I would like to start a consulting business but I have no...

I would like to start a consulting business but I have no idea where to begin. Please could you offer some guidance?

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How to start a Consultancy

Consultants have become a necessity in South Africa’s changing business landscape. As you work in a particular field you can offer your expertise to help others in the field that you know best, however, you need the ability to sell your skills.

Retainers

Many consultants work on a retainer system, which is great if you can win signed contracts. It is just like having a monthly salary. With a retainer, you agree to be on call for a specified number of hours, days, weeks or even the whole month, for an agreed-upon monthly fee.

Because clients usually think of consulting services as a temporary expenditure, rather than an ongoing commitment, consultants need to work hard to offer top notch service and make themselves indispensible. Even with contracts, you need to continuously look for new business.

Steps to setting up a consultancy

1. Formalise your business structure

Decide if you are going to operate as a Sole Proprietor or Private Company.

  • Sole Proprietor

You can operate as a sole proprietor. This type of business enterprise has one owner
Many small businesses operate as sole proprietorships. Businesses that require minimum amounts of capital often operate this way.

  • Private company

A private company is a legal trading entity that cannot offer shares to the public and is subject to prohibition on transfer of shares.

 2. Register the business with the South African Revenue Services (SARS)

Tax benefits will depend on the kind of business entity you choose. To find out if you will need to pay VAT click here.

3. Prepare your business plan

Before you can write the plan, you must conduct research. A business plan is the road map of your business. It’s a living document that you should refer to each and every day. Make a list of potential clients. Find out what their strengths and weaknesses are and look for a gap.

Use this gap as your sales tool. Prepare a strategy in order to create the sales and marketing plan.

4. Marketing and selling

There are many online resources for sales techniques, sales strategies, sales tips and sales training for selling products and marketing services.

[box style=”gray,info” ]The Complete Marketing Plan Guide

What types of consultancy business are there?

Although you can be a consultant in just about any field these days, here are 20 consulting business ideas to get you thinking.

  1. Accounting. Accounting is something that every business needs, no matter how large or small. Accounting consultants can help a business with all of its financial needs.
  2. Advertising. This type of consultant is normally hired by a business to develop, and sometimes execute a good strategic advertising campaign.
  3. Auditing. From consultants who handle monthly accounts for small businesses to consultants who handle major work for telecommunications firms, auditing consultants are enjoying the fruits of their labour.
  4. Business. Know how to help a business turn a profit? If you have a good business sense, then you’ll do well as a business consultant. After computer consulting, people in this field are the next most sought after.
  5. Business Writing. Everyone knows that most businesspeople have trouble when it comes to writing a report – or even a simple press release.
  6. Career Counseling. With more and more people finding themselves victims of corporate downsizing, career counselors will always be in demand. Career counselors’ guide their clients into a profession or job that will help them be both happy and productive as an employee.
  7. Communications. Communications consultants specialise in helping employees in both large and small businesses communicate better with each other, which ultimately makes the business operate smoothly and be more efficient.
  8. Computer Consulting. From software to hardware, and everything in between, if you know computers, your biggest problem will be not having enough hours in the day to meet your clients’ demands!
  9. Editorial Services. From producing newsletters to corporate annual reports, consultants who are experts in the editorial field will always be appreciated.
  10. Executive Search/Headhunting. While this is not for everyone, there are people who enjoy finding talent for employers.
  11. Gardening. Not only are businesses hiring gardening consultants; so are people who are too busy to take care of their gardens at home.
  12. Human Resources. As long as businesses have people problems (and they always will), consultants in this field will enjoy a never-ending supply of corporate clients, both large and small. (People-problem prevention programmes could include teaching employees to get along with others, respect diversity and developing skills in the workplace.)
  13. Insurance. Everyone needs insurance, and everyone needs an insurance consultant to help them find the best plan and pricing.
  14. Marketing. Can you help a business write a marketing plan? Or do you have ideas that you feel will help promote a business? If so, why not try your hand as a marketing consultant?
  15. Payroll Management. Everyone needs to get paid. By using your knowledge and expertise in payroll management, you can provide this service to many businesses, both large and small.
  16. Public Relations. Getting good press coverage for any organisation is a real art. When an organisation finds a good PR consultant, they hang on to them!
  17. Publishing. If you’re interested in the publishing field, then learn everything you can and you, too, can be a publishing consultant. A publishing consultant usually helps new ventures when they are ready to launch a new newspaper, magazine, newsletter – and even websites and electronic newsletters.
  18. Risk Management. Natural disasters, theft, fire, computer viruses, corporate espionage and more. Assist business owners in building threat-proof companies by mitigating risk and insuring against losses.
  19. Security: Today, every business owner is aware of the need to increase security, however many businesses are still vulnerable to internal and external crime. Apply your expertise to ensuring they cover all bases.
  20. Taxes: With the right marketing and business plan (and a sincere interest in taxes), your career as a tax consultant can be very lucrative. A tax consultant advises businesses on the legal methods to pay the least amount of tax possible.

