I’ve had several folks in the nonprofit fundraising world ask me about becoming a consultant, so am sharing how I went from working for a nonprofit leading fundraising efforts to Altrui.
I realize this is less of a tips post for fundraisers which is my weekly goal, but you may find something here that will be helpful even if you’re not interested in consulting.
I just celebrated my third year anniversary with Altrui Consulting (see earlier article for more on this). I couldn’t be happier, and a little surprised that Altrui is still going, and growing.
I knew very little about running a business when I began. I knew my consulting would be based in nonprofit fundraising, which had been my world for years, but no business experience.
What I did and continue to do is a mix of things I have read, suggestions from people I trust, and trying things that I think may work (and sometimes do!). My actions to run Altrui may not be a fit for you, but I hope you find something here that will help you with your consultancy or small business. After all, we have to support one another.
Here is what I do/did to create and grow Altrui:
I created a five year business plan. I know, there are many who say this isn’t necessary. For me it was, and has paid off. It’s a living, breathing document that I edit and add to all of the time. It’s been a great guide for me since the start, and continues to be helpful as I update it.
Before leaving my full-time job, I started saving money. Each paycheck I’d set aside an amount so that when I left and was all-in for Altrui I wouldn’t have to worry about money. I am also fortunate to be part of a two-income household with full support from my husband.
In regard to money, I also made investments into Altrui while working full time. This made a big difference once I started.
For example, my website. This was part of getting off to a strong start. Having a website right away helped me have the ability to share about Altrui and have a landing place for people interested in what I’m doing with the consultancy. It made me look more professional. The investments I made included hiring a website person to completely create the site, buying a couple of web addresses, and writing copy that would be representative of how I could help potential clients.
Having a website on day one is a great way to start.
Licenses. If you are like me and have never had a business, then make sure you pay close attention to this. Find out if you need a business license for where you live and work. FInd out if you need a particular license for the type of work you do. And find all of this out before you begin! I did all my research on the state website and googled other items. For example, in my county, I had to do a fictituous name registry, which included running an ad for four weeks in a local paper about Altrui. Who knew? This is the type of thing you want to have done before your first day.
Contracts. I had some experience with contracts going in so this part of the business wasn’t completely new. After time on the state site and googling other contracts, I learned that there were items in my contract that I had to have per the state. I kept researching this and asked friends for a copy of their contract. I now have a contract that works as a contract and invoice. It includes state-required copy, the understanding of my work promised and what the client is responsible for in working on the project, along with a cancel clause. My contract changes as I learn more or see things I like from other contracts. Some new conultants have an attorney go over their contract, which is not a bad idea.
Having a social media presence is also important. I had a good setup on LinkedIn and Twitter. These were important for the day I introduced Altrui to the world as I had some connections in the nonprofit world and many connections with people who trusted me and would share the news when they saw it on social media.
Social media is something you can work on before launching, and aside from time does not cost you anything.
Have an accountant in mind, something I wish I had done right away. My current accountant is fantastic. She has helped bring Altrui to where we are financially and as far as how are books are done and taxes are paid.
I didn’t need an accountant right away, and wanted to hold off until I had several clients. The main thing is to pay taxes as you bring in business, or at least set 20% aside for taxes for when the time comes. Once you have a year of income you’ll need to (or want to) make quarterly payments.
QuickBooks. A few months in I bought a QuickBooks account. I have the cheapest level, and it works for me. I don’t have direct sales at the moment, only consulting fees. There is not a lot to keep track of. One of the great things about my accounatnt is that she had her team cleaned my QuickBooks up and taught me how to enter revenue and expenses. This full year I have done that and feel so much more at ease, like I have a grown-up business!
Zoom. Having a Zoom account is vital for my business. I have clients all over the country and never sell myself as one who they will personally meet with, so Zoom is important in being able to have clients anywhere. Most of my work is done via email, and Zoom is helpful for when I am starting a new project or campaign. Like QuickBooks, I have the cheapest level and it works well for me.
Share! Share your new business with everyone. Make sure everyone in your circles not only know about your new adventure, but that they know what you do. This is very important. Do not assume that a quick sentence in an email makes it clear enough to understand your work. I still have a neighbor or former colleague ask me “so what is it that you really do?”!
Get a bank account. I went to our local credit union. It has worked really well, and my clients pay me directly to the account.
Join a chamber of commerce. Networking gets a bad rap. I guess it all depends on what networking means to you. I love meeting new people and getting to know them. A chamber of commerce is a great place to talk about your business and build support for it. Membership also gives you the chance to be of service to other business owners and support them with what you have learned.
Lastly, have a HUGE passion for what you are about to embark with. I love fundraising, and I love every one of my clients, whose missions are making the world a better place. I have honestly loved every minute of Altrui, and am forever grateful for the gift of it. My work at Altrui doesn’t feel like a job. It’s more like something I am lucky to do.
I hope this was helpful to you!