If you’re a seasoned employee, over the years you’ve probably made mistakes and learned valuable lessons from those missteps. You have industry knowledge, you can perform a broad range of services, and you’ve built up a network of business connections. To many small business owners, you’d be an invaluable resource…if they knew you were available for consultation.

Becoming a consultant is a great way to take control of your earnings, and perhaps grow a business in the process.

First Question: Can You Earn Enough as a Consultant?

Some people choose to test the waters by working part-time as a consultant while keeping their regular job. Others, especially if they’ve been laid off or furloughed due to the economic crisis, decide to throw the switch right away and put out the “Open for Business” sign. Either way, determine if you can actually afford to start a consultancy.

You know there will be expenses, even if you’re starting out in a home office: office furniture, computer hardware and software, reliable Internet connectivity, smartphone or other remote connectivity, stationery, business cards, office supplies, etc. Pull out the calculator and estimate how much you’ll need to get started.

If it takes you a few months to find your first client, you should have a cushion of cash to keep the doors open. Be sure to set up a savings account for your business that can act as an emergency fund that helps you survive a cash flow crisis.

Don’t develop pie-in-the-sky projections on costs or revenues. Be realistic (even pessimistic) to prepare for the worst and still be prepared to move forward with the plan.

Second Question: Does Business Even Want Your Consultation?

Business outsources a lot of work and planning to professionals. Some popular industry segments include: accounting, marketing and promotion, systems auditing, business planning, business writing, HR, bookkeeping, and a range of expertise from across the business spectrum.

Do a little research. Is there a lot of competition? How do they market? What do they charge? Determine the demand for your expertise before you quit your day job and offer consulting services.

Get Necessary Credentials in Order

Is your professional paperwork in order? Licenses and accreditations up to date? All certifications in place? Before you start a consulting business, make sure you’re legal. Check with federal, state and local authorities to ensure regulatory compliance before you make that first sales call.

Before You Talk to Your First Client

  • Go through your business contacts. If you don’t have enough of the right kind of contacts, getting traction can be a lengthy and costly effort. It may take a year, but start networking now and adding helpful contacts for your future consultancy.
  • Define your areas of expertise – skills and knowledge other businesses will pay for. It can be a niche area, but if you’re helping businesses grow, you may become known in that niche as a valuable asset.
  • Build an attractive, easy-to-navigate, easy-to update website. The website is often the best place to provide reasons for business owners to call you – the place to tell the whole story from service/product offerings to complete contact information.
  • Develop a competitive pricing schedule and provide it to prospects. Remember, good consultants are paid for what they know and what they do.
  • Build a “marketing toolbox.” Develop a presentation using PowerPoint® or some other simple presentation tool. Load it onto your laptop and start bringing it with you when you attend business meetings. You’ll have a list of talking points – reasons for business owners to call you.
  • Add proposal templates to your toolbox. Consultants often receive RFPs – requests for proposals – from prospective clients. Develop as much proposal content as you can before you start hiring yourself out. You can use these templates over and over. You’ll also refine them constantly, adapting each proposal to the particular needs of prospects.
  • Another toolbox addition? Print materials. Brochures, sell sheets and other “leave-behinds” keep your name in front of prospects. They’ll see your brochure, read it, and maybe give you a call. Consultants are often vetted by prospects. Leave something behind so company management remembers who you are and what you do.
  • Businesses will hire you for your professionalism, so you must look professional, even if this is your first sales call. Dress professionally, even if your first meeting is online.
  • Be prepared by developing an elevator speech and practicing it in front of a mirror, or – even better – by rehearsing and role-playing with a friend or family member. Work to project the image of a confident professional.

Network, network, network

  • Join industry-specific groups, the local Better Business Bureau, your local Chamber of Commerce, community groups – make your presence known.
  • Develop an online presence: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter…all these are ways you can connect with prospective clients and increase your credibility.

Start Looking for Clients

Starting a business consultancy is relatively low-cost, it can grow on its own via word of mouth, and it can start delivering income quickly if you meet the right prospect in need of someone just like you.

It’s not easy. It may or may not happen quickly. You may go through lean times in the beginning, but if satisfied clients continue to use your services, you will ultimately build a client base that can put you on your way to a successful future.