IT professionals interested in starting an IT consulting business are in luck. We’re here to guide you through the essential framework of starting your consulting service.
If you haven’t already, check out our other articles on the basics of an IT Consultant Job Description & Main Tasks and How to Become an IT Consultant. These should give you a solid understanding of consulting firms and IT business consultants.
With that out of the way, here’s what you can expect to find in this article:
- A list of straightforward, easy-to-follow steps for starting your first IT consulting business.
- A breakdown of each stage, including some pointers on where to invest your time and money.
- Answers to some commonly asked questions surrounding the consulting industry and consulting services.
If you’re exploring what small business consulting in IT looks like or are ready to start your own IT consulting firm, this article is for you. Maybe you’re already a small business owner and want a refresher on the foundational steps to getting your first clients? Either way, we invite you to read on for a complete walkthrough of an IT consulting business plan.
How to start an IT consulting business in 7 steps
To lay the groundwork for a successful IT consulting business, the following are 7 steps you should take to start bringing your first clients in.
1. Work on your skills
The first and perhaps most obvious step is honing your craft. IT is a broad field requiring various skill sets to get the job done. If you’re already part of the industry, you’ll have a degree or cut your teeth on hands-on experience with the technology department. If not, the best way to develop your craft is through on-the-job experience through internships or paid work.
That said, now is the time to do a bit of assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. Are you missing any skills necessary to be qualified in your field? Performing an objective skill checkup is part A of this first step. Part B is to further legitimize those skills you have (or want to work on) with a certification or license.
Whether it’s computer programming or project management, it helps to have some credentials of your skillsets to show off to potential clients.
2. Research the market to find your niche
We’re not done doing a little self-assessment at this step. With your toolbox of skills, you’ll need to determine your niche. What is your specific area of expertise? It’s worth noting that the answer to this question is just as much what you like to do and what you’re good at. Once you’ve settled on the field, you’re an expert, and it’s time to look for problems only your consulting firm can resolve.
Having a deep understanding and certification for a specific set of skills is an excellent start. Unfortunately, you'll have difficulty landing clients if you can’t find the right market to use them. That’s why thorough research into the pain points and challenges businesses within your chosen niche comes as this next step.
As we said, the IT world covers a lot of ground, so it’s essential to discover and focus on where in the market your skills are in demand. It is a process of gauging where there’s an opportunity to apply the solutions you offer through your specific brand of IT consulting.
3. Register your business
Now it’s time to make your minor business official. How you proceed from here will be up to you. You’ll need to choose between registering your business as an LLC, a sole proprietorship, or a partnership. What you register as will be dependent on what fits within your overall business plan.
Keep in mind that your business structure will affect your taxes. If you stay as a sole-proprietor or convert to a single-member LLC, you can easily do your own taxes. However, other business structures are more complicated.
Plus, don’t forget to pick a name (if it isn’t your own) and check to see if it’s eligible before registering. Finally, you’ll have to clear your business with the big guys and register it with the local government or an entity like the IRS to comply with any regulations.
4. Invest in equipment & tools
Once you’ve taken care of all the dreadful paperwork, you can break out the company card and invest in some necessary equipment and tools. Naturally, what you invest in depends on your consulting service. IT management consulting will require a different set of tools than computer engineering.
Nevertheless, you’ll need to take stock of what fits within your business plan and budget. Aside from prominent tools like a good computer, you should also consider investing in specific software. The right tech stack will help with recruiting should you expand your consulting business or accounting to help you keep your numbers straight.
5. Learn about marketing (website, social media, SEO)
Regarding investments, one of your firsts should be on your IT consulting business’s website. Marketing is a critical pillar to building your small business, and in our digital world, it starts with having a fast, informative, and easily navigable website.
From there, you can build out your efforts with awareness campaigns driven by social media marketing, email, and search engine optimization (SEO) to ensure your IT consulting business falls in front of the right eye. Plus, if you have the time, you can expand the reach of your website by learning how to start a blog and posting specialized content around your business' relevant topics.
The internet is home to countless certified courses in digital marketing. There’s abundant material to teach you how to find and market to your audience organically. However, building a brand through earned media is a long game.
You’ll need immediate results to pull the company card out again and invest in some paid ads (you can even try and make video ads if you feel up to it). A good blog and LinkedIn profile will pay dividends down the road, but augmenting them with creative advertisement design and direct marketing will get the ball rolling where referrals to clients haven’t already.
6. Develop a customer communication strategy
As a small business owner, you are the face of your business which means you’re both the PR and Communications team. It is especially true for individuals who run their own IT consulting services.
Communicating with clients is critical to keep new business coming in, so you’ll need to develop a bulletproof strategy that helps your ideal client understand your value proposition. Maintaining an open, transparent line of communication on costs, project expectations, and deadlines is a start.
Customer communication works side by side with marketing, so much of the advice we gave in the step before you can use it to flesh out your communication efforts. The world is more customer-centric than ever, so you must adapt your client's perspectives to understand their unique needs and behavior.
7. Collect & implement feedback from customers
It may go without saying, but following up and collecting feedback via testimonials is the key to nurturing your consulting business’s reputation. Not only will it help your brand image, but it’ll also give you valuable insights to use in benchmarking your performance and growth.
Again, digital marketing is another vital skill set to develop as an IT consultant. Everyone is online, and there is no better place to receive instantaneous feedback than through social channels and networks. Understanding the impact of your digital footprint and knowing how to implement it to your advantage takes time, but clients – good and bad – are often the best teachers.
So concludes our 7 steps to starting your IT consulting business. But before we wrap up, let’s review some of the main points from the article:
- New IT consultants must sharpen their skills in their chosen field with experience and certification. They’ll then need to carve out a niche within a market that needs them.
- Once they’ve established expertise, they’ll have to legalize their consulting service and register their business with the local government. As soon as the ink dries on the legal paperwork, they should invest in all the equipment they’ll need to run their consulting company.
- Finally, with everything official, they can begin to market their business through whatever channels they’ll find their clients in. Marketing can be either direct or used to create brand awareness. Still, we recommend referrals and feedback from past work to propel your communication plan and business forward for those just starting.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I start a computer consulting business?
Starting a computer consulting business is a process that follows all of the steps we laid out here. The only difference is the focus on a specific industry or field of work (computers). That said, getting a degree or certification in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Software Engineering, or something similar is a start. The steps to developing and scaling your business as a computer consultant follow the path we’ve laid out here. You’ll just need to adjust the details to suit the needs of an expert on computers.
How would you prepare to set up a consultancy?
Preparing to set up a consultancy begins with understanding what you want to do within the consulting industry. Next, assess your strengths and weaknesses as an IT professional. What skills make you an expert? Where are there gaps in your understanding? Based on the skills you already possess and the work you find fulfilling, these two steps will establish your consultancy's foundation – and ultimately, the mission.
What makes a good IT consultant?
A good IT consultant has proven authority on a subject within IT. They are subject matter experts and artists all in one. Second, they possess business acumen and management knowledge to stay organized, market their consultancy, and be financially responsible. To achieve the latter, you might want to take the best accounting certifications out there, so you can rest assured that money won't be a problem. Lastly, they know how to work with people and communicate complicated technical jargon.