Launching a consulting business allows you to turn your specialised skills and expertise into income. As a consultant, companies will pay you handsomely for your insights, advice and any deliverables that help them achieve key business outcomes.
Though the path to becoming an independent consultant may seem unclear, following some fundamental steps can set you up for success.
Here’s how to start a thriving small consultancy.
Identify Your Niche Area of Expertise
First, reflect on what subject-matter expertise you have that companies would pay for.
Assess your background, skills, education and business experience to date.
Identify the prime areas where you have deep expertise that could add value.
Common consulting specialties include human resources, IT, manufacturing, finance, marketing & sales just to name a few.
But drilling down further to niche areas is advised, for example, ASIC compliance requirements for financial consultants. The more specific your specialty area, the better.
Research The Market Opportunity
Once you’ve identified your area of expertise, conduct thorough market research.
Talk to everyone you know working in relevant industries or roles to gain insights on business needs and pain points.
What challenges are organisations struggling with where your skills could provide solutions?
What outcomes would they want from hiring a consultant?
Analyse the competitive landscape too – who are other players in this space and how do you differentiate?
Validate there is a solid demand for the type of service offering only you can provide, before moving forward.
Build Up Your Credentials
Next, work on developing credentials so you can demonstrate subject matter authority.
For example, earn relevant certifications that reinforce your specialty.
Attend conferences and workshops to stay on the pulse of industry trends.
Publish articles or blogs that provide snippets of your expertise.
Develop test case studies for fictional companies that bring your recommendations to life. Anything that spotlights your qualifications will make clients comfortable hiring you.
Sort Out The Legalities
Now it’s time to make things official by setting up the legal and tax frameworks. Decide whether you want to operate as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or proprietary limited company. Register your business accordingly.
Set up business accounts and bookkeeping system(s).
Leverage small business tools to stay organised such as cloud storage, invoicing software, CRMs and productivity apps.
Make sure you comply with all permits, licenses and insurance requirements.
Set Your Rates
A common dilemma consultants face is pricing packages competitively, while still making healthy profits.
Figure out what pricing best aligns to the value you deliver.
Bill by the hour or day or set packaged pricing?
Offer tiered service levels at good/better/best investment points?
Conduct pricing research, then test rates with prospective customers to set fair prices that also fuel your income goals.
Make sure to factor in taxes, operating expenses and benefits.
Revisit pricing quarterly as you gain increased market traction.
Craft A Standout Brand
For professional services, an expert brand builds credibility that wins business.
At a minimum, create a logo that reflects your consultancy’s focus and values.
Develop a brand style guide with fonts, colors and graphics to use across all touchpoints – website, business cards, proposals, reports, etc.
Leverage platforms like Fiverr or Upwork to outsource things like logo design rather than over-investing upfront without client projects secured yet.
Launch A Consultancy Website
Your website is a critical tool for attracting consulting clients.
Secure a domain name and hosting.
Use professional templates from sites like Wix, Webflow or Squarespace to craft a brand-aligned site.
Make sure to optimise with keywords clients would use to find specialty consultants.
Provide value upfront by sharing useful content, case studies and assessments.
Be transparent about your background, credentials and expertise right away.
Include a Services page that clearly spells out deliverables.
Insert a Contact page with scheduling abilities to kick-off conversations.
Offer Free Value To Build A Portfolio
At this point, you likely don’t have past consulting clients to feature or reviews yet.
So how do you convince new clients to take a chance on you?
Offer free services first.
Reach out to connections at companies and offer complimentary assessments or strategy sessions that showcase exactly what you’d deliver as a paid consultant.
Or provide 1-2 days of pro bono services for causes you care about.
Adding real-world examples of your work to your website or sales materials goes far in winning business.
Implement A Marketing Plan
Promote your consultancy actively through multiple channels.
Leverage your LinkedIn network with personal messages.
Identify ideal customer profiles then target outbound messages.
Run LinkedIn sponsored posts to relevant audiences supporting content downloads.
Start building a subscriber email list from your website to share useful resources over time. Have coffee meetings to share your services with key connections.
Attend networking events or industry trade shows.
The goal is to get conversations started that lead to committed clients.
Deliver Amazing Work
As you secure your first wave of clients, over-deliver on project expectations.
Bring best-in class thinking, strategic frameworks and recommendations informed by hard data. Provide plenty of helpful templates, tools and manuals so clients can easily take next steps. Make implementations as turnkey as possible.
Check in regularly to gather feedback on areas they want more or less focus on.
Make it wildly easy for clients to give referrals to connections that could benefit from your specialty expertise as well by having templates on hand.
Keep Learning And Improving
Treat your first year in business as a testing ground for service offerings and pricing.
Try things out, gather client feedback, and monitor what works well and what doesn’t.
Be willing to pivot offerings or business model specifics as you scale.
Take on new certifications and continually educate yourself.
Put yourself in rooms with those operating at the top of your field.
Use every project as a way to get sharper, faster and more insightful.
By identifying your specialty expertise, handling startup legwork meticulously and promoting your services smartly, you can build a thriving and rewarding consultancy.
Stay laser-focused on delivering tremendous value to clients and the income and impact will surely follow.