David Burt, June 21, 2023
After I launched my own marketing consulting business last month, several LinkedIn contacts asked me for advice on how to start a consulting business. I’m a big believer in professional courtesy, so after sharing what I learned with former colleagues, I thought summarizing my findings in a post could be useful for other professionals looking at a career transition.
I learned that starting your own business requires a lot of research, many decisions, some investments, and a lot of work. You need to incorporate, get a business license, purchase insurance, get financial services, and pay taxes. You will likely want online services such as web hosting, email, social media, accounting software, and more. It’s a lot, but I found there are a lot of good online resources available to make this easier, many of which are free. Here’s an overview of the tools I used to get started:
Learning. There is a lot of content online about how to start a business. I began with the Small Business Administration website from the US government, which has many resources, including a 10-step guide to starting a business. I also found the Professional Independent Consultants of America (PICA) site to be loaded with good content, much of it free, including an extensive blog. There’s also a lot of good commercial content that’s free too, though much of it is content marketing designed to steer you into buying a product or service.
After familiarizing myself with the basics of setting up a business, I wanted to learn more, so I signed up for LinkedIn Learning, which offers thousands of business-related classes online. I took several online courses, including: Consulting Foundations, Freelancing Tips, Business Tax Foundations, and Content Marketing, all of which gave me a lot of good information to get started. LinkedIn Learning offers a free one-month trial, and after that it’s $19.99-$39.99 per month.
Administrative and financial. After considering different business structures, I decided to register myself as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), which offers the most flexibility and the best tax advantages for sole proprietor business. I registered with my state government, as well as the IRS, determined how to pay state and local taxes, and started to track income and expenses. Managing all this requires several online accounts: an account with state government, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System tax payment service with the IRS, an online business bank account with checking, and a business credit card.
The best way to track income, expenses, and taxes is with an online accounting package. I selected the most popular software for business finance, QuickBooks Self-Employed, which is $15 per month. I found it had somewhat of a learning curve, but once I linked all my financial accounts and got familiar with QuickBooks, it’s straightforward. I also purchased business insurance. While I keep my own books, I don’t want to take any chances with my taxes, so I also work with an accountant.
Marketing. Once I got incorporated and set up, I created a plan to market my business, and this requires multiple online services. Every business needs a website, and after looking at different services I selected Hostinger, which gave me WordPress hosting with a custom domain name for $7.95 a month, a good value. I found some of their interfaces a little challenging, but their support is super nice and very responsive. It took me a while to get my website working using WordPress, which is not always intuitive, and I had to install several plugins to manage menus, tables, and forms. If you don’t enjoy this sort of tinkering, I suggest Wix or Square. Hostinger also offers business email hosting with your domain name through Titan Mail for $.99 to $2.99 per month depending on which features you want.
Social media can be an important tool for consultant marketing, but the platform needs to match the audience. My audiences is mostly other marketers in the technology industry. By far the best way to reach them is by using LinkedIn, so I invested in a LinkedIn Premium subscription, which gives me a wider reach, and more options for reaching potential customers. I’m also experimenting with the $8.00 a month Twitter Blue subscription to expand my reach. Twitter has lots of tech influencers and interesting content, but I’m still determining if can be an effective tool for reaching potential customers.
I’m also using a couple of other online services that aren’t must-have, but that I’m finding useful. A one-person consulting business can use a spreadsheet for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, but I’ve been impressed with the free option from HubSpot. I’ve been impressed in general with HubSpot, particularly their content marketing to marketers. HubSpot is the rare company that sends me a daily mail of resources and blog posts that I find useful. HubSpot’s blog, resources, and free courses are definitely worth a look.
I also needed some help creating a logo, business cards, and other graphics, and I found that Canva offers the best options. I used Canva to generate my logo, web graphics and other materials. Their interface is really easy, and they offer some powerful tools, including generative AI, for $12.99 a month.
Starting your own business can be a lot of fun, and you will learn a lot. My advice is to take your time, do lots of research, experiment with different tools, and find which ones are the best fit for you.