Building a successful consulting business is possible with the right strategies.
In the gig economy, millions dream of breaking the chains of employment to start their own business. In fact, 550,000 do so every single month in the United States, alone.
Among these, tens of thousands of newbie coaches and consultants crop up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to "crush it" and "kill it." Yet, 90 percent will fail in their first year in business.
But not all hope is lost.
In my road to six-figures plus since going all-in on my executive coaching and business consulting practice, I have seen my fair share of mistakes, pivots, dead ends and nasty surprises. Since like most coaches and consultants, I've had to be CEO, marketer, finance and operations guy, content creator, lawyer, accountant, driver, janitor and everything in between, I've learned my own limitations, along with the validation of certain successes and the joys of seeing my clients succeed.
Being a "creative type," I was all over the place when I first started my business. Managing everything while helping clients, looking after two young kids, one with a cancer diagnosis, plus massive student debt and New York city prices quickly focused and steeled my resolve to succeed – and quickly.
Below are the six most important steps I took to build a solid foundation in my practice and see success as measured by revenue and happy clients.
1. Master your mindset.
Before you do anything else, get crystal clear on your "Four Pillars" – your life mission; your values; the outcomes you love delivering to improve the lives of others; and the natural, organic role you most enjoy playing in any situation. This clarity will be your trademark, for which clients will come to you for help.
Set concrete goals up front for revenue, number of clients, plus whatever other metrics matter most to your business. Then break down how much you need to make each month – how much in packages and services you need to sell to how many clients, and the number of hours, days and weeks you want to work per month and per year. This will help you figure out your hourly rate and the minimum you need to charge clients. Now track your progress on each of these metrics carefully. Fix money mindset issues preventing you from charging what you're worth and from managing money effectively.
Control your time zealously and channel all requests to your scheduler. Say no to the wrong clients and opportunities. Set high standards for yourself and your clients, even while forgiving yourself for inevitable mistakes. Minimize the number of decisions you have to make each day, then make the ones you must with calm and positive energy.
Take good care of yourself through a consistent routine of adequate sleep, meditation and practicing gratitude daily, eating well and exercising regularly. Remove distractions, negative people and triggers for vices from your life, and always look to level up through coaching, reading, testing and iteration. Learn and apply best practices quickly in each part of your business.
You must persevere through all the ups and downs and nasty surprises until you reach stable cash flow. Celebrate small wins. Surround yourself with people who love you unconditionally and push you forward. Remember that the opinions of strangers don't pay your bills.
2. Create a premium brand to charge premium prices.
Get clear on your story and its value to others behind you in the journey, then go and tell it to anyone who'll listen, adjusting for the specific audience and their needs. Create branding that is premium, consistent and reflects your values and mission. Position yourself as a top expert in your field by joining industry organizations and creating top-notch content that tangibly solves people's problems.
Avoid commoditizing yourself by charging too little. Create transformational, longer-term, premium packages in place of offering piecemeal services. Raise your prices to weed out tire kickers and nickel-and-dimers. Focus on working with your ideal clients only. Create a superior customer experience from well before the sale. Collect detailed testimonials, reviews and case studies, which become the lifeline of your business – your calling card and a natural source of referrals.
3. Invest consistent time in content, PR and media.
PR and media can be the best ROI of any spend in your business, but only if done strategically and by playing the long game.
Start with publishing on open platforms, then work up to pitching multi-author and ultimately large publications like Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes. Produce and publish top-notch content as often as possible to establish yourself as a thought leader, author and speaker. Find the many back doors to features and mentions before you pay a cent for PR.
4. Find a support network.
Work with proven coaches and join peer groups to help you with mindset, implementation and leveling up your business and life constantly. Accountability is critical for sustained progress and reaching stated goals.
5. Delegate, outsource and automate everything possible.
First, know exactly what needs to get done, to which standards, budget and time frame. Automate your lead pipeline through automated messaging on relevant platforms. Set up email collection and connect it to an auto-responder sequence on your site. Consider getting a virtual assistant for basic, time-intensive tasks.
6) Manage your cash very carefully.
Be incredibly resourceful, but never stingy with your clients or your own growth. Have a clear monthly budget and plan out your spending and recurring revenue and costs. Invest in the things that have the greatest ROI, which include proven coaching, tech and systems, plus relevant best practices. Ruthlessly A/B test your lead generation systems, then cut away expenses as soon as you see something is not working well and double down on what is.
Finally, always spend less than you make and focus on recurring revenue until cash flow is stable.