Today, we’re going to be talking about the things that you really need to get right at the very start of your online consulting business, and what isn’t worth focusing on when you’re starting out. Getting all of these things in place and getting them right from the beginning is going to make your life a whole lot easier. But before we dive into it, a little disclaimer …
Despite the fact that all of this is super important, it shouldn’t take you months of tweaking things before you are actually making sales! My advice is that you only focus on these backend/admin tasks after you’ve got proof of concept and you’ve got a proven demand in your service, i.e. you’ve gone out there and you’ve actually got a few clients.
Otherwise, you might be doing all of this for a business offering that no one will even buy. What a lot of people tend to do when they’re starting their online consulting business is that they will productively procrastinate. They’ll focus on all of the back end, admin parts because it’s easier than doing the hard work of going out there and getting clients.
So let’s dive in.
1. Find and buy your domain
The first thing to get right when you’re starting is to find and buy your domain. Your domain is what you’re going to use for your website, but also for your email. It might actually be worth checking domains before you settle on your actual business name. With a lot of the really popular words and business names, the domains are already taken.
So what might end up happening is you come up with a really cool business name, but then you can’t get a website domain that’s anywhere near what your actual business name is. That’s why, right at the very start, it might be worth using a website like NameCheap, and using the domain checker there.
You can very quickly see which domains are available and how much they cost for a year. Now, I would always go for something cheaper, even if it’s a little bit of a weird variation, like your domain example.net or something like that, just because you’re not going to have a lot of money at the start of your business. A domain isn’t actually that important and you can “upgrade” to the .com version later.
So by all means, if you can find the perfect one, and it’s relatively affordable, go for it. But I don’t think I spent more than £10 on my domain for the whole year when I started.
2. Set up your business email
The second thing that you want to get right is your business email. After you’ve bought your domain, you can then set up your email. Depending on the domain provider that you’ve gone with, most of them have options to just set up an email at the same time. So just pick whatever is easiest, even if the interface isn’t very good. You can just link it up to your Apple Mail, or the Mail app you use, and then you’ll just have your email there.
The other thing that you might want to set up at this point is your email aliases – this is basically the first part of your email. Having several different aliases is going to make your company look a bit more established. It’s also going to help you be a bit more organised with the different emails that come in.
For example, you might have firstname.lastname@example.org as your main business email that you use. And then you might have email@example.com for all new business inquiries. Then you might have something like firstname.lastname@example.org, which is going to be used for existing customer queries. As I said, this is going to just make you look a bit more established than you already are. It’s typically not very expensive.
As you’re setting up your email, if you see this option, and it’s only like a few pounds extra a year, then I would definitely opt to do that.
Do I need a website if I’m starting an online consulting business?
Before we move on to the next tip, there’s one thing that I’m actually going to say you don’t need to focus on at the very start. This is actually going to go against conventional wisdom – that thing is your website. I personally wouldn’t bother with a website in your first six months of business. I didn’t have a website for the first few years!
I used my social media, which acted like a portfolio for my work
The reason I say this is because I don’t want you to spend six months perfecting a website that no one’s going to see, because that’s exactly what I did. Right at the very start your time is going to be much better spent going out there winning new business and getting new clients. You don’t actually need a fancy website to do that. If at some point you do feel like you need a website instead of your social media profiles to act as a portfolio for your work, then I would suggest you use something like a Carrd because it’s super affordable.
They have some really good, sleek templates and designs and most importantly it’s really intuitive to use. So if you do feel like you need a landing page, I would just do a one pager with your work and I wouldn’t spend more than two days building it at this point. I know that goes against a lot of the advice you’ve heard, but this is just my personal experience. I regret spending so long on my website.
What I see again and again with the new online business owners I work with is that they spend months and months building a website, rather than actually going out and growing their business.
3. Get your company structure right
The next thing that you want to get right is your company structure. So where I am in the UK, that typically means whether you’re going to be acting as self employed, or if you’re going to be setting up a limited company for which you’re going to do business.
At the start of my online consulting business, my finances were really tight. You might actually relate to this too. I didn’t really have enough money to be shelling out on accountants, fees, and other professional fees.
This is not financial advice, I’m just telling you what worked for me, and that was actually using Google to see what setup would roughly work for me.
Obviously, that doesn’t replace professional advice, but I did find that it was quite helpful at the beginning, because there is a revenue threshold when being self-employed makes sense. You can actually find that information really easily online. So what you want to do is you want to remain self employed until you hit that revenue threshold. At that point, you want to set up a limited company. The reason I advise this is just because it makes more financial sense in terms of tax. It’s also easier to do the accounts yourself when you’re self employed. But if you do it too soon, you’ll end up paying more in accounting fees than you need to (because the accounting is too complex to do yourself).
Alright, so you can do that at the start and then when you’re earning more, you can then set up the company. When you set up the limited company, you’re definitely going to need an accountant to do the accounts for you! So just Google or maybe have a one off consultation with an accountant, just so you know what that income threshold is currently, because it changes from year to year. Then you’ll know what kind of income you need to aim for going forward.
