In order to run your consultancy business you will need several tools, I’ve tried to make an exhaustive list here:
- A computer
Something good enough to do wordprocessing and spreadsheets on, if you are a creative person (such as a programmer or a designer) that uses a computer to generate the product make sure that it can run the software that you need for your work comfortably.
- A place to work
This is probably one of those items where you go ‘of course’, but still, it is not always that clear cut. If your work requires concentration then make sure that you can put in your 8 to 10 hours per day in a productive way. Sitting right next door to a car wash or a school might interfere with your ability to work. So choose your work spot carefully.
If you want to work from home and your s.o. is there during the day make a good arrangement about when it is ok to interrupt you and when you simply need to be left alone. If not you can expect your relationship to suffer, it is nice to be at home but not if that becomes a distraction. Your success is directly related to your ability to work.
- A simple filing system
Start of with a single file folder with some tabs in it, 5 or so should do.
One for bills received (add one of those plastic envelopes that you can put small receipts in), one for invoices, one for tax related stuff, one for copies of outgoing correspondence and one for copies of incoming correspondence.
Sure, you could keep that all in your computer, and it definitely won’t hurt. But if anything should ever go wrong you’ll be very happy with your dead-tree backup.
It doesn’t matter how you get to your customer, but if you have to go there make sure you get there, that you get there at or just before the agreed time and that you arrive in a reasonably presentable way. No point in splurging for a Ferrari, but don’t expect to rely on your 20 year old hand me down car either. If you’re in a city and use public transport make sure you get a rough estimate on how long it would take you to get to a meeting and build in some slack.
Nobody ever lost a job for being early.
- Time tracker
A time tracker is essential, not a luxury, even if you do not bill by the hour.
It allows you to calculate after the fact how much time you spent on what, and it will give you a really powerful tool to revise your estimation strategy. It also helps to attach a log of time spent to your invoices, a customer that sees what they are paying for is more likely to pay and pay on time.
- To do list
A to do list is another must have tool, it will drive your days and make sure that you are productive. Simply refuse to do stuff that you did not put on your todo list and make sure that what is on your todo list is customer work. If your todo list is empty you should add at least one item right now and that is ‘find more customers’.
An agenda is another one of those obvious little things, you need one to keep your appointments in, it can also double to keep track of hoe many miles/km you’ve driven for your business.
Old fashioned but still very handy, also doesn’t have batteries that can run out.
- Cell phone
Don’t go for the one with the most flash or features, go for the one that has the longest stand-by time and ‘on-air’ time. It is much more important that you can be reached than that your phone tries to double as a computer, it is a communications device, not an entertainment center or a substitute for a computer. It may be one day but we’re not there yet.