How To Start Your Own Consulting Business: Free Course
- How To Start Your Own Consulting Business: Free Course
- Do You Have What It Takes?
- Consulting – What It’s All About?
- Business Building Blocks
- Crunching the Numbers
- Planning Your Business
- Test Driving
- Creating a Sales and Marketing Strategy For Your Consulting Business
- Getting the Work Done
- Making More Money As A Consultant
- Module 1: Consulting Course Overview
- Module 2: Consulting: What’s It All About?
- Module 3: Business Building Blocks
- Module 4: Crunching the Numbers For A Consulting Business
- Module 5: Planning Your Consulting Business
- Module 6: Creating a Sales and Marketing Strategy For Your Consulting Business
- Module 7: Consulting: Getting The Work Done
Consulting, freelancing, contracting, entrepreneur… what does it all mean to you? Where do you fit in?
According to IBISWorld, revenues in the consulting industry will exceed $261 billion in 2020.
Business consultants help business owners overcome a variety of obstacles and this course will show you how to build a business as a consultant.
This free online course will:
• Define the term “consultants” and explain their role in today’s business world
•Identify consulting opportunities
•Create a business strategy that includes a business plan, budget, marketing plan, fee structure, and resources
•Use social media and networking skills to grow your consulting business
•Protect your work with contracts
•Identify ways to stay on top of trends and changes
The industries that most commonly hire consultants include finance, technology, human resources, marketing, project management and business management.
Regardless of your line of work, however, consulting is a viable way to find employment if you can identify the ways other companies or professionals might benefit from your assistance and expertise.
As long as businesses have people problems (and they always will!), consultants in this field will enjoy a never-ending supply of corporate clients, both large and small.
This consulting business course was originally taught in classrooms as a one day workshop for $190 – this fully updated version is free for you to study online.
Do You Have What It Takes?
Consultants usually have the following qualities:
• Good business sense and common sense
• Curiosity about the world around them
• A desire to help others
• Optimistic yet realistic
• Passionate about what they do
• Strong knowledge in the areas that they work in
• A professional, positive image
• Committed to lifelong learning
Consulting – What It’s All About?
This module gives students a chance to consider exactly what a consultant is.
Related terms are discussed and then you will study the qualities it takes to be a consultant.
Business Building Blocks
This module allows you to take a deeper look at becoming a consultant.
It focuses on identifying the possibilities for your business, how to conduct your research and what your business should target.
Crunching the Numbers
In this module, you are shown the best methods to develop financial budgets and projections with a look at personal expenses, business expenses and income targets.
You will also be taught how to set your fees.
Planning Your Business
Every business needs a business plan, so in this module you are introduced to types of business plans along with a business set-up checklist and how to gather resources.
In this module, you are shown how to consider your potential business model.
You are shown how, through the use of worksheets, to take a look at the major aspects of your consulting business to see how viable it is.
Creating a Sales and Marketing Strategy For Your Consulting Business
After setting your business strategy, you can now set your marketing strategy.
This module shows you how to promote a new consulting business with the aid of various tools.
It also considers the marketing cycle, social media, along with the other ways to get noticed.
Getting the Work Done
Once a business is set up and marketed, it’s important to know just how to get work and get it done.
In this module, you will discover
• how to identify sources of work,
• how to develop contracts and statements of work,
• how to deal with problems arising with clients, and
• how to stay current in a chosen field.
• If you want to realize your full potential, you must start thinking like a consulting business owner.
•You’ll actually get the attention of your clients if you can clearly name what it is you do and specify the industry it is you serve. “I help business owners improve their business” is not an area of specialization. “I help dental practice owners implement CRM software” is an area of specialization, both in terms of the target market (dental practice owners) and the task performed (implement CRM software).
•Your elevator pitch should be a short and sweet explanation of your target audience’s problem, the solutions you offer, and how you are different from the competition. (justbusiness.com)
•Identifying your target audiences, their various pain points, and their unique customer journeys will ensure that you approach these prospects with empathy and solutions that are relevant to their problems.
