I started this website as a way to share the notes and lessons I've learned over the years. I've been consulting for almost two years now, and I wanted to share some resources that helped me start and grow my business.
If you have any questions or suggestions for additional resources, send me an email!
Table of Contents
When starting a business, it's easy to think that there's a lengthy list of boxes you need to check. With consulting, this is not the case. You don't need a website, you don't need a custom letterhead, you don't need business cards, you don't need a logo, and you don't need social media presence. Capital requirements are minimal, especially if you can work from a home office.
The only real requirement to start a consulting business is having the skills to back up your offering and price point. Finding work is a matter of making connections, identifying problem areas, and offering solutions to those problems.
I expected that proposals, contracts, and business setup would account for most of my difficulty getting started. I was wrong - those pieces are straightforward and can be slowly improved over time.
These were actually my biggest challenges when getting started:
- Not realizing that I can only feasibly bill around 20 hours a week (running a business and finding new clients takes time)
- Improper expectations for timelines - from first conversation to a decision on a project proposal often takes 2-3 months
- Desperation for money and pressure from long pipeline times can easily overwhelm your judgment and cause you to take on a problematic client or project
- Learning how to filter out problematic clients and projects as early as possible, and turning that evaluation into a systematic approach
- Getting clients to pay me reliably and on-time (Now I have better contracts, late fees, and termination clauses)
- Remembering to take time to administer my own business, reflect on my long term vision, and review high level strategy
Every job you take should have a contract associated with it. Contracts exist to protect both parties. Not having a contract in place is the quickest path to business hell.
I highly advise working with a lawyer to review your contracts. However, at the beginning this may not be financially feasible. Here are some consulting contract templates you can use to get started:
Clients will often want you to use their consulting contract. Use this contract review checklist from the IEEE to make sure you are properly protected.
If there are terms that need modification, or clauses that you think are questionable or unfair, request changes. If a client will not negotiate or modify terms, do not proceed - that is a major red flag. Contracts are meant to be equitable, and negotiation is the process that creates equitability. Blindly accepting a contract's default terms will not work out in your favor if something goes wrong.
As a consultant, you must become comfortable writing and submitting proposals.
Before sending a proposal, you must have a general verbal agreement with the client on what outcomes you will be providing, the target timeline, and the projected cost. Sending a client a proposal before these items have been discussed and agreed upon will greatly increase the probability of a rejected proposal.
Keep your proposals brief - I limit myself to 3 pages.
These resources provide insight on how to craft a quality proposal:
- Alan Weiss: How to Write a Short, Effective Proposal
- Alan Weiss: Sample Proposals
- Creating the Perfect Proposal
Use these example proposal templates to get started:
Before submitting your proposal to a client, use this checklist to ensure you are not missing any critical information:
Insurance is a contentious topic. If all goes well, you won't need it. However, something will eventually go wrong, and you will want to make sure that you are protected and that your liability is limited.
While insurance is not a necessity when first starting your business, you will eventually want to purchase these key offerings:
- Professional Liability
- Also known as "Errors & Omissions" insurance
- General Liability
- Sometimes this is included in professional liability, but often it is a separate policy
- Ensure that you are covered until you are able to return to your normal work, not any work
Professional liability is a nebulous term and can have different meanings. I found this guide helpful:
I settled on the IEEE insurance offerings for my business. Other professional organizations or small business associations commonly provide insurance at a discounted rate.
The following books have had the most impact on my business:
- Million Dollar Consulting
- Developing a proper consulting mindset, understanding value, and practical advice on running a consulting business
- The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It
- Emphasizes the importance of building a business instead of owning a job
- Tell to Win
- Emphasizes the importance of having a good story
- Your Move: The Underdog’s Guide to Building Your Business
- A summary version of Ramit's Earn1K course
- Remote: Office Not Required
- Tips for operating a remote business
- Highly applicable to the home-based consulting business
- Provides inspiration for building your business in a sensible manner
The following courses have been impactful on my business, both in getting started and continuing to develop my business skills. Make sure to continue to invest in your own development!
- Earn 1K
- Ramit Sethi's course on identifying a business idea and getting your first $1000 from it.
- Covers testing your business idea, lead generation, lead conversion, emphasizing benefits, upsells, and generating follow-up work
- Creative Live: How to Make Money by Ramit Sethi
- Similar to Earn1K in content
- Call to Action
- Ramit Sethi's course on copywriting
- How we communicate affects our business in may small ways, including the emails we send, our sales pages, our websites, etc.
Here are some helpful consulting and business-related articles:
- IEEE: Making It as a Consultant
- IEEE: Building a Better Consulting Practice
- Why is a written contract important?
- The Art of Negotiation
Jack Ganssle has published a series of articles describing his experience as a consultant in the embedded systems space:
- Consulting as a Career
- A Guide to Being a Consultant
- I, Consultant
- I, Consultant (Part 2)
- I, Consultant (Part 3)
- I, Consultant (Part 4)
Stephanie Hurlburt of Basis has also published helpful advice:
- On Starting a Software Business
- In-Depth Networking & Business Building Advice
- I'm Sorry I Didn't Listen to Jason Fried
- Business Advice Braindump
- Advice on Pricing Your Software Product
The following videos have provided me with wisdom and inspiration for my business:
Here are other helpful consulting and business resources: