By Michelle McIntyre
October marks the two year anniversary of my public relations consulting business. Since I left my corporate job and started working for myself, I have produced results for 10 clients. They have included consumer and B2B software app start-ups, engineering services and clean tech firms and the third largest technology company in the world.
If you are thinking of starting your own consulting business, here are tips. These are things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Set a goal and make it realistic! You’ll need a few months to set up a website, figure out your finances, and develop your brand. Don’t plan on getting a customer during that time. I achieved my goal of acquiring my first customer less than a month after I launched my website. In fact I got two customers during that time.
2. Legally define it early. For example, is it going to be an LLC, single member LLC, or S-Corp? An LLC allows you to own your company name and generally protects your private property from being taken should someone sue your business and you lose. Read up on the definitions and consult a lawyer before finalizing the plan.
Be aware that in California, LLC’s have an annual $800 fee-tax on top of regular taxes.
3. Figure out your formal business name. If it’s an LLC, you can choose to add “,LLC” or just “LLC.” If you choose to freelance consult without forming an LLC or S-Corp, etc., be ready to put your social security number on W-9s that you need to fill out for some clients. I have an LLC and just put my EIN number on forms, instead of my social security number.
Unfortunately different lawyers and tax experts may give you conflicting advice on this topic.
The best thing to do is call the IRS or your state tax board directly for information.
4. Order business cards and have a nice head shot taken early on. People ask for cards as soon as you tell them you’re starting a business. Your professional head shot is for social media sites like LinkedIn. You must be on LinkedIn. Wear business attire in the picture or people may not take you seriously. Make sure the same professional photo is used across all social networks for consistency.
5. Set up a website and get social! People will not take you seriously without a website and social media presence. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Google+ are all the main places to be. Pinterest and Instagram are important in some markets, for example, if you are selling clothes, Pinterest is important.
Pick a couple of social networks to focus on at first but put a profile on all of them.
6. Network a lot. Meet-ups work well and are usually cost-effective. Join for free through Meetup.com. When you are not helping clients, you are networking. Meeting new people face to face to get business works! A popular one is Idea-to-IPO in the Silicon Valley.
7. Have a positive attitude always. Meet regularly with people who support what you are doing. Note some people may never support your plans. That’s okay.
8. Define exactly what you will do in your business and stick to it. If you keep adding services or changing the definition of your value-add, you may confuse prospective clients. When they are confused, they will not hire you.
9. Be a LinkedIn stud. Speak at an event and list it on your profile. Get several quality references and make sure they are on your profile. You are not on LinkedIn? You better get on it today then. Everyone in business is on that social network. Also make sure you have references in your line of business.
People will research you online before hiring you for a service so strategic references are gold.
10. Consult with mentors as much as possible. In addition to pointing out mistakes and boosting your morale, mentors can bring new business by referring you to others.
Michelle McIntyre is the president of MMC PR, director of marketing communications for SV-IABC, and on the executive team for TEDxSanJoseCA. Follow her on Twitter at @FromMichelle. [Photo credit: iStockphoto.com]