How to Start a Consulting Business in 2024

How to Start a Consulting Business in 2024

Consulting is a great way to turn your expertise into a well-paid, flexible career. Consultants set their own hours and rates, and often enjoy a high profit margin with minimal overhead. Consultants typically do not execute hands-on work within a client’s systems and projects; rather, they provide clients with resources, strategies, expert advice, and a fresh set of eyes on problems.

While “consulting” is a very broad term that can refer to many experts, there are several core principles you can learn and apply to consulting in your industry. By the end of this step-by-step guide, you’ll have a stronger understanding of:

Remember that good consultants are true experts in their field. It's hard to run a consulting business with little experience. When considering starting a consulting business, think about what you're passionate about and experienced in. This will help you start a profitable consulting practice that you love.

Popular types of consulting services in 2024

You can start a side business as a consultant, or make it your full-time focus. Consultants are in demand across many industries—these are some of the most popular.

Business strategy

Business strategy consultants help other business owners make important decisions. If you’re experienced in running profitable companies, you can make a living helping other entrepreneurs launch startups and grow new businesses.

A business strategist may work with clients on an ongoing basis, or for a fixed period of time—such as during a product launch. As a strategist, you may find yourself giving advice about or developing procedures regarding:

  • The best way to allocate personnel and financial resources
  • Identifying and reaching goals
  • Measuring and tracking progress
  • Improving alignment between teams
  • Business structure and organizational changes

Successful business strategists’ skill sets include:

  • Market research
  • Competitor analysis
  • Planning and development
  • Process auditing and testing
  • Cost/benefit analysis

Business analysis

Business analysts work with corporate leaders to improve decision-making. Like business strategists, analysts may work with a client on an ongoing basis or for a set project term. If you are comfortable collecting, evaluating, and working with data to improve operations, you may enjoy working as a business analyst consultant.

Business analysts keep cost and efficiency in mind. In this role, you may help your clients:

  • Organize and understand existing business data
  • Identify relationships between data and business events or outcomes
  • Use data to set measurable goals with clear key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Develop best practices and process for data collection
  • Communicate data-driven decisions to various stakeholders

For success as a business analyst consultant, you’ll need the following skills:

  • Research and development
  • Data analysis
  • Project management
  • Written and verbal communication
  • Process auditing and testing
  • Reporting

Legal

Legal consultants are lawyers and attorneys who provide expert advice to clients. They do not offer representation during litigation. As a legal consultant, you may work with corporations or other law firms in need of specialized expertise.

In your work as a legal consultant, you could:

  • Audit and provide feedback on internal corporate policies
  • Advise on the creation of new policies and procedures
  • Support compliance initiatives
  • Review contracts, non-disclosure agreements, and other legal documents
  • Help your clients protect their business assets

It’s important that legal consultants have:

  • Prior experience working at a law firm or public defender’s office
  • Deep experience in a particular area of law, such as corporate or tax litigation
  • Strong communication skills

UX design

User experience (UX) design consultants do more than creating deliverables or wireframes for websites. As an experienced UX consultant, you will guide clients through the process of planning and creating a user-friendly app or website.

UX design consultants’ work can include:

  • Researching target customers
  • Auditing existing apps and websites
  • Running usability tests
  • Developing overall UX strategy
  • Troubleshooting

Many UX design consultants work on a per-project basis to help companies launch a new digital experience. In order to provide the necessary perspective to be a successful UX design consultant, you should have:

  • Prior experience working as a UX designer
  • The ability to test and audit existing digital content
  • Strong communication and delegation skills

Graphic design

A graphic design consultant’s work may overlap, in some ways, with that of a UX design consultant. While UX design consultants focus on digital experiences, a graphic design consultant may focus on a broader set of initiatives including:

  • Providing insight on print and cross-platform graphic design
  • Aiding in the development of overall design strategy
  • Helping clients integrate design assets into their marketing plan
  • Serving as an art director for client campaigns

To work as a graphic design consultant, you should have prior experience working as a designer and strong skills in:

  • Design programs
  • Color theory
  • Typography
  • Marketing
  • Communication

Digital marketing

Digital marketing consultants audit, improve, and develop strategies for clients. In this role, your work may include:

  • Helping clients establish attainable marketing goals
  • Building strategy roadmaps
  • Setting KPIs
  • Audience segmentation
  • Developing buyer personas
  • Reviewing analytics
  • Researching competitors

As a digital marketing consultant, you may provide general services or specialize in one area, such as:

It’s important that digital marketing consultants have strong research and analysis skills, as well as demonstrated experience with best practices for their sub-specialities.

