How to start a consulting business

Curious to know how to start a consulting business? It’s important to have a clear understanding of what it involves and how to finance it. This guide takes you through the necessary steps to help you get set up. 

What is consulting?

Consulting is the process of providing expert advice to people working in a professional or technical field, in return for a fee. Consultants specialise in a niche industry or trade. They are experts in their field and must have valuable knowledge that people are willing to pay for.

As well as giving advice, a consultant might offer feedback, strategy building and problem diagnosis. They work to help businesses become more successful and can offer a new perspective to help businesses overcome certain challenges.  

Consultancy or contractor

Consultants and contractors both work with businesses, but they work in different ways. 

Contractors are self-employed workers that are contracted by companies to provide certain services. Consultants are hired to provide expert advice and might be self-employed or employed by a consulting company. However, it’s also possible for consultants to be asked to provide a service in a contractor-type role.

Types of consulting businesses:

There are several different types of consulting businesses, as we explain below:

1. Management Consulting

This is the most common type of consulting. If you go into this line of work, you’ll work with business leaders to help their companies run smoothly. You might assess certain processes and help them to implement new ones, for example. You might focus on the organisation as a whole or you might specialise in specific departments. 

2. Strategy Consulting

Strategy consulting involves reviewing business strategies and providing expert advice on how they can be improved or suggesting new ones. 

You’ll typically be an expert in a specific industry or field and will be able to advise on high-level, strategic business decisions. 

3. Operations Consulting

Operations consultants deal with procurement, outsourcing, supply and chain management, plus a lot more. They might also offer support in helping clients put new processes into action. 

4. Financial Strategy Consulting

If you choose to be a financial consultant, you’ll likely work in corporate finance, risk management, financial restructuring or real estate. Financial consultants guide businesses to help them make informed decisions to improve returns and meet their budget. However, if you choose to go down this route, you’ll need to meet certain requirements and have certain qualifications that enable you to offer financial advice.

5. Human Resources Consulting

Human Resources (HR) consulting involves assessing and improving HR processes, whether that’s looking at training and development, employee benefits or helping to resolve conflict. 

HR consultants also make sure businesses are following the necessary legal practices and can help companies hire the right employees.

6. IT Consulting

As an information technology (IT) consultant, you’ll help to implement and manage new technologies within a business, whether that’s systems integration or software development and management. You can also help businesses work out which software to invest it and how to use it. Because this is a highly specialised area, it can be much more lucrative.

7. Business Consulting

If you work with businesses across a range of areas, whether that’s training or financial advice, you’ll fall into the business consulting category. You’ll usually work with SMEs rather than larger firms. 

8. Sales Consulting

As the name suggests, a sales consultant works with companies to help them improve their sales performance. You’ll usually work in sales training and development but might be asked to provide support in other areas, such as improving morale within the team or selecting a CRM.

9. Marketing Consulting

A marketing consultant will assess a business’ marketing efforts and offer guidance on how to improve strategies to boost revenue and hit targets. 

Some marketing consultants specialise in particular fields of marketing, such as PR, social media or content marketing, while others might concentrate on a niche marketing process like defining target audiences or brand awareness. 

10. Financial Consulting

To an extent, this overlaps with financial strategy consulting, but the key difference is that financial consulting also includes independent financial consultants that work with individuals. That means you might help people with their taxes, everyday expenses, investments and insurance. 

Starting a consultancy business: essential steps

If you’ve read the above and feel you’re ready to open your consultancy business, take a look at the steps below to help get you started:

1. Assess Your Skills and Strengths to Determine Your Niche

Your first step should involve brainstorming and working out what skills and experience you have that will help you become a consultant. Think about why you could be considered an expert and what areas you’re particularly interested in to help you determine your niche. Do family and friends ever ask you for advice on a certain topic, for example?

Keep in mind that you might be asked to speak publicly on this topic and train groups of people, as well as identify problems and analyse data, so it’s crucial that you know your stuff.

If you can’t think of a specific niche, pick a few industries you’ve worked with before and then score them on the following factors with a rating of 1 to 5 – with 1 being weak and 5 being very strong.

  • Do you have a lot of experience within this niche?
  • How would you rate your status as an expert within this niche?
  • How confident are you that you can deliver results within this niche?
  • How would you rate this niche’s growth potential and are there many opportunities for consultants?
  • How would you rate your interest in this niche?
  • How would you rate your ability to speak with clients in this niche?

Add up the total scores and pick the one with the highest score to start with. You can always change it later. 

2. Analyse Market Needs and Pain Points

Next, you need to take steps to better understand what industry and market you’ll be targeting. This can help you assess your potential client’s needs, challenges and pain points, helping you to work out how you can use your skills to offer solutions.

