If you’re an expert in your field, branching out on your own is sometimes a no-brainer. That might mean moonlighting as an independent consultant, picking up short-term contracts, or transforming your full-time gig into full-on entrepreneurship. Economists estimate that the consulting industry is expected to grow around 80% per year over the next few years, which suggests that there’s never been a better time to get started. In this article, we’ll explore how to do just that.
Not only is the global economy shifting toward independent consultants and gig-based work but the online business-building tools that you’ll need have never been easier to access.
Independent consultants typically share three critical qualities:
- domain expertise (you’re an expert in “your thing”)
- a desire to help (by sharing what you know)
- an entrepreneurial spirit (BYOB—be your own boss)
If you check those three boxes, striking out on your own to create an independent consulting business—whether full time or on the side—can be both rewarding and rewarded with a steady stream of income.
In this article, we’re going to dive into techniques for starting and growing a consulting business to establish yourself, market, and acquire clients. We’ll cover:
- Ways to establish your business
- How to set up a marketing pipeline to grow and nurture leads
- Techniques for growing your audience and brand presence
What kinds of consulting businesses are out there? In “How to Start aConsulting Business” by Entrepreneur, the 20 top consulting businesses that are on the rise today include everything from accounting, career counseling, writing services, insurance, and beyond.
Wondering how to get clients online? We are too!
We asked 40+ successful coaches & consultants to share their best marketing & sales tips & tricks.
Note: There are a few essential actions you’ll need to take while setting up your independent consulting business—tasks like choosing a business structure, picking and registering your business name, setting up your accounting systems, etc. We’re going to assume that you’ve taken care of that foundational business set-up. If not, check out these 10 steps to start a small business by The Balance.
1 – Start with your why
There are a myriad of reasons why you might want to go into business for yourself. Maybe you want to serve more people, increase your revenue, be your own boss, or simply try something new.
Whatever the reason(s)—real clarity of purpose behind your business will help define the clients you serve, the services you offer, and how you show up in the marketplace. Ideally, your “why” will become your brand.
A recent article by Forbes proposes 4 essential questions to discover your ‘why’:
- What makes you come alive?
- What are your innate strengths?
- Where do you add the greatest value?
- How will you measure your life?
Don’t know ‘your why’? Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why is required reading for any aspiring entrepreneur looking to share knowledge and have an impact on the lives of others.
But if you’re short on time or don’t want to add to your reading list, check out Simon’s TEDx Talk: How Great Leaders Inspire Action.
2 — Niche (or not)
The question of whether or not to focus your business on a narrow market segment is perhaps one of the most divisive happy-hour topics you can have between entrepreneurs. Some absolutely swear by the necessity to ‘focus in and serve a small few’ while others suggest you can shrug off the concept entirely.
What we can all agree on is that trying to ‘sell everything to everyone’ as an early stage consultant is a surefire way to shutter your business.
As you launch your independent consulting business, we recommend you start with a clear focus on your core specialization and then expand from there. This kind of specialization helps you focus your marketing, improve your services, and differentiate yourself from the competition. The more specific your niche, the easier it will be for you to attract clients. So be as focused as possible.
So how do you figure out your niche?
- What industry do you already know from previous experience?
- What did you notice was lacking from that industry? Where is there room for improvement?
- What areas of that industry have most fascinated you?
- What are the needs, wants, and desires of your market? (This might require a little bit of Googling and research.)
- What skills do you have? What skills can you learn?
Choosing your niche comes down to a single question: Where is there an unmet pain point in the industry, and how can I solve that problem?
3 — Develop a brand identity
Sometimes you see a mismatch between a consultants’ offline and online footprint. Maybe the branding is off, or their website doesn’t reflect the real business.
Whatever the case, your offline and online branding should jive. Offering a consistent experience across all marketing is key to accurately relaying your messaging to your prospective customers. You may think it’s easier said than done, but it’s actually pretty simple if you implement these principles:
- Use the same language online and offline
- Use the same typeface, logo and color scheme
- Maintain the same tone and voice throughout all marketing material
- A consistent value proposition–answering “what’s in it for the customer”
- Speaking to the same target audience at all times (Hint: here are 10 places to find audience information)
To understand the importance of consistent branding, we’ll leave you with this quote from Forbes contributor Adrian Fisher:
“Think of your online brand as your marketing team, while your offline brand is sales. Your online brand advocates for you even when you’re not there. Anything you upload is always available for anyone to consume, but each piece of content leaves only a small impact. However, your online materials might convince someone to take the next step and contact you for a meeting.
Your offline presence packs a bigger punch. An in-person meeting usually seals the deal, but you can’t be in more than one place at once, so you have to be deliberate with who you meet. If your online brand accurately represents who you are in person, it can help bring you more qualified leads, even when you’re out in the field.”Adrian Fisher
4 — Set up a (conversion-optimized) website
Perhaps you’re already an offline promotion master. You have business cards, network at local events and have a robust book of business straight from word-of-mouth marketing. You may even have a Facebook page. But, that can only take you so far. You need to establish your business online.
Your website should do a number of things: represent your business, top search engine results, serve a sales funnel for your products and services, close sales, and connect to all other digital channels seamlessly.
Setting up a website can be a daunting task for anyone, let alone a consultancy owner who is strapped for time.
Why? Because many consultants fear that because they don’t know website code, they can’t have an online presence. This is not the case.
If you rely only on Facebook or social media as a primary online presence, you’re missing out on potential leads and sales. And if you don’t have ANY web presence, then you’re really missing out.
