Everybody dreams about starting a business. I tried starting a business in education classifieds market in India a few year ago. While start-up sounds like an exciting word, the reality is far from it, especially in the initial few years. In the first year, I struggled a lot to earn some money. But, it looked like finding a profitable business model will take a couple of months more. So to support my family and keep paying my education loan EMIs, I decided to start a consulting service.
I was already teaching at a coaching institute. I knew that once the results of the entrance exam were declared, they would get many queries from the students to help them prepare for the interviews. Since I had myself gone through the process, I decided to offer help to those looking for the guidance on how to prepare for the interviews. Initially, the institute where I was teaching was hesitant about this idea. But I offered to do a couple of sessions free of cost. They got a very positive feedback from the students and decided to offer me more business. I soon grew this business to other centers and cities.
Why start a consulting business
1) It is an easy way to add to your income while leveraging the knowledge you have already gathered in your college degree or work.
2) If you are planning to start a company and you are worried about the possibility of failure, you can reduce your risk by starting a consulting business in parallel. You get time to fine-tune your business model.
3) Most of us get at least a few hours free every week. You can make use of that time to add a few hundred dollars to your savings account.
4) Getting a business in consulting is not difficult these days. I will explain more on this below.
How to start a consulting business
1) What are you good at – The first step is to understand what you are good at. Do you have good programming skills? Are you a good math teacher? Can you teach how to play the violin?
Are you a painter? All of us are good at one thing or another. You have to figure that out and if needed develop it further so that you are good enough to either teach or offer that skills to others.
You’ll also need to think about financing your business. You can apply for business loans, business cash advance or any personal loan if you get at lower interest rate.
2) Customer Interviews – Interview a few prospective customers. Understand their pain points. Why should they take your service? What are they doing to solve their problems? Understanding the clients is the single most important criteria for succeeding at your business.
3) Where are these customers – Once you know who your clients are, figure out where you will be able to find them. Will you find them through newspapers or magazines or online classified portals or freelance portals like eLance or oDdesk? When it comes to acquisition, keep in mind that you are looking for channels that are scalable and repeatable. You are looking for a channel which can give you more than a few customers on a regular basis.
For example, if you plan to start a consultancy on education and college counseling, help some of the kids around you by guiding them into the right colleges and courses. Note down your experience and your client’s experience. After doing some assignments and after you have gained some quality experience, make a portfolio/brochure consisting of testimonials and real-life problems and their solutions.
4) How much will you charge – Now that you know how to find your customers, do a back of the envelope calculation to find out how much you should charge. Will it be one time or recurring? Will it cover any expense towards acquiring the customer like newspaper advertisement?
5) Pilot Run – With answers to these questions, you are in a position to test your business model. Offer your service to a few customers and see how it goes. Use classified portals to the fullest. Don’t hesitate to spend money on advertisements but try to limit your expense. While I offered my service free of cost, in the beginning, I would advise against it. Charge for your service from day one. It is better to get one paying client than 10 free clients if you are serious about testing the idea and making it a business.
6) Go big! Set up a website and start marketing. Buy a domain and ensure that your website has a really optimistic and catchy name which attracts people. It’s the psychology of people to connect with circumstances. So put up highlighted questions such as, “Are you looking for the right person to guide you?” or something like, “tired of researching through useless brochures?” These are situations with which people can directly relate. Your website must also have service features such as an online appointment. You can also associate your venture with industries which are of your type.
For example, if you have started something like a health consultancy firm then you can tie up with pharmacists nearby to promote your firm to its customers for anti-depression counseling. You can also sponsor some health runs and marathons which are taking place nearby. These are probably the best possible way to spread a good word about a new firm. Distribute flyers, pamphlets, and talk to lots and lots of people. The whole beauty about this profession is that every case and every problem that comes up to you is unique. Therefore the more care and attention you give to your clients, the better your reputation becomes as a consultancy.
Use Social media extensively. Spread the word on Facebook pages, launch hashtags on Twitter, and update information about events and schemes on social networking sites. Make yourself a part of people’s daily lives. Social media has proved to be the most influential tool to publicize anything today. People have started bakeries from homes, home décor consultancies, and agencies just by operating a simple page. And the best part is that it’s completely free of cost!
If you have a brick and mortar businesses, let’s say, a consultancy for needs ad opportunities in a particular city or state. Word of mouth, participation in the consortium, talk shows, exhibitions, etc are going to be really helpful. Putting up banner stands, distributing leaflets or having a stall setup is a sure way to attract eyeballs and potential customers.
Another great way to market your service and reach out to the clients is through the freelance portals like Elance, odesk, and freelancers.com I know of at least 10 of my programmer friends who have earned a decent income while taking up these side projects on these portals. If you already know programming, then just offer you service on these portals and you will be surprised to know a number of money others are earning there. If you are a pro at finance and know a fair bit of planning for personal finances, offer your service as a financial planner on your website or blog.
What is your experience of starting a consulting business? Are you afraid of failure? Share your feedback and questions below in comments!