The Best 'How to Start Consulting' Checklist
Consultants who prepare for the business side of consulting have a much better chance of reaching greater income, independence, satisfaction, and contribution.
Consultants who have not prepared before starting face much greater risks. If you choose the wrong niche or fail to develop a prospect pipeline your income will go through the infamous feast-or-famine cycle and your independence and satisfaction may disappear as you scramble to recover.
To help you create a firm foundation for starting and building a thriving consulting business here’s one of the best startup checklists on the internet.
Finding Your Perfect Niche
Consultants who are “experts at everything” and “market to everyone” reach and serve no one. They waste time and opportunity by trying to be everything to everyone. Choosing the right niche (industry, consulting offering, and differentiation) is key to success as an independent consultant.
- Identify an industry
- Identify your consulting domain – strategy, operations, human resources, …
- Identify your micro niche – Six Sigma quality, startup strategy, onboarding, social media marketing, …
- Identify the niche’s high-value opportunities, problems, and trends
- Confirm and review same-size competitors
- Define your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
- Create a Minimum Viable Consulting Offer (MVO)
- Validate a need for your services with the MVO
- Identify potential adjacent industries and specialties
Finding Your Ideal Clients
Finding clients is no longer a case of joining the right country club and schmoozing or making a zillion cold calls. To compete and grow you must find the exact people who need your services and nurture a relationship with them until the time is right and they need you. You can’t force a sale and turn it into a trusting, long term relationship.
- Create a list of potential contacts and referrals you already know
- Create a client profile with data-searchable characteristics
- Test the profile validity in LinkedIn (free)
- Test the size of client base using LinkedIn Navigator
- Find industry associations for networking and speaking
- Develop your Prospect Problem to Client Solution matrix
Setup Your Business Structure
As an independent consultant you work both in and on your business. You must setup a solid foundation with legal, insurance, and tax framework. You also must automate or simplify every business system you can.
- Create a revenue forecast v budget model (If your niche and client profile are valid you will need 3 to 6 months financial reserve.)
- Choose a business name
- Choose and file a legal structure
- File a Doing Business As (DBA) report with local governments
- Obtain an Employee Tax Identification number
- Open a business checking and credit card account
- File with national, state, and local tax agencies
- Buy appropriate insurance (liability and/or errors and omissions)
- Setup accounting software with a chart of accounts for professional services
Promoting Your Consulting Services
You could be the world’s expert in your niche, but if you cannot promote your consulting services you will not grow. Referrals rarely last longer than the first year so it is critical for you to setup proven marketing and promotion systems that work regionally and internationally.
Promoting your consulting services has multiple parts. First, build your foundation, a LinkedIn profile and simple professional website that validate who you are. Second, begin promotion and marketing with two marketing channels from those below.
Creating all of this can takes weeks - keep moving forward and you will build it.
Marketing Planning and Preparation
- Write and memorize your one-line Magnetic Marketing Message
- Write a Cornerstone outline of your services and benefits
- Identify marketing channels that match for you and your clients
- Use SEO analytics to discover your competitor’s top blog topics and keywords
- Create an editorial calendar using your Cornerstone and top competitive blog topics to align and leverage content for speeches, blogs, and articles
- Build an Authority Proof Platform using the following...
Proof of Authority: Testimonials and Case Studies
- Capture detailed testimonials from clients or past employer’s
- Write two or three two-page case studies (clients or prior work as an employee)
- Create a client-oriented LinkedIn profile and picture
- Use your name in the LinkedIn URL
Website and Lead Generator
- Register your web and email domain name
- Subscribe to a web host that has site templates, email services, and CRM (customer list)
- Create a minimal professional consulting website
- Create an email and newsletter template
- Create an editorial calendar to leverage topics
Getting Consulting Clients Quickly
Once you have a foundation to prove your authority and build trust you need magnets to attract and value to nurture prospects. You want to keep them around to prove your value so that when they need help you are the first person that comes to mind.
Connecting, engaging, nurturing, and closing clients is an ongoing process. Start with methods that give short-term results, then build long-term automated marketing and lead generation machines.
- Create an email referral template for others to use when referring you
- Reach out to referral sources with a proven request script
- Thank people who refer to you
- Create high-value LinkedIn post content attractive to target clients
- Automate free post campaigns with LEGAL tools to send to target profiles, on time, at location (using the wrong tools can get you banned on LinkedIn)
- Create an email and newsletter template
- Leverage editorial content through newsletter/blog/post
- Leverage content to association/trade publications
Social Media to Direct Outreach
- Build lists of high potential prospects using the Client Profile
- Use proven scripts and offers to contact, engage, and nurture
- Capture cold contacts
Speaking and Webinars
- Contact association chapters for speaking opportunities
- Create offers and Calls to Action for speaking/webinar lead generation
Website and Lead Generator
- Post case studies and testimonials to your website
- Write and post high-traffic, high-value blogs weekly or bi-weekly
- Post a short (1-2 page) high-value lead opt-in offer to capture visitor’s emails
Calculating and Setting Fees
Most independent consultants initially charge hourly or daily fees that are too low. If you are going to thrive and grow you must move as quickly as possible to project-based fees that cover all income, costs, and profit margin.
- Calculate brackets for your hourly/daily rate using,
- Comparable employee method
- Market rate method
- Cost + margin method
- Know your minimum rate for the negotiations
- Create a project-fee estimator worksheet
- Develop a network of trusted sub-contractors
- Work up to the ROI-fee based model
Selling Consulting Services
Most people do not like to sell. But as consultants we have to think of ourselves as doctors. We have a duty to help people improve their business and their lives. It is a moral imperative to help prospects with problems become your clients with a solution. Consultants who easily convert prospects to clients usually use a conversation process that comes naturally to consultants.
- Research the individual prospect’s situation
- Know this specific Prospect Problem to Client Solution matrix
- Agree on meeting agendas
- Offer a Discovery Session to develop empathy and gain insights into issues
- Know the Questions Script that converts prospects to clients