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The Ultimate Guide To Starting An Independent Consulting company


how to start consulting

If you had to rank the demand for data engineers in the next 10 years on a scale of 0-10, where would you place it? 


Well, before you answer that question, let’s share that the Big Data Consulting Market is expected to be worth a multi-million dollars by 2032.


Does that put your estimation into perspective? This figure supports my strong beliefs, showing that the demand for data consultants and more will proliferate.


With things rapidly changing from LLM or even various cloud technologies, companies need to rapidly adjust their skill sets and migrate to new technologies. 


The demand for consultants is pushing forward, meaning there’s a massive opportunity if you want to start consulting. 


But if you want to start consulting, whether on the side or starting a full-time company, you must be prepared to learn many things. I had to make many mistakes and learn lessons to get there, but it is possible. 


If you’re looking to save time undergoing trial and error, you’re in the right place. Dive in and uncover my major lessons in this comprehensive guide on how to start your own data analyst consulting company.


What to expect in this guide? 


Whether you’re looking to get into data engineering, data analytics, or just set up a consulting company, then pay attention.Regardless of the consultancy you decide on, every consultant must solve the same problems.


Mainly getting clients. 


But, beyond getting clients…


How do you ensure you’re getting the work you want?

How do you charge the right prices to achieve your end goal?

How do you know you deliver the value your clients need and want? 


Not forgetting competing with your current salary, how do you find projects to equate to that? 




Well, keep reading and we'll go through and help you get started.


If this post isn’t sufficient, then check out this course


1. Figuring out what you’re going to do

Take time to think for a second. What skills do you have right now? 


If you’re in tech, it’s easier; you kind of have a cheat code; most of those skills, whether it’s data science, data engineering, or programming, are all high-paying skills.


Once you know what your skill is, you can figure out what your niche is. 


2. Figuring out your niche

Finding your niche can be interesting. Now, there are a lot of different niches out there. When I first started, it felt like maybe I’d do data science consulting and push hard into that. 


I didn't find as much work there, but as I was doing that, I was writing about airflow and data warehouses, and I'm slowly starting to get more and more work in that space.


Note: When figuring out your niche, try to figure out who you sell to. This could be through writing articles or LinkedIn posts- more on that later. 


3. Build your presence 

Next, you'll need to secure your first client. But you need to build your presence first. 

It would be 

silly for me to say, "Hey, let's put out a ton of content, and people will notice you." 


While you should definitely do that (which we'll discuss shortly), there are a few areas you should probably target first. 


Especially if you're in the US, this is country-specific. 


Example: If you're in the US and have worked in the industry for a few years, you probably have an oy network. Even in three, four, or five years, you've built up a decent network, so you can first reach out to all the people you've worked with in the past. 


If you're still working full-time, you shouldn't reach out to people you're currently working with. But you can reach out to people you've worked with in the past and say hello, whatever their name is, John, Jamie, etc., and then go from there.


If you're really close with them, you can say, "Hey, it's been a while since we hung out.

I'd love to reconnect and start with a consulting company. I'm looking for these types of (X) projects; I'd love to know if you or someone else in your company needs this type of work.”


You should most likely target people at the VP director level or at least manager level, as that could eventually go to the right person.


4. Think about warm leads

You want some level of warm leads even when you’re doing sales. Even when you’re trying to do cold leads, it’s just so much easier to get warm leads unless you know exactly who the person is you’re targeting. To get these warmer leads, network and reach out to people you already know. 


Try to use that network first—if the network isn’t very large, you don’t have to feel limited to the people you work with and anyone you know who may be in a position to know someone or has the work you want to do. 


There are so many ways to find people who have that work; they just need to know you exist. So it’s about getting your name out there. 


5. Third party websites 

First, if you find it difficult to locate people, you should always consider third-party websites like Upwork. The major challenge is that you'll be in a race to the bottom on Upwork (especially if you are starting out).


It's a bull ring.


There will be consultants willing to work cheaper than you to land a project.

And it's really hard to stand out initially. 


Don't get me wrong, if you have a good rating, you can definitely charge more. 


My input: As someone who has purchased Upwork services, I am happy to pay a really good rating if the cost seems fair.


