Ever wondered how to start a consulting business with no experience? … Wait… no experience?… Is that even possible? Yes, it is, I did it … and this is how.
It was 4pm on the dot and I couldn’t take it another minute.
The resentment I had for that job was like a roller coaster. At times I was riding high, happy enough with the work, the environment and my career progress (ignoring the consistently disappointing annual pay rises).
At other times I was in a rut, wondering how to get out, feeling like I was destined for greater things but also feeling like I was stuck in a holding pattern like a plane circling the airport running out of gas.
I stood bolt upright and walked to the elevator not caring if anyone was looking at me, down to the ground floor, out to George Street and straight to a recruitment agency.
Within a week I quit. Within 5 weeks I was starting a new job in a much smaller company where I would be working on smaller projects.
Just the experience I needed for my next move. Starting my own consulting business.
This is the topic of today’s article.
We’re going to show you how to start a consulting business with no experience by following a special 7-step method. The same steps that I took (maybe not quite in the same order) to start up my consultancy business.
By learning these steps, you’ll know exactly how to take the leap from regular employee to in-demand consultant.
In this article, you’ll discover:
I’ve reflected on my own experience over the last 3 years of starting and running my own consultancy, and researched the experiences of other entrepreneurs to make this a comprehensive yet easy-to-follow guide.
Whether you’d like to become a full-time consultant, or simply do it on the side, this article breaks down the path to starting your own consulting business online.
Need a career change? Study your dream career here: The Best Online Courses for Remote Jobs and Online Businesses.
By the way,this post contains affiliate links and I may be compensated, at no additional cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking on a link.
Every person and business, no matter the background or industry, encounters roadblocks or problems.
Quite often, these problems are just way too big to solve. And may cause more harm than good if someone tries to fix it themselves.
When this happens, someone smart who understands the principle of “leave-it-to-the-experts” will usually call on a “hero” — a.k.a the consultant — to come in and solve the issue at hand.
Consultants are experts in their field and offer professional, actionable advice to individuals or businesses.
Still, it’s not unusual for some people to confuse consulting with freelancing. Both are skilled individuals who are hired to execute a certain job. So, what’s the difference?
The difference is that where freelancers are paid to complete a certain task, consultants are paid exclusively for their expertise.
Consultants are advisors. Freelancers are performers.
To help you understand, here’s an example:
Nowadays, you can become a consultant in almost anything. Below you’ll find 10 of the most popular consulting businesses you can start today.
Remember, you aren’t limited to this list. So long as there is a viable market, you can start a consulting business with any skill you have.
Once you’ve chosen an area of interest, it’s time to turn it into a real consulting business. Below are 7 steps you need to follow (or 7 questions you need to answer) to start a consulting business online.
I started in the new, smaller company and I was so much happier.
I no longer felt like a number (1 of around 100,000 in my previous company), I wasn’t getting caught up in bureaucratic processes and red tape, and I was given the responsibility that I needed to help me grow my skill set and make rapid progress.
If you’ve read this far, the dialogue between us might go something like —
You: “Ok, so you’ve worked in several companies and gained plenty of experience. I don’t want to do that. I want to start a consulting business now!”
Me: “Brilliant, I love your enthusiasm, and you know what? You can because you only need to know 10% more than your client to show them you’re the expert.”
You: “Alright, now we’re talking. Let’s keep going.”
Get it out of your head that being a consultant requires a bachelor’s degree or a career that spans a mind-numbing decade.
If you can deliver results, most people won’t care about how much experience you have. Your background doesn’t fix their problems — only your skills will.
I’ll admit that from time to time my clients (mainly the older ones) do ask me how long I’ve been in the industry. When they ask, I can hear the uncertainty in their voice.
They desperately want to hear something that will build trust and give them certainty that they’re going to hand over their hard-earned money to the right person who will solve their problem. Someone who has dedicated their career to gaining knowledge in this area that they know so little about.
With this in mind, how can you quickly and effectively gain that knowledge?
One word. Immersion.
It’s mind-blowing how much information is out there that’s either free or costs next to nothing.
If your local library was a person, that person’s knowledge would make Einstein look like a dimwit.
In this era, you can consume the knowledge from experts in your field by text, audio or video while virtually cycling the French alps or perched on a hill watching a sunset.
If you learn best by reading, start with 3-5 books around your chosen topic. And they don’t have to be hardcovers, even a 30-page ebook on Amazon or a bunch of blog articles can be packed with useful knowledge you can offer as a consultant.
If listening is most practical for you, find some podcasts created by experts in your field. Buy any books or courses they might have, and apply what you’ve learned in your own life.
