The allure of working as a free agent, outside of the confines of a 9-5 is enticing. Imagine: no boss to listen to, and people pay you to hear your expert advice. It sounds like a great gig, doesn’t it? 

Once established, a consulting business can give you a lot of creative and professional freedom. 

It’s a huge step to start your own business, so how do you know you’re ready to take the leap? 

Starting a consulting business, in theory, is quite easy. If you’ve got marketable skills in IT, marketing, design, career counseling, or just about any expertise that you can see demand for, you could start a consulting firm. Of course, to be successful, you’ll need a few skills on top of that: people skills, self-motivation, sales chops, and deep knowledge of your area of expertise will certainly help.

At the end of the day, though, the real test is, can you get clients?

Once you have your first few clients under your belt, you’ll have a better handle on if you can make a career out of this. In the meantime, let’s talk about a few helpful tips for launching your dream consulting business.

1. Determine your expertise and clients.

The most apparent part of creating your consulting firm will be narrowing down on your niche. What type of consultant do you want to be? Make lists of your strengths and knowledge areas so you can narrow down your offerings. While it’s exciting to be a jack-of-all-trades, that’s a hard title to market for consulting.

Once you have your knowledge area focused, you can determine your ideal client. Who would benefit from this knowledge? Design a profile of the type of client you’d like to work with.

2. Market yourself as a service that saves money or makes money.

In business, most management only cares about one thing: the old, green cha-ching. Money makes the world go ‘round, especially in business. No matter what kind of consultant you are—even a career coach or lifestyle consultant—you’ll want to frame your business in a way that shows you either save or make money.

How would you do that? Let’s look at a branding consultant, for example. A branding consultant, helps their customers create a visual, personal brand and story. They do this through helping their clients choose the appropriate logo to convey the type of image and messaging they’d like people to see. A proper image can help your client land new business, get promoted, or get elected in public office. So, even though it doesn’t outwardly appear that a branding consultant could save or make money, they certainly can.

All you must do is determine your spin.

3. Build your network and online presence.

Connect with local business owners at networking events and tradeshows when possible. 

Collect business cards, email addresses, or connect on LinkedIn. In the digital space, connect with people related to your ideal client on LinkedIn. Create a professional online presence using social media and use it to share thoughts and writings about categories of services that you offer.

Social media is a great way to connect with people on a personal level, but also be sure to create a website and update your Google My Business listings to ensure that casual lookers searching for services like yours have a way to find you.

4. Determine your onboarding process

One area that can get a little messy at first is how to onboard a new client. It’s vital that you set the boundaries and expectations of this working relationship right out of the gate and in writing. 

However, it’s good not to come swinging aggressively with the legalese. Try to determine an onboarding process that is welcoming, friendly, and customer-focused.

Before signing your first batch of clients, take time to create some template contracts, proposals, and helpful onboarding documentation like welcome emails and frequently asked questions. When it’s time to sign a customer, be sure to put their needs first (while also ensuring that your business is protected). Listen to their concerns and tailor their contract and proposals to their individual needs.

Your onboarding process should be quick, seamless, and painless. Ensure that each customer feels welcomed, heard, and understands your expectations of them, including boundaries, payment dates, work due dates, and if they have any “homework” to make your partnership effective.

Starting your own business is an exciting venture. Consulting can be extremely rewarding. After all, you’ll directly help individuals or companies improve and grow. What’s more satisfying than that?

Just remember to spend time developing your brand, process, and network before you dive too far into the self-employed deep end. You’ll save yourself a world of headaches with just a little bit of forethought and preparation.