Writing

A writing consultant may work one-on-one with clients, such as company executives and business owners, or with a corporate team. The day-to-day work of a writing consultant might include:

  • Helping individual clients improve their written communications
  • Developing or evaluating corporate communications
  • Reviewing and improving public relations messaging
  • Conducting brand messaging audits
  • Developing inclusive language guidelines
  • Creating company style guides

The specific services you provide will most likely depend on your prior experience and any related degrees you may hold. Before launching a writing consulting business, you should hold several years’ experience as a professional writer or editor. It’s also a good idea to develop these essential skills:

Editing

Editing consultants’ work may overlap in several ways with that of a writing consultant. Like writing consultants, editors may work one-on-one with a client or advise a corporate team. Editing consultants may:

  • Aid clients on a specific project, such as a shareholder publication
  • Provide ongoing advice
  • Develop editing guidelines

An editing consultant should have prior experience working as a professional editor and be comfortable with grammar, syntax, and any style guides relevant to their target clients’ industries.

Translating

Translation consultants, sometimes called foreign language consultants, help their clients accurately reach audiences in more than one language. While working in this role, you may:

  • Directly translate text between two or more languages
  • Proofread and edit existing translations
  • Compare translations to the source material for accuracy
  • Conduct live translation

To work as a translation consultant, you should read, write, and speak more than one language fluently. This can include living, rare, or dead languages like Latin. It is also a good idea to have a familiarity with your source material when translating, so you may want to pick a service to specialize in. For example, you may opt to focus on:

  • The translation of academic or religious texts
  • Translation for international business purposes
  • Live translation of government or business meetings

Project management

Project management consultants do not take over projects for clients, rather, they help businesses improve their existing practices. As a project management consultant, you will evaluate clients’ projects and provide advice on a variety of things including:

  • Process optimization
  • Goal setting and tracking
  • Change management
  • Project management methodologies
  • New systems and tools

Before becoming an independent consultant, you should have experience working as a professional project manager. It may also be helpful to obtain a project management certification.

Project management consultants may choose to specialize in a particular industry, such as construction or software development. They can also consult on specific project management methodologies and frameworks such as:

  • Waterfall
  • Agile
  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Six Sigma
  • Lean

Accounting

Accounting consultants help their clients develop and implement sound financial processes. Their work may include:

  • Conducting audits
  • Reviewing clients’ books
  • Advising on accounting processes
  • Researching compliance matters
  • Giving tax and reporting advice

As an accounting consultant, you can choose the type of clients you prefer to work with, including:

  • Large corporations or small businesses
  • Public or private companies
  • For-profit or nonprofit organizations

To succeed as an accounting consultant, you should:

  • Have prior experience working as a professional accountant
  • Be familiar with the financial and industry regulations that impact your target audience
  • Hold an accounting degree
  • Be a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Finance

Financial consultants may work with corporate clients or individuals. When working with a corporation, a financial consultant’s work may lean heavily on financial analysis. In this capacity, they might research other companies’ finances and provide advice on:

  • Mergers
  • Acquisitions
  • Stock purchases and sales
  • Compensation packages

When working with individual clients, however, financial consultants often serve as personal financial advisors. If you opt to work with these types of clients, you may:

  • Provide investment advice
  • Review investment portfolios
  • Aid clients in planning for major life events
  • Research opportunities for personal investments
  • Advise on matters related to retirement planning
  • Provide tax advice
  • Conduct risk assessments
  • Monitor client investments
  • Provide regular investment performance updates

In order to become a financial consultant, you should have a university degree and prior experience working as an analyst or advisor for a larger company. Some independent financial consultants get their start working for consulting firms before branching out on their own.

