How To Start An Online Consulting Business

Home How-To-Guide How To Start An Online Consulting Business
To make an online consulting business successful, you will need to focus on presenting your expertise, building your personal brand, and setting up suitable online business operations. It can be daunting to figure out where to begin. That’s why I would like to walk you through the key steps to starting an online consulting business.

Table of Contents

But let’s start with why an online consulting business might be the right choice for you. What are the advantages compared to traditional consulting models? Here are some of the key advantages of being an online consultant:

Key Advantages Of An Online Consulting Business 

1 – Flexible Work Arrangements

As an online consultant, you have the flexibility to work from anywhere in the world, as long as you have a reliable internet connection. You can work from home, from abroad, a co-working space, or your office, and you can set your own schedule based on your personal and professional needs. Online consulting also offers greater flexibility for your clients as they can talk to you from anywhere too.

2 – Lower Overhead Costs

Running an online consulting business typically requires lower overhead costs compared to traditional consulting models. You don’t need a physical office, and you can save money on expenses such as rent, utilities, and travel costs. This means that you can offer your services at lower rates than traditional counterparts, making your services more accessible to a wider range of clients.

3 – Global Reach

Online consulting allows you to reach a wider client base beyond your local area. You can work with clients from different cities, countries, and even continents. Being online will increase your exposure and provide more opportunities for growth.

4 – Scalability

As an online consulting business, you can scale your operations quickly and easily as you are not limited by physical office space or location. This means you can quickly expand your services to meet the needs of new clients or enter new markets without the need for significant investments in infrastructure or equipment. You can also use technology and automation to streamline your operations and serve more clients at the same time. More on this to follow below.

5 – More Efficient Client Interactions

Online consulting allows you to communicate with clients more efficiently through video calls and other digital channels. This can save you and your clients time and increase productivity by reducing the need for in-person meetings.

Online consulting businesses can also leverage digital technologies to enhance their data analytics capabilities. By collecting and analysing data on client interactions and outcomes, you can gain valuable insights into your clients’ needs and preferences, which can help you to tailor your consulting services more effectively.

6 – Improved Work-life Balance

I mentioned it before, but it can’t be said often enough. As an online consultant, you have more control over your schedule and can achieve a better work-life balance. You can schedule your work around your personal life and take breaks as needed without sacrificing productivity or profitability.

Sounds convincing? So how can you get there?

Step 1: Find A Niche For Your Online Consulting Business

The first step in starting any online consulting business is to determine what niche or area you will specialise in. It’s critical to clearly identify your area of expertise so that you can position yourself as an authority in that field.

One way to identify your niche is to think about the problems that you are uniquely qualified to solve. Consider your education, work experience, and skills. What kind of problems have you solved in the past? What industries do you have experience in? Once you have identified your niche, you can start building your personal brand around it.

Step 2: Position Yourself As An Online Consultant

Positioning refers to how you differentiate yourself from your competitors and how you establish yourself as an authority in your niche.

To effectively position yourself as an online consultant, you need to identify your unique value proposition. This is what sets you apart from other consultants (offline or online) and makes you the right choice for your target market. You want to become known as the go-to expert in that area, which can help you attract clients and command higher rates.

Your value proposition should clearly communicate the benefits you provide to your clients. How exactly do you solve their problems or bring them a benefit?

Step 3: Build Your Personal Brand

Part of positioning yourself is achieved by leveraging your personal brand. Your personal brand is the image you present to the world and how people perceive you. Your brand should be aligned with your target market and your expertise. By consistently communicating your brand across all of your online channels, you can establish yourself as an authority in your niche. This will enable you to attract clients who are an excellent fit for your services.

In summary, positioning is about communicating your unique value proposition and establishing yourself as an authority in your niche. A tagline that summarises your expertise and the value you bring to your clients could help too. Logo and a consistent website design play an important part too. However, it’s also about the experience your clients have when working with you.