•Conducting outreach on social platforms like LinkedIn, or capturing the emails of people visiting your website, can help fill your sales funnel with qualified leads.
•And LinkedIn is a fantastic and inexpensive way to get in front of your ideal clients.
•Your only costs may include your brand design (logo, business cards, and website) any license or permit fees deposits and rent for a physical work location (if you plan to lease your own office space) basic infrastructural costs like phone and internet service, scheduling and invoicing software, etc… marketing and advertising costs.
•Keeping your cash flow organised and orderly might sound simple enough, but a small slip up can lead to a major headache.
•A limited liability company (LLC) might make more sense for most consulting small businesses / consulting firms.
Making More Money As A Consultant
•Attend conferences and trade shows
•Join affiliated groups
•Blogging, social media marketing and email marketing are a uniquely effective way to market your business, establish authority in your niche, and help your business organically rank online
•Network with other people in your industry
•Improve your education by attending workshops and courses
•Read related magazines, journals, blogs, and websites
•Get involved with people and groups from your industry online with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and forums
•Experiment with new technology
•Identify new opportunities for learning and pursue them
You can take this free course online at your own pace – start this course now by clicking “NEXT” below!
Module 1: Consulting Course Overview
After you complete this course, you will be able to:
– Define the term “consultants” and explain their role in today’s business world
– Identify consulting opportunities
– Create a business strategy that includes a business plan, budget, marketing plan, fee structure, and resources
– Use social media and networking skills to grow your consulting business
– Protect your work with contracts
– Identify ways to stay on top of trends and changes
Module 2: Consulting: What’s It All About?
Consultant, freelancer, contractor, entrepreneur… what does it all mean to you? Where do you fit in?
In this module, we’ll start your journey to becoming a consultant.
You’ll explore what consulting is all about and what skills you will need to be successful.
Defining the Terms
You may have heard several different terms used for people who work for themselves.
Here is a brief list of the most common terms and their definitions.
A person who owns and operates their own business.
A person who provides expert advice professionally.
A person who completes specific projects on a per-assignment basis, typically for a number of companies at once.
A person who completes technical work on a per-assignment basis, typically for one company at a time.
Do You Have What It Takes?
Consultants usually have the following qualities:
– Good business sense and common sense
– Curiosity about the world around them
– Desire to help others
– Optimistic yet realistic
– Passionate about what they do
– Strong knowledge in the areas that they work in
– Professional, positive image
– Committed to lifelong learning
In addition, the following skill sets are often used in consulting:
– Communication (listening, speaking, and writing)
– Change management
– Time management and personal productivity
– Problem-solving and decision making
– Basic financial management
Module 3: Business Building Blocks
Starting your own business, even if it’s just a part-time venture, is a big responsibility.
It’s important to invest your money, time, and energy wisely.
In this module, you’ll consider where your passion, expertise, and experience overlap, and what role they play in defining your consulting business.
Who are you?
Identifying the Possibilities
In order to be successful as a consultant, you need to have a clear focus on your area of business.
Think about what areas of expertise you have and how you could leverage that into a consulting practice.
You may be able to combine several different areas, which can help you stand out from the crowd.
Doing Your Research
Now it’s time to find out what the market needs.
If, for example, you have 20 years of experience in a particular technology, but no one is buying that technology anymore, there probably isn’t much point in pursuing a consulting business in that field.
Use industry journals, the Internet, and your network to find out what areas of interest are growing.
Keep an eye out for new and evolving niche markets that are underserved.
If you find a niche market where you have most, but not all, of the expertise required, don’t immediately discard the idea.
Part of being a consultant is committing to learning.
You can focus on the aspects that you do know and learn the parts that are new to you as you build your business.
The Three Elements
Now that you’ve done some thinking and some research, you can develop a clear focus for your consulting business.
Your focus should contain three elements.
