Tips for a Consultant Newbie - Making it through the first few months
You finally got up the courage to quit your job and start your own independent consulting business. You know you’re good at what you do. You’re excited to get out there and build your business. But the first few months, heck the first year, can be tough. You’re not yet established or known. You don’t have any, or many clients. It’s easy for that excitement to turn into disillusionment. Here are 7 tips to help you make it through your first three to six months so you can go on to build a profitable business you can enjoy for years to come.
1. Take time to set up your business properly. I know you’re probably anxious to get out there and start getting clients, however it’s important to make sure you’ve first set up your consulting business on a solid foundation. Make sure you’ve taken time to create a plan, including identifying who your ideal clients are (so you know who to market to), what you can do for them (not what you do), what your brand platform is (what sets you apart), and how and where you’ll market. The clearer you can be about these things before you start marketing, the more quickly you’ll attract clients and build your business.
2. Make sure you have a nest egg. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to start a consulting business, however it may take some time to generate consistent cash flow. Make sure you’re prepared to weather a few lean months (ideally six to 12). It will help you avoid unnecessary stress and prevent you from taking on the wrong clients just for the money, which can hurt your business more than help it. Additionally, watch your spending. Track your income and expenses carefully and only invest in what you absolutely need to get started (probably less than you think). Wait on anything else until you’re generating consistent cash flow. By avoiding debt you will avoid a lot of stress and you’ll be able to focus on building the business you want, not just on generating income you need.
3. Have patience. Starting a business is a bit like getting a rocket ship up into space. It takes a lot of effort to get it up there, but once it’s up, it’s takes less effort to keep it in orbit. It may take some time to get your business up, running, attracting clients, and generating consistent cash flow. Manage your own expectations by knowing this going in and you’ll be less likely to get discouraged when it doesn’t happen overnight. And, maybe most important, enjoy the journey. A new business can be exciting and you can learn a lot each and every day. Make sure you’re present for that excitement and those lessons. As they say, you’re only young once, and that goes for your business, too!
4. Don’t take rejection personally. I know it feels like your business is your baby and when a prospect turns you down or something doesn’t turn out the way you envisioned, it’s easy to feel like you’re the one being rejected. But it really is just business. Take the feedback you get and learn from it. Remember, no one closes every sale. Learn to accept rejection and know it simply means that person or opportunity isn’t right for you and your business right now. Then be open to something better, in fact expect it! Lastly, when you hear the word “No”, or when something doesn’t turn out the way you’d like, in your mind, simply say “Next” and keep moving forward.
5. Get out there every day. It’s hard, if not impossible, to get clients when you stay in your office and hide behind your computer all day. You have to get yourself out there and meet people. Reach out in some way every single day. Send emails. Pick up the phone. Go to meetings or events. Ask for referrals. Connect with people, organizations, and other businesses or business owners. Be willing to do whatever it takes, even if it makes you uncomfortable. And know that it won’t always feel uncomfortable. Like anything else, it’s gets easier the more you do it.
6. Test and fine-tune. I always counsel my clients that their first 90 days of marketing is a test. You get as ready as you can, and then you just have to get out there and market, talk to prospects, do consultations, make offers, track your results and fine-tune. The more willing you are to do this, the more market research you’ll be gathering. I’m not talking about a survey where you ask people what they want or might do in a given situation, I’m talking about researching behavior by observing what people actually do in the real world—it’s the best research there is! And, it’s the quickest way to build your business.
7. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s easy to look around at other consultants who’ve been in business for years and compare yourself to them. However, if you spend your time focusing on other consultants, especially when you’re just starting out, you’ll just end up discouraged. Recognize it probably took them years, and plenty of mistakes, to get where they are. Also, know that things are not always as they appear. Mind your own business instead. Focus on the first six tips and on doing what you do best, and you too will get there.