How to Start a Consulting Business: Get Ready to Launch
Every day when I walk to my office in Brooklyn, the majority of people are walking in the other direction towards the subway. I assume many of them are heading to their jobs in Manhattan, and by the looks on their faces, that a good number of them are completely miserable. Mind you, it’s 8 am and they’re about to get on a crowded subway train, but I’m sure it runs deeper than that for some people.
It is my assumption and my experience that they’re marching towards a job that doesn’t inspire them or doesn’t pay them enough or doesn’t express who they are beyond what they do. This is one reason why we’re seeing so many professionals consider starting a consulting business. They want to operate in their zone of genius and do so on their own terms.
I daydream about standing near the subway entrance yelling, “Turn around, come to my office, let me help you!” However, ignoring all the insane things you encounter on a daily basis is a base level coping mechanism for most people who live in NYC, so I don't think that would work too well. This series of articles will have to do the trick.
I help consultants monetize their knowledge so they can grow their business without sacrificing their health, family or personal interests. But it all starts with them knowing what they want to do. I know there are all sorts of tests you can take to find your true calling, but I’ll assume you already have an idea of the services you can offer based on your previous experiences. Besides, I took one of those “ideal career” tests in junior high and it said I should be a forest ranger. Ever since then, I’ve somewhat lost faith in a standardized test being able to determine your career.
Assuming you have a general idea of what you’d like to do or are already offering consulting services, I’m going to detail how you can start or scale your business over a series of articles. Here are the first two steps.
Do deep research on your target audience
I’m sure you have a target audience in mind, but you’ll need to perform extensive research to make sure you fully understand who they are and how you can help them. This goes beyond a user persona — you’ll need to develop a deep understanding of their psychographics as well. I strongly suggest creating an Empathy Map. As per HubSpot, “Empathy maps visualize customer needs, condense customer data into a brief chat, and help you consider what customers want — not what you think they want.” You can view an example and a complete guide on how to build one on their website. If this sounds hard, that's a good thing. Most people will skip this step so it provides you with an opportunity to separate yourself from the pack.
As the name suggests, an empathy map will help you better connect with your audience. For example, let’s say you’re a sleep consultant. Sure, you know your target audience includes people who have trouble sleeping. You may even have some other basic demographics. Creating an empathy map will allow you to uncover how their lack of sleep impacts their life, how they’ve already tried to solve the problem, where they get information and other nuggets of valuable information. You can then say “I understand what it’s like when people think you’re moody or withdrawn, but the truth is, you’re just under-recovered. I’ll assess your sleep challenges and design a custom plan to help you get a sufficient night’s rest, so you can be the best version of yourself the next day.” That sounds a heck of a lot better than “I’ll help you get more sleep.”
When you do this research, it’s beneficial to focus on people who have already paid money to address the challenges or aspirations you help with. You want to take your cues from people who see the value in the services you offer. This is your audience, not just people who have a need for what you provide.
If at all possible, you’ll want to get this information directly from these individuals through surveys and individuals. I understand this may not be an option for everyone, so I suggest performing social listening as well. As per Sprout Social: “Social listening refers to analyzing the conversations and trends happening not just around your brand, but around your industry as a whole, and using those insights to make better marketing decisions.” Let’s go back to the sleep consultant. She could follow #insomnia on Twitter and Instagram to research her target audience. For you, it might be #newparent or #relocating. Just find the hashtags that make sense for your audience. Seekmetrics.com is a free tool that will help you discover popular hashtags based on the keywords you enter.
Define their problems and develop a solution
Now that you have a better understanding of your audience, you can craft a solution that addresses their specific challenges or aspirations. This is where being an expert can actually hinder you. It’s vitally important to craft this solution from your audience’s perspective. Minor details that seem obvious to you may be a critical step on their journey. If you fail to mention it, they may not think you understand them or are capable of helping them.
Since I’m not a sleep consultant, I’ll talk about the clients that I do help: other consultants.
Although every situation is unique, there are general themes I hear in regard to their challenges.
- How much should I charge?
- How do I get more clients?
- How do I present myself?
- How do I create proposals and contracts?
The questions you hear will inform the solution you create. When creating this solution it’s extremely beneficial to map things out in a way that is easy for your audience to understand, while also deploying empathy. This is the solution I offer clients in my consultant training program.
Clarity: We'll nail down the services you offer, how much to charge, who you offer them to, and why you're their obvious choice
Process: Focus on doing what you love by implementing routines, apps and services to streamline your business process
Branding and marketing: You'll learn how to position yourself, provide value to your audience and perform "passive prospecting" through in-person events, media mentions and podcasts
Pitching and proposals: I'll supply you with training and templates to make this part simple, pain-free and predictable
Fulfillment: From onboarding to relationship management, I'll teach you how to deliver on the promises you've made with a systematic approach
My goal is to demonstrate an understanding of their challenges, and a defined path towards resolution. Often, a prospect will say "I don't need help with that, but I really need help with this part you mentioned." That's totally fine, my goal is to reflect the journey then refine it based on their needs.
Back to you. What journey will you take your clients on? Developing this narrative is extremely important. Unfortunately, I see many consultants exhaust themselves trying to develop and reinforce a unique differentiator. Your audience doesn't want unique, they want to be understood. Once you prove you understand their challenges, they'll want to hear about your plan to solve them. That’s it.
Packaging your solution in a concise and understandable way also makes it much easier to navigate sales or prospecting calls. You won’t say, “Um well, it kinda depends on, let’s see here...” You’ll simply say, “I have a process to address your situation. Now, I know every situation is unique, but this process is aligned with the outcomes you’re seeking. So long as we follow the process, we can be as creative as we’d like while still reaching the goals we’ve established.” From there, you can walk through your process and address their unique situation as you go along.Related: 5 Questions Every Consultant Must Ask During a Sales Call
Perform audience research. If possible, connect with people who have paid for the service you offer, or something similar in the past. As a bonus, this will also help you determine pricing, which we’ll address in the next article.
Develop your solution. Based on your research, and your area of expertise, determine how you can help. It’s perfectly fine if you can’t address every challenge they have. You want to operate in your zone of genius and not overstate what you’re capable of.