Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tips for Starting a Consulting Practice

I can't take credit for the following information. I came across it on the consultant's discussion forum on SHRM. I think it's great advice for anyone looking to start their own consulting practice (or coaching, training, etc).

This was written by D. Kevin Berchelmann, President, CEO and principal consultant at Triangle Performance (with a little help from other posters). A highly acclaimed strategist and thought leader in executive and organization performance, he focuses on executive teambuilding, strategy development and compensation, individualized coaching, performance improvement, and retention.

Let me know if you agree, disagree, or have more to add.

Tips for Starting a Consulting Business

1. Clients first. Nothing else matters until you've got revenue. Hold off on spending any money on anything else until you have ONE paying client. The rest of this advice is for AFTER that client is on board.

2. Web presence. Ditch the local Internet provider, AOL, or Yahoo as your e-mail address and get your own domain. Purchase and hosting will cost less than a month on AOL. Besides, you can't sell professionalism from "" You just can't. Start with a simple web page or two, then build over time, as expertise, comfort and business builds.

3. Paper. Buy the BEST business cards and letterhead you can afford. Scrimp somewhere else, not here. It matters. Don't print them on your computer, and don't design them yourself. Hire a designer and have them professionally printed. Trust me, it does matter.

4. Network. Contact everyone you know -- even slightly -- and tell them what you are doing. No need to sell THEM, they now know; ask them for help, to refer someone they know who might need your services. And when you go talk to that person, ask them the same question. Networking is dynamic and iterative. You have to stay on it incessantly.

5. Be prepared to tell people "what you do." I'm not a believer in this "elevator speech" business, but you do need to be able to explain to someone who asks what you do, without taking 10 minutes to do it. Say your piece as quickly as possible, then ask about THEM, with lots of follow-up questions, since...

6. ...Remember, "it ain't about you." No one really cares about your background, credentials, prior VP jobs, or Mensa membership. They care about WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR THEM. That's it. The rest may -- later -- help with credibility when selling big dollars, but it won't get you in the dance to begin with.

7. Invest in technology. Laptops, smartphones/blackberry, good cellphones/service, reliable ISPs, etc. If you look and act cheap, you will be cheap. Can't separate the two; and you’ll need the additional help that effective technology provides independent consultants.

8. Write. Articles, books, white papers, surveys. Do it all the time; always have one or more in the works. Research (learn and use Google constantly), interviews, and put YOUR OWN STUFF in there so potential clients can get a feel for "who you are." A reality -- you cannot be all things to all people, so don't even try. Make it clear who you are and why you're different. Be a contrarian, over-principled, contra-culture, whatever... just take real stands on things that matter to potential markets.

9. Meet other consultants, and help them freely whenever possible.

10. Self assess constantly. Consulting is hard work, but potentially lucrative financially, personally, and professionally. But it's not for everyone, and you need to make sure it's "for you." No shame if not, but considering the diverse effort it takes to be successful, it would be folly to try if you weren't having fun.

11. Remember that consulting is the means to an end. You are a unique individual who consults, not a consultant who has other interests. Make sure that consulting is not your "whole life."

12. Too many consultants work too hard and charge too little. Don't be afraid to raise your fees. You're delivering a service that hopefully has far-reaching value for the client. It's important to help them see it. Besides, it's not good to be known as the "cheap alternative to xxx."

13. Work with clients that are interesting and challenging. Don't take on a difficult client because you need the cash. It's a recipe for disaster.

14. Another note on networking...speak to every community group that will have you. Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, etc. all have weekly or monthly meetings and are scratching to fill speaker slots.

15. SWOT yourself every year. Assess the environmental factors to figure out what you should be doing that you're not doing and what you need to stop doing. Another step in the self-development path.

16. Don't be afraid to take risks. The worst that can happen is you might lose some money and have a little embarrassment. So what? Risk-taking is what will propel you to the next level of success.

17. Have an informal board of advisers or some other entity or group of individuals that you can call on for advice, whether as a group or individually. Sometimes when you're in the thick of something, it's hard to see all the angles and make sound decisions.

18. Be gracious, generous and full of gratitude. Allow other people to make soft landings when they err. Be generous in praise for others. Give generously to your favorite charities, both with time and money. Express gratitude to those who have helped you become successful and who have been supportive of your endeavors.

19. And you can't say this enough.... Have fun, do good things, and make money. Done correctly – and successfully -- consulting is a great way of life.

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Doreen Rainey is a Professional Life Coach and Speaker who helps her clients Get RADICAL! To subscribe to her bi-weekly newsletter and receive 7 RADICAL Tips, visit her website. For a FREE 30-day membership to her coaching program, click here.


  1. Interesting #1. He advocates not really spending any money until you get your first client. I'd think you'd have to spend some money to get that first client.

  2. My thinking on this is that one of the biggest challenges small businesses face is cashflow and capital. When you begin consulting, you should have a strong network that you could use to gain at least one client. This sets you up for being able to build your business through the revenue from this client.

    I also think too many consultants, coaches, trainers, etc focus on the new website, fancy business cards, and marketing brochures without focusing on how to get a client. So you have all of these tools that cost money, but haven't devoted the time to get a client to pay for it.