What type of service will you be offering? Describing the service as a verb can help, such as:
What industry and sub-industry will you focus on? Some examples:
– Healthcare executives
– Network security technology firms
– Mining companies
– Consumer banks
What geographic location will you be focusing on? You may want to start in a small area that you know has demand for your service.
Or, perhaps you will be providing services online, so a wider geographic area might be an appropriate focus.
Bringing It All Together
Once you have identified these three elements, you can bring it all together to create a narrow focus for your consulting business.
Here are a few examples.
– Offering process improvement analysis and design for technology-focused manufacturing companies in the Northeastern United States
– Providing leadership coaching to mining executives in Latin America
– Analyzing traffic and predicting growth for medium-sized cities in central Europe
Taking it Further
Once you’ve developed your focus, there are a few additional things that you can do to refine it further.
First, try to create a unique approach for your services.
If you know of other consultants that offer A, B, and C separately, perhaps you can offer a service that offers all of those things combined (and maybe even add a bit of D!).
This is also the time to identify how you will offer your services.
We’ve listed a few options below, but remember that you might offer your services in a different way, or in a way that combines the ideas listed here.
The consultant provides specific technical expertise for the client.
Some examples might include:
– Optimizing a database system
– Programming traffic lights to optimize flow
– Setting up a network
The consultant provides education to the client.
This can take the form of workshops, coaching, on-the-job support, etc.
The consultant provides specialized expertise and advice to the client.
Some examples might include:
– Process improvement
– Data analysis
– Problem identification and solving
– Marketing analysis
The consultant completes a broad range of tasks for the client that are delivered as a package.
For example, a project might include implementing a new call-taking system.
Specific deliverables might include:
– Needs analysis and identifying options for the new system
– Providing support and direction for the executive team when choosing a system
– Overseeing implementation of the system
– Providing training and follow-up for employees
– Reporting back to the executive team on the changes made
Module 4: Crunching the Numbers For A Consulting Business
The next step in the planning phase is taking a close look at reality.
How much money do you need to keep a roof over your head? How much money would you like to make?
In this module, you’ll learn techniques for projecting your personal expenses, business expenses, and income.
You’ll also learn how to set your basic hourly rate and develop a fee structure around it.
Developing Financial Budgets and Projections
The next step is to develop a budget and income targets.
You should be able to be self-supporting within a year.
Some consultants start their businesses on evenings and weekends, at least during the setup period when they are not generating income.
Consider what works best for you.
Estimating Personal Expenses
The first task is to estimate what you need to make in order to meet your monthly personal expenses.
We’ve included a basic worksheet below.
Feel free to modify it to suit your needs.
Projecting Business Expenses
Now, it’s time to estimate your monthly business expenses.
Do your research to get the most accurate numbers possible.
It may also be useful to track actual vs. expected costs and update your projections after you’ve been in business for a few months.
Setting Income Targets
Now that you know what your personal requirements are and how much your business will cost to run, you can estimate how much money you need to make.
Calculating Hourly Rate
Once you’ve established the minimum amount that you need to charge clients and the minimum income that you need to generate on a monthly basis, you should also set some goals for your business.
For example, perhaps in six months you’d like to increase your base fee by 10%.
Or, perhaps this year you’d like to make $100,000, while next year you’d like to make $150,000.
What do you need to do to make that happen?
Setting up a Fee Structure
Types of Fee Structures
Once you have your hourly rate, you can set up your fee structure.
Most consultants prefer to charge based on the project or by day instead of a flat hourly rate.
However, it will depend on your business model and the service that you are providing.
Even if you choose to bill by project, your hourly rate can help you determine the project’s cost.
Simply break the project down into tasks, determine how long each task will take, and multiply those hours by your hourly rate.
This can also help the client (and you) modify the project’s scope if your estimate exceeds their budget.
We advise against having a flat fee for particular tasks (such as $100 for proofreading or $200 to set up e-mail accounts) unless you have a very good reason for doing so.
Pricing this way often means that either you or the client isn’t getting value for their money.
Instead, try to develop appropriate, concrete estimates for each project that you do.