Speaking of courses, many online courses these days are created with video, which personally I find the best for learning as it uses more senses.
Find experts in your field and sign up to their email list. Follow them on social media. Research their story. Consume knowledge-building content like your success depends on it.
Hot Tip: Once you’ve studied your niche, teach what you’ve learnt to someone else.
Doing so confirms you’ve actually taken in what you’ve learnt, and embeds it into your long-term memory. Plus, it’s great role play for when you start consulting!
The main goal of this step is to become a student in your niche. You first need to learn the fundamentals of your topic before you start helping clients with it.
That is all you’re looking for: someone to help.
Remember, you still don’t have much experience in your niche. So, you can’t walk out there and start demanding high fees. You first need to earn it.
This means doing anything you can do to find someone in need of your help. Yes, even if that means doing it for free.
This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s not the money you’re after here. It’s the experience you want to gain. It’s getting hands-on with the skills and knowledge you’ve gained.
This will give you the confidence you need to face a real client. When you’ve delivered results for someone, then you can use that as leverage for your next client.
Where can you find someone to help? You don’t have to go crazy and start cold calling or creating a sales funnel.
Simply find an acquaintance, friend or family member who you think may need your expertise. For example, if you want to start a bookkeeping business from home, you might want to offer to balance a friend’s or two’s books.
Hot Tip: Helping someone you already know reduces the pressure to perform. It’s not like working with a multi-million dollar client where their reputation may be in your hands.
Besides, people you know are more likely to trust you than someone who you are meeting for the first time.
Getting your feet wet is essential if you want to become a consultant. The best teacher in life is experience, and this is especially true if you want to become a highly paid consultant.
Get underway by finding a few people to help.
But you can’t put your feet up after a couple of one-off jobs. Now you’ve warmed up, it’s time to roll up the sleeves and find real clients.
Now you may be thinking: “Hang on a minute, I don’t have my business entity setup, my home office equipment, my organization systems and processes!”
Correct, you don’t. At this stage, we’re somewhat testing the market to ensure that your family and friends weren’t just being charitable.
One of the main reasons it’s a good idea to get started and test the market is that you won’t get bogged down with NIPA’s (non-income-producing-activities). When you get your first paying client and all of a sudden you need to get things sorted, you’ll do it five times faster than when it’s another item on your to-do list!
Now, as for clients, there are so many methods to attract new clients. As a new consultant, you don’t need to try all of them, but there is certainly one thing you can’t go without: a website.
Nine times out of 10, potential clients will want to know a bit about you. And a website is a great opportunity to showcase what you do before even opening your mouth.
Hot Tip: You don’t need to splurge hundreds on a fancy looking website. In the beginning, focus on keeping it nice and simple.
Your website should include the following:
Set up these 6 things, and you’ll have a website that stands out and attracts potential clients.
You can have a basic WordPress website knocked up for you on Upwork or Freelancer for as little as $75 (although I’d recommend spending a little more). Remember, at this stage, we’re not trying to get that page ranking (showing in the top Google results). It’s more like an online business card than anything else.
In terms of approaching potential clients, here are a few methods to try:
How many people check reviews before they purchase something online? 97%.
People will trust you more when other people are saying good things about you. If you did an exceptional job with a previous client, ask them if they know anyone who might also need your help.
You can even reward them a small commission for every person they refer to you.
Hot Tip: Before spending quite a lot on creating a website that ranks at the top of Google’s search results, take some time to ask for referrals or ask happy customers to leave a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile. For me, around 85% of new business comes from referrals.
This worked wonders for me. When I first started my consulting business I needed some office space as I wasn’t so privy to the work-from-home world back then. A simple desk in an operating office was all I wanted in order to keep costs down.
What I did was, I found all the architects in my local business district (architects are great clients for me) and I strolled on into their office and said something like:
“Hi there, my name is Rowan and I’m a structural engineer. I recently started my own business, however, I’m looking to rent some office space. Nothing major, just a desk really. I figured that being in the same industry, it might be mutually beneficial for us if your office had any spare space?”
This was a great ice breaker and I connected with loads of architects, after which, work started trickling in from some of them.
Groups like BNI (Business Networking International) and Global Business Owners can not only help you find business, but they will motivate you and help you stay connected to your local business community.
I’ve attended several BNI networking breakfasts and the comradery was impressive. I found that you can’t just dabble with it though. You need to join and give as much as, or more than, you take.
Hot Tip: In today’s electronic world, it might seem old school, but be sure to have a business card with these 4 things:
There is an ocean of business owners clamouring for your help, and online groups are one of the best places to find them.