Video

Video consultants bring their experience to corporate or small business projects. These consultants are typically not the person doing the filming, however, they may work closely with internal teams and other independent video professionals. A video consultant’s services vary, including:

  • Helping teams improve their video scripts and storyboards
  • Advising on production and art direction
  • Developing a strategy for using video as a marketing asset
  • Crafting brand guidelines for video production
  • Aligning client teams on a video’s goals, purpose, and call to action
  • Exploring ways to make clients’ videos more profitable

When working as a video consultant, you might choose to specialize in a particular type of video, such as corporate content, commercials, social media, and more.

Before launching a video consulting business, you should have prior experience doing video production in an industry related to that of your ideal clients.

HR

Human Resources consultants may provide support to small businesses that do not have a large internal HR team, or advise corporations facing specific problems. When working with small businesses, an HR consultant’s work may be more implementation and project-based. When working with large companies, HR consultants may do more high-level advising.

When working as an HR consultant, you could:

  • Review or create company handbooks
  • Implement new benefits packages
  • Support internal teams during benefits enrollment periods
  • Provide guidance on industry compliance
  • Audit internal policies
  • Develop onboarding and off-boarding procedures

Before starting an HR consulting business, decide if you would prefer to do general consulting work or specialize in a particular area of HR, such as benefits or labor and industry regulations. Regardless of your focus, you should have:

Mental health

Mental health consultants work in different roles depending on whether their clients are individuals or businesses. When working with individuals, a mental health consultant may conduct interventions or provide other one-on-one support. With corporate clients, a mental health consultant may help companies:

  • Start or improve behavioral health programs
  • Implement new processes
  • Craft guidelines for company-wide mental health and wellness programs
  • Establish an employee assistance program (EAP)
  • Choose benefits options that prioritize mental health

To work as a mental health consultant, you should have:

  • A master’s degree in psychology
  • A certification as a licensed counselor or social worker
  • Prior experience working as a professional mental health provider

Education

Schools, colleges, and universities turn to education consultants for help with ongoing problems. An education consultant might:

  • Evaluate current educational curriculums
  • Develop new curriculum guidelines
  • Improve specialized education programs

Education consultants typically work with client schools on a project basis, not an ongoing arrangement. To work as an education consultant, you should have an education degree and prior experience as a teacher, professor, or school administrator.

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Starting your consulting business in 14 steps

Building a successful consulting business requires careful preparation. Before launching your consulting programs, it’s important to ensure there’s a market—and demand—for what you can provide. You should:

1. Focus on your offering and services

2. Research product and offering market trends

3. Know your ideal customer

4. Create a value proposition

5. Create your consultation price structure

6. Invest in necessary resources

7. Obtain state registrations and licenses

8. Keep accounting & invoice compliance

9. Develop personal brand guidelines

10. Create business processes

11. Practice your sales pitch

12. Market your consulting services

13. Find your clients & jobs

14. Keep trying

Following these steps will help you build a marketable and profitable consulting business in your industry of choice.

1. Focus on your offering and services

First and foremost, it’s important that consultants have demonstrable experience related to the services they offer. If you’re considering consulting as a career path, start by drilling down into your own work history. Think about:

  • Business problems you’ve solved, with measurable success
  • Any advanced or unique skills that you have
  • KPIs you’re consistently able to set and meet

Use the answers to the above questions to help you narrow down a service you can offer as a consultant. Be specific—offering a service as an “email marketing consultant for high-converting coaching funnels” is much more targeted than simply saying you’re an “email marketing consultant.” This level of specificity can help you connect with your ideal client and stand out from competitors.

Being specific about the kinds of services you offer can also help you avoid overwhelm and burnout. You don’t have to offer a service package based around every single skill you possess. Picking one service—or a limited set of services—can keep things manageable.

The service (or services) you select should be things you’re comfortable advising on, implementing, and tracking. As a consultant, you may develop strategy, do some hands-on work, or serve as a knowledge resource.

2. Research product and offering market trends

Consultants can work in almost any industry, but you should do some due diligence to make sure there’s a demand for what you want to offer.

Research the market you’d like to position yourself in. Take note of the number of potential customers in your operating area, if limited by geography, and any similar businesses serving that market.

