I’ve found many of my business associates who have worked in corporations for most of their career are faced with some career choices they didn’t think that they’d be considering. So several months ago, when a friend of mine got let go from his long time company, I asked my LinkedIn network:
I’m helping a friend get started with his consulting practice. What 2 suggestions do you offer when someone asks you how to get started? Thanks!
Perhaps you or someone you know will find some helpful advice in the following 23 answers:
first of all : spend as much time as possible building a network.
second : make your resume (or presentation like website, blog, etc.) leap to the top, be noticed, be different, let people know WHY you are different, WHY they should hire you.
And if I may add a third : Member gets member, meaning : make sure one client leads you to at least 2 or 3 others, get references.
While there are a number of factors to consider below are a few:
1) Whose the target market (client base)?
2) He will need a business license, some form of tax id depending on what country he’s in, a business checking accounting.
3) He will need a website.
4) He will want to create a business plan.
5) What makes his consulting business unique?
6) Why will clients want to use his services over existing businesses?
7) Does he have any specialized knowledge or skills?
8) What additional products and services may be sold to clients?
9) How will clients be charged i.e. -retainer, monthly or hourly fees?
10) Can he make money online consulting?
The single biggest problem I have seen with newbie consultants is a lack of confidence. Being too concerned with what they don’t know instead of what they do know…and that always shows to a prospective client.
Be confident, nobody has done everything, if you haven’t done something before, relate it back to something you have done that’s close, and be confident you can do it…because likely, you can.
Here is my 2:
1. Identify the area (where he/she want to provide consultancy)
2. Do the homework, in terms of
c. what value add he / she can get for the client
3. Create marketing collaterals
4. Identify the prospect and go ahead
I have just one suggestion: Focus on being the best seller of consulting services, not on being the best consultant. One could be the best consultant in the world, however, if one does not sell any services the practice will fail regardless of how good one is as a consultant. Of course, this principal applies to all businesses.
First, consultants don’t get business from people they do not know - so you need to know a lot of people. Selling is the key to a successful practice so never stop building your network.
Second, never let them see you sweat. In the first year most new consultants are afraid of not getting enough business to cover expenses. Prospective clients can sense this and shy away. Have a 12 month reserve before you start.
Third, (yes I know you asked for two but one should always over deliver) partner with other consultants. None of us can meet alll of the demand out there. Therefore, it is better to see other consultants as prospective associates than as competitors.
1. Have clarity on what services you will offer.
2. Develop relationships with people who support your industry so your business will come to mind when their customers ask where to find the services you offer.
Wow, after reading the answers so far I tend to wonder if everyone is from the same cookie cutter business school?
Well, since I am from the business school of life, here are the 2 questions one should always ask no matter what the startup business is:
1: Do you have enough funds to keep the company running and still feed yourself for at least 6 months without any cash flow?
2: Do you have a fall back plan (ie: Job), in case the business fails?
Then you can proceed with the other good, but predictable answers as above. Remember, the world is in a recession at the moment and most new businesses will fail within twelve months of starting, so one needs to be prepared. Its not a defeatest attitude (ha, beat you guys) but a cold hard fact of life. Not only will a new startup be trying to get new customers, there is a good chance that those customers will be someone elses customers and therefore they will fight to keep them.
Have a minimum reserve of one year.
Try to get into networks of your target group and try to get good connections.
Try to get answers to the following questions:
Are you really able to get in contact with your target group?
Is your target group big enough and do they have money enough ?
Do they really need your service ?
Who are the other players in that field and are you really better or different ?
Can you offer a service which nobody else can ?
If I had to choose just two:
1. Review the types of people/businesses and problems/opportunities they’ve had experience in, and be very, very specific in defining the niche they will serve — the more specifically you can define the audience, the easier it is for the target to recognize themselves in the marketing efforts, and the less work the consultant will have to do in being relevant to them.
2. Set aside time each day for developing content that’s relevant to the target and that shares expertise: articles, blogs, answers to questions (like these), handouts, quizzes, Q&As. This will help them gain visibility and trust, and attract the ideal clients. It doesn’t all have to be directly from them — partnering with others or linking to other relevant content can help too.
Best of luck!
Bryan Finnegan, CISA
From my experience you have to be 100% confident that you are unique & have knowledge/experience that others need. Put another way, you need a clearly defined edge/difference, that others do not have.
The second item is to get the word out, and network as much as possible without being overly aggressive.
If he has confidence & patience your friend will succeed.
Identify and focus on that one prospect who may have known you and is aware of your skills and convert that prospect into your first client - however small the size of business may be. If you the client trusts your work and gives more opportunity, you have started and nothing can stop you. I believe this is the only suggestion that truly works.
