One of the common questions I am asked by mid-career executives thinking about going rogue and becoming a consultant, is “How do I get started?” It usually starts with a casual acquaintance unexpectedly asking me for coffee and most times they launch into a rant about their current position. Those are the ones that aren’t really seriously considering a change in career. They just need a secure place to blow off steam.
But the ones who are serious about it usually have ideas about what they could offer and how to market themselves. Maybe even some idea about the sweet spot in their target market. To them, I give the following advice: Don’t go alone. Every serious consultant needs at least 4 key people. They have to be GOOD AT WHAT THEY DO. And they are worth paying for.
- An Accountant. Not a bookkeeper and not QuickBooks. Get a good, small-business accountant who specializes in working with small business owners. Flip your personal and your business accounts to him or her. Have them help you get a registered business account with the Secretary of State, a Federal ID #, set up your accounts in QuickBooks, take a course or buy a book on QuickBooks. (If you cannot run QuickBooks, learn. It is simple and puts you in control of your company finances which you need when you start out. If you get beyond a half dozen employees, then think about outsourcing it…) Then talk to your accountant at least once a quarter. DO NOT get a number crunching tax accountant. Get one that has a good network and can connect with you other possible prospects and always tells you something useful that you didn’t know before you talked to him. If you have conversations where you do not learn anything or don’t get useful advise, get a new accountant. I know it is tough. Accountants are like bad husbands. You stay with them because of the pain of pulling away. Move on. If you are in the Twin Cities and need a good one, use mine: Mark Foreman.
- A Lawyer. I know: expensive, pain in the arse, says things you don’t like to hear. It’s like this: you can budget and pay for good legal advice in your startup phase or you can pay for one when you are in a bin dand don’t have the budget for it when you get into trouble. Again, you need to find one that specializes in working with young startups and talks fast (if they charge by the quarter hour.) You need a business lawyer – not one that did your divorce or your will. At the very least you should begin with Davis Means Business here in the Twin Cities. She’s as common sense as they come and you can get good start up info just reading her webpage.
- A Web Designer. You need a website, business cards, a logo. Sure you can “build one for $9.99” with register.com or godaddy. But I have never met a person yet who did that and was proud of the outcome. It’s your business. Finally. You are starting a company. At least pop for a day of design from an actual designer and create something that you are proud of. A website with a memorable URL is all you need to begin. Later, you can decide if you want to upgrade to an email service that is more than just Gmail with an alias or if you want to add a Facebook or twitter account. For right now, start with a decent website. Again, if you want to work with one of the most affordable and creative people in the Twin Cities, head over to Art of Rogue.
- Finally, you need a business insurance agent. Not the one you use for your car or home. A business insurance agent who can get you a General Liability policy and perhaps an Errors and Omissions policy depending on your consulting business. Your first client of any significance is going to expect to see proof of insurance. Better to have it at the ready than scrambling during last minute negotiations. I like an insurance broker who can review the offers of many different insurance companies to work with, like Dawn Bijou Janes at Minnesota Insurance Group.
So, heading out on your own isn’t as much of a solo experience as you might think. Spend some time reviewing any of the websites I have included in this post – they all have good information for startups and I included them because they are willing to talk to people considering creating their own company. It’s an exhilarating ride – welcome aboard!