If there are a lot of similar companies all competing for a limited customer pool, you may have a harder time differentiating yourself from the competition. This doesn’t mean you can’t launch your consulting business, but you might want to be very strategic about your value proposition and marketing.

If there are very few companies offering similar services to you, it may mean that you will have limited competition. That’s a great thing! However, it could also mean that there isn’t a demand for what you offer—which will be challenging. Start exploring this possibility within your own network. Is there anyone you can talk to who can provide insight as to common challenges and existing solutions for the type of clients you’d like to target?

Your local municipality or country may also have useful data-backed resources that you can use to determine what type of demand there is for your services. In the United States, the Small Business Administration website is a great place to start.

3. Know your ideal customer

As you begin to conduct market research and take notes about potential customers groups, you can turn this data into audience segments and buyer personas.

Audience segments are groups of your potential customers who share similar traits. Buyer personas are fictional profiles that outline what these groups might look like if represented as a single individual. It’s important to carry out this step so that you:

  • Know if there’s more than one group of people you can market your services to
  • Identify differences in the way you should communicate with each group
  • Offer services that align with each audience segment’s core needs

When considering your potential customers, you may want to think about more than just the person who might pay you for your consulting help. There are multiple stakeholders who could have a role in your client companies’ decisions to work with you. These people include:

  • End users, who will carry out day-to-day tasks with the tools and processes you bring to their company
  • Internal influencers involved in the buying decision, even if they won’t be working with you directly
  • Buyers, who make the final decision and sign the contract to work with you

Depending on the size of your clients’ companies, one or more people may hold these roles. If you’re working with small businesses, the owner may be both the buyer and end user. For corporations, you may want to appeal to each of these groups’ needs separately. Establishing this up front with buyer personas will help to make your marketing much easier.

For each ideal customer persona, consider:

  • Where do they live?
  • How old are they?
  • What’s their role at work?
  • What are their biggest pain points and problems?
  • Are they struggling with any undesirable outcomes?
  • How averse are they to risk?
  • Are there any problems with competing consultants and services they may be currently using?
  • What is their day-to-day experience like?
  • What motivates them at work?
  • What is the ideal goal or benefit they could achieve by working with you?

If your clients are in a business-to-business (B2B) industry, you may also wish to consider their clients’ pain points and goals as well. Even though you are helping to solve your client’s immediate problems, it ultimately impacts the way they serve their customers as well.

Demographics

Demographics are statistics and details that relate to a given population group. This kind of information is extremely useful when considering your audience, as it allows you to group similar sets of potential customers together into segments. Demographic information includes, but is not limited to:

  • Age
  • Education level
  • Employment
  • Industry
  • Family size
  • Birth and death rate
  • Marriage rate
  • Language
  • Location

Let’s say you know that you want to offer your consulting services to regional businesses producing less than 1 million in revenue annually. While conducting market research, you discover that these business owners:

  • Are between 30 and 65 years old
  • Hold a high school diploma or bachelor’s degree
  • Speak English or French fluently

You can use this information to group your target market into segments. For example, you might break them down like this:

  • French-speaking college graduates under 50 years old
  • English-speaking high school graduates over 50 years old

You can obtain this demographic data from governmental databases, social media accounts, Google Analytics, and email marketing programs, among other resources.

Psychographics

Psychographics are similar to demographics but focus more on values, hobbies, interests that motivate your target customer’s actions. This can include:

  • Spending habits
  • Personality traits
  • Interests
  • Hobbies

Using this information, we may decide to further refine our customer segments from the previous example:

  • French-speaking college graduates under 50 years old, actively using social media
  • English-speaking, high school graduates over 50 years old interested in business development
  • Bilingual individuals of all ages and education levels involved in local sporting leagues
  • Bilingual college graduates of any age who take more than one vacation a year

We could continue in this vein with more data points until we had several clear groups of potential customers. This data can then be used to develop personality profiles (personas) of fictitious clients that represent each segment.

What is an ideal customer?

