Consulting: Make Your First Move a Smart One

When starting a business, it's hard to know the first step to take -- get business cards or rent a space? Land clients or set up an office? Although there is no one way to do things, there is a smart way to set up a consulting business. Take, for example, two start-up consulting businesses each with a great idea: Teach businesspeople conflict resolution and communication skills. Smart accomplished women were starting each business. Here's how each they approached the task.

Business A:

These women decided they could afford to start their business the ''right way.'' They wanted nice offices that sent the message they were professionals. They knew that being extravagant with office furniture was not a good investment, but they believed that clients would have faith in visiting offices in a first-class building with good furniture and tasteful decor. So they spent a couple of months with a real estate agent looking for the right place.

At the same time, they hired the best graphics design firm in town to design a logo around their corporate concept. Eventually they would discuss stationery and business cards and so on, but first they thought it was important to make sure the logo was an accurate representation of their ideas. Their plans were to have the offices furnished, staff hired, as well as all of their stationery and business cards in place within six months. Then they could begin marketing their services.

Business B:

These women wanted to get to work right away. For a nominal fee, they leased a room in a small historic house owned by a graphic design firm. They arranged to use the furniture in the room, used the do-it-yourself shelving on the walls to store their records, and bought a rolling file holder. They spent $100 to set up a phone line with voice mail to avoid giving out their home numbers.

Neither partner expected to work at that office because both were more comfortable working from home. But they realized the importance of having a physical business address and wanted a central place to keep records and resources for easy access. They decided to spend their start-up investment dollars on their business cards and stationery. By asking friends, they found one of the best graphic designers in town who was willing to help them get started. The entire cost of their business cards and stationery was about $1,200 -- most of their allocated start-up dollars. Their plan was to find a first client right away and build on that base.

Which business was more successful? Why?

Business A lasted about four months before its expenses began to outweigh the benefits of keeping the enterprise going. The women put a lot of time and money into planning the physical plant of their business and never actually got down to doing the business. Business B incorporated and found their small office space within a week. Then they pursued a contact who asked for a proposal. They spent a couple of weeks writing the proposal, which won them a very large client within three weeks of incorporating. The signed contract was twice as much as they'd expected to make by their second year. The point: Business B partners spent their time courting contacts and real business, not ''playing'' office.

What were the good decisions that Business B made?

Other than the obvious decision to start finding clients, the women in Business B understood one very important idea: Clients are not going to the consultant's office. Consultants go to clients' offices. All of the time, effort and dollars spent setting up a professional-looking office did not matter at all. What did make an impression on clients were Business B's unique business cards, professional-looking stationery and the partners' personal appearances. The women in Business A wanted to let their business represent them. The women in Business B wanted represent their business.

What do you need to present yourself well?

Whether you are working for yourself or finding a position for a large corporation, you need to focus on what will represent you. What will people see or take away that represents you?

  • Clothing (appropriate for the occasion -- remember, a business suit is not always best)
  • Quality business cards (no tacky colors or cutesy graphics)
  • Quality stationery
  • A clear, professional-sounding voice mail message or answering service
  • A clear, concise resume or business brochure explaining your services
  • A Website or Web pages that are interesting and professional

    Remember, it's not about how much you spend. Presenting yourself and your business well is about making a quality impression with a few quality items.

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