- How to Think About Minimum Viable Products for Consultants in 2023—Especially if Your Starting a Business on the Side
- If I were launching a new consulting service, side project, or whole new side business, I’d be ruthlessly strategic in my approach.
- In terms of marketing, as a new consultant, or launching a side hustle, I’d focus on three areas:
As wonderful as it would be, when you’re starting a new consulting business—whether it’s full time or a side hustle—there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Your approach to business is as unique as your approach to consulting! However, there are a few foundational elements that will give you the “cheat codes” to growing a sustainable consulting practice that lasts for long haul.
The two biggest questions I challenge my business and marketing consulting clients to answer are:
- What’s your Minimum Viable Product (MVP)? (AKA what are you selling your clients?)
- What’s your plan to make sure the right people know about your MVP? (AKA what’s your marketing plan?)
Let’s dive into the most efficient way to start and grow your consulting business.
How to Think About Minimum Viable Products for Consultants in 2023—Especially if Your Starting a Business on the Side
Are you familiar with the concept of minimum viable products (MVP)?
This is a core concept that all new consultants should embrace—and while I talked about this idea in an older article from quite a few years ago, my thinking on the subject has evolved significantly.
Fortuitously, I was talking to my friend Sara recently and she gave me a lightbulb moment by calling what I’d refer to as “MVPs” as “low fidelity” and that just hit the nail on the head—that’s exactly the best framing I’ve ever heard for this concept.
Using that “low fidelity” lens—that is, understanding what the sketch of a successful consulting practice looks like—we can really clarify what the must haves are that every new consultant needs to be positioned for longterm success.
What is a minimum viable product?
If you’re not familiar with minimum viable products, it’s a concept borrowed from the tech world, and is a version of a product (or for our purposes, a consulting service) that has just enough features to be usable by your audience. Basically, this approach allows you to validate your concept prior to investing in the full build out.
When we started our now-retired Design in a Day program, we did so with this approach. (You can read a blog post about this old service, if you’re interested.) It gets a bit meta, because we created an MVP for a productized service that was effectively developing an MVP website. For that, the stack of resources was pretty minimal:
- a landing page
- a clear and narrow scope of work
- a launch email
- and an Instagram post.
I look at that now and I’m just shaking my head—we could have been much more effective off the bat, but live and learn! Regardless, very quickly, it became a wildly popular productized service, and the launch was quite a light lift. I want you to be able to focus on excellent delivery and high return on investment marketing—not fussy systems and overly complex launches. That’s not the best way to succeed as a new consultant.
This isn’t a glamorous approach, but it’s an approach that works. And ultimately, the goal here is to get consistently booked with excellent fit consulting clients, not looking fancy on the internet.
If I were launching a new consulting service, side project, or whole new side business, I’d be ruthlessly strategic in my approach.
This means that I’d only invest in high impact solutions and actions—no fluff, nothing that will get in the way of booking clients and making progress. Too many new consultants worry about logos, email nurture sequences, lead magnets, and headshots. Set all that aside, and implement the systems that matter—and only those that matter.
- Legal foundations: I’m not an attorney, but my own business lawyer Nequosha is a very smart woman who has impressed upon me and the rest of her clients the critical need for protecting yourself legally before you start sharing. Because the stakes are so high, messing this up is a nothing short of catastrophic.
- A really, really small website (with a blog): I really believe that if you’re a brand new consultant, coach, or service provider you need no more than a three page site, plus a blog. Those pages would be a homepage that follows my magical homepage formula, a contact page, and an optional services OR about page. And don’t forget the blog—this is non-negotiable! Interestingly, my first website basically had everything I could do or had done on it. A year or two later, I changed it to being a one pager and my blog. Guess which one was more profitable and attracted more right-fit leads? Did I mention that the blog is essential?
We recommend Squarespace as an easy to use solution that anyone can DIY or hire a designer to develop for them with low ongoing costs.
- A newsletter—with a plan for how to use it: I often tell folks that if I could wave a magic wand and change anything, it would have been that I started my weekly email on day one. Would it have kind of sucked? Probably! But it also would have been a way to build relationships from the get-go. When I started this business back in 2008, it was socials, socials, socials—emails were going to die. And so even though I had years of experience telling me that newsletters (email and before that, print) worked, I believed that hype.
We recommend ConvertKit for mailing lists—the first 1000 subscribers are free!
- A way to take payments and manage finances. Okay, I had this from the start, and it was fine (a now-defunct software called Outright that was actually really great). Now, if I were a new consultant, I would probably do something slightly more robust such as Dubsado or even something a bit fancier for the financial backend if I had big contracts like The Collective. (Note: I am an affiliate with both but I recommended them prior to becoming an affiliate; the second is only for US-based businesses.)
You can also invoice directly in Stripe, but I find that a bit fussy and awkward for tracking purposes. A little money spend now on managing finances will save you loads of time in the future.
- Some kind of framework or model. This is one of those things that seems like an “I’ll get to it when I can” thing until you actually do it and then you wonder why you waited so long. Even if it was a rough, “here’s how I do my thing” it will make connecting with the right (emphasize on the word right) audience so, so much easier—and weed out misaligned folks in the process.
You can learn about frameworks and models in this article.
In terms of marketing, as a new consultant, or launching a side hustle, I’d focus on three areas:
- The aforementioned blog to develop your thought leadership and framework;
- Networking, especially locally or with affinity groups, to grow your network beyond your employment-based connections;
- The newsletter to engage folks from the first two areas—help them know you.
Notice I don’t say, “Launch your service with a Google Doc!” This is a tactic I typically recommend against as it misses some key trust factors (ie domain names and a seriousness element that most clients need).
You can take this super simple setup and adapt it if you’re launching a new service or a side project like a course. Some of the nuts and bolts will be different, but the essence would remain the same: a proper online home, a mailing list, a way to handle money, and a documented why/how.
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Key takeaway about launching a consulting business on the side:
- Think MVP—minimum viable product—so you don’t fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy;
- Streamline your marketing to attract clients now—don’t mess with complex launches, instead focus on sales;
- Build your marketing efficiently and effectively with long-term strategies.