How to Start a Consulting Business

Help clients succeed while achieving your own career goals by starting a consulting business.

Business at a glance

Income potential

$75,000-125,000

As with any salary range, consultant salaries depend on a lot of factors including your field, what kind of clients you work with, etc. The above range gives a range, but experienced consultants frequently make well over $250k depending on their niche.

Startup costs

$50-550 for a business license (depending on your location).

Training

There are no defined qualifications or certifications required for consultants. Education and/or experience in a relevant field (accounting, HR, law, marketing, branding, etc) is pretty much a must, though.

How do I start my own consulting business ASAP?

The nice thing about opening a consulting business is that you don’t need to spend a lot of time or money to get started. You don’t need office space, you don’t need fancy tools or equipment, heck, you don’t even necessarily need to put pants on. But there are few key things you will need to do to get your consulting firm off the ground and ready to make money. And here they are.

Decide on your service offering

Consulting isn’t a very specific term, so it should be no surprise that there are different types of consulting services. Business consultants usually fit into one of six categories:

Essential details

Potential Services
  • Strategy consultant. Mostly focus on big-picture topics like corporate organization, economic policy, and governance at the highest levels of a company.
  • Management consultant. This is a catch-all term for consultants who help companies with all things management-related at various levels of a company, including operations, finance, and HR, which are their own specializations.
  • Operations consultant. These professionals advise on how a company operates, including everything from sales and production to supply chain, legal, and more. If you’re planning on starting a marketing consulting firm it would fall under this category.
  • Financial consultant. Focusing on the money side of client businesses, financial consultants provide guidance on things like risk management, taxation, capital expenditures, and even forensic accounting.
  • Human resources consultant. Specialists in manpower issues such as hiring and firing, training, retirement, contracts, and more.
  • IT consultant. These tech experts advise companies on their technology infrastructure. If you’re researching how to start an IT consulting business, a small business IT consultant might outline a simple network strategy or hardware acquisition schedule, while a consultant for a large corporation might plan a complicated enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that manages and automates many aspects of a business’ processes.
What to charge

$25-350+ per hour

Skills required
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Customer service
  • Strategic thinking
  • Adaptability
  • Organization
  • Resourcefulness
  • Leadership
  • Experience and/or education in a specific fields

In-person vs. online business consulting

Once you’ve decided on one of these niches (or one of your own devising) based on your education and expertise, you’ll also need to choose whether you will operate in person, online, or as a hybrid model. Consulting has traditionally been an in-person role, where you might actually visit a company’s office and work directly with their team for a period of time. However, with many companies moving to hybrid or fully remote business models, it could be advantageous to build online consulting services into your offerings. Starting an online consulting business can also give you access to clients outside your geographical area (even outside your country) and it may even allow you to help more clients simultaneously, since you won’t be stuck at just one office.

Now calculate your startup costs and set prices

You’ll be happy to learn that you can set up a consulting business for almost no money. Your startup costs are limited to:

  • Business registration, starting at $0 for sole proprietors in most states
  • Business licensing, ranging from $50-550 depending on your state
  • Business cards, $0 for online consultants, around $20 for 100 cards for in-person consultants

So if you intend to conduct your business consulting online, you might be able to start your operation for just $50. Bargain!

As for pricing, most consultants charge by the hour on a scale that ranges from $25 per hour to $350 per hour or more. Your hourly rate depends on what type of consulting you will provide, your level of experience, and the market in which you operate (bigger cities and large corporations tend to command a higher price).

You might also choose to provide a per-project rate, which some clients prefer for its transparency. In this case it is typical to estimate the number of hours a project will take, then add 15-20% to account for administrative tasks.

Some consultants also work on retainer, which is a fee paid on a monthly basis usually for recurring or ongoing services, such as IT monitoring. If you have worked with a client for a period of time and the workload is predictable, you might want to suggest a retainer to make your income more reliable and to keep them committed to your consultancy.

Now go build a consultancy website

No matter what type of consulting you plan on doing, you need a website to act as your homebase online. Many clients will search the web as the first thing they do in their search for consulting help and you need your website to be there to capture them. It’s also a great place to send potential clients for more information.

