You are an expert in your field, have established a stellar professional reputation, and now you are ready to strike out on your own and start a consulting business. You may be itching to jump in and get started, but like any business, having a solid and well-thought-out plan is essential to your success. This practical guide to setting up your consulting business is your first step to the successful launch of your business. Read on, then get ready to roll up your sleeves!
Start with a self-assessment
The very first step you should take, before you even begin to set up your business, is to do an honest self-assessment. Ask yourself these questions before moving any further. When you are done, you’ll have a clear idea of your motivation.
1. Is this the right professional decision for you?
Starting a consulting business isn’t for everyone, even if you are very skilled at what you do. It’s important to be sure you are making this decision for the right reasons and that it will further (not hinder) your professional achievements. What is motivating you to take this step now? Are you feeling stagnant at work? Have you reached a point in your career where this is the logical next step? By defining your why, you’ll be better able to decide if this is the right decision at this time.
2. Do you have the skill set to proceed?
Clients hire consultants for their knowledge, and the foundation of any successful consulting business is expertise. However, starting and running a business requires a variety of business skills and, most importantly, a lot of determination. Be sure you’re prepared to handle ALL of the responsibilities that come with running a consulting business, not just the consulting.
3. Is there a market for your business?
You can spend all the money you want on a slick marketing campaign, but it will be for nothing if there are no takers in your market. How many other consultants in your market are in the same field as you? If your market is saturated, you’ll need to be prepared to compete with other consultants for business. Take a look at the other consultants in your field, and see what they are doing. What can you bring to the table that is unique? What do you offer that will bring clients to your door?
4. Are your numbers and gut feel in sync?
It may be tempting to hitch onto that gut instinct, and just go with it. Branching off and starting your own business may seem romantic and adventurous, but the real goal is to build a business with longevity. You don’t want to have to close up shop a year from now, when you realize your money can no longer support the business. Run a check-up of your financial health. Do you have enough funds to live on while you start your business? How much money do you have to invest in start-up costs, and how much will you need to borrow? This is also where your research into your market will help. Is your market viable enough to make the initial investment of funds worth it?
Once you’ve made your way through these questions, and you are confident that this is the right decision for your career, it’s time to get down to the real work.
Launching Your Consulting Business
The next several steps will guide you through the essentials to starting your business. Follow these steps carefully, and you will be well on your way to a fulfilling and exciting consulting career.
1. Determine your value proposition.
This is where you define your mission. Why are you doing this, what makes you different, and how will it help your clients? A value proposition is a short summary of your business, what it offers, and the reasons why a client would want to buy from you instead of someone else. Keep it clear and concise, and seize the opportunity to differentiate yourself. Decide if you will present yourself as a generalist or a specialist. Will you propose specific products or formalise them as you go? Make this clear in your value proposition
You’ll want it to say 3 things: what do you do, what makes you unique, and how will your clients benefit.
2. Create a business identity.
This is where you get to brainstorm what your business will look like. What will you call your business? Will you use a slogan or tagline? If you have the skills, create a logo; otherwise, investigate companies that can help you design one. Create a uniform identity that will be recognizable in your market to appear on business cards and other marketing materials.
3. Set up the administrative foundation.
Next, you’ll need to focus on setting up a proper work environment and administrative framework. Will you be working from home or setting up in an office? Define your space, then move on to details like office furniture, computers, software, and other technology. Set up internet and a phone number, with options to conference call or video call if you plan to conduct business from a distance. You’ll also need to acquire or draft your own legal documents, like contracts for business agreements with clients, and make sure you have satisfied all legal requirements for setting up a business in your area.
4. Create your marketing campaign.
Your business is set up, you’ve acquired your first launch client, but now you need more.
Your marketing campaign is what introduces you to potential clients and convinces them to learn more about what you have to offer. Start close to home and let all of your personal and business contacts know about your business. Send business cards out to everyone you have worked with in the past who may be in need of your services, or could provide a referral. Pick up the phone and start making calls. Get people talking about you and what you do!
Your marketing campaign should also include a professional website, social media profiles, brochures, and other printed materials. Have your logo, slogan, and anything else that is a part of your “look” on all of your marketing materials. You are creating a brand along with a business.
5. Decide on your fee structure.
Know in advance what you are going to ask in compensation for your services. Define your sales pitch and your selling tool kit for proposals. Consider gathering testimonials, slides, case studies, and printed materials that demonstrate your track record and the value of your services. Have your resume updated and ready to go.
Growing Your Consulting Business
Once your business is launched, your marketing campaign is going full blast, and you are beginning to negotiate with, or perhaps have already signed, a few clients, you want to continue to focus on building your client base.
1. Continue to leverage your personal network.
People who know you personally have an interest in seeing you succeed. Continue to remind your personal network about your new business.
2. Expand your network.
Next focus on expanding your professional network, both digitally and in person. Having a social media presence is a valuable tool in building a business. Consider not only professional networking sites, like LinkedIn, but also social ones, like Facebook and Twitter. Join in-person meet-up groups that bring together professionals in your field, and connect with businesses that may be in need of your services. Participate in local networking events to meet other professionals who might need or can refer your services. And don’t forget this one simple rule: ask your network to introduce you to other people who may be interested in your services.
3. Develop partnerships.
Relationships are key in business. Partner with consultants in other fields or professionals in a related industry who are willing to exclusively refer business to you in exchange for your exclusive referrals. As you continue to build your network of personal relationships, you’ll see more referrals over time.
4. Promote your services.
Become a walking and talking advertisement for your consulting business. While you’re getting things off the ground, you’ll need all the promotion you can get. Stay diligent! Build a strong digital and social media presence, market your services to your target audience, and even consider running special promotions to start building a clientele and establishing your business’s reputation.
Final Points to Remember
As you embark on this journey, it’s good to come back to these simple reminders.
1. Devote yourself to this new venture fully. You won’t find massive success with half effort.
2. Value yourself. You may be tempted to offer lower rates as a new business, but don’t undervalue your skills. Know what you are worth and stick with it!
3. Know when to walk away. Don’t give up if you’re having a rough patch. The road to starting a new business is always bumpy. But, if you’ve been at it for a while and your heart is no longer in it, don’t hesitate to walk away if that feels like the right decision. Go back to the beginning of this guide and start at step one to reassess your passion for your business.
4. Have fun! This is an exciting, new chapter in your life. Enjoy it!
Starting your consulting business will not be easy, but it will almost certainly be exciting and fulfilling. Let this practical guide be your starting point. Then, just keep it simple, stay the course, and enjoy the ride.
Author: Helene Laffitte
Civil Engineer by training (Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees), our CEO has held several Executive positions in Operations, R&D, and Procurement and Industrial Strategy for one of the biggest Energy Companies in the world. She left Europe for the US in 2011, and, after completing an MBA at Columbia Business School, launched her 1st consulting practice. After exchanging with peers and customers, she launched Consulting Quest, a global performance-driven consulting service platform. “The idea, at first, was to provide disruptive solutions for both clients and providers. I combined the experiences of my co-founder and mine to start Consulting Quest, a disruptive start-up that leverages big data to improve the performance for both clients and consultants.”