Ultimately, your ideal customer is someone who:

  • Has a need for your expertise
  • Aligns with your business values
  • Has a project or problem that is a fit with your services
  • Is able and willing to pay your quoted rates

When you’re first starting out as a consultant, it can be tempting to say “yes” to every potential client inquiry. However, it’s important to know your ideal customer and say no to projects and people that aren’t the right fit.

Despite your advance planning, it’s possible that you will discover your ideal client parameters change over time. You also might find out that someone who seems like an ideal client on paper isn’t ideal in reality.

This is all normal. Just as it’s okay to say no to projects that aren’t the right fit, you can decline repeat work with a prior client who is no longer a good fit. Your ideal customer profiles aren’t set in stone—they may evolve over time along with other aspects of your business.

4. Create a value proposition

As a consultant, your value proposition outlines the benefits your clients receive when working with you. A value proposition is important because it helps you:

  • Communicate the key selling points of your services
  • Distinguish your brand from the competition
  • Keep your marketing, sales, and business development efforts aligned
  • Set customer expectations and satisfy clients

Consider the following when creating your value proposition:

  • What services will you offer your customers?
  • How will these services solve their pain points?

Look at the customer profiles you created in step three and develop answers that align with your ideal customer personas. You can repeat this step more than once to fully capture each audience segment. Your value proposition lies in the way your answers connect to your customer personas.

While a value proposition isn’t the same thing as a slogan or logo, you may choose to summarize your value proposition into a short sentence or paragraph.

5. Create your consultation price structure

The next step in the process is to determine how you will price your services. Your pricing structure is the way in which you bill for your work. It may include a variety of rates that change depending on the service package or length of engagement.

Start developing your pricing structure by looking at what—and how—your competitors charge. Evaluate each competitor’s services, experience, and certifications. You can use these data points to establish whether your pricing should be higher, lower, or equivalent to theirs.

When establishing your pricing structure, keep the following in mind:

  • It may be helpful to keep your rates comparable to competitors, but being new to consulting doesn’t mean you have to keep your rates low.
  • Highlight all of your experience and qualifications.
  • Think about the value (financial or otherwise) that your clients will get as a result of their investment in your services.

Typically, consultants use one of three pricing structures: hourly, per project, or on retainer. There’s no right or wrong way to set up your pricing structure—it all depends on what you’re comfortable with and what your clients expect.

No matter what structure you choose, remember that it’s very important to have a contract in place before you begin any consulting work. If you aren’t using escrow-protected contracts and invoices, you may also want to charge a portion of your rate up front as a deposit.

Hourly

Hourly pricing is very straightforward and is often the pricing structure of choice for new consultants. When using an hourly pricing structure, you charge a set rate for every hour worked. You should track your time carefully, as clients may ask to see how you allocated your billed time. Time tracking apps like Toggl, RescueTime, Everhour, and Harvest make this easy.

Pros:

  • An hour worked is an hour paid.
  • If a project takes longer than expected, you get for this time.
  • If a client wants to add more deliverables to a project, get paid for this time.
  • Setting and raising hourly rates is a fairly simple process.

Cons:

  • It can be hard to estimate the amount of time a project will take, especially when you’re just getting started
  • If a project takes longer than expected, clients may not like having to pay more than originally estimated
  • You should remember to track all of your time, even when firing off a quick email

Project-based

More experienced consultants who have a solid understanding of how long a project will take—and its value to their clients—may opt for a project-based pricing structure. With this model, you charge a flat rate for a specific service or set of services. That doesn’t mean you have to wait until the end of your project to collect any payment, though. You can break your project rates up into a series of milestones, such as:

  1. Initial deposit
  2. Completion of first deliverable
  3. Completion of second deliverable
  4. Remaining project balance

Even though you aren’t billing clients hourly, it’s still a good idea to track your time when working on a project, or flat-fee, basis. This tracking can help you establish a baseline for how long different kinds of projects take, ensure you aren’t under-charging on flat-rate work, and aid in personal time management.

Pros:

  • Project-based pricing gives you a lot of flexibility regarding when you work.
  • Your revenue on a project isn’t directly tied to hours worked. If a project takes less time than expected, you could make more than if you charged hourly.
  • This type of pricing works well for one-time projects.