Other Fees to Consider
When developing estimates for clients, ensure that you take any other possible costs into account, such as:
– Travel expenses
– Legal fees
– Licensing and insurance (if required on a per-client basis)
– Special equipment, software, etc.
– Royalty or copyright fees
– Additional specialists needed
Creating Rate Sheets
It may be helpful for you to set up a rate sheet outlining your basic rates and terms of service.
Rate Sheet – Smith Consulting Inc.
– All transportation costs will be paid by the client.
– A minimum $50 per day, per consultant fee for incidentals will be applied to all travel requests.
– A minimum of two hours must be billed for the hourly rate.
– On-site visits will be billed at a daily rate.
– Clients will be invoiced on a monthly basis.
– Payment is required within 30 days of the invoice date.
Flexibility is Key
Regardless of how you structure your fees, it is important to be flexible.
You may want to consider reducing your fee structure if:
– The project will enhance your business in some other way (reputation, goodwill, education, etc.)
– The project is a lead-in to more work
– Economical or market factors change
– The project is easy and you have some free time
Conversely, you may want to consider increasing your fee structure if:
– Demand for your service increases (for example, hotel room prices go up during prime travel times)
– Your service is extremely specialized
– You belong to a guild or union that dictates rate changes
– You have obtained credentials, education, and/or experience that merits an increase
– Economical or market factors change
Module 5: Planning Your Consulting Business
Like anything else, a bit of planning when starting your business will go a long way.
The specific plans that you will need will vary depending on your particular business, but there are some basic questions that you should answer before you move further in your consulting journey.
In this module, we’ll cover how to create a basic business plan and get the core elements of your business set up and running.
We’ll also consider some additional resources that you can leverage.
Creating a Business Plan
Why a Business Plan?
We firmly believe that every business needs a business plan, although the size, complexity, and components of the plan will depend on your business.
The business plan requires you to take a close look at many aspects of your plan and commit to them.
This, in turn, will clarify the business for you and expose any issues that will need to be resolved before the business is launched.
Some people procrastinate about committing their plan to paper, but having a framework and acknowledging that the plan is going to help you out makes creating the business plan an easier task.
In fact, the business plan should not be an intimidating exercise at all.
The One-Page Plan
If the business that you are starting is very small, you may want to begin with a simple, one-page business plan.
This type of plan usually includes the following elements:
– Company description
– List of products and services
– Marketing and sales strategy
– Financial projections
This type of plan can also be expanded into the longer, more formal structure presented on the next page.
The Formal Plan
A formal business plan typically includes the following elements:
– Executive summary (written last but presented first in the plan)
– Table of contents
– Company description
– List of products and services
– Market analysis
– Organizational structure
– Operations plan
– Marketing and sales strategy
– Financial projections
Other optional and helpful elements can include:
– SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats about several aspects of the plan)
– Glossary (helpful if your audience is not familiar with industry jargon)
– Supporting details (such as logos, graphic representations, and charts)
Checklist for Setting Up Your Business
Once your business plan is in place, it’s time to start getting things done.
Here is a checklist of the basic items that you will need to develop.
Creating Your Brand
Your brand has three essential elements:
– Your company name
– Your slogan
– Your logo
First, develop your company name.
It should reflect who you are, be easy to pronounce, and be easy to remember.
Many consultants choose to use their last name with an appendage like “Consultants,” “and Associates,” or “Group.” Be sure to do a copyright and legal search to make sure that no other businesses are incorporated under that name.
Then, you can develop your slogan.
A good slogan is short, punchy, appropriate, and true to the company and/or product it represents.
It should be no more than six words.
The last piece of the brand is your logo.
We strongly recommend seeking help with this part unless you are a graphic designer.
Developing Your Business Structure
Most consultants typically start out with themselves as the sole employee of their business.
However, depending on the type of consulting business you are starting, you may have other full-time consultants, employees, contractors, or freelancers in your business.
This is the time to figure out how you will start out and what your targets are (if any) for staffing.
You should also give yourself a title in the business.