A few things to consider before you become a consultant:

  • What certifications and special licensing will I need? Depending upon your profession, you may need special certification or a special license before you can begin operating as a consultant.
  • Am I qualified to become a consultant?
  • Before you hang out your shingle and hope that clients begin beating your door down to hire you, make sure you have the qualifications necessary to get the job done. If you want to be a computer consultant, for example, make sure you are up to date in the knowledge department with all the trends and changes in the computer industry.
  • Am I organised enough to become a consultant?
  • Do I like to plan my day? Am I an expert when it comes to time management? You should have answered “yes” to
  • all three of those questions.
  • Do I like to network?
  • Networking is critical to the success of any type of consultant today. Begin building your network of
  • contacts immediately.
  • Have I set long-term and short-term goals?

And do they allow for me to become a consultant? If your goals do not match up with the time and energy it takes to open and successfully build a consulting business, then reconsider before making any move in this direction.

The Industry & your Market

Is there a market for consultants in South Africa?

In South Africa there are many entrepreneurs looking for guidance and help. These start-ups frequently outsource administration and bookkeeping services as it is more cost effective than employing a full time person to take care of this side of the business.

If you target the right market there is certainly room for the kind of business you wish to start.

Start your research by compiling a market analysis. This is a regional and neighbourhood study of economic, demographic and other factors made to determine supply and demand, market trends, and other factors which may be important to your new business.

Make your study as complete as possible. Use the internet to conduct research. You can also approach the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce and some of the smaller Chambers to help you to narrow down your target by interest, demographic, and common trends. These are the kind of questions you need to ask.

  • Who is your target audience?
  • Where is your target audience located?
  • How will you attract them to your products or services?
  • Who else is competing for their loyalty and devotion?
  • Are you targeting business or consumer sectors?
  • What extra value can you offer?
  • Are your rates competitive?

How will you reach the target market?

It is a natural instinct to want to target as many people and groups as possible. Don’t. Rather focus directly on the needs of a specific group, which in your case are Entrepreneurs. This is known as market segmentation. This information will help you write a business plan.

How to define a target market

You may believe you have a great idea and a well-defined niche, but you need to have a market for your idea. Someone must be willing and able to pay you for your expert advice.

Who are your potential clients?

Will you be marketing your consulting services to large corporations? Or will you offer a specialty that would only be of interest to smaller businesses? Perhaps your services will be sought after by non-profit organisations. Whatever the case, before you go forward, make sure you spend time preparing both a business plan and a marketing plan. You won’t be disappointed with the results – especially when clients begin paying you.

