Below you will learn the key steps to starting a design consulting firm.
11 Steps to Starting a Design Consulting Business
1. Conduct Market Research To Determine Demand
An important step to starting a design consulting firm is conducting market research. To begin, the first thing you need to do is know what services your clients want and how much they are willing to pay for them. Here are two ways you can go about conducting this research:
- Survey your target market. This can be done online, through social media, or by conducting interviews with potential clients.
- Review the competition. See what services they offer and how much they charge.
Once you have analyzed the survey data, determine which types of businesses are likely to hire you and how much they are willing to pay. Use this information to set your own prices.
2. Name Your Design Consulting Firm
Once you have analyzed your market and determined what services clients want, it’s time to name your design consulting firm. While naming a business can be difficult, there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind:
- Keep it Short: Your business name needs to be short enough for clients to remember and say.
- Keep it Relevant: Your business name should be relevant to the design services you offer and your ideal client’s needs.
- Keep it Memorable: Using clever ideas and words, help your audience connect with your business.
- Focus on Your Target Audience: Make sure that whoever sees or hears your company name understands who you are targeting as clients.
Read our article about choosing the right business name.
3. Determine Your Consulting Business Model
There are four main types of business models for design consulting firms:
- Consulting Firm Model: This is the most common type of business model and it involves hiring other consultants and employees to provide services to clients.
- Solo Consultant Model: This is when a consultant offers their services to clients on their own.
- Productized Consulting Model: This is when a consultant offers a fixed set of products to their clients.
- Hybrid Consulting Model: This type of consulting firm offers a selection of design consulting services and products.
No matter which model you choose, make sure that it aligns with your business goals and the services you offer.
Read more about choosing the right business model for your consulting firm.
4. Choose Your Business Structure and Set-Up Your Company’s Legal Entity
As with any business, the type of legal entity you set up is critical. After all, you want your company to be treated as a separate entity, not just an extension of yourself. There are several types of structures in which you can start your design consulting company. Three popular options are sole proprietorship, S-corporation and LLC (limited liability company).
- Sole Proprietorship: A sole proprietorship is one in which the business and the owner are considered to be one entity. Therefore, you are personally responsible for all debts and liabilities your design consulting firm may incur. One benefit of this type of structure is that it’s easy to set up and there are no formal filings required.
- S-Corporation: An S corporation is a type of C Corporation that was designed by the IRS to help small corporations minimize their paperwork while still gaining many of the tax benefits of incorporating. It also offers protection for business owners in case of lawsuits and other liabilities.
- Limited Liability Company (LLC): An LLC is a structure in which the company is considered a separate legal entity from its owners. This means that the company is responsible for its own debts and liabilities. This type of structure offers protection for business owners in case of lawsuits.
Read our article comparing the most common consulting business structures.
5. Write a Design Consulting Business Plan
A business plan is a document that outlines your business goals, strategies, and how you plan to achieve them. For a design consulting company, your business plan should include the following:
- Business Description: Describe what your company does, who your target audience is, and how you will differentiate yourself from the competition.
- Industry & Market Analysis: Detail your research on the industry and what services clients are most likely to want.
- Financial Plan: Outline your estimated income and expenses for the next three to five years.
Other sections of your plan will answer other key questions such as the following:
- What are your areas of expertise?
- What services can you offer your clients?
- Who is your target market?
- How will you differentiate yourself from the competition?
Your business plan should also include several sections that detail your company’s history, current financial situation, and future goals. These sections will allow an investor to learn more about your company before they commit to investing in it.
Read our article about how to write a consulting business plan.
6. Apply for the Necessary Permits and Licenses
You must register your design consulting business as a legal entity with the state in which you plan to do business.
To file your business with the state, obtain the necessary forms from the Secretary of State’s website or local County Clerk’s office. You will be required to pay a small fee for filing your business with the state.
Registering with the federal government may or may not be required. You can register your business on the federal level by obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.
Read our article about obtaining the proper consulting business licenses.
7. Determine Your Budget & Apply for Funding as Needed
As with any business, you will need to use your own capital to finance the initial stages of your design consulting company. Your budget may also include several other costs including marketing expenses and the salary you wish to pay yourself.
After determining how much money you will invest in starting your business, review some options for financing your business. Here are several financing options that may be available to you:
- SBA Loans: The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a government agency that provides financial assistance to small businesses in the U.S.
- Bank Loans: Many small business owners are able to secure loans from their local banks. Often, you can borrow money for any purpose that relates to the growth of your company.
- Friends and Family: You can consider getting loans and/or equity investments from friends and family members.
- Angel investors: Angel investors may provide debt or equity funding to you.
Read our article about the costs associated with starting a consulting business to help you determine if funding is needed.
8. Get the Technology & Software Needed to Run Your Design Consulting Company Efficiently
As a design consulting firm, you will need different types of technology to complete projects and keep track of your company’s operations. To simplify the process of starting a consulting business, we’ve provided a list below detailing some items that you’ll need:
Computers: Even if most of your work is done remotely with clients on the other side of the country or world, you will need at least one computer that is dedicated to your design consulting company.
