Starting a consulting business is a great way to turn your passions and hobbies into extra income or even a full-time career. Not only do you get to work in a field you love, but there’s limitless room for growth over time. If you’ve already started running a consulting business, now is the time to start thinking about the future. After all, you want to adopt positive habits now, so you can keep your new endeavour running smoothly and generating profit.
1) Build Lasting Client Relationships
In the world of business consulting, referrals are your best friend. Your goal should be to create lasting relationships, so you can keep revenue coming in while also gaining new clients based on word-of-mouth recommendations. While earning a viable income is certainly important, in these early stages, it’s wise to focus more on providing the best consulting services possible.
For example, on you first meeting with a new client, focus on specific strategies that you can offer to help the client meet their goals rather than discussing prices. This approach shows that your priority is keeping the client happy, not just earning a pay cheque. Beyond that first introduction, be sure to check in regularly and make changes as needed. As a consultant, you’re the go-to resource for information and advice, so be sure you’re providing genuine value that keeps your client engaged and on your side.
2) Market Your Services Online
Referrals are huge, but you also want to generate organic leads online through a strong web presence. First and foremost, you should have a website that clearly states your qualifications. That way you can advertise online effectively, and you can also include your web address on business cards, fliers, and other forms of printed advertising.
In addition to a website, these days you must have active social media accounts. Social media platforms help you to build your brand and connect with potential clients. You can interact with your audience directly and post relevant, high-quality content, solidifying your business as a legitimate authority in your field. Social media accounts build trust, which is essential in the consulting arena.
3) Position Yourself as an Expert
As a consultant, you need to prove that you’re worth your rates. Can potential clients find the same information that you provide with a quick Google search? If so, they may simply take that route. A big part of being a successful consultant is providing top-quality information pertinent to your industry. For example, if you provide advertising consulting services, you could create blog posts with tips on creating an effective advertising campaign. Or, you could provide tutorial videos on how to create targeted ads on Facebook. While you don’t want to give away all your secrets, you can attract new clients by proving that you know the ins and outs of what you do.
4) Find the Right Clients
Not every client is going to be a perfect match, and that’s okay. A big part of being a consultant is knowing which clients to accept and which to politely decline. Time is money, and you want every second spent at work to be productive. At this point in your career you may have a take-what-you-can-get approach, and that’s understandable. However, as you gain more clients and experience, you can be a bit pickier.
How do you know a client is right for you? Most importantly, you need to be able to provide in-depth information that stems from first-hand experience. Say you’re a gardening consultant working with a restaurant that wants to grow a local garden. Anyone can look up which fruits and vegetables are in season and how to grow them. You want to provide unique insight on handling local pests and weeds, or advice on trendy produce that make the restaurant’s menu more exciting for their patrons.
Beyond just delivering expertise catered to the client’s niche needs, you also just want to feel comfortable working with them. As a consultant, you have the freedom to pursue your own vision. If you don’t feel like the client’s philosophy and goals align with yours, it may be best to move along. A good client also values your time. Are they calling or emailing you about every detail? Are they requesting unnecessary meetings? Sometimes clients can expect too much, and if you’re not able to deliver that level of availability, there’s nothing wrong with simply ending the business relationship so you can focus on your less-demanding clients.
5) Deduct Business Expenses
Did you know that you can deduct business expenses from your income taxes? From your plane tickets to your mobile phone, anything that’s used specifically for business purposes can be deducted if you save the receipts. If you work from a home office, you can even deduct household expenses such as electricity, home insurance, and even mortgage payments, as long as your home is your primary place of business.
6) Know Your Clients’ Competition
If a client is seeking consulting services, their goal is almost always to see tangible growth results. If you want to boost your client’s bottom line, you need to understand their competition. Spend some time researching what makes the competition different. Learn about their products or services, as well as their corresponding strengths and weaknesses. As you research the competition, don’t forget about the smaller up-and-coming businesses too. While the bigger companies are typically dominating the market, you also want to see what the smaller companies are doing differently so you can keep your client ahead of the game.
7) Pay Attention to the Details
As a consultant, you’re the expert. That point can’t be stressed enough. You should be providing flawless work that’s consistently error-free; it can take a single typo for a potential or current client to lose trust. Fortunately, these days there are plenty of online tools that can help with everything from correcting spelling to triple-checking your math. Before presenting any new information or data, always go over it with a fine-tooth comb to ensure that everything is 100 percent correct. While it may take some extra time, the confidence that comes with a job well done is priceless.
If you do make an error, telling your client you made a mistake is always the right move. Honesty goes a long way in building business relationships, and even the best consultants aren’t perfect. Just make sure that you have a solution lined up whenever possible. In the business world, knowing how to overcome obstacles is an incredibly valuable skill, so while you want to strive for perfection, view errors as learning opportunities that make you a better consultant in the long run.
8) Establish a Consulting Billing Protocol
In most consulting business relationships, you should have a contract in place that outlines billing details. As a self-employed individual, you usually get to choose how you get paid. Do you work on retainer? Do you charge an hourly rate? Do you provide a bill upon completion of major milestones? It’s important to have a consistent invoicing method so you and your clients are always on the same page. If you’re still new to consulting, you may want to bill your clients frequently in order to maximize your cash flow.
In today’s digital world, hand-delivering a physical invoice isn’t the best approach. The right tools make billing your clients a hassle-free affair, helping you to get paid faster while making your clients’ jobs that much easier. QuickBooks Self-Employed even lets you automate the billing process — just set it and forget it. You can also track your business expenses in real-time so you’re ready to deduct them when tax season comes. 5.6 million businesses use QuickBooks. Just starting out? Help your business thrive.