Running Your Own Consulting Business
Running a business is a tough job, but when you are doing what you love, it doesn’t seem like work at all. Most business owners work far more hours than they did as an employee of a company — but starting your own consulting business gives you the opportunity to make the rules and reap all the benefits.
When you are running a business, you need a plan to bring in clients, complete jobs efficiently and develop new revenue streams. One key to success is balancing your time between serving clients and searching for new clients. Ideally, clients will become repeat customers, and you will develop a work process to maximize your income.
These tips for running your own consulting business will help you succeed faster:
- Develop your brand. Consulting service businesses benefit from branding just like any other type of business. Some business owners think that because consulting services are intangible, they don’t need a brand or a logo. The branding, however, is what helps you develop a relationship with potential clients. Name recognition helps connect your business to the services you offer, so clients know what you can do for them.
- Standardize your work process. You will gain a tremendous amount of efficiency from a streamlined process. Although each client is different, there are some commonalities between projects. Capitalize on those similarities to create a work process you can repeat for each project. A repetitive process will help you maintain a homogenous quality of production, even when you have multiple people carrying out the work.
- Clarify expectations. At the beginning of each new project, be sure you are communicating clearly with the client. The client’s expectations need to align with your own for a happy outcome to the project. It is a good idea to over communicate the goals of the project at this point. Put it in writing and get the client’s approval before beginning your work.
- Limit your liability. Be sure you have the proper professional liability insurance in place before accepting a new project. Depending on your area of expertise, you could be exposed to liability by advising clients about their business, creating a physical product or even by working at your client’s location. Protect yourself and your business from lawsuits that could become costly.
- Maintain regular billing. Small business owners often get busy serving their clients and neglect to send out regular invoices. When you land a big client, you may be reluctant to bill them until the project is over. Collecting overdue invoices is harder than you might think, though. The cautious approach is to bill regularly, so none of your clients owe you a large amount at any one time. If an invoice goes more than 30 days past due, take the necessary steps to begin a collections process and stop any work for that client until the balance is settled.
- Use written contracts. For any project above a certain dollar amount, you should have a signed, written contract with your client. Written contracts help align expectations and make it easier to collect your fee for services. Consulting work is harder to repossess than a used car. If your client does not pay what they owe you, you can’t undo the work you have already completed. A written contract will make it easier to resolve any payment disputes via legal means.
- Get help when you need it. To maximize the number of clients you can serve, you may need to hire employees. Employees can be a big up-front expense, and they are an added responsibility. Timing is important with hiring. You want to be sure you have enough work to sustain you and your employees long-term before making this commitment. You may also need employees with specific skills. Be sure to hire the right person for the right position.
- Develop a list of reliable vendors. To be sure you are giving your clients the best possible service, you may need to rely on vendors to sell you supplies or ancillary services. Develop good relationships with the vendors you know you can trust, so if you need to call on them for a quick turn-around project, they will be there for you.
- Make a plan. Every business needs a written business plan. Take the time to figure out who your ideal customer is, what services you will offer and what it will cost you to deliver those services. Projections can be hard to make in the beginning, but over time you can alter your business plan using actual data from your sales. In the beginning, do your best to set reasonable goals and work toward them.
- Use the necessary tools. As a business owner, you do not have to do everything yourself. There are tools available to assist you with accounting, digital marketing and all of the business functions that fall outside of your area of expertise. Payroll, taxes and even project management can be easier with the right tools.
After mastering your craft, running your own consulting business can be the next step in your professional career. Running a business will require you to do many things you might not yet be good at, and some skills you may never master. Remember to ask the experts before getting in too far over your head.
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