Software: Software is an essential component of any successful consulting business. The right software can help you manage projects, track expenses, and communicate with clients more effectively.
Here are some popular software platforms that may be beneficial to your business:
- Microsoft Office: This software suite includes a variety of applications that can help you manage your company, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
- QuickBooks: This software is designed for small businesses and can help you track income and expenses, create invoices, and manage payroll.
- Basecamp: This project management software can help you manage multiple projects simultaneously and keep track of deadlines and milestones.
- Gmail: Google’s email platform offers a number of features that can be helpful for businesses, including the ability to access the same email from multiple devices.
- CRM: Customer relationship management software can help you track customer communication, manage leads, and create reports that detail your sales activities.
There may be additional software that is specific to your industry or type of consulting work. Do some research online or talk to other design consultants to find the best options for your business.
Read our article about the technology and software you need to run a consulting business.
9. Market Your Design Consulting Firm to Your Ideal Clients
Once you’ve established your design consulting company, the next step is to market it to your ideal clients.
Here are some common marketing strategies used for design consulting firms:
- Networking: One of the best ways to market your business is to meet people in person and let them know what you do. Attend industry events, join networking groups, and get involved with online communities related to design consulting.
- Blogging: A blog can be a great way to showcase your work, share industry trends and insights, and connect with prospective clients.
- Social Media: Platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook offer opportunities to build relationships with clients and promote your company’s services.
- Website: A professional website is a critical part of any marketing strategy. It should include information about your company, its services, and examples of your work.
You should also consider ways to incentivize prospective clients to choose you over another design consulting firm. Some incentives that work well include:
- Lower rates: Many consulting businesses offer lower rates on their design consulting services to attract new clients.
- Discounts: Offering discounts on certain projects may help you win bids against other companies.
- Free consultation: Providing prospective clients with a free consultation can help them determine if your company is the best one for their needs.
Learn more about how to market your consulting business.
10. Establish a Price Structure and Billing System
There are a few factors to consider when establishing your price structure:
- Hourly rates: Charging an hourly rate is a common way to price consulting services. This allows clients to budget for your services and gives you the flexibility to charge more for complex projects.
- Project rates: Charging a flat fee for a project can be beneficial for both the client and the consultant. It ensures that the client knows what they are paying up front, and it allows the consultant to charge more for more complex projects.
- Retainers: A retainer is a set amount of money that the client pays upfront for services. This can be a good option for clients who need regular design services.
No matter which pricing structure you choose, be sure to clearly communicate it to your clients. Additionally, have a detailed invoice template that includes all the design services you provided so the client knows exactly what they are paying for.
11. Manage Client Relationships and Deliver Projects
After finding new clients and marketing your design consulting firm, you should begin delivering the projects and getting paid. This means managing client relationships and making sure that clients are happy with your work. Some of the ways to manage relationships with your design clients include:
- Regular communication: Keep in touch with your clients on a regular basis, especially during the project phase. This can be done through email, phone calls, or face-to-face meetings.
- Weekly reports: Send your clients a weekly report that outlines the progress of the project and any issues that have arisen.
- Client feedback: Soliciting feedback from clients after every project is a great way to ensure that they are happy with your work.
Delivering projects on time and within budget is essential for a design consulting firm. It can be beneficial to create a project management plan that outlines how each project will be completed. This will help ensure that all deadlines are met and that the client is happy with the final product.
Learn more about how to effectively manage client relationships.
Starting a Design Consulting Business FAQs
There are many reasons to start a design consulting firm. Perhaps you are an experienced designer who wants to run your own business. Or maybe you are looking for a way to use your design skills to help clients solve problems. Whatever the reason, starting your own design consulting firm is a great way to make money and use your creative talents.
There are a few things that you will need to start a design consulting business:
- A portfolio of your work
- Business cards
- An invoice template
- A price list
- Project management tools
The following tips can help you to start a design consulting business:
- Do your research: Before starting a design consulting business, be sure to do your research and understand the industry. This will help you to develop a business plan and set up your company correctly.
- Create a portfolio: A portfolio is essential for any design consultant. Be sure to showcase your best work and highlight your skills and experience.
- Set up your business correctly: Make sure to set up your business as a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation. This will help protect you and your business assets.
- Market your business: Marketing is key for any successful business. Be sure to create a marketing plan and implement it regularly.
- Establish relationships with clients: It is important to build strong relationships with your clients. This will help ensure that they are happy with your work and will continue to use your consulting service.
- Stay up to date with technology: Technology changes rapidly in the design industry. Make sure to stay up to date with the latest trends and technologies so you can offer your clients the best services possible.
- Manage client relationships: Managing client relationships is essential for a successful design consulting business. Be sure to keep in touch with clients on a regular basis and solicit feedback after every project.
- Set up a project management plan: A project management plan will help ensure that all deadlines are met and that the client is happy with the final product.