Note: When looking for work, it will be hard at first. In particular, if you're based in the US, there are better options than this. You can spend some time there, and you'll definitely find some work, but at the end of the day,  the route to actually getting projects will take time. 


It will take a few months of smaller projects (if you're not getting paid as much). More importantly, if you're trying to break into the $300,00, $400,00, or $500,000 mark, you're going to need to find much bigger projects. 


6. Displaying your work


Alright, so let's say you got that first client. Great


Now, you can start showing off your work. 


You can start showing off the work you've done in terms of side projects (you can find a portfolio and put together use cases). 


By this point, having your own website is important. 


Once you have your website built, you'll want to direct prospective clients to them as you're talking to them and networking. Make sure you're sharing some of your work on your website, put out uses cases you've created in the past, talk about a past job you worked a few years back, speak about it or even write a blog article explaining. 


You can even include a few GitHub projects—there are many different ways to show your work. 


7. Strategically selecting clients 

In order to get clients, there are a few key ways that are important to secure them.


Remember: At the end of the day you kind of have to pick one or two of them and be very good at them to grow a larger business.


You have to get to this point to have a massive funnel of prospects coming in. Many will be smaller projects, $2000 a month or $5000 a month; these projects are great when you start.

It’s good to get your feet wet, but eventually, you will keep getting better and get past this first client, building up your portfolio. 


You need to get to this point where you have enough clients coming in that you can say no to some of them.


8. Say no to projects. 


It only sometimes makes sense to take on every little project. It takes up half a ton of brain space. So  If you’re trying to get to a point where you need to reach earnings of $500,000 a year, you can’t take on every $5,000 project.


That’s just not sustainable and impossible to reach your goals. 

So you have to learn the power of no. 


But how do you get to a point where you can say no? 


The key is pipelines. 


9. Think about marketing 


marketing as a consultant

Marketing is one of the first areas where you can build your pipelines. While it’s a very broad term, I suggest more branding in there as well, but marketing branding is just getting the word out there.


You need to solve problems and market specifically how you solve those problems. These days, there are so many different platforms on which you can do other activities. For example, you can test out ideas on LinkedIn, write long-form content on Substack, and make a video of that piece of content. 


It’s a great way to undergo trial and error and see if it’s connecting with people. From there, you can commit to larger pieces of content. 


But the question with marketing becomes,


Who are you targeting? Who is your audience? 


It’s a great way to test an idea and see if it connects with people. From there, you can commit to larger pieces of content. 


Also, you can check out my 30-day roadmap for marketing if you're having trouble getting started.


10. Envision your target audience 


If you look at my pieces of content, you'll find some that probably speak to you if you're a beginner in engineering, and some that don't and may be more nuanced. 


In terms of questions they answer and like mistakes you'll make in parallel that will be specifically targeted towards people. If you're setting it up or thinking about setting it up and wanting to avoid some of the mistakes- use Airflow. 


So, from my perspective, it is targeting one of my key client areas and key personas that I target, which is people who will likely be using Airflow and need to set it up. 


Reminder: So when you're writing pieces of content, think about who the person I'm reaching out to is.  


11. Metrics matter

If you develop dashboards, especially in marketing, you need to discuss and focus on metrics.

They're important.


If you're someone who develops dashboards especially (if you're in the marketing space), you should specifically talk about the metrics that are important. 


  • How to calculate those metrics

  • How you build a dashboard for those metrics

  • The mistakes people make when they use these metrics 

  • How you translate these metrics 

  • The problems that your persona will run into.


So you're really trying to target that key area. 

That's just marketing again; there are many key things you can do here.


I have entire sections on this course, but basically, you can just start by trying out things on LinkedIn.


Don't feel scared; just play along with trial and error.


Forget what other people say and push forward.


12. Test out different pieces of content 

Initially you’re going to have a lot of love for your writing. As you grow within your niche, you’ll eventually start to find people who may not like your content or you don’t like it. That’s just how it works. 


So, don’t be afraid to test different pieces of content on various mediums.


Think about LinkedIn, Medium, Substack, your blog, which you definitely need to have, and a ton of other areas where you can upload your content.


13. Suss out the sales 

Whether focusing on marketing or not, you need to gain clarity with your sales. While sales are kind of connected to marketing (to a degree), there are specific tactics within sales that you need to learn. 


Example: The cold email.