Step 4: Create Your Online Consulting Offerings

Once you have established your niche and your personal brand, you should create your consulting offerings. This could be anything from a one-time strategy session to a long-term consulting engagement. Will you charge by the hour or by project? Will you offer packages or retainer agreements? When creating your offerings, you should consider your target market, their needs, and, of course, the specific problems you are uniquely qualified to solve.

It’s also imperative to consider how you will deliver your services and what your target market is used to. It could be helpful to research your competitors and ensure that your deliverables are competitive and reasonable.

Step 5: Set Prices For Your Online Consulting Business

Pricing is the next critical component of running an online consulting business. Setting the right price for your services is essential to attract clients, generating sufficient revenue, and maintaining profitability long-term. Here are some factors to consider when determining your online consulting pricing:

1 – Market Rates For Online Consulting

Research what other online consultants in your niche are charging for similar services. This can help you understand the competitive landscape and set your rates accordingly. If you have lower overhead costs because you gave up your city centre office or don’t have members of staff anymore, reduce your new online rates accordingly. Your clients should also benefit from leaner online offerings versus more expensive in-person consulting.

2 – Your Experience And Expertise

Consider your level of experience and expertise in your online consulting niche. Generally, the more experience and expertise you have, the more you can charge for your online consulting services.

3 – The Value You Provide

It’s not always about the time you spend with a client. Think about the specific benefits your clients receive from working with you. And how long it took you to become an expert in your field. If you can demonstrate the value you provide, you may be able to ask for higher rates.

4 – Your Target Market

Consider the average budget of your target market. If you are working with individuals, small businesses, or startups, you may need to offer more affordable pricing than if you are targeting larger corporations.

5 – Your Business Expenses

You might have reduced costs by going online with your consulting business. But don’t forget to factor in all remaining or new business expenses, such as online marketing, software, and other overhead costs. You need to ensure that your pricing covers your expenses long-term and provides a reasonable profit margin.

Once you have considered these factors, you can determine your pricing structure. You may choose to offer hourly rates, project-based rates, programs, or retainer packages. In the online world, free consultations, starter packages, discount codes, added benefits, etc. are quite common, so make sure you got some financial buffer to make special offers. For first calls with potential clients, it’s essential to be transparent about your pricing and communicate it clearly.

It’s also wise to periodically review and adjust your pricing based on market trends, your level of demand, business expenses, and taxes. By regularly assessing your pricing and your overall profit, you can ensure that you are charging appropriately for your online consulting services and maintaining profitability.

Step 6: Build A Website For Your Online Consulting Business

Your website is the storefront of your online consulting business. It should reflect your personal brand and showcase your expertise and personality. Furthermore, your website needs to be easy to navigate, visually appealing, and provide all of the information potential clients need to make a decision about working with you.

When building your website, you should include the following:

  • A home page that summarises your expertise, services, and the benefits for your clients
  • An “About” page that highlights how your background and qualifications relate to potential benefits for your clients
  • A Services page that outlines your consulting offerings and the benefits of working with you
  • Testimonials from previous clients to establish your credibility and social proof.
  • A Contact page or Scheduling page that makes it easy for potential clients to get in touch with you

Find out more about how to create a successful consultant’s website here.

Step 7: Set Up The Basic Tech Of An Online Consulting Business

Online consultants need a set of key technical requirements to provide their services:

1 – A Reliable Internet Connection

There is no compromise on that. Online consultants need a stable and fast internet connection to be able to communicate with their clients through video conferencing and other online platforms. Check with your provider and opt for the fasted speed available. A reliable internet connection will ensure that you can provide your services without interruption or technical issues.

2 – Video Conferencing Software

Video conferencing software is an essential tool for online consultants. It allows you to connect with clients in real time and have face-to-face conversations. Popular videoconferencing tools include Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Skype, Google Meet, or Vonage. Depending on your location you will need to consider GDPR or other data privacy requirements.

3 – Communication Tools

Depending on your target group, online consultants should have a set of communication tools in place that allow them to communicate with clients and teams more effectively than email. This could include tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams as well as project management tools like Trello or Asana.

