First steps in consulting: now what?

You’ve decided you want to start your own business and become a consultant. Great! Now what? Making the decision to become a consultant is just the first step in actually becoming a consultant. Sure, anyone can hand out business cards at a party, but, to really start a consulting business, you need to do more than just call yourself a consultant. Once you’ve wrapped your mind around the idea of running your own consulting business, you’re not finished.  Your next challenge is to actually set up your consulting business – and what a job indeed! (Incidentally, read how I became a consultant.)

Assess your consulting spirit.

Are you really suited to being an independent consultant, as opposed to a consultant working in a corporate job with scheduled hours, regular pay, vacation, benefits and other perks? Go through our “should I become a consultant?” checklist. You might also want to think about whether you’d enjoy working from home — or whether you should rent a desk or office. Doing a personal inventory is a great way to assess your consulting potential — check out my Discover Your Inner Consultant guide.

Choose your consulting field.

At this stage of the game, you don’t need to know the specifics of the kind of consulting you want to do or the market you’re going to target. However, you do need to have an idea of your consulting field. You should have a vague idea of whether you’re better suited to medical consulting or business consulting, for example. Your job and work history may help point you in the right direction. And take a look at all the kinds of consultants you can become! But, if you’re not sure what kind of consulting business would suit you, consider downloading my Discover Your Inner Consultant guide. Sometimes, it just helps to go through a process of discovering your passions, skills, talents and unique opportunities.

Take an inventory of your skills and experience.

Make a list of your skills – whether they’re unique or more general. Think about your hobbies, interests, work history, talents, personality, knowledge, and expertise. This free skills inventory worksheet can help you get started. Once you’ve got an inventory of your skills, provide some examples from your job history, so that your experience and skills match up. If you haven’t done this before or you’re not sure how to assess your background, my Discover Your Inner Consultant guide is actually custom-designed to help you develop a personal inventory for consulting.

Note your opportunities.

Given your skills and experience and what’s going on in the market, do any opportunities jump out at you? Can you target an unfilled niche, by providing unique services or going after a global market? Can you improve the quality of the consulting already available? Can you add value to basic consulting services by offering extras or cross-selling other services? (My Discover Your Inner Consultant guide points out about three dozen ways to generate business ideas using these kinds of questions.)

Narrow down your consulting field.

Given your skills, experiences and opportunities, can you select a specific type of consulting? For example, in the 1990s, I harnessed my writing skills and passion for technology so that I could target the up-and-coming high tech market. I became a high tech marketing consultant. But I probably wouldn’t target those gigs in today’s climate.

Evaluate your consulting opportunity.

Once you’ve figured out what kind of consultant you want to be, you need to figure out how to turn your idea into a profit. You need to figure out the best target market, how to find clients and how to set up your business. This is the stage where you need to develop a basic plan that addresses:

    1. Business Concept: What consulting you’ll sell. (Your consulting business idea or the kind of consulting business that you’ve identified by doing a personal inventory.)
    2. Business setup. How you’ll operate the business – as a sole proprietor, partnership, corporation or other entity.
    3. Business environment. The regulatory and competitive environment.
    4. Marketing. How you’ll reach and retain clients.
    5. Operations. How you’ll run the business.
    6. Finance. How much money you’ll need to make to keep the business going.

    Make a consulting business plan.

    Once you’ve gone through these steps and completed some basic research, you’ll be ready to start a business plan — and start working from home or an office!

    Want help in making the transition to consulting? Enroll in the official Consultant Journal course — Become a Consultant: How to Make the Leap. With audio and written lessons, 25 exercises, discussion forums and more, you’ll have mentorship in your journey to consulting.

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      “First steps in consulting: now what?” from Become a Consultant at ConsultantJournal.com.

      admin says:

      Hi Victor,
      Those are good questions. It really depends on how your relationship is set up with the agency. Honestly, a really good (free) way to find out is to call the IRS and ask them what the status of a hypethetical situation would be. Just say you’re thinking of starting a business and you wonder how they’d handle a situation such as ______.

      Your questions are not remotely silly or ignorant. Navigating the financial part of consulting is often what brings people to this site!

      Victor says:

      Thank you for all this information. It’s been very helpful. However, I’m still confused on how to become a “legal” independent consultant.