[box style=”gray,info” ]Steps for Conducting Market Research for Your Consultancy

Why an organisation wants to hire you

  • A consultant may be hired because of his or her expertise. This is where it pays to not only be of the best in the field you have chosen to consult in, but to have some type of track record that speaks for itself. Usually your track record is built over a number of years, and this can be done in your field of expertise while you are in full-time employment, or alternatively while freelancing your services.
  • A consultant may be hired to identify problems. Sometimes employees are too close to a problem inside an organisation to identify it. That’s when a consultant rides in on his or her white horse to save the day. In many small businesses, an owner is too busy working ‘in’ the business rather than ‘on’ the business. A knowledgeable and trusted outside expert can offer a fresh perspective.
  • A consultant may be hired to supplement the staff. Sometimes a business discovers that it can save thousands of Rands a month by outsourcing, rather than hiring full-time employees. Businesses realise they save additional money by not having to pay benefits for consultants they hire. Even though a consultant’s fees are generally higher than an employee’s salary, over the long haul, it simply makes good economic sense to hire a consultant. Outsourcing to consultants is viewed favourably in terms of labour law because terminating a supplier agreement in many instances is far easier than terminating employment. A consultant may be hired to act as a catalyst. Let’s face it. No one likes change. But sometimes change is needed, and a consultant may be brought in to “get the ball rolling.” In other words, the consultant can do things without worrying about the corporate culture, employee morale or other issues that get in the way when an organisation is trying to institute change.
  • A consultant may be hired to provide much-needed objectivity. Who else is more qualified to identify a problem than a consultant? A good consultant provides an objective, fresh viewpoint without worrying about what people in the organisation might think about the results and how they were achieved.
  • A consultant may be hired to teach. A consultant may be asked to teach employees any number of different skills. However, a consultant must be willing to keep up with new discoveries in their field of expertise – and be ready to teach new clients what they need to do to stay competitive.
  • A consultant may be hired to do the “dirty work.” Let’s face it: No one wants to be the person who has to make cuts to the staff force or to eliminate an entire division.
  • A consultant may be hired to bring new life to an organisation. If you are good at coming up with new ideas that work, then you won’t have any trouble finding clients. At one time or another, most businesses need someone to administer “first aid” to get things rolling again.
  • A consultant may be hired to create a new business. There are consultants who have become experts in this field. Not everyone, though, has the ability to conceive an idea and develop a game plan.
  • A consultant may be hired to influence other people. Do you like to hang out with the rich and powerful in your town? If so, you may be hired to do a consulting job simply based on who you know. This channel demands the consultant has real credibility to ensure that they can deliver on their promises

Pricing

How to go about setting the prices for a consulting company

If you charge too little, you won’t prosper in business. If you charge too much, you won’t get any clients. So how do you find that middle ground that seems fair to everyone involved? One way to help you decide how much to charge is to find out what the competition’s rates are. A simple telephone call, asking for their brochure and rates, should do the trick. Then set your rates so that you are competitive with everyone else in the community.

List all your expenses

Before setting your fees, make sure you have listed all of your expenses. There is nothing worse than setting your rates, having your client pay you on time and then finding out you failed to include several expenses that materialised.

This brings up an important point to remember in every job you take from a client: be specific about what your fee includes and what it excludes. Most clients will understand that in every project, there will no doubt be additional expenses. Just be sure everyone knows upfront an approximate figure for those expenses.

Check the competitions rates

Before you set your rates, find out what other consultants in your community are charging for their services. You may have to have a friend call and ask for their brochure, or any additional information they can collect regarding fees and pricing.

When setting your rates, you have several options, including hourly rates, project fees and working on a retainer basis. Let’s examine each one closely.

Hourly fees

  • You need to tread carefully when setting hourly fees, because two things could happen: Your hourly rate is so high that no one could ever afford you (therefore no client will ever knock on your door).
  • Your hourly rate is so low that no one will take you seriously.

Keep one important rule in mind when establishing your fee, no matter which structure you decide on: The more money people pay for a product or service, the more they expect to get for their money. In other words, if a client agrees to your hourly rate of R800, then you had better give R800 worth of service to that client every hour you work for them.

Some clients prefer to be billed on an hourly basis, while others pay per project. Many consultants opt for a project rate and then use a pre-determined hourly fee to bill for extra work commissioned outside of the original finalised project specification.

