Consider this Part 4 of my “build your consulting business” series that began last week. It’s about focus. Focus is a huge advantage for a consultant.

And I don’t mean just the obvious first level of focus, as in you’re consulting as an expert in business planning, marketing, advertising or web development. No, I mean the second level of focus is a significant advantage and, in some cases, the third level as well.

I was just browsing for an example, and came across John Emmerling. Click here for his website and see if you get his special focus. I found him in a web search. I’ve never met him or even heard of him before, but he came up in a search, which is exactly the point. He’s not just a marketing consultant, not just a strategic consultant, but a brainstorming-with-cartoons consultant.

You don’t want to be just a business consultant. Focus in planning, strategy, marketing or, much better, planning for a certain type of industry or strategy, or marketing for a certain type of industry. If you can, go even narrower than that. Instead of planning for construction and remodelers, be business planning for construction and remodelers interested in green buildings. Or open offices. Or low-income housing. Or country clubs. Specialize, and focus.

Why does that matter? At least two reasons. First, it builds credibility. The narrower the focus, the more likely you really know something. Second, it creates marketing strategy. John Emmerlich, for example, has a much more targeted and narrow focus for his search engine optimization and AdWords marketing than if he were just consulting in marketing or strategy, or marketing strategy. Focus can help you figure out how to market using seminars, or magazine or web articles–what’s your expertise?

When I started out in consulting, I had my fancy business degree and an interest and some experience in business planning, but that alone wouldn’t have done it for me. What worked for me (and, ironically, I didn’t know it until afterward) was the combination of business planning with a specialization in high-tech and–because high tech specialists are quite common–special ties to Latin America (I had lived in Mexico City as a journalist before I went to business school; my Spanish was fluent).

You can probably think of your second-level focus if you work on it. For some, it’s automatic.

Often that focus is something like a beachhead. You go from there in other directions but keep roots, as in relationships and clients, in your home area. In my case, I ended up on the founding board of directors of Borland International, which was important to me, my career and my bank account (Borland went from zero to publicly traded in less than four years) because of business planning, but not Latin America. I was recommended by somebody and that worked out.

For others, your focus evolves, a matter of market and opportunity.

Later on, because my planning work led to channels, I ended up doing a lot of work for high-tech channels of distribution. It was a contiguous focus. I got interested, worked in that area, did the research, met people and stayed interested.

Extra tidbits . . . (or bonus material). I’ve been getting some very useful comments on this series, which have led me to recommend some additional sites on consulting:

For example, Andrea from posted a good comment. I visited that site, and it looks very good. And I mentioned Pam Campagna of Blue Sage Consulting earlier, because she has added several very useful comments. And Ken Pirok‘s healthy skepticsm in his comment to Part 3 is more useful than my overly optimistic view in that post–believe him first, not me, on the point of receivables and collections.

Thanks for adding to this topic.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.