Proven Step-by-Step Processes and Tools
to Help Consultants Start and Build a Thriving Business.
Whether you are new to consulting or an experienced consultant, The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Consulting Business has the business building strategies, tactics, and processes will build your thriving consulting business.
The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Consulting Business contains a structured step-by-step approach to starting a thriving consulting business. It is based on
30+ years of consulting with Global 1000 and Fortune 1000 companies, business systems that investors in Silicon Valley demand their new companies use, and the latest global discoveries in building high performance businesses.
More than 7,000 people subscribe to Critical to Success.
It's an incredible asset for independent consultants.
The business of consulting is straightforward - consulting uses your extensive expertise and experience to help others make decisions and solve problems.
Consultants work in a wide range of fields, including areas like medical technology, plastic extrusion manufacturing, personal healthcare, digital marketing, financial analysis, business strategy, and small business startup. .
Having been an independent consultant for 30+ years I can say that in “most cases” consulting is a lot of fun. It’s intellectually exciting and challenging, and when done right, it producers a great sense of contribution, a great income, and it’s all combined with personal independence.
The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Consulting Business contains strategies and tactics that take you from startup to the rewards of a thriving consulting business.
The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Consulting Business uses systems proven by successful consultants and startups in Silicon Valley. These systems help new consultants get their businesses running faster and without having to go through the feast-and-famine cycle. These same systems help experienced consultants break through the upper-limits that stop many from reaching high six-figure incomes and having time for a great personal life.
This guide won’t make loud, flashy, and unrealistic promises, like,
Work a Four-Hour Work Week and Make a Million Dollars!
This guide will show you proven strategies, tactics, and processes to start and build a thriving consulting business. Follow this guide and you can realistically,
What you will learn in this guide comes from 30+ years of management and strategy consulting, writing 27 business and technical books published by Macmillan and
J Wiley (including four international best-sellers), and lessons learned from the rapid business startup processes evolving in Design Thinking and Silicon Valley startup methods.
The Ultimate Guide is a growing document. This page outlines what it takes to create a powerful consulting business. Additional details are available through the links from this page and the blogs.
If you want to create a thriving consulting business, then subscribe to the Critical to Success newsletter.
The initial part of the guide helps you understand your market and clients, identify the niches where you will be most successful, learn which problems have the greatest value, and find and turn prospects into clients.
The middle section of the guide shows you how to escape the "feast-or-famine" cycle that traps many consultants. In these stages you learn how to create marketing engines and public relations machines that fill your prospect pipeline.
Finally the guide shows you how to step out of the "hourly gig" and move to a higher level where your are paid for the value you produce, not the hours you work. You also learn how to deliver a layered portfolio of services and products that create continuous recurring revenue, whether you are working or not.
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The Great Recession of 2008 in the United States stunted the growth of the US consulting industry. However, in just a few years consulting rebounded with vigor. Multiple international surveys show growth rates in business consulting of 4% to 10%.
The growth of new startups, increased use of independent professionals, and continued use of new technology has created a rapidly growing world-wide need for consultants and independent professionals in all fields.
As a consultant who wants to build a thriving business you must know the industries and expertise fields with the best current and future growth. You must also know how your consulting can take advantage of the three major changes facing consulting and how you need to change your business model to stay ahead.
It’s an old saying, but it’s still true.
The riches are in the niches!
Unless you are already a world-renown expert in your field, building your client list and starting a consulting business will be easier and more profitable if you find a niche where you can make an impact. You want to select a niche where,
Hope and trial-and-error will not find your niche. Trial-and-error when looking for the right niche is an incredible waste of your time and loss of opportunity.
What you want to do is use proven processes and tools to quickly find two or three niches that have high-value problems you can solve and that you have access to. The best techniques for finding the right niches are the same techniques used by Silicon Valley startups and by digital marketing experts to find their high-value markets.
You need to know who your clients are, their highest-value problems, and the journey you must take them on as they go from prospect to client.
Talking knowledgeably with prospects about high-value problems and solutions makes them sit up, pay attention, and ask how soon you can start work. To quote a marketer of old, Robert Collier,
“Always enter the conversation already taking place in the prospect’s mind.”
Once you find two or three great niches you need to learn the high-value problems in these niches that demand your expertise. There are a couple of places on the internet that make it very easy to dig into your client's minds and see what problems they are most concerned with.
Even with the right niches and skills, you can’t help prospects until you turn them into clients - that’s where many consultants fail.
To convert prospects into clients you must know their needs and the psychological triggers that will move them from being a prospect to being a client.
There is a science to converting prospects into clients
and it’s a science you can learn.
Prospects go through multiple stages in their journey to becoming your client. This “customer journey” starts with a prospect becoming aware of their problem. They then must become aware that you have a solution. At that stage you need to gain their trust in you as a recognized authority. Only then can you gain commitment and turn the prospect into a client.
Many consultants are never aware of the stages in the customer journey, the customer's needs at each stage, and the psychological triggers that move prospects forward. Many consultants sit and wait for prospects to "magically" turn themselves into clients. It doesn't happen! You have to know your prospect's needs at each stage and know which triggers will move them forward.