You need to understand exactly what services you can provide so that you can advertise them on your website and be able to explain them to your potential clients.  

3. Develop Your Brand, Website, and Service Offerings

You now need to create a website and establish your brand and service offerings. This will help you to stand out from competitors. 

Make sure your business has an official name that you can use across your website and business cards. You also need to work out how much you’re going to charge clients. You could charge by the hour or by project. 

Charging hourly is the simplest option as clients only pay you for the hours you spend on the work. But you’ll need to track your hours carefully and your income might not be dependable. Charging a fixed rate for a project helps both you and your client project fees for months to come. However, you could be left out of pocket if a project takes longer than anticipated. 

Many consultants prefer a retainer pricing model that charges clients in advance and can be ideal if you’re providing an ongoing service for a client, such as managing their website. 

Whichever option you choose, make sure it’s clear to your clients how your services can help them. 

4. Establish Your Business

You’ll also need to choose a legal structure for your business. Setting up as a sole trader is usually the easiest option, but you could also consider setting up a limited company. Rather than paying income tax, as you do as a sole trader, limited companies pay corporation tax on their profits. This could work out cheaper if you’re a higher rate taxpayer. 

It’s also sensible to open a business bank account to help keep your business and personal finances separate, and consider hiring an accountant to help you with your taxes. 

In addition, it’s important to think about the types of business insurance you’ll need. Professional indemnity insurance, for example, will cover you in the event you make a mistake that ends up losing your client money. Public liability insurance can also be worth having if you regularly have clients visiting you as this will cover you for third-party injury or damage to property.

5. Market Your Services to Attract New Clients

You’re now ready to start marketing your business to attract new customers. There are various ways to do this. For example, you might want to advertise online or in industry publications, you could try cold calling and emailing, or you might want to use social media to help advertise your services. 

Blogging and podcasting can help increase awareness about your business and establish expertise, even if they don’t directly give you new revenue. Make sure that if you get in front of potential clients, you can explain your services concisely.

6. Maintain Organisation and Foster Growth

It’s important that as your business grows, you stay organised. Producing high-quality results and building good relationships with clients is key to drumming up new business and getting referrals. 

You’ll also need to regularly review your business to analyse your client list, software tools and other business practices and work out what’s going well and what’s not. Also look into whether there are any areas in which you could save money.

Growing your consulting business: essential strategies​

Once your business is set up, there are steps you can take to help it grow. Take a look at the strategies below to help you:

  • Conduct a competitive analysis of consultancy firms in your niche to see how you can improve your business. Look at how they market their business, the services they offer and the prices they charge to see how they compare to yours. Consider whether there are any new verticals that you could explore.
  • Starting a blog can be a great way to market your business and help your business to organically rank online. You can use your blog to help highlight the services you offer, but it’s also worth asking existing clients if there’s anything they feel would be helpful for you to write about and share.
  • Network and make new connections in person and online. You can do this by engaging with people through platforms like Twitter and start interesting conversations. This can help you to attract new clients and build your business.

How to finance a consulting business

Before you get your consulting business up and running, you’ll need to think about how you’re going to finance it. If you’re working alone, you won’t need to think about any staffing costs apart from your own, but you might need help paying for initial administration, accountancy costs and insurance. 

If you don’t have sufficient savings and you need to borrow money, there are a number of options to explore.

As a starting point, you could ask family and friends if they are willing to lend you funds. This can be cheaper than borrowing through a traditional loan, but it can put a strain on the relationship if things go wrong. 

If not, you could find out whether you qualify for a startup loan. This is a type of business loan that could enable you to borrow funds of up to £25,000. You then repay the amount borrowed in monthly instalments over a set term. 

Alternatively, angel investors or business angels are high net worth individuals that tend to invest in startups and early stage businesses. In return, they usually receive shares in the company. They’ll often have plenty of experience so can offer their expertise and contacts to help your business grow.

A business credit card can also be a useful tool for certain expenses. It enables you to borrow flexibly up to your agreed credit limit and can help you to buy equipment and supplies even if you are temporarily short of funds. You then pay back this amount in flexible monthly repayments, usually with interest added.

Get started with Swoop

If you’re not sure which funding option is best for your consultancy business, the team of experts at Swoop will be happy to talk through your options to help you find the right solution. Get in touch today. 

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Written by

Rachel Wait

Rachel has been writing about finance and consumer affairs for over a decade, helping people to get to grips with their finances and cut through the jargon. She's written for a range of websites and national newspapers including MoneySuperMarket, Money to the Masses, Forbes UK, and Mail on Sunday. Rachel has covered almost every financial topic, from car insurance and credit cards, to business bank accounts and mortgages.

To read our editorial policy, please click here.

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