Startup Consulting - 6 Key Takeaways from Successful Founders

14 min read
Startup Consulting - 6 Key Takeaways from Successful Founders

Building a business from the ground up is hard. It's no wonder 90% of startups fail. In the quest to not become part of this statistic, many startup founders seek out business startup consulting services.

Startup consultants offer personalized advice and ongoing hands-on support to help you strategize, optimize every-day business operations and scale your business.

But will consulting costs, both time and money, outweigh the benefits? We'll help you decide - as well as provide 6 key pieces of advice from successful startup founders that you can takeaway without the heavy consultancy price tag.

What are startup consultants?

A startup consultant is a professional who helps startups with various aspects of their business, from ideation and product development to marketing and sales. A startup consultant typically specializes in working with a particular type of startup client and can provide a high-level of personalized guidance and support to a startup founder, CEO, or other executive to help them build and grow their business.

When to hire a startup business consultant

Deciding to hire a business startup consultant is a big decision. It's one that should be weighed carefully to ensure it's the right fit for your business.

When considering if you want to hire a consultant, it can be helpful to step back and first make a list of what exactly you need support with. Is it one specific area like building a website or developing a marketing strategy? Or do you find you need help organizing your ideas and managing priorities?

Putting thought into exactly what you need help with will guide whether or not you should hire a startup consultant.

In general, the following times are good candidates for when to hire a startup consultant:

  1. When you're first starting out and need help putting together a business plan and getting your ideas off the ground.
  2. When you're starting to scale and need help with things like hiring, fundraising, or marketing.
  3. When you're experiencing growing pains and need help with things like restructuring, process improvement, or team building.
  4. When you're feeling stuck and need an outside perspective to help you move forward.

If you're still unsure if you need startup consulting services, don't hesitate to reach out to a few vendors. A good startup consultant will be able to help you assess your needs and figure out what the best next steps are for your business.

Pros and cons of hiring a startup consultant

As with anything, there are pros and cons to hiring a startup consultant. On the one hand, a startup consultant can provide valuable advice and guidance on how to start and grow a business. They can also help connect you with resources and networks that might otherwise be out of reach.

On the other hand, hiring a startup consultant doesn't always produce the results you might expect. You should consider the potential for a consultant to have a conflicting vision to yours. And, ultimately, they do not have as much skin in the game as you do. This can lead to mixed results.

Pros

  • Connects you with industry networks
  • Provides expert advice
  • Gives a neutral, 3rd party perspective

Cons

  • Don't have skin in the game
  • Results are unpredictable
  • Potential for conflicts in vision

How to achieve startup success - 6 key takeaways from founders

Working with a business startup consultant isn't for everyone. You may find it's a great fit for your business, or you might have decided to look elsewhere for tips on how to achieve startup success.

The good news is that successful startup founders have ample advice to give (for free). We've distilled some of the best startup advice into 6 key takeaways to get you started. And, as we walk through their advice, we offer tips for how to best make use of startup consulting services if you choose to go that route.

Start growing an audience before you have a product

It might seem counterintuitive to build an audience before you have a product, but doing so can help new startups become profitable faster. It's all about having someone to market to, and if you already have a base of loyal (or at least interested) people, your market is already established - even before you get that product out the door.

In the age of digital media, audiences can be built in a matter of weeks or months if you know what you're doing. The first thing you should think about is who your ideal audience is: What platforms will you use to reach them? What do they care about? How will your message resonate with them?

Once you understand your potential audience, the next step is to start creating content for them. This could be blog posts, videos, podcasts, infographics, or anything else that your target audience will find interesting and valuable.

The key is to provide value and to be consistent. If you can show your audience that you're an expert in your field and that you're always putting out high-quality content, they'll start to trust you and they'll be more likely to buy from you when you do have a product to sell.

Of course, you can't just sit back and wait for people to find you. You need a marketing strategy. Reach out to influencers in your niche and see if they'll share your content with their followers. Use social media, paid advertising, and email marketing to get the word out.

Once you have a loyal audience, you'll have a much easier time selling products and services.

How startup consulting services can help:

As you build an audience, you should think about where you are pointing people (i.e what is your CTA?). Typically, having one or more landing pages to point people to from all marketing channels is a good idea.

Landing pages can help people take a next step with your brand such as reading more content, subscribing to a newsletter, or (ultimately) finding out more about your product.

Hiring a startup consultant that specializes in web design can help startup companies build compelling landing pages that turn an audience into loyal customers. An expert in this space can help you establish consistent business branding up front, so that your brand is recognizable to your audience long term.

Read also: How to Design a SaaS Product Users Will Love [with examples]

Do your homework and understand your market

Central to every successful business venture is a deep understanding of the market. To better understand your market, you should aim to have real conversations with prospective customers.

In fact, Siadhal Magos, Co-Founder & CEO at Metaview's advice is to “have as many conversations with prospects and customers as possible, to the point that interactions become almost completely predictable.”

When things become predictable, you've gained a deep understanding of your market. Having these conversations could be done in one or more of the following ways:

  • Through a paid focus group study
  • Ad-hoc by contacting people you know in the target market
  • By utilizing a proof of concept to gather feedback

How startup consulting services can help:

One of the best ways to understand the nuance of your market is to build a proof of concept (PoC) of your end product and use it to gather feedback, and ultimately to validate your business idea. There are many different versions of a proof of concept, from a simple landing page or marketing video to a simple hand-built app.

