Starting A Consulting Business? 15 Things To Do Right Now

In my last post, “So, You Want To Be A Philanthropy Consultant?” I offered 5 questions to consider if you want to become a philanthropy consultant.  No matter what your industry, if you want to take the consulting plunge, here are 15 practical things you should do right away:

  1. Open a business checking account – This is really quite simple. If you like your current bank, walk in and explain that you’d like to open a business checking account. Deposit all of your business income into this account, and write all business-related checks out of this account. This will make for much cleaner bookkeeping and tracking of business income and expenses.  You might also consider a business savings account. I used this to set aside money for taxes (every time I deposited a check, 30% was transferred into my business savings account to save for my quarterly tax payments)
  2. Dedicate one of your credit cards for business expenses only – Similar to having a checking account dedicated to your business, you should have a credit card for all business-related credit card purchases to keep them separate from your personal purchases.  You can use an existing card, and simply declare that starting on X date, this card is dedicated to your business.
  3. Talk to an accountant, preferably someone with small businesses experience – An accountant can help you understand things like how to pay quarterly taxes, how to structure your business (e.g., sole proprietorship, LLC, S Corporation), and what business expenses are deductible.
  4. Talk to an insurance agent or broker – There are several types of insurance you will want to have for yourself: health insurance, disability insurance, and general liability insurance are among the most common.
  5. Make yourself available online – If you google your name, what comes up? It should be a description of your consulting services, complete with information on how to contact you. Even if you don’t want to spend the money just yet on a website, make sure that you have a web presence. This can be done by setting up a profile on LinkedIn and ZoomInfo, and adding yourself to online consultant directories.
  6. Print business cards – Don’t worry if you haven’t figured out your business name and business identity. For now, get some basic business cards inexpensively printed up with “Your Name, Consultant” and your contact information. You need to be able to hand them out at meetings with potential clients and networking events.
  7. Set up a “safe” mailing address – This is important if your office will be at home. Unless you feel completely comfortable sharing your home address with complete strangers on your business cards, website, letterhead, and social networking media sites, I strongly suggest getting a mailbox at your local UPS Store or post office.  This will also come in handy if you live in an area where FedEx packages cannot safely be left at your doorstep.
  8. Set up a business phone line – If there is any chance that your five year old might answer the phone, or your teenage kids could be heard screaming in the background, don’t use your home phone for your consulting business.  You could use your cell phone, but remember once you start giving out your cell phone you can’t take it back.  Many clients will call you in the evening or on the weekends simply to leave a message, because they will assume you have a professional office and they won’t be bothering you in off hours.
  9. Learn everything you need to know about consulting from Alan Weiss. I recommend Alan’s book “Million Dollar Consulting” to everyone who wants to start a consulting business. He’s written many other books, and offers a variety of other services: coaching, workshops, webinars, etc. You can learn more at his website.
  10. Set up a dedicated office space – This could be in your home, or you could rent office space. If your office is at home, make every effort to create a space that is just for your work, and does not double as the dining room, living room, or  your bedroom. It’s important to be able to close a door and not be reminded of work when you are trying to relax.
  11. Tell everyone you know that you are starting a consulting practice, and that you are looking for projects.  People can’t hire you if they don’t know you started consulting! Be as specific as possible regarding the services you offer, the types of projects you are looking for, and who your ideal clients are.
  12. Learn everything you need to know about marketing your consulting business from Robert Middleton and Action Plan Marketing. Action Plan Marketing specializes in helping professional services business attract more clients. His website is full of useful information, much of it free.
  13. Find an anchor client – Easier said than done, it is tremendously helpful to find an “anchor” client. An anchor client provides you with about 25% of your business revenue for several years, so that you are at least guaranteed you can pay your rent or mortgage! When I got started, I was fortunate to be retained on repeat consulting engagements with the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation for 5 years.
  14. Join a consultants group – This is a great way to learn from other consultants and find consultants to partner with on larger projects. There might be a local consultants group in your area and industry. The best way to find out is to ask other consultants.  Philanthropy consultants can also join the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers.
  15. Network, network, network – You never know where your next project will come from, so it is important to be in regular contact with a range of potential clients. Set a goal for the number of people you want to set up phone calls or lunch meetings with each week. Don’t stop networking when you have plenty of work – the best time to network is when you are busy, and you can share all the great things you are doing for other organizations.

Good luck with your consulting practice and let me know if you have other tips to share. If you found this blog post useful, please subscribe! On Twitter? Follow Philanthropy411 at @Philanthropy411

Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly  © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2009

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