The Upside

The Definitive Guide on Starting a Consulting Business

Want to kick off your consultancy with a bang? Then listen up: I shared some of my most valuable advice as a guest of Isar Meitis on The E-Tribe Podcast where I explained the most critical steps to launching a consultancy from the ground up. You can listen to the full episode right here, or read on for key takeaways from our conversation.

How do you start a consultancy if you have zero experience as a consultant? Read below for game-changing steps to making your first year as a consultant a huge success. 

1. Research the pain points and goals of your target market.

Before you dive into your consultancy, you need to define your offering. In order to do that successfully, you need to take the time to conduct some market research.

Create a list of people from your own network (friends, cousins, former colleagues, former bosses, former vendors) who work at companies that could potentially be your target audience. These should be people you know well enough to ask for 15 minutes of their time.

Ask them open-ended questions such as:

What are your biggest pain points right now? 

What are the goals of your department, industry or company over the next four to six months? 

If you could wave your magic wand and hire ONE additional rock star to your team or company, who would that rock star be? What would they do for your company? Why haven’t you hired this person yet?

Repeat this exercise 10 or 15 times with 10 or 15 different people from your network, and very quickly you’ll see patterns arise. It won’t take long for you to clearly define the biggest pain points of your target clients.

Those well-defined pain points are niche gold. And from that gold, you’ll shape your core offering.

2. Learn to speak the client’s language.

During your market research exercise, take copious notes and start circling the words they use to describe their pain points. This is the client’s language and it’s critical that you learn to speak it!

Then, moving forward, you’ll use those same words to describe your services on LinkedIn, on your website (if you choose to launch with one) and in front of potential clients.  This becomes even more critical when you’re starting a consulting business with no experience, as it will allow you to build credibility faster.

3. Package your skills.

Once you’ve identified the pain points you’re solving and how to speak the client’s language, you’ll want to clearly and concisely define what is it that you are actually offering.

There are four areas that I describe as pillars of value. These are the core drivers for why any company hires a consultant:

  1. Grow revenue
  2. Save money / reduce expenses
  3. Provide access to something that they need but don’t already have
  4. Solve a big headache, something that’s preventing the company from moving forward or growing

Whether you’re a content specialist, a branding expert, a fractional CFO, or anything in between, a client’s motivation for hiring you always comes down to one or more of these four pillars of value.

So when you are crafting your core offering, keep these pillars of value in mind. When it comes to your high-value offering, communicating the results your clients expect to achieve is just as important as communicating the task that gets them there.

4. Define what do you do in less than 10 words.

As a consultant, you’ll be asked, “So, what do you do?” hundreds of times a year. There is no better tool for generating clients than perfecting the answer to that question.

But to get it right (and make sure your pitch sticks), your answer should meet the following two criteria:

  • Your answer is less than 10 words. 
  • Your answer has no more than one adjective, and zero if possible.

When it comes to your 10-word pitch, the simpler the better. What do you do and for whom? Practice it to perfection and use it again and again. Think of it as your radio ad, your Instagram ad, your LinkedIn ad and even your Clubhouse ad.

This clear and consistent message will help others remember you and will help to position yourself as an expert. It will also be used by others to introduce you to potential clients.

5. Perfect your LinkedIn profile to attract the right type of clients.

If you are starting a new consulting business, then polishing and perfecting your LinkedIn page is a prerequisite to first-year success. It’s where almost all clients will go to learn more about you and find out for themselves if you’re credible.

A client-magnet LinkedIn profile includes the following:

  • In your work history section, use strong, results-oriented words like boosted, built, and drove to tell potential clients that you own your past successes. Avoid weak words that dilute your confidence like supported, managed, assisted in, helped, and worked on.
  • Use a professional, high-res photo, not something cropped or fuzzy.
  • Make sure your headline reflects your 10-word pitch and clearly states what you do. Include keywords that will draw in your target audience.
  • Use your banner space like you would an ad for your business. Leverage Canva to create a beautiful and professional LinkedIn banner background that serves as an additional tool for communicating professionalism, polish and value.
  • Optimize your “About” section for your target audience. When they stumble upon your LinkedIn page, you want them to think, “This is exactly the person I’ve been looking for!” Download our free Botox Your Bio guide to learn how to perfect your About section on LinkedIn.

