Tom Glatt understood that to be successful as an independent consultant, his first step was to narrow his focus and find a niche market.
“Consulting” is a broad term that can mean something different for every prospective client. Therefore, it’s crucial for consultants to identify an area of expertise to successfully start and grow their businesses.
Glatt did just that six years ago when he started Glatt Consulting in Wilmington, N.C., which specifically focuses on strategic planning for credit unions. Carving a niche in a crowded marketplace was a savvy approach for Glatt.
“Ask yourself what will make your firm different from any consulting firm you might be going up against,” he says. “The more specialized a consultant is, the more valuable they will be early on. The broader your focus, the harder it is to stay on top of all that knowledge enough to provide immediate value or prove your knowledge to the prospective client.”
Starting out was not as easy as simply finding an opportunity in the market. Before he could get to work, Glatt needed to secure funding and financial advice. Glatt’s banker helped him better understand his financing options and became a trusted advisor in the early days of his business.
“You want to be as clear, open and honest with your banker as you can be, because then they'll understand what you need,” he says. “Your financial institution is a partner in your success. It's OK to lean on their expertise. Seek out that knowledge and treat your bank as a consultant, and they can help you be successful.”
Glatt also needed to seek out advice beyond what his banker could provide, such as legal ramifications related to starting his business. For example, he had to consider the business entity—LLC, S-Corp, Sole Proprietorship, etc.—that was the best option for his consultancy. He decided on an LLC, which allowed him to open financial accounts in his business’ name. By separating business from personal finances, Glatt could take an important step toward protecting his individual assets from liability and simplifying tax filing.
He then secured funding through a credit card and line of credit, which allowed him to cover costs incurred in the sales process, as well as start-up costs for office equipment.
After building the financial foundation for his business, Glatt could focus on what he does best—working with clients. He found that the best way to enlist new clients was to share his knowledge with as many people in his industry as possible.
“Social media is great because it allows people to build a brand identity very quickly,” he says. “Adopting a good social network is important early on. Providing valuable content to that network that’s relevant to your market is important for building brand awareness.”
Glatt also offers to speak for free at conferences and other events in his industry. Typically, the business generated by the speaking engagements covers any costs he incurs from participating.
“If you can stand in front of a group and talk about your expertise and give people ideas that help with their businesses, you will build brand credibility and find new clients,” he says.
Glatt is a creative thinker who prefers to focus on the big picture. However, when he started his own business, he was quickly bogged down by administrative tasks—something many small business owners experience. Whether it’s getting tax information and benefits programs in place or managing payables and receivables, administrative tasks can take time away from broader business objectives.
However, handling these tasks more efficiently can provide competitive advantage for your company. If you can streamline this crucial aspect of owning and operating a small business, you can spend more time on marketing strategies, customer service or seeking out new clients—all of which are critical to a successful consultancy.
Glatt took control of his time and enhanced his productivity by outsourcing these administrative tasks—which he says is one of the best decisions he’s made as a small business owner.
While outsourcing was the best solution for Glatt, handling these tasks in-house is made easier with the help of available technologies from banks and other financial institutions. Online services for paying bills, executing payroll and managing payables and receivables can help streamline back-office tasks for your business.
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