Great consultants give prospects two things that turn them into eager clients. The first is a vivid image of how life will improve when you solve their problems. The second thing you must give them is confidence that you know how to solve the problem.
Great consultants give their clients an image of a better life and
the confidence that they are the consultant that can take them there.
Your professional brand must give your prospects the confidence that you can guide them to achieve the image the want of their future. That confidence and the story of how you will guide them is your brand. Your brand is not a slogan or logo.
One of the best ways to deliver both a vivid image and confidence in your skills is through a brand story. That’s a story of how you help clients become heroes – like Obi Wan Kenobi mentoring Luke Skywalker or the head wizard Dumbledore and Harry Potter.
With guidance from Critical to Success you can create a two or three line story that paints your client as the Hero and you as the head wizard.
When you have your brand story developed it's easy to put that story in your LinkedIn profile and in your professional website. These are the first places prospects will look to confirm your authority.
One problem that almost every consultant faces is filling their prospect pipeline.
Leads and prospects come from your personal connections, direct outreach, marketing, and referrals. New consultants often find it easy to initially fill their pipeline with referrals from their personal and work connections. But, sadly, those clients and their sources usually dry up within a year. To start a consulting business and continue to thrive you must have a method of filling your pipeline until your marketing engine is operating at full speed.
You need a proven process that identifies and attracts qualified leads so you can engage them as prospects and convert them into clients.
In the previous stage you identified your prospects problems, needs, and triggers. To fill your pipeline you need to use that information to find high-quality prospects that will value your consulting.
Many consultants complain they can't find enough quality clients, but with the right internet search tools you can build a list of high-quality prospects. With three things you can then fill you pipeline: your list of high-quality prospects, your list of their high-value problems, and proven scripts that engage them in conversations.
I've learned that almost every prospect loves to talk about the problems they've faced and how they solved them, or tried to solve them. And, they love to hear how other are working on the same problems. When you engage your prospect's management team in brainstorming sessions on these problems you become the obvious consultant to hire.
A great marketing machine does three things: it attracts lots of leads, qualifies leads into prospects, and expands the depth and scale of your authority.
A well-designed marketing machine focused on your niche
will produce a steady stream of prospects and clients.
Most independent consultants have faced the consultant’s feast-or-famine cycle. The cycle drives a consultant’s income from high to low and back again as the consultant shifts their time between either working or marketing.
A good marketing machine eliminates this feast-or-famine cycle. While you work with clients your marketing machine continues to boost your brand, gather leads, and qualify a stream of prospects. It keeps working even while you are on vacation.
You don’t have to be a technical guru to build an internet marketing machine. What you do need to know is how to structure the information on your website, which topics attract your client’s interest, and how to use keywords that attract search engines and prospects.
Your internet marketing machine can attract leads and qualify prospects, but you still need real-world publicity, testimonials, and one-to-one relationships to spread the word and build your authority.
Publicity and real-world marketing take many forms. It can be as local as building relationships at monthly meetups and association meetings. Or it can be as global as being quoted in national magazines and speaking at industry conventions.
As an independent consultant it is almost impossible to live a well-balanced life, work with clients, and fill your marketing and publicity machine with content. But, of course, there are solutions to help you. The way to make it work is to leverage high-value content and client cases so you can use the same knowledge in blogs, webinars, public speaking, and quotes for high-profile reporters.
Winning new business takes a lot more than just being good at the value you deliver. You must be able to offer clients a tiered package of services, products, and fees that make it difficult for them to refuse.
If you are going to create a thriving consulting business you must charge appropriate to the value you deliver. Most consultants devalue themselves.
Many consultants start their first consulting or sub-contracting jobs charging an hourly fee like a freelancer, but to build greater income you need to move away from hourly or project-based fees. You need to understand and use packaged and tiered solutions, retainers, and value- or ROI-based fees. To do that you must present proposals to your client's that show the value you will deliver.
Getting a request for proposal is a great feeling, especially if you helped the client write it. But even then, you can’t look at a proposal as guaranteed business. There is both art and science to winning proposals.
There is a step-by-step process to guiding prospects into asking you for a proposal. Once they ask you for a proposal, you need to craft a proposal to their issues, goals, time frames, culture, and vision. Boilerplate is fine to start with, but you need more.
You must show them how only you can deliver the solution they need. You should also present tiered solutions so if they don't like one of your proposed solutions an alternative is already there for them. And, in all cases, you must give them a clear vision of the future and value you will deliver.
You do not want to create a business that depends solely on the hours you work. This will kill your business, your work-life balance, and your soul.
In older consulting businesses, consultants traded hours and projects for income. The old model pushed consultants to work longer hours and expand each project’s scope to bring in more revenue.
New consulting models leverage your value by delivering your value through a broad portfolio of services and products using multiple channels. These new consulting models are rapidly replacing consulting hours. You must be ready to adapt.
New ways of consulting deliver value through a variety of channels,
Delivering your consulting value through multiple services and products in multiple channels has a lot of advantages. One service can can be turned into multiple products. For example, client work on onboarding new hires can be turned into a webinar, online course, Kindle book, speaking engagement, and more.