      For example, I was laid off 2 years ago and was just hired as a consultant via an agency for a client of theirs. The hours aren’t bad but not exactly what I was looking for, which is why I’m considering becoming an independent consultant. In my field I have a good track record and over 10 year experience. But is working through an agency the same as an “independent consultant”? Maybe it is and I’m just confused. If its not, then am I considered an “external consultant”? If I am, then how can I become recognized as a legal independent consultant? What specific legal paperwork, if any, do I need to fill out? Are state laws different in each state for independent consultants? If I am working as an “external consultant” do I get tax write-off privileges like imdependent ones? If so, on what?

      The agency I now working for asked me two days ago if I was a W-2 or Corp, is that the difference between an extermal and independent consultant?

      I apologize if my questions sound silly and very ignorant. Any help or guidance would be very much appreciated. Thank you!

      Paul says:

      I have been employed in management for manufacturing companies for 16 years. Today, a company with an open position decided to hire me as a consultant or independent contractor (I haven’t yet received their proposal). I have no clue what legal requirements exist for me in this capacity, and must prepare for working in two business days. I do not mind purchasing a course, but I can’t dedicate the time over the next two days to just reading that course. I need two recommendations: (1) is the ‘Become A Consultant Course’ a good option – or is their a better course? and (2) is their an abbreviated (purchasable is OK) option that would sum up the raw requirements and things to look out for initially? Probably outside your normal questions, but this is where the stars shine – correct?!
      P.S. I do not agree that my contact info or last name be displayed on your website

      Kevin says:

      Hi Everyone,

      I have been doing sales for quite some time, and I am now looking into becoming an IT consultant. I dont necessary want to start my own firm, but can anyone please offer some guidance of how I could go from sales into consultancy?

      Tom says:

      Relevant information and simplified. I now what kind of a consultant I want to be. How and where do I register and kick this off?

      Carlos says:

      1st: thank you for the great article. I’ve been in the Energy industry / supply chain for 5 years, previously in back-office sales and supply chain for a large computer corporation. One of my 1st projects, when I started my current job, was to renew a contract for one of our consultants… Once I completed the task I asked the consultant about his experience as a consultant and how to get started… To make the story short… I’ve been asking questions to such individuals throughout my time at the company. I am very familiar with the requirements and risks involved, being that I am the one negotiating and carrying out the contract process. Although I do not have my BA… I’ve developed various skills throughout my professional career. My main doubt is going into business for myself without a degree… (Obtaining it is in my near-future plans but believe I have the experience to work for myself already) I’m fluent in two other languages (other than English), have a good eye for business, project – deadline oriented, negotiations, contract writing and above average computer skills (i.e. presentations, charts, reports, etc) I am often told I am very creative (maybe a good or bad thing…) I’m not shy at all and the only step I’ve taken towards starting on my own is network, network, network… {Sorry if this portion of my post seems like a resume…} I’ve had my eye on offering contract management / project management services, for myself, within the energy industry. Would really appreciate some feedback / advice. Thank you

      yoyo says:

      hello,thank you for sharing this.my passion is customer service.please what are the steps i need to take to build myself as a consultant in that field.
      thank you and looking forward to your reply.

      angela mesikenor says:

      I was excited reading this piece on consultancy.
      I have started a management/Training consultancy in my state.
      I am still struggling with the fees i need to charge my clients.
      Please i need your assistance in this regard. I have worked in the bank for over 25 years and retired as a senior officer.

      Jayne says:

      Hi,

      I am looking into the consulting field. I have ten years combined experience in Non profit and marketing sector. I am undecided which field i should focus on.

      Hi Andrea and other Consultants

      I would like to share my idea about becoming marketing consultant. I just started yesterday to be precise.

      So, I don’t have much knowledge but I have similar background.
      I have one guy (probably client) who is owner of few catering related business, probably units no bigger than Subway I think.

      Ok, to make long story short I will show you what happened.

      I’m “fresh” copywriter. I writing sell letters for living. I’m on the Real beginning of this way so you can imagine how it may be.

      To make things even worst I have to tell you that I am not English speaking person.

      I’m Polish. I came to UK around 3 years ago with no language at all. Instead I had BIG dreams about my future.

      Because my own company is not set up yet I have to rely on work for others. I had to look for some opportunity to make some money.

      Currently I’m developing my own products and I need some finance to make it work.
      I need money for advertisements and living also.

      Present time is very difficult for me.

      I gave up my “safe zone” about one year ago. Since this time in my mind is only one idea…To become one of the richest people on the world (nice one isn’t it?)

      Anyway, I “hunted” guy while looking for some job to pay my bills. He is mentioned before owner of catering business.

      He was looking for business partner to join him. He was looking for business partner with money to cover some part of future investments.