Hot Tip: Start by joining local groups (that are not specific to your industry because you’ll just find a bunch of other people wanting to win the same business that you want to win) and search the groups for key phrases. For example, if you’re a digital marketing consultant, search for “digital market” or “social media market”, leaving off the “er” or “ing” from “marketer/marketing.”
Find ways that you can add value, answer questions, solve people’s problems, engage with business owners in posts, then reach out to them to share how you can help them further.
Offering free advice through a newsletter is one of the best ways to demonstrate value before landing a client.
Take visitors through a 10-day email sequence. After providing value in those emails, invite visitors to hop on a call and talk business.
Because you’ve gained their trust, they’re more likely to say “yes” to working with you.
For this, you’ll need to gain email addresses which means you’ll either need to collect them manually (from networking events or elsewhere) or get traffic to your website (paid or organic) where you would have an opt-in form.
You don’t have to go crazy like Jordan from Wolf of Wall Street. That’s how a lot of people visualize cold calling, but it doesn’t have to be like this.
Simply schedule a day or two in the month to cold call a few business owners. You should know what to say before you pick up the phone, so a word-for-word script always comes in handy.
Hot Tip: The best time to reach business owners is between 8 am-9 am and 4 pm-6 pm.
By now you would have gained some skills, built some experience and know where to find your first couple of clients. Now it’s time to get down to the business basics.
A consultant is a professional, so it’s essential to have the following basics set up early on.
Disclaimer: Please consult your accountant for qualified advice related to this.
When starting out, you’ll probably choose to set up either a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company (LLC). As a sole proprietor, you are the sole owner of your business. That means every liability in the business falls on your shoulders. This ownership is an easy setup, but may not be ideal if you want more protection.
LLCs, on the other hand, remedy this problem by offering you limited liability. That means liabilities are tied to the business, not you personally. This is why my business is Pty Ltd.
It’s standard practice to keep your business funds in an account separate from your personal account. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to first set up an LLC before proceeding to this step.
Hot Tip: If you have international clients, then consider getting a Payoneer account and card for your business. Payoneer is a cross-border payments platform that makes payments super easy for international clients.
Highly paid consultants stay on top of their finances by the week, month and year. Have a system in place to easily access and manage your cash flow in your new consulting business. Quickbooks and GnuCash are great places to start, as well as Xero which is the platform my accountant got me on to.
When you start out you’ll already be the marketing department, the sales team, the grunt worker, customer service and the janitor, amongst other things. When it comes to accounting, read my lips: “Leave it to the professionals!!!”
Every business needs an accountant, and you’ll struggle without one. Put aside some money to hire one so you’ll be ready for when tax time comes around.
Now, getting all of this done will cost you some money. But figuring this part out early on will save you time, money and legal issues in the future. Don’t let this step get lost in the shuffle.
One of the things I love about a consulting business is that you get to work from home.
There are many advantages to this. For example, low overheads, a flexible schedule, and saved time from the morning commute are just some of the benefits remote workers get to enjoy.
But, even though you’re working from home, it still needs to be treated like a business.
This means having the right tools and equipment in place to stay focused and productive.
Aside from the tools and equipment you need for your profession, which we’ll obviously leave in your capable hands, here are 5 must-haves to set up in your new place of work:
A desk — Not just any old desk, but one that combines fitting your space perfectly with helping you perform at your best. Be sure to search our blog for “best home office desk”, which we can’t link here for SEO reasons.
An ergonomic chair — There are chairs that stop you from falling onto the floor. Then, there are chairs that help you perform. Ergonomic chairs help you to improve posture, reduce neck and back pain, and increase comfortability. Be sure to search our blog for “best ergonomic office chair”.
A computer or laptop — This is a no-brainer, but whichever device you choose will have a dramatic impact on your work. Desktop lovers (as in you love desktops, not you make love on top of desks), be sure to search our blog for “best desktop computers”.
A headset or a good set of earphones — As a consultant, a lot of your workday will be on the phone or virtual calls with existing and potential clients. A headset will allow you to talk while using the computer, taking notes and managing other documents.
A reliable internet connection — If you’re going to be working with international clients (or even local) making sure you have a reliable internet connection (and a back up) is essential.
As you can see below, after doing “cold drop-ins” with the local architects, I ended up finding a co-working space that was set up in a Cuban bar/restaurant. My setup was simple. I travelled light. And working there was pretty handy for Friday afternoon drinks.