Some options as the owner include:
– Chief Consultant
Choosing Office Space
Consider whether or not you need office space.
If your consulting business requires a lot of travel, then a home office might be a viable option.
Be sure to have a dedicated space in your home, as well as dedicated telephone and fax lines if necessary.
However, if you are meeting with clients and primarily working in a small geographic area, then consider renting a formal office space.
Be sure to consider things like:
– Rent cost per square foot (which will help you compare office space options)
– Overhead costs for yourself and clients (such as parking)
– Convenience for clients and yourself
– Appearance (what does the location say about you?)
Designing Your Contact Information
Next, set up convenient ways for clients to contact you.
A smartphone with e-mail and Internet access, text messaging capabilities, and support for video calls is essential.
(So is a reliable provider.) If you travel a lot, you may want to just have a cell phone and not a land line.
Either way, you should have separate business and personal telephone numbers.
You should also have a fax number.
Internet faxing is easy and cheap, and can often be accessed from any computer.
Be sure to choose a service that provides you with a dedicated number.
Your website should have your own domain name, as well as several e-mail addresses with that domain name (such as firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com).
You might monitor all of the e-mail addresses at the beginning, but the separation is important to maintain a professional appearance and to make things easier if your business grows later on
As well, be sure to get a professional mailing address (especially if you are using a home office).
Most postal mailbox services will allow you to use “Suite” instead of “Postal Box” in your mailing address.
You may also want to consider tools like conference call services, virtual assistants, and answering services.
Creating Promotional Materials For Your Consulting Business
Now it’s time to design your marketing and contact materials.
This can include:
– Business cards
– Social media pages
– Leave-behinds for clients (packets of information that contain boilerplate information about your business and services, and include space for project estimates and other client-specific information)
We highly recommend getting some specialized help when setting up your consulting business.
A small business accountant will help you set up your finances appropriately, including taxes, insurance, and retirement funds.
Likewise, a small-business attorney will help you complete all the necessary paperwork and ensure that your work is protected.
You may also want to consider hiring a coach or finding a mentor with experience in your field.
Both types of resources can help you grow in the right way and make your business a success.
Some other specialists that you might consider getting help from (depending on your experience and your business model include):
– Marketing and/or social media specialists
– Software developers
– Image consultants
Consider the possibility of bartering with other consultants and companies.
For example, if you need a client tracking program, and you know of a software company that offers one and needs the services that you offer, perhaps you can trade services.
If you do the job well, this offers the added benefit of getting your name out there and establishing your reputation.
Module 6: Creating a Sales and Marketing Strategy For Your Consulting Business
Now that you have a solid idea for your business in place, it’s time to get the word out there.
How will you tell people about what you’re doing?
In this module, you’ll learn about a basic marketing cycle that you can apply right away.
You’ll also learn how to use social media, networking, and promotional tools to get yourself noticed.
The Consulting Marketing Cycle
The Purpose of the Plan
Now that your business strategy is in place, it’s time to consider how you will market yourself.
Marketing processes may vary in terminology or stages depending on the material you read.
They may include more or fewer steps than this module will cover.
What is common, however, is that marketing is a cyclical process, and it uses very particular terms.
We will also use those terms here so that you can plan, speak to, and perform these functions within your business.
Your marketing plan may undergo many revisions until all stages work effectively.
This frustrates people who do not like working in a fluid state, or have trouble dealing with change.
As a result, you may need to recruit marketing professionals who love their work and have a strong track record.
Marketing uses the following steps:
Looking at the Steps
Let’s take a closer look at each of the steps in the marketing cycle.
Stage One: Consumer and Market Analysis
This stage involves the following elements:
– Considering who your customer is and what they need
– Grouping target customers into segments
– Outlining the buying process for your service
Stage Two: Analyzing the Competition and Yourself
In this stage, you will want to ask the following questions of your competition and yourself:
– What are your advantages?
– What are your core competencies (the things you do well)?
– What are your weaknesses?
– Where are your shortcomings?