You can quickly and easily create a freelance consultant website using Durable. The AI website builder will transform a tiny amount of information about your business into a complete, professional website, including everything from copy and images to colors, fonts, address map, contact form, and more. And it takes a grand total of 30 seconds to do it. If you're chomping at the bit to get started today and right now, you can do that right here👇

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Start promoting your consulting business

When you’re new to the consulting game, the most important thing to remember about your marketing strategy is: more is better. Don’t worry too much about fancy tactics, just get your name out there to start getting clients. Here are some things you can do:

  • Share your website with anyone and everyone in your network
  • Consider producing thought leadership content for a blog or social media accounts—write about your consulting subject and your personal experience with it
  • Ensure your LinkedIn company page is filled out, linked to your website, and that you post on LinkedIn regularly
  • Create profiles on listing services like Upwork
  • Spend small amounts on targeted digital ads on Facebook and Google Ads—learn how with this guide
  • Set up social media accounts (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter—whichever are appropriate for your business), post frequently, and make sure you respond to comments
  • Ask satisfied clients to leave great reviews (Durable can help with that)
  • If you think you’ll encounter potential clients in real life, hand out business cards with reckless abandon

Get ready to get paid

The last thing to do before you greet your first client is make sure you can get paid, easily and reliably. That means you need an easy-to-use invoicing tool like the one from Durable. It automatically generates professional invoices with integrated payment options so your clients can settle up quickly without confusion.

You should also open a business bank account to keep your personal and professional finances separated, which is essential to running an organized business, especially at tax time. Durable Money is the easiest way to get an online bank account that works seamlessly with your invoices and website.

Once your consultancy starts to grow

After your initial startup and client acquisition phase, you’ll start to become more comfortable and likely find yourself with a little breathing room. That’s a great time to implement a few simple things to keep your success on an upward trajectory.

Brand your consulting business

There’s a good chance that up to this point you’ve been operating as a sole proprietor under your own name. But if you want to build a brand around your consultancy, you should consider coming up with a name that is unique and memorable. If you need help coming up with a good name for your consulting business, try out the AI business name generator. It’s great at coming up with suggestions.

If you want to further brand your business, you can also choose brand colors and design a simple logo that you can use on your website, business cards, invoices, etc.

Expand your marketing strategy

You found your first clients with a simple, broadly applied set of marketing tactics. Now you can think about reaching more potential customers using some advanced strategies.

  • Competitive analysis. Who are your competitors and how much are they charging? What kinds of marketing tactics do they employ? Anything you learn about your competition can help you hone your marketing strategy.
  • Understand your client. Which characteristics are common amongst your favorite clients? Which clients are more hassle than they are worth? Look at commonalities between your existing clients to guide your marketing efforts when seeking new ones.
  • Send email. It’s more effective than social media and you can talk to recipients about anything you want: tips, discounts, service offerings, etc. So send email communications to everyone on your contact list.
  • Webinars/podcasts. If you’ve got a mind for multimedia, consider starting a podcast or hosting webinars where you can discuss your niche of business consultancy and further build your brand. Just be careful not to give away too much for free.
  • Set up a CRM. You need a way to keep track of your contacts, from potential customers to active clients, suppliers, and more. Client relationship management software is the best way to make that happen.

Purchase business insurance

As a consultant, you’re going to be deeply involved with businesses that aren’t your own. If you make a mistake that ends up costing your client a lot of money, if you damage property, or if someone gets hurt on your own property (e.g. if you have an office) you’re going to be very happy to have liability insurance. For a more in-depth look at business insurance, check out our guide to business insurance, then talk to a trusted broker to see what options are available.

The future of your consulting business

As you become more and more established in your niche of the consulting market, it’s worth it to think about the future and what you can do to ensure your continued success.

Write a consulting business plan

Writing a business plan is an excellent way to boil down all your business ambitions into achievable goals, figure out strategies to achieve them, and stay focused along the path to victory. Your business plan does not need to be a herculean undertaking—just put together a straightforward document that you can refer to when times get tough. Check out this consulting business plan example if you need a little help getting started.

Register your business entity

Many small business owners start out as sole proprietors, which is an informal business type that usually doesn’t require much paperwork. However, there are advantages to registering as a formal business structure, such as an LLC. Formal business entities can offer protection from liabilities, increased funding options, and valuable tax benefits, so it’s worth considering. If you decide you’d like to register your business, work with a CPA or business attorney to determine which one is best for your consulting business.

Scale your consulting business

If you’re operating your consulting business as just one person, eventually you’re going to max out the number of hours you can work in a day. That means your income will effectively be capped unless you figure out some strategies to scale your business.

  • Raise your rates—this is the easiest way to boost your income and your clients won’t hesitate to pay a little more for quality service, so don’t hesitate to do it.
  • Hire part-time, full-time, or contract employees to help you with administrative and client-focused tasks, freeing you up to accept more clients.
  • Secure financing or investment for major expansion projects, such as purchasing office space or new technology that will help you work faster.

When scaling, don’t try to grab too much at once—spend carefully and remember that you don’t have to get huge if you don’t want to. But if you do, you’ve got the skills to make it happen.

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