offering?
  4. Do I have a genuine ability to sell by identifying client needs?
  5. Do I have my first client in place?

Let’s check this list with one person you and I know: Seth Godin.  He is highly experienced and very well known. What is it, what made him the specialist he is?

He is a marketing specialist.  He offers a new way of understanding marketing strategies in the new internet world.  His key message is: Be remarkable and understand the new possibilities of the internet (1).  His services are wanted.  Most marketing orgaizations have no clue how to act in this new world (2). He was able to create a special way of marketing, he used blogging and a special way of writing (3). (4) and (5) are obvious.

When I started my first consulting business, 5 years ago I knew this list and I acted accordingly:

  1. Scrum consulting and training — very specialised and I was an expert.
  2. I believed that there was a demand.  I was right.
  3. Well – I was the first Certified ScrumTrainer in Europe, one of the first experts in the field.
  4. The ability to identify client needs — I was a trained and educated consultant. I knew my business and I knew how to sell.
  5. I moved out of my job when I had my first client.

For me this list worked and it still works.

Does this mean you can only start, if you are fully expert, if all of the above is valid for you?  Yes and No! It is a journey.  I was not the expert that I am today.  I worked on this very hard – I wrote a book, I got a lot of insights during the last 5 years.  So 1 is still valid. 2. The demand is really high. 3. I am still unique in the way I deliver Scrum training and coaching.

What I want to say with this… is that you have to work to create your own Scrum consulting story. Yesterday I read Seth Godins Blog Entry:

Which comes first (Why stories matter) — (…) same is true for that little consulting firm down the street vs. McKinsey.  While the advice may end up being similar, each firm lives a story in who they hire, how they present themselves, etc.

The story creates the work and the work creates the story. (more)

This is a very important hint that you as beginner in this business should understand.  You must have a story!  By answering the five questions about, you will create you initial start story.

  1. One about you,
  2. One about your product or service and
  3. One about who is your customer.

Seth gives us an idea how it goes further: The story creates the work and the work creates the story.

There is no real start.  There is only a “now”! Be yourself and use yourself as a source for the first and very important part.  Tell a story about yourself.

Start with point 1: What is your speciality?  Why?  What made it for you so important to be a consultant?

When I started my Scrum consulting business 4 years ago – I knew why I wanted to go out and teach and coach Scrum.  Believe me it was not the money aspect.  I knew that Scrum matched my way of thinking about society, groups, leadership and management, and I knew that Scrum would become a niche I would be very good in:

Rule # 1: You must find your own niche – what makes you different from other people doing the same thing?  How is your Scrum consulting different from mine?

You will not be able to answer this question at the beginning, but you need to start answering it. The creation of the answer is a never ending job.  I still work on my answer and the good thing and the frustrating thing is: It changes over time.  What you believed and what you wanted will be different from time to time.  Like my answer to this is different today from what it was in the past.

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