With the right tools and resources, starting your consulting practice can be a lucrative and rewarding experience. Let’s look at six steps you can take to start a career in independent consulting.
1. Choose Your Niche
The easiest way to stand out from other consultants is by specializing in a particular niche. Businesses hire consultants because they are experts in their field. Having a niche will show them that you understand the problems they’re facing and have the knowledge to solve those problems.
Many new consultants find picking a niche relatively easy. After all, you already have years of experience that you’ve gained through your career. Now it’s just a matter of narrowing down your options.
Here are a few questions to consider as you go about picking your niche:
- What do you enjoy thinking about and teaching others about?
- Do you have any special licenses or certifications within your field?
- Do you see any market shifts that could lead to new opportunities?
- Are there any gaps within your industry?
- What unique experience do you have that would be useful for potential clients?
2. Outline Your Services
Once you know your niche and the type of clients you’ll be targeting, it’s time to outline your services. The term “consultant” can be somewhat vague, so businesses need to know the results they can expect to receive from working with you.
To get started, brainstorm some of the general services you’d like to offer your clients. From there, you can begin outlining more specific services and deliverables.
Doing this will help you articulate your unique value proposition to clients. It will also help you determine the kinds of rates you need to charge so you can run a profitable business when you become an independent consultant.
3. Write a Business Plan
As you’re researching how to start a consulting business, there will be plenty of people who tell you that you don’t need a business plan. And while that may be true, a business plan can still be very beneficial.
It can help you get clear on your ideas and avoid making costly mistakes. Writing out a business plan gets your ideas out of your head and forces you to start coming up with concrete strategies.
Here are the areas you should focus on when writing your business plan:
- Your unique value proposition
- Your target market and the specific problem you’ll solve for them
- Your marketing strategy and how you’ll find clients
- How you’ll scale and grow your business
Try to keep your business plan as simple as possible. And seek out feedback from others so you can identify any gaps in your plan.
4. Set Up Your Business Structure
It’s a good idea to choose the legal structure for your business right from the start. Your business structure will affect how you pay taxes, as well as your personal liability.
Here are three types of business entities many consultants choose:
As a sole proprietor, you’re a single-owner, unincorporated business and you can get started without any paperwork. It’s the easiest way to get started, but it can be risky. You’re considered a “pass-through business,” which means that your personal and business assets are not separate.
Limited Liability Company (LLC):
An LLC is also a single-owner, unincorporated business, but you do have to file your business with the state. And unlike sole proprietors, LLC’s are shielded from personal liability if their business fails.
An S corporation is considered a separate legal entity, and it provides liability protection. S corps file taxes yearly, and are not subject to double taxation. Establishing an S corp could also help you build credibility with potential clients.
As a new business owner, choosing a legal structure can feel overwhelming and confusing. If you’re not sure what the best choice is, it can be helpful to seek out the advice of a CPA or business attorney.
5. Build Your Website and Brand
One of the best ways to establish trust and professionalism is through your website and branding. Branding allows you to command top rates and attract high-quality clients.
The term branding has become somewhat of a buzzword over the years, but it just refers to your business’ public persona. Here are a few questions that can help you nail down your brand identity:
- What is the personality of my business?
- What are the values I want to portray?
- What kind of experience do clients get when they work with me?
- How do I stand out from other consultants?
Your website design, logo, and graphics will all be built off of your brand identity. And it may be worth it to outsource your website design to a professional. The right designer will save you time and help you build a strong brand identity.
6. Start Marketing Your Business
One of the most challenging aspects of starting a consulting business is that you’re responsible for finding clients and bringing in revenue every month. So you need to have a plan for how you’ll market your business.
Here are a few ideas for how you can get started:
- Reaching out to your network
- Content marketing
- Speaking or hosting webinars
- Using social media networks like LinkedIn
- Asking previous clients for referrals
Since you’re not getting paid to market your consulting business, you’ll want to find opportunities to bring in organic leads. Joining a talent marketplace like BTG is another great way to grow your business and connect with top tier clients.