Starting a business online is easier now than ever but that doesn’t mean that success is the same.
That takes hard work, dedication, and thorough planning. It is this last element that many people get wrong.
Why is that?
Because most people think that hard work and dedication to a craft are all that is needed to guarantee success.
Yet business teaches us that those who plan are often the parties that come out ahead in any endeavor.
Given that this is an art in and of itself, knowing how to plan out your online business and get everything going in an optimal way from day one is quite a feat.
That’s where we come into the picture.
We’ve broken down the process to setting up an online consulting business into 10 steps.
More than suggestions, these are concrete exercises and practice areas that will help you determine now what you want your firm to be, where you want it to go, and how you plan on getting there.
With a roadmap in hand, you’re already ahead of the game. Here are 10 steps to setting up a successful online consulting business:
1. Determine Your Service Specialty
When you sit down to consider what your new online consulting business will do, you need to think about your own strengths since so much of your company will rely upon that. What do you enjoy? What are you good at doing? Though this might sound like a bit of soul searching rather than business planning, the two are actually quite related. You see, you will learn much more about yourself as a person when you’re in business and have to secure your own paycheck each month.
It’s a different mentality than someone who works for someone else might have. Be honest with yourself and think about things like what you dislike and how you might be able to overcome those issues as they creep up in your consulting firm. This second part is core as well. Knowing what we aren’t good at or what we don’t like will help in finding efficient answers to those problems, often in the form of hiring someone else to do that portion of the job. Given the leveling that the online marketplace has done when it comes to finding competent help in any field, this is much less of an issue now than ever before.
2. Outline Your Services in Detail
After you’ve figured out what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing, you need to think about how you will monetize it. This might be obvious, or it might not be. While there is a market out there for almost anything, finding it and then locating customers is easier said than done.
You could consider this another brainstorming process but we like to be more efficient than that. If you’ve thought about your skills and what you like to do but you’re not really quite sure how to package that then you can try an exercise called benchmarking.
What is benchmarking? It is a process whereby you find a firm in your niche (or even an individual that you admire) that is doing something similar to what you want your online consulting business to do and you model it.
That means you adapt what they are doing for your own needs. Think of it as cribbing someone’s notes – someone who has probably spent more time, money, and energy perfecting their strategy since you’re just a beginner. Learn from your peers and then become a leader among them.
3. Think About Branding
Branding is how you present your company to the world. It is both meant to convey what services you offer as well as some kind of sophistication or gentle nod to the industry that is your specialty. As with many things in business, branding and a broader marketing program are distinct fields with their own experts. If you can afford a branding expert, that is one route to take.
Or you could use the benchmarking method we discussed in step number 2. The important thing here is that you present a professional, competent image that inspires confidence and makes people trust you and your company.
That doesn’t mean it needs to be boring. In fact, in some niches, being the opposite of boring or even somewhat edgy or extreme could help you. You could also approach this as an evolutionary aspect of your business in that you can adapt your company’s branding to the clientele you begin to receive. While it isn’t something we would advise you waste huge sums of money on in the beginning, it isn’t something you should disregard.d
4. Consider Company Legal Structure and Finer Points
Another area where you will need an expert (and most likely have to spend some money) is when you go to set up your online consulting business as a legal entity. You’ll probably need to consult with a lawyer and preferably one that specializes or at least has some familiarity with online businesses. Concomitant with this is the accountant or the tax firm you will use to help you pay quarterly taxes and matters along those lines.
While we advise keeping your firm as lean as possible, if you plan on hiring staff, you will also need to find some help with payroll outsourcing. Here, the complexity of your firm will determine much of the required actions you need to take but making your business official with the government and ensuring that you pay your taxes on time are musts for any firm, online or not.
5. Develop a Budget and Projections
You will need to reference your service plans as well as research your broader niche to get some idea of what you can expect in terms of revenue. Many argue that you should charge what you’re worth and that serious clients won’t inquire if you aren’t charging serious money. Others think that you should use something like a loss-leader strategy when you’re first getting started.
Whatever approach you take, and there are pros and cons to both, you need to be realistic when it comes to how much you actually are going to make in the beginning. For example, if you project that you will make $3000 dollars a month, but your service offering only charges $10 at most, that will require 300 of that service to be delivered on a monthly basis.
Let’s assume that the “time cost” of delivering such a service is 45 minutes. 300 units at 45 minutes a unit results in 13,500 minutes or 225 hours of labor. In a given month of 30 days, there is 720 hours total. Subtracting the labor time from that monthly time budget leaves you with 495 hours to complete all other life tasks – including those related to business. What we’re highlighting here is that there is a monetary cost to everything, and time cost as well. The two go together and cannot be separated. You must master both to succeed in business.
Keep your projections grounded and your budget as efficient as possible. If you find that your projections require “extra” hours in the month then you need to hire staff, find efficiencies, or adjust your projections to something more realistic.
6. Build Out a Website, Social Media, and More
Once you’ve grounded your online consulting business with some branding and a realistic plan with a forward-looking roadmap, the next stage is to build a website and social media presence. You may even consider starting an email newsletter to help export your area expertise to potential clients. Your website and social media activities should act as lead generators for your company and you should structure them in a way that promotes interaction and communication with your firm.
7. Construct a Marketing Plan
All of that hard work you did with your branding and service plans now comes together in a marketing strategy designed to get people to do business with your company. Email capture on a website to landing pages and sales pages, the methods you use to get your clients largely depends on how they are found. Some companies have marked success through search, others do better with free reports, blogs, podcasts, and a massive web presence.
8. Where to Advertise and How
Where will you advertise? How will you advertise? What’s your budget and what’s your message? These are a few of the questions you should ask as you develop a marketing strategy to get your firm out there in front of the public eye.
9. Thinking About Growth and the Future
Planning for expansion is part of the nimble business owner’s starting strategy. But controlling growth can be as well. Where do you see your company going? The sky might be the limit, but you may not want to fly that high. Knowing what you want to get out of the business will help you strategize for its future.
Growth and making more money are typically associated with successful businesses, but, in reality, any business that pays the bills and sustains your lifestyle, as well as that of your employees, is succeeding on some level. Don’t be afraid to be humble and don’t shy away from conservative approaches to your future.
10. Forming Useful Partnerships
You’ve probably heard that it isn’t what you know but who you know. When it comes to business, this is often true but not in the way that you might think. Having useful partnership and networking relationships can not only help you find more business but also put you in touch with experts that can help your business along as well.
Thanks for reading!
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