Cons:

  • You have to correctly estimate how much time you’ll spend on a project
  • If a project takes more time than expected, you may make less money than if you charged hourly.
  • If the project does not have a clear statement of work, you may experience scope creep. This is when a client asks for additional work or deliverables that may seem small, but add up to extra time.
  • You may find it is necessary to be firm in what the project rate does and does not include.

Project-based

More experienced consultants who have a solid understanding of how long a project will take—and its value to their clients—may opt for a project-based pricing structure. With this model, you charge a flat rate for a specific service or set of services. That doesn’t mean you have to wait until the end of your project to collect any payment, though. You can break your project rates up into a series of milestones, such as:

  1. Initial deposit
  2. Completion of first deliverable
  3. Completion of second deliverable
  4. Remaining project balance

Even though you aren’t billing clients hourly, it’s still a good idea to track your time when working on a project, or flat-fee, basis. This tracking can help you establish a baseline for how long different kinds of projects take, ensure you aren’t under-charging on flat-rate work, and aid in personal time management.

Pros:

  • Project-based pricing gives you a lot of flexibility regarding when you work.
  • Your revenue on a project isn’t directly tied to hours worked. If a project takes less time than expected, you could make more than if you charged hourly.
  • This type of pricing works well for one-time projects.

Cons:

  • You have to correctly estimate how much time you’ll spend on a project
  • If a project takes more time than expected, you may make less money than if you charged hourly.
  • If the project does not have a clear statement of work, you may experience scope creep. This is when a client asks for additional work or deliverables that may seem small, but add up to extra time.
  • You may find it is necessary to be firm in what the project rate does and does not include.

Retainer

Retainer pricing structures work well for ongoing work. Clients pay a fixed rate every month and receive a specific amount of deliverables or time in return. Retainer pricing can be a natural evolution of hourly billing. If you have a regular client who needs a consistent service every month, you may opt to move them to retainer billing and streamline the invoicing process.

As with all pricing structures, you should track your time to evaluate efficiency and guard against scope creep.

Pros:

  • Retainers help to make your monthly income more consistent.
  • Your invoicing is the same every month, making it easier to automate.
  • The recurring flat-rate structure may make bookkeeping simpler for both you and your clients.
  • This type of pricing works well for ongoing projects.
  • If your client needs more work on a regular basis, you can increase the retainer hours and rate.

Cons:

  • As with project-based billing, you may want to watch out for scope creep.
  • It can be a good idea to establish policies and procedures around unused or rollover hours.

6. Invest in necessary resources

Clients expect consultants to have access to the necessary resources to complete a task.

For example, an SEO consultant may have a subscription to Ahrefs or SEMRush and use it to audit client websites. A business analyst may maintain subscriptions to relevant databases and refer to this information when working with clients.

It is also important to have access to digital communication and collaboration tools, such as Google Workspace and Zoom.

7. Obtain state registrations and licenses

Before taking on your first client project, it’s important to have your business appropriately licensed and registered. Failing to register your business may result in negative financial, legal, or tax implications.

Independent consultants usually have several options for how they structure their businesses. In the United States, this can include:

  • Sole proprietorship
  • Limited Liability Companies (LLC)
  • S-corporations

As there are different benefits to each arrangement, you may want to engage the help of a lawyer and tax professional to choose the best structure for your business.

It may require several steps to register your business. The process varies by country, state or province but often includes:

  • Registering your business name or fictitious name with local and federal governments
  • Obtaining a tax identification number (in the United States, this is called an EIN and it is issued by the IRS)
  • Receiving zoning approval to conduct business out of your home or another property

8. Keep accounting & invoice compliance

Once your business is properly registered, you can obtain a business banking account and set up a bookkeeping process.

At minimum, you can use a spreadsheet to keep track of your cash flow. There are a number of free and low-cost bookkeeping programs that make this process faster, though, including ones that can connect directly to your bank account and time tracker. Quickbooks, Wave, Zipbooks, and Bonsai are all designed for use by independent business owners. You also enlist the help of an independent bookkeeper to make the process even easier.

