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

30 thoughts on “Starting A Consulting Business? 15 Things To Do Right Now”

  1. Great post, Kris. Excellent suggestions and much appreciated for those of us still getting our legs in the freelance world. Two other items I’d add to this list:

    > Secure your own domain name. From a branding perspective it’s very helpful not only for your web site, but for email. If at some point your consulting enterprise evolves into “and Associates” your colleagues can have email addresses with your domain, as opposed to something generic like @gmail.com.

    > Create a Google Apps account. It bundles together several free services and applications that are invaluable for consultants, including email (with your own domain), calendaring, document sharing, Google sites, mobile email, and more. And because it’s software-as-a-service (SaaS), it’s continually improving at no expense and without requiring software/hardware upgrades. It’s proven to be one of my most valuable assets and helped me keep my start-up costs low.

  2. Great tips, Kris. I put together a similar list for friends. I’ll have to blog about it.

    I’ve done some workshops for new and wanna-be consultants and posted my list of resources for consultants (particularly nonprofit technology consultants) on my web site at http://www.rlweiner.com/nten/consultant_resources.pdf

    And new consultants might find some of the entries in my blog to be helpful, including live blogs from my last 2 workshops on this topic:
    http://www.rlweiner.com/tag/consulting

  3. I think many of your tips are great for a consultant who has already been in business as well. I will add that most large urban areas have Small Business Administration offices, which offer free or low cost business classes on topics of marketing, business development, accounting, etc. They also occasionally have special panels, such as a consultants’ panel.

  4. Thanks for sharing.

    Starting my business online has been a great leveraging tool for my business.

    Getting a website that works, that helps generate traffic, capture leads, and converts site visitors into paying customers is really handy, and can be the difference between success and failure. I once had a website that didn’t work, the new one I have is really great.

    I concur with you that Networking is really vital. Joining BNI (Business Network International) has also been a good source of local referrals for me.

  5. Great advice! One of the things I found that holds back aspiring consultants (myself included, when I first started my consulting business) is fear. Fear of the unknown, not knowing where to start, etc. Getting past those initial fears, taking action, and seeing your progress will propel you forward to achieve things you never thought possible.

    1. I like this comment….I am trying to start a consulting business in Oracle Application (EBS), I have fear of the unknown factors. The comment gives me some sort of confidence.

  6. Kris, thanks for your post. Regarding your tip #8 regarding setting up a phone line, I think this is very important for a practice that is just getting started. I always advise new consultants to set up an online phone system that will give the “appearance of a bigger firm” the advantage of this system is that the calls can for example go to your cell phone and if no one answers go to another phone. Some systems also email you the text transcript of your voice mail.

    At http://www.peakstrategy.com we offer independent consultants, tools, training, products and much more, if anyone is interested in growing their practice.

    1. Thanks for your comment, glad you found the post helpful. We have used FreedomVoice.com as our 800 number for about 8 years and have always been happy with it.

  7. Hi Kirs, Great suggestions for those (especially for me) who are trying to enter into freelance business world. This can be a good starting point.

  8. Thank You very much for your article. I provide consulting for small businesses through my website and wanted to branch into providing one on one services to local clients. One of the main issues that I find is that people want advice for free. It’s annoying.

  9. Thanks for posting your thoughts about starting a consulting business. I admire the comments by all, especially the professionals with experiences and dose already into the business, My greatest obstacle is fear of where to start from or what to do first, I want start a consulting business that cares for students needs/wants.
    The main idea of the business is to provide services to students, through collaboration with other exiting businesses that will be of advantage to my business. I’m clear of my services but I don’t know where to start from or what to do first, I advices.

  10. Fantastic. I am about to be accredited as a trainer/consultant in Nigeria and I will like to share these tips with my colleagues.
    Wale

  11. Social media is one of the most efficient and inexpensive ways to market and brand a consulting business. I highly recommend LinkedIn, not only for creating a profile, but to use for networking, gathering basic information on potential clients, and to engage others through the site’s Groups and Answers features. You shouldn’t overtly market and self-promote your business endeavors on the LinkedIn (that’s bad etiquette), but when you engage others on the platform in a thoughtful and helpful manner it speaks volumes and gets people’s attention – especially those you wish to do business with.

  12. Hey! Kris, thanks for ur tips buddy.it’s fantastic.i think it’s realy helpful for me & all my employes.in future if i need have any quaries i wil contact with u.thanks. paul.

  13. Nice post.Thank you for taking the time to publish this information very useful! I’m still waiting for some interesting thoughts from your side in your next post thanks.

    Dirk Kettlewell

  14. interesting, would have been great to add a piece about formulas for paying consultants and associates memorandum of Understandings etc. trust is the biggest barrier to colaborative working

  15. Business consultants typically work in one of two ways. They are either self-employed or work for a company. Those who are self-employed rely on the perception of value assessed by prospective clients to get work. Those who work for a company might be employed in a corporation doing in-house consulting,

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