When you reach out to people on LinkedIn or via email, you likely think you can solve a specific problem. 


The challenging aspect is that you don’t know if the recipient you’re reaching out to has such a problem. Figuring out how to identify the right person or corporation is the most difficult part. 


Case study 

I had a friend who would specifically target people who were based in or owned other consulting companies. 


The companies he targeted were ones he thought were inferior to his “superior” product. Typically having a mentality of:


“We see you were likely working with this team. Can we work with you instead?

Promise you we will do a better job.”


Although a particular approach, you might have situations where: 


  1. You know someone is posting about looking for a data engineer or wanting help with a problem or another. 


  1. You want to reach out to a problem. 


Reality check:  Likely, your first email to a prospect will not land you a deal. 


You can't get disheartened by sending one email and they don't respond. You will likely have to send 10-20 emails over time to a single person to make sure you finally get a phone call with them.


It's not uncommon to find the process difficult, especially if you don't have the right messaging or value statement. Once you find that right value statement, you can just start hitting and waiting for a while until it doesn't work anymore and then think about vendor partnerships, which was mentioned earlier.


14. Vendors for large projects

Another key area you'll want to focus on is your vendors. This is where you can get larger projects, particularly from vendors growing rapidly and needing help venting their solutions. 


So, Snowflake doesn't have an entire team that can do everything in terms of implementing a solution. They will likely just do basic initial work. 


Most of the time, they just kind of sit up on top of views, which might eventually cost more in the long term, but their goal is to eventually get out the door. 


They have to gain their next client and eventually make them successful. Because of that, they often hire or partner with consultants to help them complete projects or close deals. 


Often, Snowflake or Databricks stops closing a deal because the company they're selling to lacks the talent and is scared of taking on a solution. So, if you have a close partnership with an account executive at such companies, then you should generally form a set of partnerships with them.


However, it depends on the person-to-person relationship with whom you set up an account. Moreover, if you've helped them land a client or achieve something remarkable, they're more inclined to work with you. 


Then they'll start to (hopefully) send you projects you like. 


Often, these partnerships are incentivized as you have to figure out the project, and sometimes that's how you need to find talent. You want to be the talent that's the solution on that end.


Again, that's how you find those bigger projects. Otherwise, you're just figuring out whatever projects that may haven't gone through that are as scrutinous as the process. 

Maybe they're looking for small $5000k projects, but only often, if clients have already undergone a process of selecting solutions, they're likely to be a little larger.

 

They're likely doing a lot of research to find the right things, so there's a lot more effort regarding how big this project is. So, as you're trying to grow to this $500,000 + a year business, that's how you'll have to do it. 


15. Sales after the cold contact

Regardless of whether you use marketing to get a client into the door, networking, or whatever, at the end of the day, maybe you’ll close some $5000 clients with okay sales, maybe you’ll close some $10,000, or close some $20,000.


Reminder: Once you start getting past six figures, clients do expect more. 

You’ll start dealing with procurement teams, teams that are not just the person who’s trying to secure your service. 


However, legal teams handling procurement will have to deal with all of these other people who are going to look at your contract and scrutinize it. 


Trust me, I’ve had times where I’ve been asked for where the Terms & Conditions are in my contracts. 


Previously, they were very short, which I later had to expand. Due to having larger clients, a larger set of Terms & Conditions is needed to cover the work. 


(These are just the little things you’ll have to pick up on the way)


Note: With the larger clients you need to build trust if they’re going to sell you a $200,000 project but also take them through the actual process. 


What that means if you can set up a few different steps.


16. Research 

The first step is research, a presales step. So here you are likely to find information about the client and their problems.


You really want to be prepared, trust me. 


If you've got a small project, you might get away with a sloppy sales process and not doing research. However, if you've got a bigger project coming in, there is an expectation that you need to know what's going on. 


Part of this involves reaching out to a specific contact to see if they're willing to provide any information. Get PDFs, diagrams, and designs, discover their goals, and be as clear as possible with your research before going into a call. 


Don't worry if you can't get all of these before a call; that's ok! 


17. Handling the sales call 

When you have your initial sales call, the basic stuff will be covered. To handle it, introduce yourself. Have open-ended questions, delve into discovery questions to figure it out.


