Starting a consulting business is no easy task, but having a plan can help.
To create an easy how-to for starting an IT business, we had a few business owners and advisors weigh in on the ten most important things you should have on your new-business checklist.
1. Register Your Business Entity
The process of registering a business depends on your state laws, so check those out first. You’ll likely have to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA) name if you want your business name to be anything other than your own personal name.
You’ll also have to determine what kind of business structure you want. For example, you could register as a…
- Sole proprietorship.
- Limited liability company (LLC).
- Partnership (if you’re going into business with another person).
Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. “Speak with a tax professional first,” says
co-founder and president of IT firm
Geeks Chicago (@geekschicago).
“If you set up the wrong type of company, you will have to deal with numerous problems later on as you grow.”
2. Open a Bank Account for the Entity
Most banks offer competitive small-business checking accounts and can help walk you through your banking needs. You may also want to consider talking with your accountant about banking options.
3. Get a Web-Based Phone System
If you don’t want to use your personal cell number for business calls, there are some great alternatives.
“Get a web-based phone system that comes with a PBX system,” Tuchscherer says. “You can get a reasonably inexpensive cloud-based system with a full company greeting. We use Dialpad, which has a flat rate for unlimited calling; but there are also systems (like Grasshopper.com) that are ideal for startups.”
4. Create Your Business Identity
This step is about creating everything from your logo to your office space to what letterhead you put on invoices. Your brand may be a key part of marketing yourself or it might be completely unnecessary since you get work from referrals.
Though it’s a good idea to appear professional, don’t go overboard.
“Start small, and work at home,” Tuchscherer advises. “Don't jump into getting an office before you have businesses that can pay the rent. We started Geeks Chicago out of my spare bedroom.”
5. Create a Professional-Looking Website
Undoubtedly, a good website is important for doing business today, but opinions vary on how much time and money should be spent creating one right away.
“If you are trying to generate new business or leads, you need to look larger than you are,” Tuchscherer says. “If your website and company make it look like you work out of extra room in your house, you are not going to get the types of clients that will help you grow.”
Alternatively, business advisor
Evan Horowitz Advising (@ehadvising),
cautions against focusing your resources on a website before you get clients. “You can get lots of clients without a website,” he says.
Horowitz warns that spending time on “fun distractions” like business cards and a website is easy and comfortable, but not constructive if you aren’t focused on sales and bringing in revenue first.
Ultimately, your business situation is unique, so determine if you have the time, money, and need to create a professional-looking website right off the bat or if you can put it on the back burner.
6. Research and Set up Business Software
Depending on the work you do, you may want to invest in some business-grade software. The right tools can make your tasks and responsibilities as a business owner easier:
This isn’t an exhaustive list of programs, of course. Find out what works best for you.
7. Get IT Consulting Business Insurance
Among the nitty-gritty details of starting a business is the fact that you’re now exposed to third-party liability.
co-founder and president of
IT Tropolis (@TropolisGroup),
recommends “obtaining General Liability Insurance at a minimum and possibly E & O,” adding that you should talk to your insurance agent.
It’s unlikely that your homeowners insurance will offer liability coverage for accidents that happen in your home office, but General Liability Insurance can help. As a professional offering your consulting services, Errors & Omissions Insurance can cover lawsuits brought on by unhappy clients.
8. Set up an Email Marketing System
After you’ve set up the framework for your business, it’s time to start marketing yourself. You can start by emailing existing clients and building an email marketing list.
“Setup an email marketing service like MailChimp, Constant Contact or SSL Tropolis, and send at least one email per month,” Herman says. “Be diligent about adding customers and prospects to your list.”
9. Set up Social Profiles for Your Business
Like having a website, social media profiles have become an integral part of the business world. They are…
- A cost-effective way to maintain relationships and engagement with clients.
- Another avenue through which potential clients can find you.
“I recommend at a minimum Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter,” Herman says. “Post regularly to your profiles, possibly using a tool like Hootsuite or others, to save time and obtain content ideas. This can be accomplished with 15-minutes-per-week effort once you’re in the rhythm.”
Getting new clients is the hardest part about starting an IT business, Horowitz says, but the most important part by far. And there’s no better tried-and-true method for getting work than networking.
When you go looking for clients, start with your existing networks. “Talk to people you know who will refer you, colleagues of previous employers, and family,” Horowitz says.