Posted by: Ashley Choate
No two businesses are the same, but startup companies hold an especially unique place in the business world. These entrepreneurial ventures are typically small, with only a few agile minds geared towards big ideas and big changes. Consulting for this kind of group is nothing short of an adventure, requiring an open mind and the ability to discern the brilliant ideas from the wacky, unrealistic ones.
Below are some practical tips for startup business consulting professionals. These strategies can help them avoid common pitfalls unique to the startup entrepreneurial world and ensure their efforts end in both results and compensation for their work.
As Nathan Beckord, a CFA and startup consultant, stated in a recent article, “Solving startup challenges is often chaotic, messy, and ambiguous; but pushing the envelope, facing new challenges and blazing new business trails is a thrill, and keeps the job fresh.”
Business consulting for a startup means seeing potential in the never-before-done. Many of the most common pieces of technology today, like mobile apps and Bluetooth, were pioneered by big thinkers who had the skills and the ideas to make incredible changes in the technological market. A startup consultant helps them make that happen by providing guidance on business infrastructure, financial models, and time/revenue investments.
For startup business consulting, this means adapting traditional models to meet the needs of a unique product and not trying to stifle the creativity of the team or fit the product into a recognizable box. New technology has its own appeal and while many will fail, others could even remake the whole industry.
Startups are not big businesses with secretaries to take calls and predictably structured workdays. Most startup businesses have only a few employees/members who are insanely busy trying to do everything they can to ensure their business is successful. The right kind of business consulting for this type of organization is present, responsive, and available whenever the ideas hit. Email, text, phone, social media—nothing should be off limits for a startup consultant, because the customer will always be busy and will rarely operate during work hours only.
Startups fail constantly. Not every new idea can be a success. As Beckord said, “In short, despite having the right ingredients (good idea, strong team, capital, etc.) and despite putting in the hard work, the vast majority of startups will still fail, for any variety of reasons (market shifts, funding environment changes, CAC is too high, etc.).”
Beckord described startup business consulting as a job that requires thick skin, the kind that usually builds up after much scar tissue and many failed attempts. Basically, if a sure thing is your goal, then startup consulting is not the right work for you. But, if you can take the setbacks, learn from them, and keep on moving to make the next business a success, you’ve got the right mindset.
Unlike big businesses, startups don’t need pretty presentations and a list of things to implement on their own. As one article from Entrepreneur stated, “PowerPoint presentations are not business results. If your customer needs service and support procedures, then your deliverables should include customized creation, implementation and training, rather than simply recommendations on what to include.”
Startup business consulting means getting involved and working with all levels of the organization to understand the business’s needs and goals, then taking a proactive role in ensuring the company’s stakeholders know exactly how to make the right changes happen.
Don’t be afraid to say no.
Finally, the hardest lesson for any adventurous, entrepreneurial-minded consulting professional to learn: sometimes you have to say no. Not every startup is worth your time, because there are just as many wackos trying to push an idea as there are brilliant, capable ones. Startup business consultants have to learn when to invest their time, effort, heart, and soul into a project, and when to walk away.
Additionally, some startups simply aren’t serious enough or haven’t even gathered any startup capital—meaning, they can’t pay a consultant in the first place. Any professional in a business consulting role, startup or not, has a right to get paid for their time. Either negotiate a suitable deal both sides can live with that ends in compensation—and only if the idea is a really, really good one—or just say no.
Startups don’t always result in happy endings, but every so often, they achieve the kind of success that is the backbone of the modern day American Dream. Business consulting professionals in this field live for chasing that potential success, almost as much as the entrepreneurs themselves.
More than any other type of business, however, startups come with a lot of risk. The wise consulting professional takes that into account before diving head first into a project—but when a good thing comes along, a good consultant can make all the difference in turning one little idea into the kind of product that changes the world.