4 – Cloud Storage

Cloud storage is critical for online consultants who need to store and give access to files and documents from anywhere. Cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive can help you share documents with clients easily.

5 – Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN will help you protect your and your client’s privacy and security while working online. It encrypts your internet connection and hides your IP address, making it harder for hackers and other third parties to access your information.

Step 8: Set Up Your Online Business Operations

Setting up your business operations could also be the first step. However, from my personal point of view, it makes sense to get the practical part of your online consulting up and running first to make sure your business really will go ahead. So now it is time to set up your business operations or at least make adjustments. This includes things like:

1 – Legal Structure

Determine the legal structure of your business and register your online consulting business if not done already.

2 – Tax Requirements

Check with your local tax office, if running an online consulting business changes anything regarding your business tax. For example, selling digital products and/or services can be subject to a digital tax.  

As a consultant, whether or not you need to pay Value-Added Tax (VAT) depends on several factors, including the country where your business is based and the countries where your online clients are located! Each country has its tax laws and regulations, so it’s essential to research and understand the rules for each country where you have clients.

In general, if you are based in the European Union (EU) and your clients are also in the EU, you will need to register for EU VAT and charge VAT on your services, regardless of whether you work with businesses or individuals. The VAT rate varies between EU member states, so it’s important to check the rate that applies in each country where you have clients.

If you have clients outside the EU, the rules regarding VAT may be different. Some countries have a VAT system that is similar to the EU, while others do not have a VAT system at all or don’t charge VAT on services.

Consult with a tax professional who has experience with international tax laws and online business. Be prepared to focus on clients in specific countries only to make your tax admin easier.

3 – Accounting

Speaking of international clients and tax: Set up a system for tracking your income, expenses, and tax due. Either work with suitable software or consider hiring an accountant.

4 – Contracts and Invoicing

Set up standard contracts and agreements for your online clients, including project proposals, service agreements, and terms of service.

Consider using software which will help you

  • create proposals in minutes,
  • turn them into invoices with VAT according to the client’s home country
  • receive online payments per direct link
  • record payments or
  • send reminders in case of overdue invoices.

Have a look at Zoho, Quickbooks, or Honeybook.

Online consultants who have efficient and streamlined operations are able to deliver services more effectively and maximize their profitability. They use technology and automation to reduce administrative tasks, streamline workflows, and minimize overhead costs.

Step 9: Payment Processes For Your Online Consulting Business

Before accepting your first online consulting client, you should have an efficient and secure payment system in place. If you are predominantly working with corporates, they will prefer classic invoices and bank transfers. But individual clients will love to easily pay online. And you will enjoy getting payments before delivering your consulting sessions online.

Here are some of the most common payment options that are convenient for online consultants:

1 – PayPal

PayPal is a popular payment platform that allows you to send and receive money in several currencies from clients all around the world. It is easy to set up, and there are no monthly fees to use the service. You as an online consultant and your client need to have a PayPal account. You will then need to exchange your PayPal IDs or you can connect a payment link to your website or directly into your electronic invoice.

PayPal charges a fee for each transaction.

2 – Stripe

Stripe is a payment platform that allows you to accept credit and debit card payments directly on your website or through other applications. It is easy to integrate, and there are no monthly fees. You also benefit from security systems that prevent credit card fraud.

Stripe charges a fee for each transaction.

3 – Square

Square is a payment platform that allows you to accept credit and debit card payments through a mobile device. It is easy to set up, and there are no monthly fees.

Square charges a fee for each transaction.

4 – Wise

Wise is a payment platform that allows you to receive payments from clients in different currencies. It offers low fees and competitive exchange rates, making it a great option for consultants who work with international clients. Consider TransferWise if charging corporates larger amounts in a different currency.

5 – QuickBooks Payments

QuickBooks Payments is a payment platform that integrates with QuickBooks accounting software. It allows you to accept credit card payments and bank transfers directly in QuickBooks, making it easy to manage your finances and accounting in one place.

