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Checklist for Becoming a Small Business Consultant

Here is a list of things to consider when you are starting or growing your small business consulting practice:

  1. Start with your own skill-building. You cannot be an effective consultant if you don’t bring value to the small business owner. Be relentless in your ongoing skill building. You become more in-demand and can charge higher fees based on the your wider the breath of knowledge and expertise.
  2. Check your experience level. It’s rare that a small business owner will entrust their business to a small business consultant who has never owned a business before, or to a consultant who doesn’t have a high level of expertise in a specific topic area. An expert is defined as having 10,000 hours of experience with the topic they claim as their expertise. If you use a traditional 40-hour workweek as your ruler, that means you need at least 5 years’ full time experience with your small business topic in order to call yourself an expert.
  3. Determine your Big Why. Before you get down to the nitty-gritty of designing your business and getting clients, figure out why you want to be a small business consultant and help this specific target audience. What is your motivation? Knowing this will keep you going when you hit the inevitable speed bumps along the way to buiding your business and serving your clients.
  4. Determine what “success” looks like for you personally. Keep your eye on the target. The definition of success differs from person to person. Take some time to visualize all the ways that a successful consulting practice will manifest in your personal and professional life.
  5. Write a business plan. Go through all the same steps you would go through with a client, and work on your own business model design. Things to consider: what legal format you’ll use, what are your mission and vision statements, what are your offerings, your pricing and profit models. Include the resources you will need to succeed, like money, time, skills/knowledge, equipment, and people resources. Set goals and milestones for the next 1 year, 3 years and 5 years. Read my blog post about what should be in your business plan.
  6. Write a marketing plan. There are many small business consultants out there. How will you be remarkable and stand out from the crowd? How will you connect with your audience and build rapport and trust? Will you use traditional marketing techniques only, or combine traditional and internet marketing? Which of the 100+ available techniques will bring the best results? How much will you invest in marketing (in both time and money)? What are the goals of your marketing? Read my article about how to choose the best marketing techniques for your consulting business.
  7. Learn coaching skills. You will be working with human beings who have their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Learn deep listening skills and how to ask meaningful questions to get clarity and provide focus. Learn how to hold clients accountable for implementing their action plans, and how to deal with difficult client situations.
  8. Choose a focus or niche. Determine if your specialty requires you to have a license or certification (financial and tax advisors, legal advisors, insurance advisors). Will you focus on a small topic area, like HVAC marketing strategies for heating service businesses, or will you be an expert who can help clients with most of their challenges and projects? Will you work with a particular size business based on number of employees or revenue? Will you work only with local clients, or will your consulting business be national/international?
  9. Decide if you are going to advise them, or do the work for them. Some consultants are more like mentors and advisors, who work with the small business owner to do planning and strategy work. Other small business consultants provide a specific service as a sub-contractor, to augment the client’s staff.
  10. Learn the problems that most small business owners have and formulate a strategy to define and solve those problems. When I work with my mentoring clients and the students in my consulting classes, I outline the top 29 problems that my clients commonly need help with. Use readily available strategies, tools and assessments to help solve these problems, or create strategies of your own. Consider putting together your own consultant’s toolkit.
  11. Deeply understand the seven areas of a business model to help your clients in the areas that are causing the most damage or have the best return on investment if they make a change.