It’s important to keep track of your hours worked and expenses incurred. If you work with an accountant, you may need to produce a variety of reports come tax time, including:

  • Balance sheets, which list your company’s assets, debts, and equity
  • Profit and loss (P&L) statements, which provide a summary of all revenues, expenses, and costs

By keeping detailed records, you may also be able to maximize the number of deductions on your tax return. Many consultants have minimal overhead, but may still be able to deduct costs related to equipment, office furnishings, internet, cell phone use, mileage, and software.

Invoicing clients

If you use a dedicated bookkeeping program, it should allow you to invoice clients. If you do not have bookkeeping software, you can use services like PayPal or Stripe to issue invoices and collect payment.

Every invoice should include:

  • The time period for which you are invoicing
  • An invoice title
  • An invoice number—make these sequential and easy to identify
  • A description of the project work billed on the invoice, including a time breakdown if priced hourly
  • A due date
  • The number of days in which the client has to pay the invoice, typically expressed as “Net 14” for two weeks or “Net 30” for a month
  • Instructions regarding invoice payment

You may incur a small fee on every credit card transaction. Some invoicing platforms allow you to optionally pass this fee through to the client. You can also factor this cost into your pricing structure calculations.

Regardless of the program you use, it’s important to keep your invoices recorded and organized. This can be very helpful in the event of any client disputes or tax inquiries.

9. Develop personal brand guidelines

As a consultant, you are your brand. Your personal expertise and experience are the key product that attracts and retains your customers, so it’s important to develop a brand that feels true to who you are.

And even though you know yourself very well, it’s essential to formally outline your brand’s guiding rules, values, and aesthetic. This is called a brand style guide, or brand guidelines.

Having clearly defined brand guidelines helps to keep your business development and marketing efforts consistent. This, in turn, aids in building customer trust and loyalty. When people feel they can trust you as a reliable resource, they may be more likely to choose you instead of a competitor.

Your brand style guide should include:

  • Mission and vision
  • Core guiding values
  • Formation and history
  • Logo usage
  • Colors and fonts
  • Writing style
  • Grammar conventions
  • Social media usage

Your brand guidelines should be straightforward and easy to understand. Start by writing down your approach to each of the items listed above. When finished, share it with a trusted friend or advisor and see if it makes sense to them. If you left the document with them and went on vacation, would they be able to speak on behalf of your brand effectively? If not, try to clarify your brand guidelines further.

10. Create business processes

Even if you’re operating as a business of one, it’s vital to create defined business processes for everything you do. This includes:

  • Onboarding new clients: How will you communicate? What forms do you want your clients to fill out?
  • Creating contracts: Outline standards and best practices, including obtaining signatures, maintaining copies, and collecting deposits.
  • Sharing deliverables: Will you deliver files electronically through a shared system like Google Drive?
  • Invoicing clients: What program do you use to issue invoices and collect payments? When are invoices due? Are there any late fees?
  • Working with others: Do you require specific information or resources from new clients’ teams? How and when will you work with other independent professionals?
  • Responding to requests: How should potential and current clients contact you? What’s the standard turnaround time in which someone can expect to hear back from you?

While you can keep these processes private, having clear documentation will help you remain consistent and further build customer trust. It can also help you keep any future members of your team aligned on expectations and responsibilities.

11. Practice your sales pitch

Whether you’re cold-calling prospects or talking to referrals, you’re going to need a good sales pitch. Pitches aren’t required to be a hard sell, either. Often called an “elevator pitch,” a sales pitch is simply a chance for you to explain your services—and their benefits—in a clear and concise way that speaks to your ideal clients’ needs.

According to the experts at Hubspot, a sales pitch should:

  • Identify and recognize the potential client’s problem
  • Relate to the person you’re speaking with
  • Outline the benefits of working with you
  • Allude to the drawbacks or risks of not working with you

You may wish to use statistics, other customers’ stories, and personal anecdotes to help potential clients relate to your sales pitch.

Many of your clients won’t commit to a sale after one short sales pitch. This is normal and expected. By using the sales pitch to build someone’s interest in your consulting business, you can create an opportunity to follow up with a customized proposal that further outlines services and benefits.

12. Market your consulting services

Of course you don’t have to actually pitch people in elevators. You can use your sales pitch to talk to potential clients that you meet through networking events or marketing efforts.