Now, one thing I would say is that, obviously, when you’re self employed, you don’t have limited liability. So you’re not as protected as when you are in a company. Personally, that was a risk I was willing to take when I was starting a business from home, and then I would be more protected later on. But I wouldn’t worry too much about that at the beginning.
4. Get a system down for bookkeeping (every entrepreneur’s nightmare)
Following that, you’ll want to get your bookkeeping right at the beginning. Honestly, bookkeeping makes me want to fall asleep! It’s so boring!! But I do wish I had been more organised during tax season, because it was like a mad panic, trying to get all of my receipts and expenses in order. It just made everything much more stressful than it needed to be.
I know that if you are an entrepreneur, then doing admin stuff like this probably just makes you want to die. But please get this right at the very beginning, because it’s just going to make everything so much easier down the line. So don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a comprehensive breakdown, I’m just going to give you a crash course in what you need to do to just have your accounts in order.
The basics you need to make tax season easier
So the first thing you want to do is to open a business bank account. If you haven’t already, I would recommend using Starling, because their business banking is absolutely amazing! Their app is really good too, and you can do everything from your phone. Set that up in the first instance. Once you’ve set up your business bank account, just be super disciplined, and put everything to do with your business through that bank account.
Avoid having business expenses on your personal bank account, and vice versa
If you don’t, it is just going to make the whole process a lot harder otherwise. Once you’ve done that, you simply need to link it up to some accounting or bookkeeping software. Now I would recommend QuickBooks as it’s what I use. Again, it’s really intuitive and easy to use. You can actually just connect your bank account to it so that all of the transactions automatically come up in QuickBooks.
QuickBooks have so many amazing features. I find their expenses part of the app so good. So you can actually just take photos of your receipts as you’re travelling for business expenses, and then it just automatically uploads them to QuickBooks!
Why the Quickbooks “email expenses” feature is gold
So if you’re ever purchasing anything online and you get an invoice, you can just forward that invoice or receipt to the QuickBooks email and then it just comes up again in your transactions ongoing.
What you want to do here is set one or two hours aside every month just to do your accounts. As I said, I know it’s super boring, but it’s going to make tax season so much easier.
What you want to do in that two hour slot is just to go into QuickBooks, go through all of your transactions, and classify them. It’s so easy, because they’re already uploaded there, and you just need to go through them and say which expense is for what.
Then, when it comes to doing your taxes, you’ll have a breakdown of everything. And if you’re self-employed, you can submit your tax return really easily or you can just give all of that to your accountant and then they can do everything for you.
5. Invest in contracts as soon as you can
The next thing that you need to get right is contracts. This is actually the first thing that I would spend money on.
The biggest risks to you & your business are your clients
- Don’t pay on time, so that your revenue and your cash flow is severely restricted
- Don’t pay it at all, so that your time and energy is completely wasted
- Extend the scope of what you know you need to deliver on while you’re working, completely derailing your forecasts
These are all risks to your business that you need to kind of think about and protect yourself against. The best way to do that is with contracts. Now, you might think of contracts as a nuisance when you’re working with clients, but actually, they’re an absolute necessity.
Why you *need* contracts when starting an online consulting business
Your contract sets out the rules of the business relationship. So it’s going to talk about all these things that you need to decide upon and agree upon with the client at the start.
- How much they’re going to pay you
- When are they going to pay you
- What you need from them in order to do your job
- When you need that by
- How many revisions/sessions/calls are included
These are all the little details that are going to make your working relationship and managing your client a lot easier. So if there’s ever a misunderstanding or miscommunication, you can just refer your client back to that part in the contract that they’ve read, and that they’ve signed. That’s going to avoid any awkward arguments or any awkward tension because you’ve already agreed to those terms.
Another reason contracts are great is because they’re legally binding (duh!). So from the moment that you or your client signs that contract, you are bound by law to the terms that you’ve agreed. This means that:
If you ever come across a client who’s not willing to sign a contract, that is a massive red flag, and I personally wouldn’t work with them.
So it’s going to just help you weed out those nightmare clients from the very start. Finally, contracts are going to make you look more professional. I wasn’t using them initially, but when I started, I noticed that clients actually started taking me more seriously. You may be wondering how you can get started with contracts, because hiring a lawyer is really expensive (like in the high 1000s of pounds if you’ve got several services), because you’re going to need different contracts for each one of those.
What to do when you can’t afford a lawyer
What I would actually suggest you do is that you buy your contracts online. There are tons of services where you can buy a bundle of contracts that are specific to your niche, your industry, and very importantly, the type of services that you’re offering.
The best part is that a lot of them come with workbooks and explainer videos, so that you actually know and understand what these contracts are saying. And what you can then do is you can tweak them, so that they’re very specific to your business, and then take them to a lawyer if you need.
That lawyer is only going to charge for a few hours, which is so much more cost effective than drawing up those contracts from scratch. So contracts are massively going to protect you from the start, and they are the very first thing that I would do and I would actually spend money on!
I hope that helps! Are you diving into the online consulting business world? Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
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