Pro tip: Websites are made easy to set up and manage with customizable drag-and-drop website templates . Engineered to be the easiest, most effective online website builder, and transform web traffic into leads and sales. Forget the time and expense of hiring a web developer—Leadpages’ website creator is the only thing you’ll need.
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5 — Build your email list: reach & collect qualified leads
Sure, referrals and word of mouth might be your business’ bread and butter right now, but is that model sustainable? You can’t rely on “hope marketing” or random closed sales to sustain a business. Setting up a marketing pipeline online can help you sustain your business. Here are some ways to do it:
Set up lead generating micro-funnels
It’s one thing to have a website, but another to actually make it a lead generator. One way to do this is to build a sales funnel to usher prospective clients from the point of opting-in (or subscribing) to your messages, all the way to becoming a client.
There are two different marketing funnels to build:
The micro funnel, which consists of three parts:
- A landing page, where your traffic lands
- A pop-up, where your customers make the opt-in decision
- A thank you page, where you deepen your relationship with customers
The advanced funnel, which has six main categorizations:
- Blog opt-in to sale
- Webinar to sale
- Video series to sale
- Consultation to sale
- Opt-in to webinar to sale
- Opt-in to sale
Create high-value lead magnet offers
Lead magnet offers are little incentives that lure website readers to become potential buyers in exchange for their email address, or other contact information.
They are used to grow your email list. And they take less time to create than you think. Here are some examples of lead magnet offers:
- A free consultation or training session
- An in-depth guide to a specific subject matter related to your consultancy
- A high-value checklist detailing a complex process
- How-to’s or process for something difficult to do
- A proprietary (and non-public) presentation of ideas
- Your top resources and tools used
- Your secrets to business success
- A free tool
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Publish conversion-optimized landing pages
So where do visitors land on after clicking on your lead magnet offer, ad or somewhere other than your website? A landing page, of course. This page should be utilized to convince incoming visitors to submit contact information so you can use it to nurture them into a customer over time.
Your landing page should include your value proposition to lure visitors into giving you their personal information. It should also include form fields that are important to your consulting business so you can easily nurture them with additional marketing messages, like email newsletters or SMS texts.
6 — Discover & grow your online audience
The M.O. of your website marketing strategy as a consulting business owner is driving traffic and qualified leads multiple places at little to no cost. Traffic on demand is possible through what’s known as hub and spoke marketing. What does this mean? Your website is at the epicenter of all marketing activities. And the spokes are the marketing channels that drive to your website or a pillar landing page.
So, how do you drive repeated traffic? Here are a few ways to grow your audience: (If you want a quick 10,000-foot overview, here it is.)
Identify and leverage influencers
Bloggers, social media icons, YouTube sensations, and even micro-influencers can work to generate positive word-of-mouth for your business, sometimes at little to no cost.
Give away your secrets or free consultations and they will likely promote your website to their followers.
Blogging for Business
Repeated blogging is great for SEO and social fodder. Providing value and personally engaging your audience are two ways you will have true success with blogging.
Social bookmarking sites
Submit your website or a particular page to a social bookmarking site. In doing this, you circulate content to a targeted audience and drive traffic to your website, while also boosting your SEO by connecting your links to textual descriptive content. Here are a few social bookmarking sites we suggest using:
These sites are free to submit to, but you can even boost posts with a paid component to increase the likelihood of being discovered.
Did you know 84% trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation according to a study conducted by Bright Local? Because of this, it’s key to use location-based review sites. Some other review sites worth trying to get traffic to your landing page or website are:
Collaborate on large content assets
Create major content assets—like ebooks, long-form blog posts, and white papers—and ask for a quote from prolific industry leaders with sizable social followings, and you may lure their fans to your site.
With social media marketing, you must be a master of community management. Here are some ideas to engage with your social :
- Personally engage your fans—if you ignore them, then they will ignore you.
- Respond when fans speak and thank them for their interactions with you.
- Proving that you’re a human they can relate to, and not just on a high horse.
Video marketing allows you to easily repurpose content. Plus, some people simply prefer to digest certain types of content via video. Use it on your social channels, email newsletters, and even pop-ups to lure customers in.
Question-Answer (Q&A) sites
Websites like Answerbag, Quora, Yahoo Answers, and WikiAnswers all unite question askers and answerers together and can boost referral links to your business. Answer questions about your business’ subject matter expertise and make sure to include the address of your website in your profile and answer credentials to draw free landing page traffic.
If you’re questioning how to get traffic to feed your lead generation system, look no further than paid advertising.With paid advertising, you can “turn on the faucet of traffic” anytime. This will offer instant access to the data you need to plug any holes in your sales funnel before you branch out to the other traffic stages. And, it can be less expensive than you’d think because you can set a daily or lifetime budget. It encompasses a number of strategies, like:
- (PPC) Pay Per Click
- (PPV) Pay Per View
- Display Advertising
- Solo Ads
Wondering how to get clients online? We are too!
We asked 40+ successful coaches & consultants to share their best marketing & sales tips & tricks.
We hope this guide to setting up a consultancy business online provides consumable and translatable actions of what to do to be successful. Before you start the journey, remember that successful consulting businesses have a few common denominators: cohesive branding, as well as diligent website optimizing and promotion.
If you feel that you can’t dedicate the time to these areas, use Leadpages to help you out! Creating a lead-generating website for your business will help to capture leads, drive sales and give you the online presence you need to make an impact with your core audience.