There are many ways to market your consulting business. Marketing across a variety of channels can help you build brand awareness, connect with a wider variety of customers, and maintain a competitive edge against other consultants.

Start a website

People in every state turn to Google for help finding a consultant, so it’s important that you have a website for your new consulting business. In addition to generating new leads through online searches, you can share your website with other people you meet—kind of like a digital business card.

Simple website builders allow you to put essential information online with the help of clean and responsive templates. At minimum, your website should contain:

  • An overview of your company and services
  • Testimonials from prior clients
  • Contact information
  • A custom domain name

Blogging

Your website is also a great place to publish a blog. Keeping original content on your own site will help you build domain authority and brand awareness.

When your consulting business is new, though, it can also be useful to publish content on other, more established, websites. This can include:

  • Guest posts for industry publications
  • Creating a Medium account
  • Posting full articles on LinkedIn

Each of these options can help you further grow your audience and drive traffic back to your business website.

Be active on social media

Over 4 billion people use social media, making it a great way to connect with potential clients. In order to use social media effectively, though, you will want to identify the platforms that your clients are most likely to use. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook may all be useful for connecting with business owners or decision makers.

Keep an eye on the reach, engagement, and leads you get from each platform and use this data to further refine your social media strategy.

Speaking and webinars

One of the best ways of conveying your value as a consultant is to provide a glimpse of it through webinars and speaking engagements. You can seek out opportunities to speak at industry conferences, or run your own events through platforms like Zoom and Facebook Live.

Webinars may be free or require a paid ticket. Both options have benefits—paid webinars generate immediate revenue, while free webinars can help you build a pipeline of contacts for future business.

Talk to local businesses

If you are able to serve a variety of clients in your local area, it may be time to stop in and say hello. Building a network of local business owners can help you build authority and generate referrals as clients refer you to their colleagues.

13. Find your clients & jobs

No matter where you live and work, you can find great clients online. Start by checking out the platforms listed below—they’re meant for business use, so you can connect directly with other professionals.

Upwork

Upwork’s sole purpose is to connect independent professionals with clients who need their services. When working as a consultant, this benefits you in more than one way. You can easily use Upwork to market your consulting skills, or find other people to help you grow your business.

With Upwork, you can:

  • Create a profile and online portfolio that highlights your experience
  • Reach out to potential clients who have expressed a need for your skill sets
  • Get direct messages from other business owners in need of help
  • Give and receive referrals from other consultants in your industry
  • Invoice all of your clients—even those who aren’t on Upwork—with free, payment-protected Direct Contracts

LinkedIn

LinkedIn acts like an online resume, giving you a place to list all of your current and prior work experience. You can associate portfolio items and testimonials with each listed role as well.

The platform’s built-in publishing tools and social media news feeds give consultants a variety of ways to interact and network with colleagues and potential clients. You can even search for open job listings or showcase your consulting packages with a LinkedIn Service Page.

Indeed

While many of the listings on Indeed are for traditional part- or full-time employment, there are some consulting opportunities available. You can post your resume on Indeed, which allows potential clients to find and reach out to you through the platform.

14. Keep trying

Starting any business—including consulting—comes with challenges. It may take some time to build up your client base, and you may hit some bumps along the way. However, many self-employed consultants feel that any tough spots are worth it. By not giving up, you can build a business that allows you life changing flexibility, great income, and the chance to be your own boss.

Building your consulting business

Use the world’s work marketplace to connect with clients and other independent professionals that can help you grow your business. Find high quality consulting opportunities and work more strategically by creating an account on Upwork today.

This article is intended for educational purposes and should not be viewed as legal or tax advice. Please consult a professional to find the solution that best fits your situation.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

Author Spotlight

How to Start a Consulting Business in 2024
Emily Gertenbach
B2B SEO Content Writer & Consultant

Emily Gertenbach is a B2B writer who creates SEO content for humans, not just algorithms. As a former news correspondent, she loves digging into research and breaking down technical topics. She specializes in helping independent marketing professionals and martech SaaS companies connect with their ideal business clients through organic search.

How to Start a Consulting Business in 2024
B2B SEO Content Writer & Consultant

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