      Because I have no money (not this kind money for sure, around 1.000.000, 00 British pounds) I decided to sent him letter with my offer as a marketing consultant.

      He answered to it very fast (I strongly believe that my copy and copywriting techniques made it happen)

      Anyway, I was completely surprised. I never thought that I will be able to make someone do what I really want using only my writing skills.

      What is my point here?

      My prospect was looking for business partner with money to invest in his business. He was looking for former cook, restaurant manager or sandwich maker (with big experience).

      So, I gave him my proposition. I told him that if he will take my services I will give him all my knowledge and experience I have.

      It is amazing but he is really interested.
      He is trying now to employ me as a normal employee. I have meeting with him at the middle of next week.

      So, as soon as I can, I will give you my rapport.

      My point here is to show you that sometimes you don’t need to look for prospect. Instead, you may turn “someone who is looking for help in business” into your prospect.

      In other words, you are able to MAKE your own prospect on demand.

      Everything is a matter of proper words and attitude.

      Best regards

      Andrew Karpinski
      (Food Technologist, Nutrition Advisor)

      Wilma says:

      Well, I was doing that in the beginning but realized that I don’t have the passion for the direct counseling that I thought I had. Working one on one with so much pain for hours a day can be exhausting and I’m not sure I’m up to it–facilitation though I will look into! Thanks so much.

      admin says:

      Wilma..How about going into counselling? Counselling is really a form of consulting. You could also look at facilitation.

      Wilma says:

      Hey, I’m just learning about what a Consultant does. I really see this type of career being much of what I want in terms of flexibility and such. I have no idea what type of consultant to look at being–or what experience I need to gain or focus on. I’m 24 now so I have some time. My ultimate goal and passion is that of public speaking and writing. I grew up in an environment of much abuse and poverty and desire to help other young people come out of that and overcome. Not only that, but to gain skills they need to make it in the workforce and in relationship with other people. I am also a Christian and a lesbian and want to help young people in that as well to learn that they don’t have to lose their faith…that sort of thing. I want to help people practically to overcome certain situations–but I also want to help when it comes to emotions and perseverance. I have a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Biblical Studies and about 40 or so graduate credits in Counseling. Any ideas on what to do or look into?

      Carissa Geelan says:

      Liked the post. Are you doing any new years resolution this year? Mine is to stop smoking and lose all this weight I’ve gained this month lol.

      Michael says:

      Hi,I just wanted to know which one is correct to say: life consultant or life consulting. I am refering to somebody whose job is to give advise to people based on how to improve their lives in different aspects, like financially, etc. Just in case, this person is not someone whose job is to tell people where they can go to have fun.
      Thanks !!!
      Mike

      admin says:

      Jimmy, you need to build out a business plan — with a strong focus on your marketing plan. If you identify your market and their needs, you’ll be in a better position to find clients.

      jimmy says:

      i want to work for a consultant, not start my own firm, to start. i have been a chef for over 15 years and believe i can help alot of people.how do i find firms that can use my help?

      OyedokunOyetunji says:

      I look forward to an exciting moment after have read your journals

      admin says:

      Amy, you might want to have a look at the Become a Consultant course.

      Amy says:

      Hi,
      Can you tell me what I need TO DO to become a consultant? Maybe a phone number I can call? Do I need a business licencse (I’m in CA), do I need insurance? Do I need to have certain billing forms? I am a Registered Dietitian and I am having a really hard time getting any specific information.
      Thank you,
      Amy

      Jessica McCahill says:

      Great information! I am a Tupperware Consultant since 2006 and it is the perfect career for me! I love the flexibility that owning my own business with Tupperware brings me. I have 3 young children and I get to be with them every day and still make money to be able to afford the extras. If an unexpected bill pops up, I know that it can be taken care of because I can make as little or as much as I need because I’m a Tupperware Consultant. I would definitely recommend becoming a Tupperware Consultant. I’d be happy to share information with you. It’s easy and doesn’t require a big investment.

      nishal says:

      This is such a great step and approach. This will help me get started. I own a successful indian restaurant. I’ve been in the business since 1989. I’m 34 and ready to let others know how to set up and start a great indian restaurant.

      Thanks

      Nishal

      John says:

      Congratulation for your blog, this is the best on his field, and believe me I went through a bunch of so-called consulting blog

      Bravo

      Rhona-Mae says:

      Excellent idea Andrea. I wish something like this was available when I first started my business. I will definitely refer to this for tips on growing and maintaining my business effectively.

      Kudos for getting this set up.
      RM