If you're not sure how to go about building a PoC, experienced business consultants can help. They can provide consulting advice on how to develop a PoC strategy, how to raise PoC funding, and how to integrate the plan into your overall business strategy.

Be prepared to pivot and course correct as needed

Theodore Roosevelt once said “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” In other words, you should always be doing the best given the information you have. As you get more information, your “best” should naturally change.

This is great advice in the startup world as well. Far too often founders think they have a great idea. They stick with the first version of that idea and then run it into the ground. To truly be successful, you have to pivot as you learn.

Melanie Perkins, co-founder, Canva reports “It took me three years and over 100 revisions of our pitch deck to raise money. I took in the feedback from each meeting and used it to revise the deck to better explain the market, our vision, and the problem we were solving.”

This resilient spirit is so critical as a startup founder. You should really embrace the mindset of validated learning. Start with an idea, but as you learn more, you adjust.

As you get feedback from customers or investors, as you learn more about your market and competitors, as you observe what operations are fueling business growth and which are holding you back, you should pivot. It can be especially tempting to hold fast to an original set of ideas during the product development cycle. You want to remain true to your product vision, but it's critical to embrace validated learning throughout the product development lifecycle.

How startup consulting services can help:

Working with a startup consultant that understands the value of continuous learning can be invaluable. This consultant can then help to guide staffing and business processes that align with this value.

One such area that they can help with is hiring the right software development team. Working with an agile team is helpful because central to agile software development is validated learning. As you learn more about your end product, your users, or your workflow, you adjust.

You can think about your project as a hypothesis-driven experiment. At the beginning of the project, you have a hypothesis of what the product should look like. Through iterative product releases, you validate and adjust your hypothesis.

Stay focused and don't get sidetracked

When launching a new business, you'll hear demands from everyone: employees, investors, customers, and even the media. It can be easy to start trying to please everyone.

In doing this, you might think you are providing your customers more value, but you're actually diluting your value. When you lose focus on your primary target market, you will no longer be able to provide them the highest level of value. You are spreading yourself too thin.

How startup consulting services can help:

Working with a business startup consulting firm can help you to stay focused on the big picture and not get sidetracked by demands of others. They can help you hire full-service vendors that allow you to stay out of the weeds and instead focus on strategic work.

One typical function that can be hired out in this way is full-cycle product development. While your product is being built, you can focus on things like public relations, investor relations, and long term strategy.

Start finding the right people early

One of the first things you should think about as a startup founder is how to build your team.

You can't do everything yourself. And if you try, you'll burn out quickly. You need to hire the right people. In some cases, this is easy. You might be able to pull from your own network. Or you might have started your business with a team already in mind.

However, it's not always that easy. You may not even know what type of people you actually need or how to find them. To start thinking about how to find the right people, consider the following questions:

  • What functions are currently being underserved in my business?
  • What functions, if filled, would help me see short term growth?
  • What functions, if filled, would help me see long term growth?
  • What strategic insight am I currently seeking out?
  • What day-to-day task-oriented work, if taken on by someone else, would free me up to do other things?
  • What do I ideally want to be focusing on day-in and day-out? How can I free myself up to do that?
  • What technical skills or expertise do I lack that I need on my team to grow?

When staffing your team, you have a few options:

  • Hire an internal, full-time staff member. For example, a Director of Marketing that reports to you is dedicated to you full-time and handles all marketing services.
  • Hire an internal, part-time staff member. For example, a part-time assistant that helps you schedule meetings and reply to emails.
  • Hire a short-term freelancer to complete specific tasks. For example, a videographer to shoot a promotional video.
  • Hire a full-service agency or firm to focus on a long-term project. For example, a software development team that builds your software product or PR firm that handles your public relations.

How startup consulting services can help:

Management consulting services typically include support with building a strategic staffing plan, managing the hiring process, and connecting you with a larger network of experienced professionals.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of deciding when to hire and who to hire, working with a consulting firm can be helpful. They'll provide an unbiased, third-party perspective and help you turn your vision into reality.

To scale, you need structure and processes

One of the biggest mistakes new startups make is not looking far enough into the future. They want to scale quickly, so they cut corners. By the time they are ready to launch or make their first hires, things are often unorganized, processes are undefined, and there's no formal business structure.

Taking Christopher May's advice is critical. Make sure you have everything in order from the beginning so nothing gets in your way when you're ready to scale your business.

How startup consulting services can help:

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of defining your business processes or implementing internal structure, you could consider hiring out some of the work. One type of specialized startup business consulting services is a CTO-as-a-service.

Essentially, instead of hiring a full-time, internal CTO, you hire out the service that a typical CTO would provide. In this way, you can get expert advice to help you establish industry-standard product development processes internally. A typical CTO-as-a-service provider can help at the foundation stage, guiding business analysis and planning as well as at later stages to help lead development of technical solutions.

Conclusion

Startup consulting can be a great option for businesses looking to scale fast and help prevent early business failure. However, it's important to think through exactly what you need help with to ensure you're hiring the right consultant.

And - if startup consulting is out of budget, don't hesitate to seek out advice from successful founders through blogs, podcasts, and even your own network. You might be surprised how willing people are to help out new startups.