6 – Direct Online Bank Transfer

Direct bank transfer is a simple way for clients to pay you directly from their bank account to yours. This can be an excellent option for clients with established relationships and who prefer to avoid transaction fees. Ideally, you get notified once a client has paid.

Step 10: Market Your Online Consulting Business

Once you have your online consulting business up and running, it’s time to start the marketing. There are many ways of online marketing, including:

1 – Content Marketing

The goal of content marketing for consultants is to create and distribute valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience. To generate leads, sales, or client loyalty through content marketing, you should utilise your website content – e.g. blog posts, case studies, articles, and whitepapers – to establish yourself as a thought leader in your field of expertise. Content marketing has become a crucial part of any overall online marketing strategy, especially for business consultants with a specific niche.

Read more about content marketing for consultants here.

2 – Social Media Marketing

Use social media to connect with potential clients and share your expertise. Choose just one platform where your potential clients are active. Master this one platform before doing anything else. This involves creating and sharing content that encourages engagement and interaction with target audiences, in order to increase brand awareness, drive website traffic, and ultimately, boost sales.

3 – Email Marketing

Email marketing is a powerful tool for building relationships with your audience and generating new business for your online consulting services. You can start building your email list once your website and your business are up and running. Create a landing page which is a dedicated page on your website that is designed to capture email addresses. This page should be optimised for conversions, with a clear call-to-action and an attractive design.

Create a lead magnet to attract potential subscribers to your email list. Offer a downloadable guide, a free consultation, or any other piece of content in exchange for their email address and the chance to send them your content regularly. This is how you build trust and convert readers into clients.

Once people have subscribed to your email list, you need to keep them engaged with regular content that is informative, valuable, and relevant to your audience’s interests.

Building an email list takes time, so the earlier you start, the better. Once you got a rather large email list, start segmenting your list by dividing your subscribers into groups based on their interests, demographics, or other factors. This allows you to send more targeted and personalised content to each group.

Find out more about how to start with strategic email marketing and which tools to use here.

4 – Paid Advertising

Consider using paid advertising like Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or LinkedIn Ads to reach your target market by specifying an audience. This is a broad field and you can quickly spend too much money for unsatisfactory results. Therefore, I would always recommend to find an expert to help you with your first ads.

5 – Networking

Attend conferences, webinars, and other events to network with potential clients and build relationships with other professionals in your industry.

It’s key to remember that marketing is an ongoing process, and you may need to experiment with different tactics to find what works best for your individual online consulting business. You should also track your results and adjust your marketing strategy as needed.

6 – Reach Out To Former Clients  

Reaching out to past clients and offering more services can be an effective way to generate additional business for your online consulting services. However, it’s important to approach this carefully to avoid coming across as pushy or overly salesy. Personalise your message to each past client based on their specific needs and past experiences working with you.

This can help demonstrate that you value and understand their unique situation. Clearly articulate the value proposition for your new online consulting business and highlight the benefits and potential outcomes.

Step 11: Onboarding Online Consulting Clients

Onboarding clients is the process of introducing them to your online consulting business, services, and processes, and ensuring that they have a positive experience from the start. A good onboarding process can help you build trust and set the stage for a successful and long-term relationship. Here are some tips on how to onboard clients effectively:

1 – Communicate Effectively

Effective communication is the key to a successful onboarding process. Provide your clients with clear instructions on how to get started and what to expect. Be sure to also set clear expectations around timelines, deliverables, and communication.

Schedule a kick-off call with your clients to review the onboarding process, answer any questions they have, and set clear expectations. This can also be an opportunity to get to know your clients and build rapport.

Make your clients feel valued by customising the onboarding experience. For example, you might send a personalised welcome email, create a welcome video or provide a customised onboarding checklist.