Project rates

When working on a project rate basis, a consultant normally gets a fixed amount of money for a pre-determined period of time. It is imperative that the deliverables and outcomes are determined upfront and billed accordingly. If details are not finalised the consultant may need to allocate more hours than initially catered for, resulting in the project becoming less profitable.

When it comes to billing by project another important detail to iron out is payment terms. Many consultants create a payment structure that includes a deposit or down payment at the outset of the job and then payments on milestones. Another method may involve the payment split into monthly chunks payable on 30 days of invoice.

Retainer basis

Working on a retainer basis gives you a set monthly fee in which you agree to be available for work for an agreed-upon number of hours for your client. While in the ideal world you would have a dozen or so clients who hire you and pay you a hefty sum each month (and never actually call you except for a few hours here and there), don’t get your hopes up.

Most companies that hire a consultant on a retainer basis have a clause in their contract that prohibits you from working for their competitors.

Working and getting paid in this method certainly has its advantages. You are guaranteed income each month, and when you are starting out in your consulting business, cash flow can be a problem. Some consultants actually offer a percentage reduction in their fees if a client will agree to pay a monthly retainer fee.

Whatever your preferred method of billing, it is advisable to build up a nest egg to cushion your cash flow problems related to late payment. An efficient financial management system is critical to the success of every business. Take the time required to set up an effective credit vetting, monitoring and collection system.

Marketing & Sales

How can I build a reputation as a consultant in my community?

Public speaking is an excellent way to recruit new clients and to earn a reputation for excellence in your community. Unless you live in a town so small it doesn’t have a chamber of commerce or a Lion’s Club, Rotary Club or other similar service organisation, you can begin offering your services as a speaker for luncheons, dinners or any other special occasion.

Use the phone book

In addition to using the telephone directory, see if anyone has published a directory of service organisations in your community. Go through and make a list of organisations that hold monthly meetings and therefore may use guest speakers. Contact each group and offer your public speaking services. These gatherings offer an excellent networking opportunity.

Ask for referrals

This often-overlooked method of finding new clients is such an easy marketing tool (which is why it’s usually not thought of); you’ll kick yourself for not thinking of it yourself. When you have finished your consulting assignment and your client is in seventh heaven (and is no doubt singing your praises), that is an excellent time to ask for a referral!

Simply send a note or a short letter asking for the names of any colleagues, friends or business associates they feel might be good prospects for your consulting services. Ask their permission to mention their name when you write to the people whose names they pass on to you. Sometimes all it takes is having a mutual friend or respected business associate to get the potential client’s attention.

What are the best ways for me to go about marketing my consulting firm?

Marketing and advertising your business is essential and need not be expensive.

If your consulting business has no clients, then you have no consulting business. But you must remember that selling your consulting services is not the same as selling a car or a house. In the case of the car or the house, the customer is probably already in the market for one or both of those products.

Your job, then, becomes harder, because you are marketing your services to people who may not even be aware that they need those services. There are a variety of methods you need to become both familiar and comfortable with in order to begin attracting and keeping clients. Let’s look at some of the more conventional ones that are being used by many consultants today.

Brochure basics

There are five issues your brochure should address. They are:

  • It should clearly convey what your services are.
  • It should tell customers why you are the best.
  • It should give a few reasons why you should be hired.
  • It should include some brief biographical information.
  • It should include some information about who your other clients are. Remember testimonials from satisfied clients act as powerful influencers.

That’s it. Keep it simple, but do it right. Remember, your brochure represents you in the marketplace, so make sure you polish it before you send it into action. Roll out a consistent design into all other printed and digital material. Your business cards, PowerPoint presentation and sales proposal should reflect the same design style, colour, fonts and images.

Website basics

A website need not be expensive to create, but before you embark on your digital journey you should identify the objectives for your site:

  • Digital support tool. Is it a support tool for your marketing efforts, your brochure duplicated online? If so, does this add real value? Are you able to load additional information about your business, your track record or client testimonials? If not, you should evaluate whether you really need a website.

