When I started out as a consultant, some thirteen years ago, I had some fabulous support, especially from two great friends, Eric Watts, and Kevin Ford. It was Eric who persuaded me to give up a twenty-five-year career in local government and Kevin who gave me the opportunity to take the plunge. I will be eternally grateful to both of them for their advice and support, then and since.
Along the way, I have garnered other advice, tips, and techniques for making my business flourish from a range of other friends and colleagues. Now, thirteen years on, I am often asked for advice about starting a consulting business. So I thought I‘d try to distil my best advice for readers in this blog post.
- Be sure of your vision for your business and pursue that vision doggedly. Set it out in writing, along with your key goals for each year, so that you can reflect on them on a regular and consistent Yes, write them down as research has proven that you are 45% more likely to achieve your goals if you just write them down. For the first time since I started in consultancy, I’ve used Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever programme and I recommend the balance of business, health, family and spiritual goal setting this advocates.
- Listen to your customers but do not pay them exclusive attention, especially if your learning in growing your business leads you to innovate. I’ve operated for the past thirteen years by always quizzing my customers about what it is they are asking for. I tend to presume there are deeper reasons for the need or pain they present to me. I would always urge initial face-to-face contact with a prospective client, wherever possible. In one recent experience, a client who initiated an approach around making an organisational restructuring needed to properly set organisational strategy first.
- If you hire any staff, be sure to hire those that best fit with your company. This may sound like common sense though you’d be surprised at just how much this is not common practice. Many small, independent organisations, like consultancies, hire family. Only do that if the person to be hired clearly understands and accepts the difference between working and being a relation.
- Keep a careful eye on your cash-flow. Businesses do not run on thin air and promises. It costs money to run a business well, so watch those cash flow figures. If you spend more than you earn you are insolvent, simple! Remember the phrase “Cash is King” is in business parlance for a reason.
- Stay focused on your brand – you are your brand. From the outset, be clear you are your brand and do whatever you need to promote and embed this in the things you do. My important lesson here is choose your brand wisely. I traded for years as Wear Consulting Limited because, at the start of my business, I had no better idea. Interestingly, everyone, from my clients, my colleagues and people I have collaborated with on a partnership or sub-contracted basis know me as John Thurlbeck. I am my brand and Wear Consulting never really took. That is why this spring I am re-branding everything in my own name, That’s something that Alexander Watkins doesn’t recommend in her book, ‘Hello, My name is Awesome’, which is a great read if you decide to call your business anything but your name. Whatever you decide to call your business, don’t forget to check out related trademarks and register yours.
- Now we are firmly in the Digital Age, my final piece of advice is this. Once you have a name for your business, buy up or lease all the digital real estate that links to it. That way, when you come to open a website, you can have pure links to cyberspace rather than through some compromised links because someone already owns what you really want. I’ve known colleagues who’ve had to pay exorbitant money for pure links and in these days of SEo ratings and the like, believe me they do matter.
These then are my six best tips for you in thinking through setting up your consultancy business. Clearly there is much more to this then these six steps, although they will give you a great start. I am always happy to help others in developing their businesses and am happy to take any questions for futehr help if needed. I’d also be interested if you have any other core tips or advice to share with others who might be setting out on their journey soon.