Below you will learn the key steps to starting a small business consulting firm.
10 Steps to Starting a Small Business Consulting Business
1. Conduct Market Research To Determine Demand
An important step to starting a small business consulting business is conducting market research. To begin, you must learn what services your clients want and how much they are willing to pay for them. There are two ways you can go about conducting this research:
- Survey your target market. This can be done through online surveys, phone interviews, or focus groups.
- Use industry data to determine demand. You can use websites like Hoovers, IBISWorld, and Dunn and Bradstreet to find information on specific industries and markets.
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 consulting prices.
2. Name Your Small Business Consulting Business
Once you have analyzed your market and determined what services clients want, it’s time to name your small business 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 small business services you offer and your target market’s needs.
- Keep it Memorable: Using clever ideas and words, help your audience connect with your business.
- Focus on Your Target Market: 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 small business consulting firms:
- Consulting Firm Model: This is the most common type of consulting business model and it involves hiring other small business 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 small business 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 Legal 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 small business 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 small business 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 Small Business Consulting Business Plan
A business plan is a document that outlines your business goals, strategies, and how you plan to achieve them. For a small business consulting company, your business plan should include the following:
- Business Description: Describe what your company does, who your target market 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 audience?
- 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 small business 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 small business 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 Small Business Consulting Company Efficiently
As a small business 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 small business consulting company.
Software: Software is an essential component of any 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 several features that can be helpful for small business consultants, 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.
Other software that may be helpful to small business consultants includes software for time tracking, invoicing, and task management.
Read our article about the technology and software you need to run a consulting business.
9. Market Your Small Business Consulting Firm to Potential Clients
Once you’ve established your small business consulting company, the next step is to market it to prospective clients.
Here are some common marketing strategies used for small business consulting firms:
- Network: Attend local business events, join professional organizations and network with other entrepreneurs in your area.
- Submit Proposals: When you find a potential project, submit a proposal outlining your services and fees.
- Online marketing: Marketing your business online, such as through a business website and pay-per-click and/or social media marketing, can help you reach a larger audience looking for your services.
- Blog: A blog is a great way to share your knowledge with potential clients and also help improve your website’s search engine ranking.
- Compete for Awards: Winning awards can help showcase your expertise and attract new clients.
- Advertise: Traditional advertising methods such as print, TV, and online ads can be a great way to reach prospective clients.
You should also consider ways to incentivize potential clients to choose you over another small business consulting firm. Some incentives that work well include:
- Lower rates: Many consulting businesses offer lower rates on their services to attract new clients.
- Discounts on services: Offering discounts on certain projects may help you win bids against other small business consultants.
- Free consultation: Providing potential 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 by the hour 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 small business 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 consulting 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 small business 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 small business consulting company, 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 small business clients include:
- Regular communication: Keep in touch with clients on a regular basis, either through email, phone calls, or face-to-face meetings.
- Set expectations: Make sure that clients know what to expect from you and your team. This includes deadlines, project status updates, and budget estimates.
- Stay organized: Keep track of all the work you are doing for each client and make sure that all the information is organized and easy to find.
Delivering projects on time and within budget is essential for any consulting business. 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 Small Business Consulting Firm FAQs
There are many reasons to start a small business consulting firm, but some of the most common reasons include:
- You have experience in starting and running a small business
- You have expertise in a specific industry or field
- You want to be your own boss
- You want to work from home
- You want to make a difference by helping other small businesses succeed
There are a few things you will need to start a small business consulting company, including:
- A business plan
- An understanding of the market you are entering
- The right skills and experience
- Enough capital to cover your initial costs
The following tips can help you to start a small business consulting company:
- Do your research: Before starting a small business consulting company, be sure to do your research and understand the market you are entering. This will help you to develop the right strategy and target the right clients.
- Have a clear focus: A small business consulting company can offer many services, but it is important to focus on a specific niche. This will help you to stand out from the competition and attract the right clients.
- Offer value: In order to be successful, a small business consulting company must offer value to its clients. This means providing high-quality services and solutions that are tailored to the client's needs.
- Stay organized: Being organized is essential for a small business consulting company. This includes keeping track of all the work you are doing for each client and making sure that all the information is organized and easy to find.
- Market yourself: It is important to market your small business consulting company in order to attract new clients. This can be done through online marketing, networking, and referrals.