As energy dependent Alberta and other provinces that rely on oil royalty revenues continue to struggle with depressed prices, layoffs particularly for contract workers are making people think harder about starting their own consulting firms.

Starting a new consultancy firm is well within the realm of possibility after some initial hard work. The reason why many may think twice about branching out on their own is a fear they won’t be able to make enough money to make ends meet. There is an inherent risk, but new ideas can be started using free time without the need to quit your job (of course this is a moot point if you were laid-off). Here are some tips on how to test a new business idea in your field.

  1. It’s worth starting the whole process out with a business planning session. You can do this yourself or with a professional. Consider the question, “what value does my business offer prospective clients?” When you have a clarity around your value proposition you will have an easier time building your business around the central idea. Think about the ways you can deliver and whether or not the costs to deliver will make sense versus the revenues you could generate. Consider all costs including administrative costs and deductions when calculating viability. Being very clear with your value will also ensure you don’t stray from what you’re qualified to offer.
  2. How will you market your value? For web side of thing, most niche industries are comparatively easy to rank in the search engines. Of course, many businesses, particularly in the energy field, depend on network and word-of-mouth, nonetheless, getting attention online for your new business is easier than you may think.
  3. When setting up an online presence getting started is quick for the professional web developer, and with a few pointers, anybody with a nascent level of web expertise can complete most functions necessary to launch a website. A domain name, web hosting (usually from the same place), and an out-of-box content management system will get you up and running within hours. The time spent in business planning, including the environmental analysis on your target market,  will provide a clear understanding of what your potential clients are looking for. Your expertise will be reflected in your content so build interesting that highlights your value and experience. Once you have clear and marketable content, click ‘publish’.
  4. When it comes to online success niche markets are easier to rank  and garner more attention than highly competitive industries. What will help you move up in prominence will be locating related websites to promo/link to your website. Being present in the right social media venues will also help increase you brand prominence and edge over competitors. When it comes to choosing where to put your energy for the various online outlets, the simple rule of thumb is: if you can be ‘social’ then use a particular social media tool. It’s better to put consistent energy in fewer places than doing too much.
  5. Traditional networking events and avenues will continue to be a primary method to attract new clients. A professional, small, and succinct website will now offer clients clarity of what you do, and increases their level of trust with your business.
  6. All of these items can be done without the need to setup a corporation, although it is recommended to move in this direction at some point. The cost to setup a corporation and website, not including your time, is under $500 for the DIY. As you can see, cost is not the inhibitor to get started with your new business venture.

As you search for ways to work for yourself, starting a website doesn’t mean you have to quit your daytime job, nor have a wealth of experience in web development. ‘Test’ and explore the waters to see if the consultancy gig may be worthwhile. Prototyping your idea is relatively inexpensive and can generate market data that will help you determine if jumping in with both feet is viable. In fact, I recommend everyone who has the idea of working for themselves to simply test the idea first. If you start to garner some attention, then work towards expanding and the next steps as you add clients.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to try and the only thing stopping you from testing new ideas and opportunities is a bit of planning and the commitment (not to mention some bravery).