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The Challenges of Consulting with Startups

The challenges of consulting with startups goes well beyond just “price” (read: “tight budgets”). Many wantrepreneurs and entrepreneurs try branching out on their own by consulting. They believe it's a great fit with some experience (“expertise”) and startup enthusiasm. Not quite.

I have spent a lot of time consulting with startups after Body Boss. Today, I sit on the other side of the table hiring consultants at SalesWise. With both perspectives, I want to share the challenges I see.
  • Consultants want to bring too much structure to an agile environment. For most consulting entrepreneurs, strategy consulting is where the fun is – it’s like being a part of the vision of the startup. Many see opportunities to bring their experience from big brands and apply “best practices” to startups. This could mean big strategy sessions, long timelines, and structured deliverables. However, for startups, especially early-stage companies, heavy structure won’t last simply because the company is still learning and iterating too fast.
  • Startups want to hire you for X, but they really mean X… + Y + Z. With time and budget constraints, startup employees wear multiple hats. Same applies for consultants to a degree – consultants should be capable of having a comprehensive skill set within a functional area (marketing, sales, design). For example, if you’re a marketing consultant, know communication, social media, and website. Some graphics chops will do you good, too. For design, be able to design + code + CSS.
  • The day the startup says they need help, they actually needed you a while ago. Startups work real fast, and employees are swamped managing what’s in front of them. So when issues start to arise, not much happens until it reaches a critical point. As a consultant, this means you are needed TODAY. Startups have investors to appease. We have to quadruple the current pipeline. We need to launch, learn, and iterate as fast as able.
  • I’d be silly if I still didn’t say, “money”. This is a given, but it’s surprising this is still a shock to many consultants. They believe they can charge the same rate they do with larger enterprises. That may be your “market rate” with enterprises, but realize that your target customers (startups) is a different market. Thus, your real market rate is quite different.
These are challenges/ realizations. However, challenges straddle the “opportunities line”. I made a good living before as a consultant to startups, and I loved the energy of my clients and seeing my actions make a difference almost daily. There’s a give and take, but that’s why you work with startups. It’s not all about the money. It’s about the challenge, the opportunity, the learning.

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