Consulting used to be an industry that was dominated by large firms, but today it’s possible to start a successful consulting business from scratch – even fully online. All you need are proper toolsets and making a reputation for yourself.
I have done it myself – learning from the school of hard knocks!
Check out my course: The 4-Hour Agency – How to start, grow and scale a 6-figure agency
What is a consulting firm or business?
A consulting firm or business consists of industry experts (the “consultants”) who offer professional advice, guidance, and solutions to businesses facing problems they don’t have the know-how to deal with. Every company is bound to have issues; consulting firms are hired to solve them.
Here are some popular areas of consulting which are always in demand (aka types of business consultants):
- Public relations
- Policy and governance
- General business
Why set up a consulting business?
Consulting is a great way to make an income if you like talking to people and solving problems.
Starting a consulting business with no experience used to be difficult back in the old days, but is now very possible in this digital age. Today, you can get clients online, and even conduct your consulting business entirely online – across geographical boundaries.
Consulting is one of the best, no-cost entry-point to learning how to make money online for beginners.
If you’ve got relevant expertise and industry knowledge that businesses can tap on, you should definitely learn how to start an online consulting business. This is one business that allows you to earn money from home without any investment.
Now, let’s dive into my Starting a Consulting Business checklist.
Starting a Consulting Business Checklist
1. Assess your strengths and skillset
Consultants are hired to solve problems that companies can’t solve themselves. When starting a coaching or consulting business, it’s important to possess deep knowledge in a specific area so that you can offer value to your clients.
Assess your strengths and skillset:
- What job experiences do you have?
- Which kind of roles have you done in your career?
- What technical skills do you possess?
- What soft skills do you possess?
- What would your colleagues and ex-colleagues say you are good at?
It’s also worth looking out for any weaknesses or skills gaps that might potentially trip you up later on. For example, do you lack persuasion skills? If so, you may have to brush them up or find a partner who has those traits.
Also, if you have slightly more technical skills, you may also consider learning how to start freelancing work and how to start freelance programming. Or if you’re more into selling physical products, learn how to open an online store step by step.
2. Decide on your niche
Don’t try to offer something to everyone. You’ll be better off focusing on a specific market segment (read: advantages of segmenting the market). This way, you can tailor your services and marketing messages to this niche group of people.
Once you define your niche, you will find it easier to attract your ideal clients.
- What industries can you best serve?
- What’s missing in these industries?
- Where do people struggle the most?
- Which market badly needs your expertise?
- Who can benefit most from your knowledge and experience?
- Who would you like to work with most?
Check out my list of niche marketing examples.
3. Find out what your market needs
Once you’ve identified your niche, ask yourself what challenges, problems, and pain points businesses in your niche often experience. If you are not sure, check out related forums or speak to real people in the niche.
- What are the thought leaders writing about online?
- Where does there always seem to be confusion?
- Is there heated debate in forums or comment sections over a specific topic?
- What are the challenges, problems, and pain points that keep popping up?
What problems can you solve? The bigger the problems you can help solve, the bigger the money.
4. Practice your elevator pitch
Convincing potential clients to do business with you starts with your elevator pitch. Especially if you are starting a coaching or consulting business with no experience.
Your elevator pitch should be a short description of your target market’s problem, the solutions you offer, and how you are different from the competition. Keep your pitch to around three sentences maximum.
Your elevator pitch is your value proposition. What are you bringing to the table? What specific problem can you help solve? You want to attract the right clients with the exact problems you can solve. Then you want to hook them in and make them want to find out more.
When a prospect would like to find out more, you can then proceed to introduce your story and your solutions more in-depth.
If you find that consulting is not for you because you prefer working behind the scenes, you may want to check this out and sell things online instead: Best Digital Products to Sell Online
5. Build up your Rolodex
Use professional networking websites like LinkedIn to network with others in your chosen industry. Stay connected with key people and seek introductions. Start off with filling up your profile and connecting with people you already know. You never know who they may introduce you to. Ask for testimonials and references from former colleagues and associates. This is how you win the online consulting game.
6. Develop your online channels
To be a consultant, you need to be seen as an authority in your field. Digital platforms can help establish that credibility. And by going digital, you can also learn how to start a consulting business on the side.
The first step to marketing a consulting business online is to create a simple website, set up your social media profiles, and start generating valuable content on these platforms. Here’s what you need:
Look at the websites of your top competitors, as well as those of other industries. Which ones can you take reference from? Create a simple website in less than a day using an affordable, reliable web host like Bluehost that showcases your expertise and exudes professionalism.
You’ll also need a domain name which you can get from NameCheap.
Starting your own blog is an opportunity to make you a thought leader in your field. It’s also a channel to drive new traffic to your website. If possible, set aside an hour or two a week to write on things that matter in your niche.
Depending on your industry, you’ll want to be visible on at least 2-3 social media platforms. For professionals, this usually means LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. For consumer-focused fields, you may also consider YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr. Keep it to a maximum of four so you can focus and build loyal audiences.
If you just want a low-cost, quick way to start your consulting gig, read our guide on How to start blogging and making money on Facebook.
It’s harder to establish trust online. Video content can build some of this trust. Think educational and how-to video content based on common problems and concerns. You can post your videos on multiple platforms – LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and even on your website – to gain maximum exposure.
Building up the content needed to get clients organically will take time. Learn how to market a consulting business. Focus on high-quality content and delivers immense value to your prospects. Sooner or later, people in your niche will take notice of you.
If you are intrigued by digital marketing, you may even want to learn how to start a digital marketing agency! Also, to find quick clients for your consulting business, you may also want to look at the list of freelance job websites.
7. Build templates for proposals
You don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time you create a project proposal. You want to design standard forms and templates. For example, you may want to have forms for gathering information or for client onboarding.
Using templates will ensure your work always has the same professional look and feel and covers all relevant angles. It’s good to be consistent in your approach and ensure that your service is always consistently at its best.
8. Set your pricing structure
Decide on your service offerings and put your pricing structure in writing. You need to analyze how many hours a typical project will take and what other resources you will consume. You need to crystallize this because a common question is “How much do you charge?” – you want to be able to answer this naturally and without hesitation.
Don’t make the mistake of underpricing. Always strive to deliver massive value, instead of cutting your prices. If you charge too little, people might not take you seriously.
You can have a pricing template to use to help you estimate your charges. This will depend very much on the industry.
9. Know your processes
Decide on your sales and onboarding processes early. Have your contract templates ready. The worst thing is when someone says “yes” and you realize you have no idea what to do next.
Be prepared so once they say “yes” you can lay the timeline and expectations from start to end. Think about a “welcome email” or package that tells them what to expect.
Whether your consulting business is going to be brick-and-mortar-based or online-only, you would do well to follow the above Starting a Consulting Business checklist for a start. Everything else is about managing people and expectations.
For more passive types of income, you can check out: How to make money with affiliate marketing