2 – Provide Resources

Make it easy for your clients to get started by providing them with the resources they need. This might include questionnaires, templates, guides, or other tools that they can use to start working with you. Invest some time to create appealing resources to share with clients as they will influence the general impression clients have of your online consulting business.

3 – Follow-up

Check in with your clients regularly during the onboarding process to ensure that they are on track and have everything they need. This can help you identify any issues early on and address them before they become more serious problems.

Step 12: Provide Exceptional Service

Once you have started getting clients, it’s essential to provide exceptional services to ensure that they are satisfied with your work and refer you to others. This includes:

  • Communicate regularly with your clients and keep them informed of your progress.
  • Be responsive to their questions and concerns.
  • Provide high-quality work that meets or exceeds their expectations.
  • Take steps above and beyond to deliver more value.

By providing exceptional service, you can build long-term relationships with your clients and create a reputation for excellence in your field.

Step 13: Off-Boarding

A proper off-boarding process is equally important for the success of your online consulting business. Ask your clients for feedback on their experience. This can help you identify areas for improvement and ensure that you are providing a positive client experience.

Send them a report of the achieved results, summarise the next steps, and wish them all the best.

Step 14: Get Testimonials For Your Online Consulting Business

Don’t forget to ask for a testimonial. Testimonials are a powerful tool for attracting new clients and building credibility for your online consulting business. They provide social proof that your services are effective and valuable and can help potential clients feel more confident in choosing to work with you. Here are some tips on when and how to ask clients for testimonials:

1 – Timing

The best time to ask for a testimonial is when the client has just completed a successful project or achieved a significant milestone with your guidance. This is when their positive feedback is likely to be the most sincere and enthusiastic.

2 – Personalise Your Request

When asking for a testimonial, make sure you personalise your request and explain why you are asking for their feedback. Let them know that their words of support will help you attract new clients and improve your services. Ask for a statement, portrait picture, and job details.

3 – Make It Easy

Make the process of leaving a testimonial as easy as possible for your clients. Provide a clear call-to-action and offer suggestions for what they might include in their feedback. Consider creating a template or sample format to guide their response online. You can also individually pre-write a suitable testimonial so that your clients only needs to confirm or make some edits to describe your online consulting business in the best possible way.

5 – Follow up

If you haven’t received a testimonial after a week or two, follow up with a friendly reminder. Keep the process low-pressure and make it clear that you appreciate any feedback they can provide.

6 – Showcase

Once you have received testimonials, make sure to showcase them prominently on your website and social media channels. This can help you attract new clients and build credibility for your business. Ask for permission before publishing a testimonial with a portrait picture, full name, and company details.

Step 14: Expand Your Reach

Once your online consulting business is running smoothly, you should expand your reach to grow your business. Joining networks or platforms for consultants can be a great way to connect with other professionals in your field, and potentially generate new business opportunities. Have a look at the big names such as Clarity.fm, Catalant, or The Upside, to name just a few.

All platforms connect entrepreneurs and business owners with experts and consultants. When considering which network or platform to join, it’s important to take into account your goals, niche, and expertise. Look for platforms that align with your area of expertise and the type of clients you’re looking to attract. Additionally, be sure to research any fees or commissions associated with each platform, and consider the level of competition on each platform.

Here you can learn more about developing thought leadership in your area of expertise.

Step 15: Growing Your Online Consulting Business Further

There always comes the point where you don’t have any more time on your hands to spend with clients. This is the moment to either employ partner consultants or increase your prices so that fewer high-paying clients can afford your services.

Generating passive income can be another attractive goal for online consultants, as it allows them to earn more without working more. You can achieve this by creating digital products, such as e-books or online courses, – a great way to share your expertise with a wider audience. Once you have created the product, you can sell it on your website or use platforms like Teachable or Udemy.

If you have developed a certain method or process, you could also certify others to use your unique approach.

Conclusion – A Successful Online Consulting Business

Several factors contribute to the success of an online consultant as described in this guide. However, continuous learning in every respect is what puts every online consultant on the path to ultimate success.

Katrin Prakoonwit

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