There are a number of other helpful tools you can add to your home office, so be sure to search our blog for “ultimate home office setup”. That being said, if you’re chomping at the bit, the 4 things listed above are more than enough to get the ball rolling.
Getting this part right will help you stay organized, boost productivity, and make you feel like the consultant you truly are. Make it a priority to build a home office you love.
You don’t want to undercharge. But, you also don’t want to overcharge your services when starting out.
Where’s the sweet spot?
You can set your fees by first seeing what your competitors charge. I define “competitor” as someone who is at your level (entry) or a little higher (intermediate). Not the guru in your space who is charging thousands.
Still, you will inevitably experience a situation where you are over/undercharging your services. That’s perfectly fine, as you won’t always get it right the first time. With more experience, you can always decide to tweak your fees so that it reflects what you’re actually worth.
On one of my first projects, I charged about one-third of what I would charge for that same project now. We live and we learn.
Hot tip: To find what my competition was charging, I used a kind of freelance website to post a dummy project that my competition would bid on. Nothing complex, just something simple to get a ballpark figure and help me calibrate my fee structure.
Once you’ve set your fees, the next step is to decide how you want to get paid.
Here are three current models I see most consultants using:
Project — This is when you price your services based on the amount of work required in a given timeframe. Some businesses won’t require your services on an ongoing basis. So for them, paying you on a project-by-project basis will make a lot more sense.
Retainer — Here, you receive a fixed monthly payment predetermined by a set of outcomes you’ve agreed to complete or hours you’ve agreed to work. It’s reliable as you’re guaranteed a certain amount every month, and ideal if you’ll be offering your services on an ongoing basis.
Hourly — You are paid for the hours you work, but this can vary. For some weeks, it may be 25 hours, for others, it may be 10. Just keep in mind that if you get paid $100 an hour, clients will very much expect you to produce $100 worth of value.
Personally, I use project-based fees for bigger projects, and hourly rates for smaller projects and for smaller tasks that follow on from my bigger projects (like additional design work not specified in the original scope of work, or site inspections).
It’s also worth mentioning that, when it comes to your fees, perceived value plays a huge role. You might be new, but if your website appears professional and well-established, potential clients may be more willing to hand you their money.
Of course, the opposite also rings true. If your website looks a complete mess, even if you’re a top-notch consultant, don’t expect people to trust you with their money (or contact details for that matter!).
Hot Tip: With this in mind, a few website “credibility markers” to help get your foot in the door include a professional logo, phone number and personalised email address. These may seem trivial, but they make a world of difference in the eyes of a potential client.
Not to mention the power of a blog.
If people can find content on your website that helps them in any way, that builds trust… which is one of the cornerstones to the adage “people buy from businesses they know, like and trust.”
And I’m not talking about college-level organization. You’re in the real world, dealing with real clients who rely on you to create results.
So if you struggle to stay organized, things will get messy. You’ll miss appointments, confuse deadlines, and lose track of progress with each client. Heck, you might even forget to invoice someone!
You really do have one shot to make a good first impression. And you can achieve this by investing in tools that make you look good.
Here are some incredible tools to help automate certain areas in your business.
Xero – One of the best online bookkeeping systems you’ll find out there. I use it for my business and also for tracking my family’s expenses in a separate setup.
Dubsado – Manage almost everything from appointments to invoices to client proposals.
Trello – I use this to organise the workflow of my blog and my outreach for YouTube interviews.
Google Workspace – A collection of Google’s productivity and collaboration tools. Also big plus if you’re Google-savvy.
Upwork – I find Upwork to be the most professional freelance website where I hire people to do things like drafting drawings or research. If you have the budget, you can consider hiring a virtual assistant here too. This is not necessary to start, but may be something to consider as your business grows.
Zapier – This simple tool lets you create your own workflows by connecting your favourite apps together.
Using these tools will turn you into a more organized, efficient and focused consultant. Best of all, it will also save you time you can dedicate towards growing other areas in your business.
Start getting organized as soon as you get your first clients. If you can’t manage your own business, how will you be able to manage other people’s? For more tips on staying organized, productive and motivated, check out this article on 9 work from home tips.
In today’s world, almost anyone can start a consulting business with no experience. As long as your chosen skill can deliver results, you can build a healthy source of income through consulting.
There are things you’ll need to learn, such as how to find clients, set your prices, and set up a business.
There are also personal things you’ll need to improve on, like the way you present yourself and your organizational skills.
Using the 7 steps outlined above, you’ll know exactly how (and when) to tackle all of these challenges to become a highly successful consultant.
Thank you for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, please don’t forget to share it with anyone who you think will find it helpful.