5 Critical Decisions To Make Before Starting Your Consulting Business
There are many Creately users who are in consulting business that aspire to start their own consulting practice. So we got hold of someone who already made the transition successfully. Enjoy the article and leave a comment if you have any questions.
Consultants don’t always call themselves “consultants.” CPAs, financial advisers, freelance writers, designers, developers – all play a consulting role as professional practitioners in their respective trades.
That said, most of these consultants didn’t start out independent. They did their time in the cubicle, received a check every two weeks, and wondered if the numbers on those checks could be higher if they set off on their own and ran the show themselves.
That, and they wondered if such an arrangement would offer them a little more freedom.
Take it from me: Starting a consulting business – or any kind of solo-entrepreneur practice where you play a consulting role – really can be liberating. Setting your own hours, deciding who you do and don’t work with, and not having to commute every day are well worth the risks inherent in handing in that two weeks’ notice.
If you’re on the verge of taking the leap, here are five decisions you should make well in advance of your grand opening.
1. Are You Really a Qualified Do Consulting? Really?
We’ve all encountered consultants who obviously aren’t qualified. Certain fields seem to be magnets for unqualified practitioners (social media, anyone?), while others that require specific licenses or formal training do a better job of keeping out the riffraff.
Before you jump headfirst into consulting, ask yourself whether you have the knowledge and experience necessary to really help people do whatever it is you help them do – and be honest when you answer.
Let’s pretend you’re an event coordinator. If someone didn’t know anything about event coordination and the future of her business hinged on the success of one seminal event, would she be in good hands if she hired you to hold everything together? Really?
If so, great. If you’re not sure, it might be best to hold off until you get a little more experience in your field.
2. Money in the Bank
To make money as a consultant, you’re going to need clients. How long will it take you to find them?
Some consultants start out with a solid base of clients from whatever it was they did before, but most start from scratch. And starting from scratch means starting without an income.
For this reason, you’ll need to be sure you have plenty of money in the bank. How much money will depend on your monthly expenses and how long you estimate it will take to get clients. Be conservative when making this estimate. Not to scare you, but there’s always a chance it will take longer to get clients than you think.
3. Sole Proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp…
You’re about to be an independent consultant. This means taxes exist for the sole purpose of confusing and frustrating you. The solution? Suck it up and drop a few hundred bucks on a consultation with a tax-savvy CPA. Do this before you land your first client. Seriously.
Why? Because upon learning what it is you’re trying to do and considering your anticipated annual income, a CPA can tell you not only whether you should set up you business as an LLC or S-Corporation but also how to do that and what sort of management responsibilities each entity entails.
Listen to your CPA, and do what he or she says. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying more money to the government than you bargained for. You might even experience the pleasure of paying penalties for not reporting some arcane detail in just the right way.
Suddenly that “expensive” accountant will seem like a steal compared to the federal government.
4. Which Apps?
This is the fun part.
Choosing the apps that will power your consulting business is an integral part of creating an efficient, effective office environment. The ones you pick will depend on your budget, anticipated work volume, and industry-specific requirements.
You’ll also need to consider things like how many invoices you’ll send each month, whether you’ll work with contractors who need data access, and whether you’ll need to invest in secure file transfer software, apps that import legacy assets, or a reliable email service provider.
If you’re planning to work remotely with clients then a visual collaboration software like Creately is a must. It is amazing the amount of time that can be saved by visualizing your ideas and discussing them online in real-time.
5. Where to Meet Clients
It may seem like a small thing, but setting can make all the difference when you’re trying to land a new consulting client.
If you’re planning to do business locally, meeting clients at the neighborhood Starbucks may seem tempting. After all, it’s what all the other consultants do, and who doesn’t like coffee? On the other hand, have you ever tried to conduct a client meeting in a coffee shop crowded with rowdy teenagers wielding frappuccinos? Take it from me. It’s your worst nightmare.
In an effort to locate a solid coffee shop alternative, call some hotels in your area. Find out how much they charge to use their meeting rooms. Even the public library can be a good coffee shop alternative – you can count on it being quiet, at least.
To be sure, these five decisions aren’t the only ones you’ll need to make before starting your consulting practice. Different kinds of consultants will have different concerns. But they’re decisions that, for whatever reason, are frequently neglected or overlooked by would-be independent professionals.
So, ignore them at your peril. And if you’ve given due attention to all five and are still keen on entering the wild west of entrepreneurship, good luck and godspeed.
Adam Green writes copy, plays marbles, and wipes dust off laptop screens at Green Ink Creative. He contributed this post on behalf of Attachmate, whose enterprise B2B solutions include enterprise file transfer tools.
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