The cherry on top? You do not need a website to launch your consultancy as long as your LinkedIn page is optimized for your business. 

6. Create relevant social content.

Know what social platforms your target audience lives on and use those platforms to post weekly content that’s relevant to them. 

It can be as simple as sharing your own commentary on industry news, sharing a new industry trend or predicting the future of your industry. Your goal is to stay top-of-mind and demonstrate that you are a subject matter expert.

7. Leverage your existing network to land your first clients.

You should not be doing any cold outreach until you have exhausted every single contact in your existing network. 

Simply plant seeds that eventually grow into high-quality clients. Meet with everyone in your network, have a friendly catch-up conversation and briefly tell them what you’re up to. If you’ve mastered your 10-word pitch, then your value will stick and they will come to you (or refer you out) when the opportunity arises.

Download our Plant Seeds, Grow Clients guide to learn how to maximize your network for clients.

8. Charge your full worth…from the beginning.

The biggest mistake new consultants make is undercharging. I’ve heard it all: “I will start low and grow from there. I just need clients. Some money is better than no money, right?” Wrong.

Low-paying clients only breed more low-paying clients. And it’s almost impossible to significantly raise your rates with existing clients when they’re used to your rock-bottom prices.

You’ll be much better off in the long-run if you make space for high-ticket clients and draw boundaries around your monthly minimums. It’s ok to walk away from client opportunities that aren’t aligned with your financial goals. In fact, if you’re patient and diligent with your pricing, you’ll win big in the end with a premium consultancy that has high-ticket clients lined up to work with you.

9. Be a closer.

When you’re prospecting a client, you are not interviewing and you are not pitching.

You are there to prospect and uncover if there’s a mutual fit for working together. Ask the client questions that help you understand their needs and their timing, such as:

  1. Why did you want/agree to meet with me?
  2. What are your goals for this quarter? This year?
  3. How much do you stand to gain if you reach those goals?
  4. What do you stand to lose if you don’t take action and reach those goals?
  5. How soon are you looking to get started?
  6. Is there anyone else who needs to be on this call in order to move forward?
  7. What are the next steps?

10. Focus on quality over quantity.

Starting a consulting business with no experience is simple if you establish yourself as an expert on a specific niche and demonstrate that you solve problems for clients in this niche.

What I love about the consulting model is that you don’t need (or want) constant volume. Instead, you need a few quality clients that pay 5-figure monthly fees in order to have a very comfortable and flexible lifestyle. 

Always remember why you started this business in the first place and keep your focus on quality clients that value your expertise.

Want more resources to help your consultancy thrive?

There are two great ways we can work together: 

Are you a consultant looking to expand your network and advance your business? Then The Upside Membership is for you.

Are you an early-stage consultant (or on the fence about leaving your 9-5) and want a tactical, step-by-step program to build a thriving consultancy? Then The Upside Accelerator is for you.

Connect with me on Clubhouse:

Join my weekly Office Hours called: Level-Up Your Consulting on Mondays at 3pm EST. It’s an open forum to ask me any and all questions about your consulting or advisory business. Add to your calendar here.

Erin Halper

About the Author

Erin Halper is the founder and CEO of The Upside and the leading authority on independent consulting. Since launching The Upside in 2017, Erin has helped thousands of professionals transition from corporate life into consulting to achieve flexibility, autonomy, and a renewed sense of purpose in their careers.

Erin has been a frequent speaker at Columbia, NYU, Harvard, and Brown and has been featured as a leading future of work expert on dozens of podcasts as well as in Forbes, Business Insider, Nasdaq, Crunchbase and many more.

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