– What can you do to capitalize on your strengths?
– What can you do to exploit the competition’s weaknesses and shortcomings?
A SWOT analysis can help you address each question in the list above.
SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
It is a method of analyzing external factors (opportunities and threats) and internal factors (strengths and weaknesses) in a methodical way.
Once you have gathered this information, you can identify:
– How to position your services to play to your strengths
– Ways to lessen the impact of the competition
– What makes your services unique
– Key aspects of your brand
Stage Three: Analyzing Distribution Channels
Consider how you are going to get your product or service to your client.
Will you be on-site for delivery or can you use virtual tools? Will you be required to travel?
Stage Four: Creating a Marketing Plan
Your marketing research gets applied in a marketing plan based on the P’s of marketing: product (or service), price, place, promotion, and packaging.
All of these P’s influence the sixth P: the positioning of your service (how your service compares to similar services from other companies or consultants).
Stage Five: Implement the Plan
Now it’s time to test out your marketing plan.
If possible, do a limited trial run before a full-scale launch.
Stage Six: Evaluate, Review, and Revise
You may recall that earlier we said that marketing is a cyclical process.
At any time in the cycle, the marketer can be forced to return to an earlier stage to remedy some kind of problem.
Even if things appear to be going well, take the time to closely look at what you are doing and how effective it is.
Leveraging Social Media
Lots of consultants will say that they have a social media strategy.
Will you be one of them? Will your business need one to be successful and widen your exposure?
There is plenty of debate about the value of social media in order to widen the exposure of your services.
People around the world have embraced social media, and it has become a very popular and even a normal way of doing business.
However, we don’t want you to be fooled into thinking that spending all your time on social media is the best way to market your product.
Social media is simply another way to get your message out.
It’s not the only way, or the best way, or the worst.
You probably need to include social media as a part of your marketing strategy (although it depends on your business), but we have a few guidelines for you so that it works for you and your message gets heard.
Here are seven strategies for using social media in your business.
Work with people who have a deep digital reach.
Traditional marketers focus on what they know in order to help you establish a niche in the marketplace.
They rely on tried and true methods for marketing campaigns.
(Think about flyers, brochures, contest entries, or contact forms on a website.) If your usual marketing is not getting you the results that you need, bring in expertise that will boost your reach.
Build a Community
What you really need is to get people talking about you in a way that promotes your brand independently of you.
Seth Godin has written about this as tribes.
The Grateful Dead, a wildly successful band for more than 40 years, focused on providing their fans with experiences at their concerts rather than selling albums.
Fans (called Deadheads) went to the concerts because they knew that each one was different from the last.
Think of the things that you can do for your customers that are different than what everyone else is doing.
Watch Out for Social Media Experts
Social media is constantly evolving, and it is one aspect of marketing, but it is not all there is to marketing.
Marketing consultants who are also specialists in social media understand its fluidity.
They can help you navigate and establish your brand in the social stream as one aspect of your marketing plan.
However, make sure that they can do what they say they can do.
Ask for references and look at what they’ve done in the past.
Whichever social channels that you use (and there are more coming out all the time), make sure that you participate with your community.
Don’t ask a question on Twitter, for example, and then not be around or available to reply to people’s answers, or you will turn them off.
Better still, give them something they have not even thought to ask for yet.
Find Your Customers
When you conduct your market analysis, be very clear about where your customers are.
Make sure you reach them and their friends so that they are able to talk about you.
This doesn’t mean that you need to sign up on every social platform out there, because you won’t have time.
Focus on methods of reach that work for your customers.
Be a Person
There is a lot of artificiality in social media.
While systematizing and pre-planning updates makes sense, you look like a robot if customers can tell that something has been automated.
Make sure that some of your personality and character shines through the things that you say.
It’s not appropriate to be a one-way machine in social media.
For example, if you are on Twitter and have 2500 followers, and you only follow 20 people, you will not be able to reply to people who are speaking with and about you.