Hopefully, you will have your initial sales call. In this call, go to the basic stuff. Introduce yourself. 

Ask open-ended questions (discovery questions) to determine whether this project is a good fit for you and them. 


It's ok to ask them a lot of questions early on.


If you find yourself questioning a lot, you can say to prospective clients, "Hey, I know it's going to seem like a lot of questions at first, but here is how I know I'm going to be a good fit for you." 


In this first sales call, you're trying to understand the problem to provide a diagnostic solution. Hear them out, figure out their problem, repeat what they say, and then state your solution.


Solutions often work based on what they've said. More often, if you've heard them out, figured out their problem, and provided a solution in line with what they've said, there's a high chance of securing the project. 


18. Scope of the project

Now, it’s important to understand the scope of this project. You might be able to do the same migration project for two different clients. 


For instance, the scope could vary significantly, with one project costing around $50,000 and another around $500,000. This difference is primarily determined by factors such as the number of tables involved and the transition from cloud to on-premises. 


On-prem to the cloud? Are there firewalls involved? Where are the resources? There are a ton of different questions. Some of these can be covered in a questionnaire you give them afterward.


This just sets you up to find out what the problem is, how to write a proposal, and how to understand the scope. 


19. Build a relationship 

Some people might set up a second call following this, even just for 30 minutes. Build up the relationship first before the second call. It may seem like a lot, but it helps do a few things:


1.It lets everyone digest information 

2. It starts to build trust- they’re not just seeing you once and then forgetting who you are from a ton of other consulting companies pitching this project. 


Doing this ensures you stay on top. Then, schedule another call in the following few days. 


20. Going ahead with the second call 

When you schedule your next call for the next few days, you'll want to do a general presentation and pitch a few different solutions.


Solution 1: I think it should be about $50,000 (or other amount0 and this is why I think it should be this much and this is what you get at the end. 


Solution 2: It's $100,000 and here is what I'm offering for $100,000. Let me know which one works. 


You can create the solution before you write your proposal. However it takes some time to get it right. After some time, you'll craft a proposal where people will either say yes or no. 


Before going through the work of figuring out,  identify the price, options, the goal at the end and then build a basic presentation around it. 


Let them figure out the solution you like, and let them know. You can then begin to go into negotiation and build a strong proposal that personally solves the problem that your prospect is trying to solve. 


And from there, if you've done everything well, hopefully, you've got a closed proposal. Again, you don't want to rush this. You don't want to go from one call, and let's have one call here. Let's really get to know each other, and let's really understand your problem.


Reminder 

Again, it’s one thing to do several freelance projects that are small and put together. If you want to start expanding beyond that and take on bigger projects, and maybe taking on only one or two clients - you have to get these projects that take a little bit more effort. 


Honestly, I’ve been on sales motion calls for 3-4 months to get some of these $200,000 -$300,000  projects and be ok with that.


Yes, you might be taking on some small projects on the way, while you’re waiting for the four months to close, but you’re always trying to get to that end goal. And it takes a little bit more time. 


In Summary

Overall, we’ve talked about consulting in terms of how to start picking your niche, which solution to work on, and, from there, getting your first client.  


Alongside helping you get more clients, then getting larger projects, expanding into talking about sales and the actual process of closing a deal. Remember, closing a deal is about delivering value and continuing that relationship. 


Similarly, when you’re working with a client, things can change. I’ve had plenty of projects which said you’re going to start with one thing and by the time you’ve either started the project they’ve already made some changes to the infrastructure, they’re like now they need other stuff done. 


Especially if they’re larger projects, so you’re constantly having to adjust a bit with the client to make sure they understand what’s going on in terms of expectations in terms of what you’re delivering and making sure you communicate all of those things as soon as possible.


Your goal is not to get your current client just to deliver what they’ve asked but to continue working with that client. As an independent consultant, part of the process is to make sure you’re on top of communicating with clients, what you’re doing, how your project is going, whether things are ahead or behind schedule, and assessing your client's happiness. 


Usually, I do this with weekly touch bases and weekly summary emails: Hey, this is what’s been done, and this is what’s going to be done. Again, be very transparent. 


If things are blocked, don’t wait a week until you know you have that meeting with my client.


Reach out to them, get things unlocked, get things moving.


Hopefully, this helped provide some insight into that!






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