In keeping with posts for those who want to start a consultancy – I asked consultants on several forums what they considered were “Must Haves” to be consultants.
Mind you, most of these people travel (a lot) so there’s a section here for just travel needs.
On the professional side of the house – your professional needs – you had the more common items. Business Licenses – which many states have not just a requirement that Consultants be licensed, but also they have additional State and in some cases local taxes for that profession. Some also require that you have Professional Liability Insurance as well – so check your state to make sure you have that covered.
They also reminded me of the need to actually have contracts on hand – something that when a client is ready to sign on the dotted line, you can have them sign on the dotted line. Some pointed out they need not be physical contracts – you can always print one up a at a Kinko’s. But talk to an attorney about getting a good basic contract for services that you can fill in the blanks for (generic standard form) and if you offer a specific service which requires additional language often enough, have them draft up one of those as well. No one specifically mentioned an attorney but you get the impassion it’s not a bad idea to swing by one and get their take on your business as well.
One thing they all do seem to agree on and I second – is that you find yourself an accountant, or at the very least really good accounting software and learn how to use it so you can hand that over to an accountant for taxes.
Next came another lesson I found interesting – get several bank accounts and use them for their purposes. A Business account for day-to-day business activities. A Savings fund for “rainy day” and “misc” unexpected expenses that come up. A second savings fund for taxes (you may as well earn interest on it if you have to pay it to IRS). A personal account for you – and place 10% from every check in there. That’s yours, once its in there – pretend like it doesn’t exist. Don’t touch it – don’t think about touching it – once every so often, you should take that and roll it into a 401k or other plan for your retirement.
- Professional Needs
- Business and Professional Licensees
- Contracts (Standard form and Specific Clause)
- Personal Insurance
- Professional (Consultant) Liability Insurance
- Accountant (or Good Accounting Software)
- Way of calculating and handling taxes
- Bank Accounts:
- Business Account
- Business Savings Fund 1 (Misc)
- Business Savings Fund 2 (Taxes)
- Personal Account Savings (Bonus/Benefits
Next, we ran into suggestions for Business Needs – specifically equipment. A good laptop and a desktop – and make sure you set aside a small budget to buy yourself a new one every 18 months was a really great tip.
Cell Phones were next. Some said Blackberries others iPhones, Win Mobile… bottom line – any good cell phone that can keep you in touch with your mail. But a very very wise consultant also tossed this one out as a great tip. For about $30 you can also get a pre-paid phone and for about $5 a month he keeps just enough minutes on it to keep it always ready. Get one – keep it and it’s charger in your luggage. If you lose or damage your regular cell – you’re never without one.
Home offices everyone had suggestions – but the most common is to have at least a quiet room you can work from and take calls.
Presence was another area people had opinions on, some said a blog was all they needed, others said they had a fully professional website. Still others just a page, a blog, and so on.
Here’s my take. For $15-45 a month you can get yourself a nice website and have your own domain and your own email address to that domain. (Office Live can even get you started for free – and move everything over to a paid site. The free site comes along with project and document repositories you can share with customers and coworkers and clients even). I personally pay about $39 a month for mine and I never use half of it’s features.
One feature I do use – and I use a lot is the Online Shared Folders. I often back up my most recent work there. Anyone who’s ever lost a laptop – had something crash and burn – knows that losing what you’re working on is harsh. Do that 1,000 miles from your back ups and at a customer site is devastating.
Skydrive is free and you get 5 gb. There are dozens of other locations out there. Windows Live Mesh is a personal savior to me. Between that and Skydrive and my Office Live folders I’ve got a good 30 gb stored in the cloud that can never be destroyed and I can access from anywhere – even an Airport Kiosk.
Your presence is who you are as a company. Put the money out and do this right.
Next… here’s a blast from the past. Business cards. Put your name, put your email, your phone and your web address on it. Nothing else. No titles. Keep it professional and simple. People do keep them – and people DO remember you when you hand them out. Simple cards like I mention here you can get from Overnight Prints or other Web printers for 250 for $10-12.
Next part of your presence is your online identity. Google yourself. If you don’t like what you see – then get rid of it. If you have a myspace page that you wouldn’t share with a customer – get rid of it. I don’t care if it is your “personal” space. Clients and customers may see it and they won’t care if the reason you were stripped to your underwear singing LaVida Loco was at a college party 10 years ago.
Scrub your own google records. Or accept that someone else will. Some people have the opposite problem you google them and there’s nothing. SO – get that website up. And while you’re at it hit the rest of the social network sites and build up a presence that speaks well of you.
We’re talking LinkedIn, Facebook, and some other professional sites. I would avoid MySpace and similar sites like the plague as in my experience they’re hard to maintain. By “maintain” – I mean this – if you go out to blogger or wordpress and create a blog (seperate from your web site) you can then use the RSS feed from that blog to actually feed your blog postings to many social websites at once.
This particular blog entry will feed Facebook, LinkedIn and 3 other sites I’m on. I post once… and I’m updating 3+ web presences. Kind of like being your own personal syndication system.
And since we’re mentioning LinkedIn, there are now an abundance of “professional” boards out there. Xing, Ning, Ling, Ting, Ping, Pong, you name it the list goes on and on. Pick the ones you actually want to participate in and do so. Spreading yourself too thin is a mistake.
One thing you may want to do – is open a PayPal account to do on line transactions.
Many online freelancer sites work with PayPal so if you’re going to doing any work from them – I’d suggest you have one. You may want to look into some of these as they’re not bad places I’m told to get bits of side work.
I found LimeExchange, TechRepublic and Guru.com to be fairly good places. Nothing I’d survive off of – but there is work there. GetAFreelancer.com seems to be over run with competition that is questionable at best … and always willing to bid at minimum wage or lower. Just my experience – your actual mileage may vary.
- Business Needs
- Equipment & Supplies
- Cell Phone
- Office (at least a quiet room)
- Shared Folders
- Accounts with OnLine Providers
- Others (GetAFreeLancer)
- Social Networks
- Equipment & Supplies
Lastly we come to Travel needs for a consultant. Every good consultant needs a passport. It’s an official 2nd form of ID, it’s needed for travel and in general it’s handy to have and kinda cool.
You may not be traveling to Brussels – but instead to the suburbs so make sure that you have a travel budget. Set aside enough cash as you build your business so that you at least have enough cash to pay for regular car maintenance for your vehicle and 1 tickets air fare to somewhere. (Use it for a vacation at the end of the year was a great tip someone mentioned.)
Get an emergency credit card – basically a card that has a very very low balance on it (paypal was suggested by one person). If you don’t like that – it was suggested that you always keep $300 cash in your suitcase. Basically the idea is always have that ready in case of an emergency.
The same goes with a spare change of professional clothes (most said they just kept them in the wrapping believe it or not). And with the rest of the back ups they also said to make sure you have spare chargers for any devices you depend on a lot.
- Travel Needs
- Travel Budget account (1 trips worth)
- Car Service (Regular Maintenance)
- Decent Luggage
- Emergency Credit Card(s) ($300 limit)
- 1 Set of Spare Clothes (Unopened)
- Backup Power / Cables for any equipment (Laptop, Cell, etc.)
- Throw Away Cell Phone