With companies pushing their employees off the plank into the sea of financial and professional uncertainty, one of the best options to take control of one's career is to start a consulting practice. A consulting practice is a good way to regain your self-esteem and an even better way to generate revenue.
I can speak from experience. A company I had run was bought by another company, and I had no immediate options. I always hated interviewing and preferred to have more control over my life.
Remember, companies still need professionals with a variety of skills but can't afford to hire full-time people. You don't need many tools to start your own practice, especially with available software, hardware and online services. Here are the essentials:
1. Microsoft Office 2007: With this product (Stock Quote: MSFT), you can save contacts, send e-mails and word documents, create presentations and financial spreadsheets, design Web sites and put together newsletters.
2. QuickBooks or Peachtree First Accounting: You need to keep track of income and expenses. Both products are very good. I prefer Peachtree because I find it more intuitive, which is ironic since the maker of QuickBooks is called Intuit (Stock Quote: INTU). For those uncomfortable with accounting software, you can easily do the same functions by using Microsoft Excel.
3. Tax planning: Intuit's Turbo Tax for Home and Business is the best product on the market. It's the easiest piece of software I've ever used. If you use QuickBooks, you can download information directly into Turbo Tax. The software also allows you to plan for the following year's taxes.
4. Marketing material: There are a variety of inexpensive software packages such as Business Card Designs and My Business Cards. The software typically costs less than $30 and usually comes with business card, brochure and other templates. You can also go on-line and get up to 200 free business cards.
5. Business plan: You have to develop a road map for your business. There are a few products you should look at, such as Business Plan Pro and Bplans.com.
6. PDF converter: If you are e-mailing contracts and other documents you don't want altered, purchase something like Nuance's PDF Converter 5 Professional (Stock Quote: NUAN).
7. Tracking receipts/business cards: There's no question: The best product on the market is NeatDesk by the Neat Co., a Philadelphia-based entrepreneurial company. This product is a digital filing system that allows you to scan receipts, business cards and documents. The device takes up a small amount of space on your desk and connects with Quicken Books, Turbo Tax and Excel. This is really a must-have product because of the diversity of functions it performs.
8. Traditional telephone: The best buy for the money is Vonage (Stock Quote: VG). You get unlimited calls nationally and some countries for less than $30 a month. One of the things I like about Vonage is that it forwards my calls to my e-mail, which allows me to listen to the calls on my computer and BlackBerry. You can try to use Skype, but I have still found it inconsistent and inappropriate for business use.
9. Mobile phone: Everyone has a mobile phone, but as a business tool, I still prefer Research in Motion's BlackBerry (Stock Quote: RIMM), which allows me to collect and send e-mail. This falls under the category of "invaluable." I once was in a remote part of Panama and a client had a problem. I could respond by e-mail through my BlackBerry.
10. Laptop: I have fallen love with my Acer Aspire One, which is a mini-laptop that weighs less than three pounds and has one gigabyte of memory and a 130-gig hard drive.