Start a Consulting Business in 8 Steps
If you have a niche skill that businesses could leverage to achieve additional brand awareness, increased efficiency, or more profits, it might be time to learn how to start a consulting business.
Consulting is a massive field, and it’s still growing. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that over the next decade consulting jobs will increase by 11%, which is much faster than the average growth rate for most customer service jobs.
But, how can you break into this fast-growing industry? In this guide, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about how to start a consulting business. We’ll start with a brief run-down of consulting before jumping into eight steps for successfully launching a consulting brand.
What is consulting?
Before we explain how to start a consulting business, let’s quickly explore what consulting is all about—what consultants do, how much they make, and whether or not consulting is right for you.
What do consultants do?
Consultants are industry experts who provide their niche, in-depth knowledge, and expert advice to aspirational businesses and the prospective client.
For instance, a newly-opened nail salon might reach out to a consultant for advice on:
- Which products they should use
- Marketing strategy or campaigns
- Bookkeeping and finance procedures
- Staffing and HR compliance
- Employee training
- Navigating business insurance
- Developing a long-term business plan
- Attracting new potential customers
Or, as an individual, you might seek out a consultant to help you meet your personal goals related to:
- Wellness or nutrition
- Athletic performance or competition-readiness
- Financial goals
- Child care
- Career changes or professional development
- Protecting your personal assets
If someone needs advice in a specific area, a consultant is there to provide it—and help a business or individual conquer their goals.
Is consulting profitable?
In 2021, the median pay for consultants was $93,000/year or $44.71/hour. That same year, the median household income across the US was $70,784—so, consultants made almost 31% more than the average worker that year.
Depending on your lifestyle, the number of people in your household, where you live, and your current debts, consulting could be a profitable career choice. But, remember that you might not make this much in your first year on the job.
Is consulting for me?
If you aim to become a consultant, the path you take will depend on what industry you plan to consult for. In general, however, consultants need to have a few special skills:
- Specific, above-average knowledge about a topic, industry, or product
- Self-starting and discipline
- Excellent communication abilities
- Tech literacy (in most cases)
- Time management
- Professional boundary-setting
If you can make and stick to a tight schedule, you’ve never left an email unanswered, you know your worth, and you’re a master of one specific skill, you could have a promising career in consulting.
How to start a consulting business: 8 steps for success
If you’re the ideal candidate for starting your own consulting business, read on—we’re going to break down eight steps for future consultants who are ready to build their brands.
#1 Identify your skills, strengths, and weaknesses
Even if you have the skills listed above—superb communication, excellent time management, tenacity, and tech literacy, to name a few—what special skill do you plan to market?
While pinning down your consulting discipline, think about:
- Your hobbies and interests – What do you do for fun, and how much do you know about it? What could you give a TED Talk on with little to no preparation?
- Your workforce experience – If you’ve been a real estate agent for 25 years, perhaps it's time to help the next generation of agents grow their skills. Even experience in fields like human resources and general customer service can be considered very helpful.
- Your limitations – While you may have significant knowledge or experience about workplace culture, for instance, you might not have an encyclopedic knowledge of employment laws in the U.S.
- The skills you need to refine – Perhaps you’re only tech-literate as long as the “tech” in question is your iPhone. If you have a strong foundation, but limited technical knowledge, consider another avenue or prepare to invest in your skills.
#2 Invest in professional development
Once you find your niche, you may still need to improve other skills in your arsenal to excel at consulting.
For example, perhaps you’re considering becoming a restaurant industry consultant. While you might know how to organize, staff, and run the perfect kitchen, you may still have more to learn about:
- Front-of-house technologies like digital seating tools or payment kiosks at diners’ tables
- Ingredient sourcing
- Restaurant marketing
- Budgeting for a restaurant
- Hiring, employment, and labor laws for the service industry
If there are gaps in your knowledge, it’s time to track down what you don’t know. Expand your skills arsenal to increase your effectiveness as a consultant.
#3 Scope out the competition
Before you throw your hat into the local consulting ring, check out your competitors to explore:
- How they’re marketing to their base
- What services they offer
- Their pricing model
- The market’s awareness of their brand
Let’s explore a real-world example. Velie Consulting Services, LLC, based in The Villages, FL, offers a tax return preparation service. Before launching their brand, the company likely scouted out the competition’s:
- Presence in the local market
- Slates of services
- Marketing efforts
Before you can enter a competitive industry like consulting, you need to understand against whom you’re competing. Put your sleuthing cap on and see what the current market has to offer.