We know you cannot read comments from 2500 people a day, but we also know that you can organize people into categories and lists and that you can participate in the community that you are trying hard to build, instead of being a sandwich board on the street corner that simply makes an announcement.
If you are blogging, make sure that you reply to people’s comments on your blog posts and that those posts provide people with information they can use, rather than just writing them as a billboard for your products.
Networking for Success In Consulting
Networking is an extremely valuable marketing tool in the consulting industry.
It can help you:
– Get in touch with new trends
– Stay up to date on what’s happening in your industry
– Meet new clients
– Identify opportunities to grow your business
– Identify opportunities to help others grow their business
Networking happens every day through many routine activities: sitting on the subway, waiting in line at a coffee shop, or meeting a new client.
You can also create networking opportunities by:
– Attending conferences and trade shows
– Joining industry groups
– Maintaining academic and career affiliations (such as alumni groups)
– Becoming active in your community
Opportunities to Consider
There are a few other ways to get yourself noticed.
– Creating a blog
– Speaking at a conference
– Writing press releases or white papers
– Entering a competition
No matter what activities you choose, make sure that they are appropriate for your business and send the right message.
Anything that you put out in the public eye should be done well.
Module 7: Consulting: Getting The Work Done
Your office is set up, your phone line is active, and you’re advertising like crazy.
It’s time to get your business moving!
In this module, we’ll share some strategies for attracting clients and finding work.
We’ll also talk about protecting the work that you do with contracts, master service agreements, and statements of work.
To wrap things up, you’ll learn how to handle tough situations and stay up to date.
Identifying Sources of Work
Here are some ideas that you can use to find work and start consulting.
No matter what activities you choose, it’s important to track what you are doing, evaluate your results, and modify your approach as necessary.
Requests from Businesses
Governments and large organizations will often post requests for information (RFI’s) or requests for proposals (RFP’s) when starting a large project.
As you review these requests, ask yourself:
– Is my area of expertise a good fit for the client?
– Is the client a good fit for my business?
– Can I deliver what the client is asking for?
– Are the questions in the request specific, indicating that the client has thought about the project?
– Are the questions in the request too specific, indicating that the client already has a winner in mind?
– Is this a profitable opportunity for my business?
If you think that this is a good opportunity for your business, complete the request.
Make sure to keep your response material and organize it – it may be useful for later requests.
Brokers and Agents
As with anything else, there are firms that will help consultants find clients.
These firms usually charge a percentage of contracts that you get through them.
If you decide to use such a service, be sure to ask for references and have an attorney review any agreements you sign.
There are also websites that try to match up consultants, contractors, and freelancers with clients.
These websites may charge less than brokers and agents, but they may also be less effective.
Be very sure of what you are agreeing to, especially if it is a paid service.
Networking and Word of Mouth
Networking is a great way to build your consulting business.
Or, someone may mention a job opportunity to you or link you with someone who is seeking the type of services that you offer.
If you receive an opportunity through networking, be sure to send your contact a thank-you note.
As well, try to pass on business to your network whenever possible.
Cold Calling and Marketing Campaigns
You can also use traditional marketing campaigns and cold calling to boost your business.
Typically, this involves identifying potentially interested clients, sending them an e-mail blast, and then making one or more follow-up phone calls.
Developing Consulting Contracts and Statements of Work
You should have a contract for every project that you undertake.
Make sure that the contract is agreed to and signed by both parties before you begin work for the client.
If you are signing a contract, you may want to have an attorney review it first.
If you are creating a contract, it definitely should be reviewed by an attorney before you ask the client to sign it.
At the minimum, the contract should include:
– The basic deliverables for the project, with tangible milestones and requirements for completion
– Payment terms (including your rates, the not-to-exceed amount, what expenses will be covered by the client, what expenses will not be covered, when payment is due, and how payment will be submitted)
– What other documents will spell out the project’s deliverables (such as a master services agreement, statement of work, project plan, etc.)
– Who is responsible for the project for the client and consultant
– Disclaimer for errors, liability, tax responsibilities, etc.
