Many security practitioners leaving military or government service and retiring federal, state, and local law enforcement officers feel the desire to start their own security consulting companies using the skills they’ve developed over their long careers. But they often find that what worked well for them in the bureaucratic structure of their past work environments may not be so effective, useful, or needed in the consulting world.
Just coming from the military, government intelligence, law enforcement, or defense security services is not enough to succeed as a security consultant. Clients may be impressed by these backgrounds, but that only goes so far once the real work begins. New practitioners, and especially those who come to security work as sole proprietors, must be able to “speak the language of business,” meaning they must show their new or prospective clients how to make money or save money using their security services or products.
One area where new security consultants struggle is in their need to specialize. A consultant who seeks to be a jack of all trades, covering a wide variety of security functions, may be a master of none. The benefit to a security consulting career is the ability to work with a wide variety of clients in different national and international locations and doing interesting work. But to work on projects most effectively, security consultants must focus their marketing and delivery efforts on a handful of activities where they have proven their expertise. Cybersecurity experts don’t typically know how to work on security guard force management projects, and physical security specialists don’t always know how to handle employees with mental health problems who make threats. It pays to stick to what you know and what you can do best and to emphasize a few highly developed skill sets—not a collection of many things you can’t always do well. It makes it much easier for clients to know what to buy if they know your specialty area and what you can and can’t do or like to work on versus where they would have to find another practitioner.
One benefit of a long career in public government, the military, or law enforcement services—besides the established expertise and skills—is the development of a list of highly specialized colleagues who can provide expertise to the security consultant that he or she doesn’t need to have. Successful security consultants will have a “bullpen” of likeminded colleagues who can provide skills and services that they cannot do to make it easier to keep clients satisfied with a “one-stop shop” approach. Because these subcontractors can work both alongside and independently from the main consultant’s office—in other parts of the country or around the world—they can maintain their own practices and their book of business and get involved with projects that interest them as necessary. Most clients don’t care about fancy websites and big offices; they want results and often on an urgent basis.
Another area where new security consultants need to cover themselves is with the proper amount and right type of business liability insurance, including errors and omissions coverage. Most clients will demand that all consultants and their subcontractors, regardless of their specialty type, maintain general liability insurance before they are allowed to even bid on projects or requests for proposals (RFPs).
Most successful security consultants started planning their postgovernment retirement jobs long before they hung out an “open for business” shingle. They didn’t start from zero; they had a plan, often bringing existing clients with them when they started their new business so as to have the cash flow they needed to market and grow their companies.