What It Takes to Start a Consulting Business

4 min read · 8 years ago


Do you have experience and knowledge in an area where others need help?

If so, and you like the idea of helping others with your expertise or even teaching them, you might consider becoming a consultant. It’s not a job for everyone, as it requires patience and a keen sense of responsibility, but there’s a true sense of satisfaction when you can help another person.

The world of consulting is a wide one, with lots of options. The only elements limiting you are your creativity and expertise. Consulting isn’t a cookie cutter business, but requires a lot of outside the box thinking.

As with any business, there are a number of hurdles to overcome. If you’re considering starting a new consulting business, it’s a good idea to talk to others who are successful in their area.

Get the word out!

The most difficult stage for a consultant is that first step. Getting that initial client, who doesn’t mind that you don’t have a single reference. You’re asking him or her to trust you without any prior experience (as a consultant), which can be rough. However, once you have one client under your belt, the second is much easier to get.

Kyle Cushman, owner of Word Artisan VT, is a writing coach, providing guidance and feedback to a variety of writers. Having been a teacher for twenty years, the coaching aspect came naturally, but when she stopped teaching at colleges, many of those initial connections disappeared and she found she had to start over forging new relationships.

“Word of mouth works best,” she said. “I learned to keep in touch with colleagues connected with schools. I’d also check in periodically with other writers, leave my business cards at the local colleges, put up signs, etc. I’d basically do anything I could to let people know what I do and how I can help them.”

It’s important to continue to promote your business, keeping the word of mouth momentum going, no matter what hiccups life may offer. Continue to get the word out along the channels that work the best for you.

Here are some popular and inexpensive ways to promote:

  • Blog, guest blog
  • Create newsletters (both email and physical if you have distribution)
  • Post flyers around town
  • Hand out business cards
  • Email your contact list to get referrals
  • Phone people you know to get referrals

Try them all in the beginning to see which one produces results. What works for one entrepreneur might not be the best avenue for you.

Gain credibility

When someone wants to hire a consultant for their business or an aspect of their life, they’re looking for someone to solve a problem for them and also mentor them. It’s a personal relationship that sometimes runs deep. People won’t hire you if they don’t trust you.

Kelly Kerans, owner of Kerans Consulting, a PR and marketing company, finds the hardest battle to overcome is gaining credibility. She will sometimes spot basic problems with a small business, but finds the owners aren’t open to change.

“They feel there is no way an outsider could possibly do anything for their business. After all, the consultant hasn’t ever run their particular kind of business,” Kerans said. “The fact is, in the world of marketing, every business will follow the same principles. I don’t have to be a window washer to know how to promote their business. So, it all comes down to credibility.”

Overall, it’s always going to be tough to talk someone into hiring you, who doesn’t know you, and who doesn’t think they need to do anything differently. They’re likely to look at you like a peddler of snake oil.

“I have found that if you wait for them to come to you, they’re more receptive to your ideas, more open to the idea of change, and that’s when the consulting becomes most beneficial for them.”

Of course, if you can approach people you already know, you don’t need to worry about gaining their trust. However, you still need to gain credibility as a consultant. This might be harder if they’re accustomed to hanging out with you at the local pub for Monday Night Football.

Kerans handles this by just talking to them, shooting ideas around about what could possibly help them. “When they see I’m good at what I do, they’ll allow me to work on one small project. After I get results with that, they’ll ask me to do more and more. Then I’m in!”

Of course, nothing beats incredible word of mouth for solid credibility. After all, if your friend recommends a movie to you, aren’t you more likely to see it? I know that I am! Same goes with any service person. I prefer to hire people that my friends use with success.

Network to stay current

Depending on your field of expertise, one of your biggest challenges might be to keep up with the latest trends. Anyone in a technical industry can’t fall behind for even a few months.

Dawn Chitwood, owner of Asheville Marketing Solutions, started her digital marketing consulting business three years ago. Since the field is always changing, it can be difficult to keep up.

When she thought about how she overcame this barrier, Chitwood said, “Over the years I’ve developed a reliable network of colleagues who specialize in the many different areas of online marketing. This has made it possible for me to offer clients a comprehensive and varied plan for their businesses.”

It’s always easier and more effective if you can utilize the skills of other professionals in specialized areas of your profession. Otherwise the daunting task of keeping current might seem impossible.

“Capitalize on your strengths and outsource your weaknesses,” Chitwood advises. And if you don’t know what your strengths and weaknesses are, take the time to outline them, so that you can create a business strategy that will work into the future.

Getting started as a consultant is harder to do than other professions. You must gain credibility and good word of mouth from the start. However, once you establish yourself, you’ll build momentum and as long as you continue to promote and keep current, you’ll be in a position where you can help others. There is no more rewarding job than that!