#4 Create a service and price guide
Before you can start marketing your services, you need two critical pieces of information:
- The services you’re planning to offer, and
- How much those services will cost.
While you can keep your prices slightly more confidential, you should be as clear and specific about your services as possible.
Check out Joyride Consulting in Austin, TX, for example. On their Nextdoor Business Page, they list numerous services available to clients, including market research, product ideation, prototyping, and UX design. The brand is specific about what it can offer to businesses and individuals, and your slate of services should be just as precise.
#5 Start marketing to your niche
Once you’ve determined which services you’ll offer to future clients, it’s time to shout your brand from the rooftops. You can get the word out by:
- Spreading word-of-mouth news with friends and family
- Posting your business cards on a community bulletin board
- Creating a website and sharing the link or QR code with a list of email contacts
- Cold-calling businesses in your area who could benefit from your services
- Starting a free Nextdoor Business Page for your new brand
Your marketing efforts should encompass three major avenues—verbal advertising, written or visual materials, and online efforts.
For the latter, there’s no better tool than Nextdoor. As a business owner, you can use Nextdoor to:
- Build an online presence in your local community
- Gather intel on consulting trends
- Interact with users by posting on your page
- Promote deals or make announcements
- Connect one-on-one with past, current, and future customers
- Gather recommendations from fellow Nextdoor users
The best part—it’s free. If you’re looking for the locus of neighborhood business marketing, turn to Nextdoor as you grow your consulting brand.
#6 Offer continuing services to past clients
As you market your consulting business and start to work with your first few clients, remember that the longevity of a business relationship is key to continued profits and brand awareness. So, while you’re working with a client, brainstorm some ways that you can support them in the future.
For example, if you’re consulting for a company trying to build an airtight HR department, you could offer the following services three months, twelve months, or five years from now:
- Annual audits for:
- Internal SOP compliance
- Labor law compliance
- Tech upgrades or new software integration
- A fresh employee training program
- Third-party conflict review services
To future-proof your business, it’s important to consistently think about how you can continue to help the clients on your roster after their contract ends.
#7 Branch out to other niches
As long as you have the discipline, people skills, and business savvy to become a consultant, remember that the other crucial element—expertise in a specific area—doesn’t have to stay the same forever.
As you grow your business, consider making a plan to branch out to other niches. For instance, if you’re offering financial planning to new college graduates, you could learn more about the following topics to expand your slate of services or market to new user groups:
- Financial planning before or after having children
- Mapping out spending plans for retirement
- Financial recovery after divorce
Every new skill you learn is a chance to grow your business.
#8 Stay current
While you shouldn’t be afraid to branch out when you’re ready, remember to stay current with your areas of expertise, especially if you plan on consulting in the tech industry.
As long as you’re offering a service to a client, you should always be in the know about that topic’s:
- Changing technologies
- New industry leaders
- Groundbreaking publications
- Compliance and legal implications
Your clients trust you to provide expertise that’s accurate, useful, and up-to-date. You can achieve the latter by keeping up with the ins and outs of your industry at all stages of your business’s growth.
Advertise your new consulting business with Nextdoor
Learning how to start a consulting business can seem intimidating. But with a commitment to your industry, the marketing chops to get the word out, and the business savvy to identify and harness new opportunities for growth, you can build a consulting brand from the ground up.
While consulting work can be remote, your local economy is a gold mine of potential clients—and reaching them has never been easier. With a Nextdoor free Business Page, you can grow your market presence in your own backyard.
Among Nextdoor users, 88% shop at a local business once per week and 44% are willing to spend more to support a neighborhood brand. Your community wants to shop local, and they’re using Nextdoor to find their new favorite businesses.
Whether you’re looking to connect one-on-one with new customers, scope out the competition in your area, or plan a joint promotion with another local business, Nextdoor can put your business on the map and help you crush your goals as you grow your brand.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Management Analysts. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/management-analysts.htm
Indeed. Consultant Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications. https://www.indeed.com/hire/job-description/consultant
US Census Bureau. Income in the United States: 2021. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2022/demo/p60-276.html