– Who owns the copyright to works produced during the project, if applicable
– Non-competition, non-disclosure, and confidentiality clauses, if applicable
– Terms for cancellation (such as notice required and fees to be paid)
– Breach of contract clause
– The dates that the contract was drawn up and signed by each party
– Who is signing the contract on behalf of the client and consulting firm (including full contact information)
– A space for signatures
About Master Service Agreements
Some companies will ask you to sign a master service agreement (MSA) in addition to a standard contract, especially if you are going to be completing multiple projects for them.
An MSA spells out the obligations of each party entering into the contract for all future projects (or for a defined time period).
It typically covers things like:
– Payment and delivery
– Intellectual property
– Warranties and guarantees
– Non- competition, non-disclosure, and confidentiality clauses
Since MSA’s will persist through multiple projects, you should have your attorney review its terms before signing it.
Developing a Statement of Work
A Statement of Work (SOW) outlines exactly what will be done for each project that you are completing for the client.
It is a legally binding document, so it should be reviewed by your attorney.
(Most attorneys can help you draft a template that covers all of the essential elements.)
The Statement of Work should include:
– The name and address of the client and consultant
– The date that the SOW was drafted and signed, and by whom
– Specific deliverables and measurement standards
– Timeline of deliverables and milestones
– Resources that will be provided by the client and by the consultant
– Project costs
Sample Statement of Work
Drafted: January 1, 2020
Drafted By: Smith Consulting
123 Main Avenue
Anytown, Anywhere, USA
Drafted For: Jones Manufacturing
2500 Elm Street
Anytown, Anywhere, USA
Smith Consulting will design and deliver a one-day workshop on federally legislated safety practices (per the 2020 Amendment to Health and Safety Act) relevant to Jones Manufacturing.
– Sam Smith, Instructional Designer and Lead Consultant
– Winnie Smith, Trainer and Lead Consultant
– Amy Smith, Research Assistant
– William Markham, Director of Human Resources
– Susan Killarney, Chief Operating Officer
Maximum Safety Inc.:
– Martin Wallace, Licensed Safety Inspector
The Tough Stuff In Consulting
Avoiding Tough Situations
Good communication skills are essential for consultants.
Being able to listen effectively, clearly express your terms, and watch for body language clues will help you ensure that there are no misunderstandings with the client and that your work can be carried out as planned.
Being clear about the decision making authority that your contact has is important, too.
As well, make sure that you have the appropriate documents agreed to and signed before you begin work on any project.
Always be honest with the client.
If you need to make changes to the project plan, schedule a meeting and discuss what’s happening.
Be prepared to explain problems and solutions, as well as the impact to the project’s budget and schedule.
You may also want to revise the project plan and statement of work.
Take these lessons learned with you to future projects as a way to improve yourself and what you offer.
Dealing with Cancellations
The terms for cancellation (including deadlines, fees, and method of notification) should be clearly spelled out in your contract with the client.
If the client attempts to cancel the contract without fulfilling these requirements, seek legal advice.
Always ask why the client has cancelled the project.
Consider what you learned from the project and what you could do in the future to prevent this situation from happening again.
Firing a Client
Sometimes, despite all your efforts, a project just won’t go as planned.
Perhaps the client hasn’t met payment terms or isn’t holding up their end of the deal.
If this happens, seek legal advice to make sure you’re within your rights to cancel the contract.
Then, meet with the client and say, “I feel like this isn’t working out for either of us.
I think it’s in both of our interests to cancel this project.”
Next, outline what responsibilities each of you have according to the contract and conclude your business on a positive, professional note.
It’s also worthwhile to consider lessons learned and how you could prevent this situation in the future.
Here are some ways to stay current in your field:
– Attend conferences and trade shows
– Join affiliated groups
– Network with other people in your industry
– Improve your education by attending workshops and courses
– Read related magazines, journals, blogs, and websites
– Get involved with people and groups from your industry online with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and forums
– Experiment with new technology
– Identify new opportunities for learning and pursue them
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