Before you start a consulting business browse through the six steps below:
Build up your rolodex. Start planning a year or two ahead if you can. Build relationships within your current work environment with colleagues, suppliers, competitors – anyone who will be a good contact for you when you start your consulting business. LinkedIn can be a great way to stay in touch with key people.
Define your area of expertise. What service needs are missing in your industry? Where do people struggle the most? This is where your biggest opportunities can be found. List your strengths and area of specialty. Who can benefit the most from this knowledge? This is your ideal client. Don't try to offer something to everyone. You will be far more successful by applying your expertise to a niche market that needs what you have to offer. In this way you can tailor your services so they really add value to a specific group of people or businesses.
- Create a set of talking points around you and your services. Think of these like 30 second sound bites, or mini sales pitches; short, concise descriptions of what you do and how you do it. These talking points should highlight the reasons you are different than other consultants in your field. They first thing you should talk about is the value you bring to your clients. How can you help them? What will they experience after using your services? What will they gain from you? You will want to practice saying these points out loud, and be sure to time yourself. A good consultant spends more time listening than talking, so before building a lengthy sales presentation read Basic Skills That Every Successful Sales Person Should Have.
Create templates for proposals. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel each time you do a new proposal or project. Design forms and fill in the blank templates. This will ensure your work always has the same look and feel, and covers all of the relevant points. Also be sure to have a one page description of your and your services that can be emailed to prospective clients. I like to use a "Frequently Asked Questions" format.
Design your pricing structure. Put it in writing. When someone asks “How much?”, you want the answer to roll easily off your tongue. Don't under-price either. Your time is of value. If you don't believe that you need to revamp your service offering. You should also have a pricing template to help you estimate the time a project will take so you price appropriately. To get started with pricing read Developing Rates and Policies.
- Know what comes next. Lay out the sales and design process. Have contracts ready. The worst thing is when someone says “yes” and you realize you have no idea what to do next. Be prepared and ready so when they say “yes” you can lay out a time line and expectations for the next few steps.