Consultancy businesses are easy to set up but hard to get off their feet.
Done right, you can be your own boss and work directly to improve your field as a whole. You can grow and expand and bring on more consultants as time goes on to take on more clients, or you can operate independently. The power is yours. The choice is yours.
Consultants exist in every single field. Rather than work directly with customers, clients, or the population, you work with the businesses and organizations that serve them. As a result, consultancy is a B2B operation with a lot of freedom, making it an excellent option for many experts and academics alike.
Starting your own consultancy, however, takes time and the right strategy. To help get your consultancy business idea off of the ground, use this guide to get you started:
Improve Your Credentials For Your Consultancy Business
Consultancy business is a mixture of a traditional business and a freelance business. You are offering a service, yes, but it isn’t just the service that you offer that matters.
Having the skillset is great, yes, but you also need the pedigree. There are several types of credentials that you can earn that will further endear you to new and prospective clients.
1. The First is Your Education
While work experience will be the biggest draw, especially your experience as a consultant, don’t assume that this comes on its own.
The first thing that clients will look at is your credentials. Higher education is the best way to wow them and prepares you for a career in whatever field you are interested in.
That is why it is actually critical that you go beyond an undergraduate degree. Undergraduate degrees provide you with a base understanding of a certain topic. You then need a master’s at least to become proficient in a niche. That niche is critical to your success as a consultant. It can be in a big topic, like education, but you will still need it.
Think of your master’s not as another stepping stone but as a bridge. It will bridge your theoretical understanding with its career application.
A Masters in teaching online degree, for example, will help you succeed in a variety of different educational contexts and help you develop the theoretical and practical skillset you need to teach directly or to work in policy – even as a consultant.
A post-graduate degree in education takes a practical look at education as a field and how to improve it for the sake of students on a large scale. There is a reason why those with this MA work everywhere, from schools and universities to government agencies, NGOs, and even curriculum development.
You do need to find a degree that specifically helps give you an organizational understanding of your field if you are looking to start your own consultancy. The difference is vital.
If you could take that degree and work in policy, then the degree that you are looking at is a great choice. However, if it will not prepare you for that, you will either need an additional degree (an MBA, for example) or keep looking.
2. Next, Your Work Experience
You do not need to have worked before to get started with your own consultancy in the same way you don’t need to have been an employee before becoming an employer, but it can help.
This is particularly true in government-regulated industries, regardless of whether you intend to work in the private sector, for NGOs, or for those government agencies themselves. Education, for example, can be very hard to work as a consultant without ample on-the-ground experience.
It doesn’t just know what to do; after all, it is knowing how to navigate the industry and the field itself. There is a lot of red tape and plenty of rules that shift and change. By working in the industry for someone else beforehand, you can learn the ropes and become familiar with the who is who of the field you are looking to specialize in.
3. Then Comes Awards and Certifications
Keep track of any awards or certifications that you can apply for. There may be several that you can just nominate yourself for and then walk away with a new credential to wow potential clients.
For example, if you grew up bilingual, then you can show your language proficiency by taking a language test and becoming internationally recognized for your second language.
Taking workshops, attending seminars, and completing short courses typically awards you some sort of paper recognition like certification as well. So, keep track of these and use them to showcase your talent, dedication, and credentials to clients.
Don’t stop trying to earn further credentials, either. Your degree is a foundation; it is solid and will continue to serve you throughout your career. Credentials prove you keep on top of that foundation and build on your degree through the years.
4. Finally, Your Clients and Portfolio
This comes last because you will be building up your portfolio and your client list as you go. In the beginning, you will not get big names to hire you, but as time goes on and you have an increasing list of clients and great reviews under your belt, you will start attracting bigger and bigger fish.
Eventually, you will want to promote who you have worked for in the past actively, but until those names mean something on their own, try to encourage your happy clients to write testimonials for you. You can even create a template or a series of questions that you would like your client to talk about and answer.
Generally speaking, you will want a testimonial to include what you did for the client, the results, and your customer service. However, if the testimonial is too vague, it isn’t going to be very helpful for potential clients, just as a five-star rating with no review is not altogether helpful for those looking for a business online.
Creating Your Consultancy Business Plan
Every business needs a draw. You and your experience are the draws for your consultancy.
Just because you have a general field to work in and a skillset does not mean you are ready to start a consultancy. You need a solid plan before you launch, which means you need:
1. Your Business Model
Even in consultancy services, there are several business models that you can operate with.
You can offer a subscription service, for example, which gives your clients access to a few days of work per month for a set price. You can work on a project-by-project basis. You can review other business plans or project proposals and provide your input.
You need to choose your business model so that you can provide your clients with high-quality service throughout their time with you. Think of your business model as the framework that you operate within.
2. Your Services
You cannot promise your clients everything, even on a project-by-project basis. It makes it hard to market yourself and hard to live up to expectations.
Instead, you will want to set out what work you will do. This could be something like drafting a project proposal. It can be managing a transition period. It can be using analytics to create actionable insights. It could be reviewing a new curriculum or even overseeing a new project into action.
There is a lot that you can do, but just be specific. You don’t want to stretch yourself too thin. Be specific with your projects.
3. Your Pricing Range
Try to create a set of prices per task, per hour, or per day. This way, you can customize the pricing for each client based on the amount of work and even the scope of the work while still being fair. It will give your client a better appreciation of what your services cost when you break them down and can give them a clear understanding of what hiring you again in the future could cost them.
Whatever you do, however, remember to include research costs. Each project and client will be a learning curve as you work out what the best approach is for each of them. The time and effort this takes should be included in your cost.
4. Your Workflow
Finally, you need to create a workflow. There are tools for everything and finding the right set of integrated tools is a must. You need to find the right tools and then double-check that the tools you use can talk to one another.
You will also want a module that your clients can access. This way you can work remotely or on-site and automatically update your client on what tasks you have done and how far along you are with their project. This is just one example of how to improve your client relationship, and to stay professional as a consultant.
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I am Adeyemi Adetilewa, a media consultant, entrepreneur, husband, and father. Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Ideas Plus Business Magazine, online business resources for entrepreneurs. I help brands share unique and impactful stories through the use of public relations, advertising, and online marketing. My work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Addicted2Success, Hackernoon, The Good Men Project, and other publications.