Start freelance, develop a client base and network and have a deep pocket :)
Annie Galvin Teich
Before you jump in, be sure that you understand the amount of work that will be involved particularly in the first year. Then double it. You will be working 70 -80 hours a week - many of which will not be compensated. As I am at the end of my second year, I am still struggling with getting the pipeline filled - it’s either feast or famine.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. When you need help, get it. Always delegate or hire someone to do the more routine things so that you can concentrate on projects where you add the greatest value as that is what people pay you for.
Lastly, try to do three strategic things every day. Items that will move your business forward. Three things. It sounds simple but most days, it’s not. If you can only manage one or two, then so be it. But make this a daily goal. Good luck.
The most important thing about starting any business, particularly consulting where you focus on client needs, is to have a well considered business plan. This will help your friend have a clearly defined focus, be responsive to clients without his practice taking second place. There’s some really good FREE resources for this online.
And secondly, don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations or referrals.
Just 2? here goes…
1) Plan the business in detail (make sure the sums add up) before leaving current position, rally getting paid to prepare
2) Do something to get started, such as register a domain name otherwise
they may not get going, then keep identifying a next action
First and foremost, get out and NETWORK in the industry that you are consulting in!! Research the industry groups that the VP level folks belong to and join. You may want to start out by self funding a study and syndicating it to gain industry credibility…get speaking engagements and be visible…
Some consideraiton and preparation
1) Sales is the key component to success - be comfortable with it or fail.
2) Take a small business or entrepreneurial class/course
3) Join the Small Business Association or some similar group to network with those in the same boat as you - intentionally ask questions to learn, network, partner, etc.
4) Don’t depend on partners to sell for you - they won’t
5) Join the local Chamber of Commerce and attend meetings - network
6) Write a book or articles regularly for local and regional periodicals, newspapers, etc. to get your name known in the area - start an e-mail list to send articles or value-adding note to on a quarterly basis
7) Persevere, no matter what - Commit or Quit
8) Personal discipline to start at 7:00 and close at 6:00 are needed. Saturday is a day of work, as well; for the books, personal growth, etc.
9) Learn how to manage your finances, taxes, etc. - get Quick Books or some similar software
10) Network by attending local chapters of professional disciplines (ASTD, SHRM, Sales & Marketing, CPA, Accounting, Supply Chain, etc. groups regularly.
11) Offer to speak for free at any professional meeting, event, meeting, etc. to get your name and reputation known
12) Follow-up on all contacts made with a call and conversation or meeting schedule
13) Remember the first sale is alwyas a meeting to learn more about the prospect or contact or partner - learn before giving it all away
14) Help others find jobs, network, etc. - they will reciprocate when they are able
15) Good Luck, have a ton of optimism and be open to changing frequently in order to do what works for you
Drink the Helium…i.e. Take a plunge !
Burn the Sun….i.e. Make a revenue model and execute it FULL !
- Make sure you have networked well, and have enough business before investing
- Have a pilot plan, invest short term, and support it with a fall back plan ( a job in hand, revenues to keep you going for minimum 6 months)
- You can also join hands with an existing small set up and move out later on. You may invite venture capital, if you have that kind of resources!!
Going out on your own as a consultant, the success rate is lower than most business start ups. Due to the fact that many people between jobs hang a shingle and say they are consultants. If you’re going to make it a real business, two things
-Be everywhere and have a unique value proposition
-Be prepared to spend all of your time up front in direct selling and to face a lot of rejection. Unless you are already a certified, well known guru in your field, just putting your message/name out there, no matter how effectively, and expecting clients to come to you will not work. If you don’t like direct selling, don’t go out on your own.
Erika Flora, MS, PMP, ITIL Expert
I highly recommend reading, “Getting Started as a Consultant” by Alan Weiss. It is rich with content and was a temendous help to me when I began consulting.
The Art of the Start - a great book for entrepeneurs from Guy Kawasaki….exApple guy! Give it a read - it can truly help a new-to-biz type succeed!
I wish I had a list like this when I started my marketing consulting company back in 1998!
5 thoughts on “23 Ideas for How to Start a Consulting Practice”
Hi there Chris,
Thanks for posting this list. There are definitely some nuggets of good advice posted here.
I really thought that Chad Cook’s list was the most comprehensive and useful to a consultant or any business professional starting out for that matter.
If you follow that list carefully and actually take the time to get each step done you have a very high chance of succeeding and building up some of your first clients.
Sam | Business Consulting Buzz
I’m with you. I gave Chad the “best answer” vote on LinkedIn.
He did cheat however. I asked for only two suggestions from each respondent in an effort to generate the strongest suggestions and the most number of answers.
Chad is definitely an over achiever!!
thanks for commenting!
My two suggestions are:
1. Listen to everyone and then decide what will work for your business.
2. Find a group of other business people ro meet with to discuss your business issuse and the business issues of others. You will learn very fast.
Always enjoy your blog.
You are so right. Everyone has ideas, but you really have to decide for yourself where to take the consulting practice.
Thanks for taking the time to comment.
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