Consulting essentials: Building your business

In the last two posts on how to build a successful consulting business I shared advice and tips on closing deals and managing and completing your engagements.

This post will look at where to focus your efforts in order to sustain your consulting business, and build skills.

Focus on your subject matter expertise

Being a subject matter expert takes years of education, and professional experience to build. It’s your most valuable asset. Build it, and use it. This is not to say there isn’t great value in being a generalist as I’ve emphasized in blog postings. But don’t get distracted trying to do things others can do better. Web-based newsletter managers can do it better than you can, professional invoicing solutions as well. Though you might be able to do a bit of HTML and graphic design, if that’s not your expertise, hire someone to do your website in WordPress. You’ll save time and money in the long run, and their professional experience will surely include a few surprising nuggets of value that you wouldn’t have known yourself.

Manage your business with online tools

There are a myriad of online tools to help you run your business better.

Google Analytics – Get insights on what parts of your site your customers find valuable. Learn to convert those visitors with downloads, newsletter signups and ebooks for sale.

Freshbooks, Zoho or Paymo – There are many online invoicing solutions, so best to evaluate them for your specific needs. The point is, using a solution will save you money in the end, and make you more professional in the process. It’ll help you track monthly & yearly, send reminders, and summarize things for you all in one place.

Mailchimp – Newsletter creation can’t get any more fun than with mailchimp. With endless video howtos, documents, and great support, plus templates for your newsletter that come in every shape and size, these guys have really thought of everything. What’s more the graphs and campaign reports will give you insight into what topics are popular, and what resonates with your audience.

Google Docs and Calendars allow you to share your schedule and work with a small team. So whether it’s communicating things with your clients, or your subcontractors, these tools are essential.

Dropbox – Another indispensable tool for collaboration, share documents easily across the web.

Don’t Be a Commodity

If your prospect is asking you for a resume, and comparing you to some outsourced resources provide, you’re not going to get very far as a consultant. Don’t be a generic resource that sits at the keyboard and churns out code.

What’s the alternative? Learn about business, talk to business stakeholders, listen to their concerns, and learn to speak their language. Use stories, and analogies. Reach across the table to speak in terms that everyone can understand. Your value is in symplifying complex technology.

Be Hungry & Don’t Give Up!

Being hungry means continuing to improve on your weaknesses, experimenting with different rates until you match the market demand, managing multiple projects and always networking widely. Spend less than you make and build up six to twelve months cushion. This will allow you much more freedom to take only the projects you want. Learn to pick and choose.

Further Reading…

There are lots of other areas you’ll lean about, running a successful consulting business. Here are a few:

  • managing cash flow
  • paying quarterly & yearly corp taxes
  • paying subcontractors
  • managing & accounting for expenses
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  • Time Billing Software

    I have used some of those tools, especially Paymo and Freshbooks. But
    currently I am using Replicon Time Clock

    • hullsean

      Thx for the tip, will check it out.

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  • veronikatondon

    Hi this is certainly a useful list. would like to add Invoicera to this this of tools. Invoicera is an ultimate tool for all businesses. It has got time tracking, task management and expense tracking in a single product. These are features that are must for every freelancer. Moreover it is product that provides easy scheduling of invoices so you can focus on the work you are doing.


    • Sean Hull

      Thank you.

  • Nicolae Cismaru

    Hi Sean,

    I know that there are many consultants who prefer to use a desktop application in order to keep their data on their own computers. That’s why I would like to suggest Fanurio . It runs on OS X, Windows and Linux.

    Since Fanurio is a desktop application, it integrates very well with the platforms it runs on. On OS X, you can easily access timers from the the menu bar and from the dock icon menu. On Windows, you can start a new timer or control the active timer from the thumbnail toolbar or from the tray icon. You can also use global hotkeys to control the timers from within any running application.

    Fanurio is used by many freelancers not just to track time but to bill their clients as well. Fanurio can export invoices to HTML, PDF, Microsoft Word 2007, OpenOffice OpenDocument and other formats so they can be printed or e-mailed. Invoice templates can be created manually, with a visual editor (Adobe Dreamweaver, Microsoft Word or OpenOffice) or with the built-in template editor.

    I hope this helps.

    • Sean Hull

      Thank you. I’ll check it out Nicolae.