Information/sales tool

Are you expecting to drive traffic to your site via search engines to attract new clients? If so, you will need to follow Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) principles to ensure that search engines such as Google rank your page favourably.

One of the most important elements to make your website search engine friendly is unique and relevant information. Although this content may be time and/or cost intensive upfront, you will be able to use it in other marketing tools such as eNewsletters. Take action.

A further aspect to consider is the desired action you wish for visitors to take once they reach your site. Do you want visitors to complete an enquiry form, download your brochure, call your office or subscribe to your eNewsletter? Whatever your goal, construct your site navigation, design and prompts in such a way as to guide your user to perform the desired action.

Newsletters

Whatever your consulting field is you should have more than enough information to produce a printed or digital newsletter as a means of attracting potential clients. If you don’t have the time, or don’t feel comfortable self-publishing your own newsletter, hire a freelance writer and designer to do the job for you.

Again, you don’t have to make it an expensive, four-colour, glossy publication. The simpler you keep it, the better. A good newsletter will sell itself based on the content rather than the splashy design. Newsletters, particularly digital format, are an effective and budget-friendly means of communication.

Advertising

The limits you place on advertising your consulting services will be directly tied to your advertising budget. If you are lucky enough to have a very healthy advertising budget, remember that you don’t have to spend the money on ads just because you have it to spend.

Advertising can be very expensive. Consumers respond more positively to advertising messages that are placed in context, so it may be worth your while to narrow your focus to niched channels. Depending upon the type of services you offer, it may be necessary to advertise in specialised trade journals, magazines or websites.

Before spending money

Before you spend any money, start looking through professional journals and newspapers relative to the fields you specialise in. Take some time and examine ads that have been placed by other consultants, and then carefully determine how effective you think their ads may be.

Then design one that suits you best, but be sure to differentiate your service from your competitors’ rather than creating a ‘me-to’ advertisement. Ensure that you clearly communicate a benefit to your target market.

Cold calling

You must do whatever it takes to make cold-calling work and make it easier for yourself. There are a few tricks you can use to make cold-calling a little easier for you:

  • Prepare a script ahead of time. Spell out word for word what you expect to say when you get someone on the telephone. Remember, though, that your goal is to get a face-to-face interview and, eventually, a new client. So before you end up stumbling over your sales presentation (either in person or over the telephone), write your script and practice it again and again.
  • Be creative in your efforts to reach the decision maker. Most times you will encounter a secretary or administrative assistant who has years of experience turning away cold callers like yourself. But don’t give up! Don’t let any obstacle stand in your way! To avoid being screened by the secretary, try calling before she is on the job. Yes, you may have to call before 08:00 or after 17:00, but at these times, chances are the decision maker you are trying to reach will answer their own telephone.
  • Limit your cold calls to just several days each month. And look forward to those days, making sure you put your best effort into the process. That way, not only will it become easier to make those cold calls, but you will find yourself actually looking forward to making them!

How to make the selling process easier

People don’t care how much you know until they see how much you care about them and their goals. You have to get what you sell out of your mind and start focusing on what your customers sell. Here are three ways to stay focused:

  1. Forget what you sell. When you first meet a prospect, start thinking of questions that will uncover his hot buttons. What does that person do, and does he have goals for the next year or three years? What are his top three priorities or objectives? What challenges and changes does he face in his industry? How can you help him generate more business? Once you focus on the customer, it becomes easier to think of ways your product or service can fit into their overall goals. If you realise right away that it’s not a good fit, you can walk away and work on other, more qualified prospects.
  2. Go beyond the customer’s general business needs. Every time I ask my audience if they’ve ever sold an account because they did something helpful for the prospect that had nothing to do with their business, lots of hands go up. Maybe they helped them get one of their kids an internship at a client’s business, or perhaps they referred them to a great builder because they were listening when the customer mentioned she was adding on to her house. This breaks down barriers and opens customers up to looking to you as a resource. That’s when good things start to happen.
  3. Maintain your passion for learning about the people you serve. How well do you know your prospects and customers? How much more business could you get if you spent more time uncovering their inner workings? When I take a tour of a customer’s business, I interview people in various departments and research who their customers are; this always pays off. Your ability to serve is enhanced by knowledge. When you ask a customer for resources in their organisation that you can use to understand the bigger picture, your relationship and the trust with your customer improves, you’re much more aware of their needs and how best to serve them, and the results you bring them will provide you with repeat business and referrals.

How to save money as a consulting business

A consulting business will probably not require a large capital investment at first. In fact, if you are able to, you should consider operating from your home. There are many advantages to having a home office. Savings that can be enjoyed are:

  • Low overhead expenses. You don’t have to worry about paying rent or utilities for an office; you will appreciate this feature until you establish a regular client base.
  • Flexibility. There is little doubt that operating as a consultant at home gives you a great deal of flexibility.
  • You can set your own hours and take time off as you need it.
  • no rush-hour nightmares. For anyone who has had to commute to and from a job during rush hour, this will be a welcome change of pace.
  • Your home office space will most likely be tax-deductible. SARS has rules in place for people who work at home, but check with your accountant or income tax preparer to see if you qualify for this deduction.

[box style=”gray,info” ]How to Manage Your Cash in Order to Survive

Staff and Setting up Office

Employees

When you first open the doors to your consulting practice, you may be able to handle all the operations by yourself. But as your consulting business begins to grow, you may need help handling administrative details or completing the actual consulting assignments.

You need to make some important decisions. For example, do you have the time it will take to prepare and despatch mail shots? Can you afford to spend time doing administrative tasks when you could be using that time networking and signing up new clients?

Will you need help with paperwork?

There are many options when it comes time to decide if you need help with your paperwork. For example, a quick look through the Yellow Pages will reveal a number of small secretarial support firms. The rates will depend on a variety of factors, including how large or small an organisation it is and what types of services it provides.

While it will pay you to shop around for these types of services, don’t select a secretarial service just because it happens to have the lowest prices in town. Instead, ask for references, preferably from other consultants who have used their services, or from small-business owners.

Office rental is an option

Another option may be a short-term full service office rental from Habitaz, Regis or The Business Place.  A good, reliable support service is worth the price in the long run. There will come a time, however, when you may find it more cost-effective to hire someone to work in the office with you.

Hiring a good administrative support person can sometimes mean the difference between success and failure – between obtaining more clients and constantly losing clients.

Benefits of having someone in the office with you:

  • You save time and money. By having someone concentrate on the more routine tasks (opening the mail, filing, answering phones, etc.) you can focus all your efforts on recruiting new clients. Think about this: Would you want to lose a R2 000-a-day client because you were too cheap to hire someone to manage your office for you?
  • You don’t worry about being out of the office. If you are a one-person operation, it’s hard to be out on the road marketing your services if you’re worried about clients calling – and only getting your answering machine.
  • You have someone to offer another perspective. Sometimes it can be pretty lonely trying to do everything yourself. Having someone around the office during the day who can offer another perspective can be worthwhile.
  • Mwinyimbegu Zapzap Salim

    This is a very good guidline most especially to we members who are still in touch of Universties and Institutes. So far am still studing and am in a depatmen of Training and Human Resource and am also looking foward to set-up my own consultancy business in relation with #HUMAN_RESOURCES. So if atall we follow this idia, we are in a good track. Thanks

  • Mwinyimbegu Zapzap Salim

    This is a very good guidline most especially to we members who are still in touch of Universties and Institutes. So far am still studing and am in a depatmen of Training and Human Resource and am also looking foward to set-up my own consultancy business in relation with #HUMAN_RESOURCES. So if atall we follow this idia, we are in a good track. Thanks

  • Tasleem

    Thank you for the the very enlightening information. I have one question please. I have started a consulting company. Where do I obtain a pricing guide from if I have no known competitors in my field?