Starting a consulting business is much harder than it looks. More and more professionals are starting consulting companies, which could be partially attributed to the rise of social media. In fact, 44% of working Americans consider themselves “free agents,” according to a Kelly Services survey. Whether you’re the sole consultant, or you have the ambition to scale your business to have multiple consultants, it’s important to understand what goes into running one. 

It’s not just about having the technical skills to fulfill client demands. If it were, everyone would have a successful consulting business. It’s more about marketing your skills and branding your company so that you can separate yourself from other competitors and win new business. Here are five tips on how to start a successful consulting business:

1. Develop an online platform. The cheapest way for people to start learning about who you are, and what you do, is to have a website. Start by registering your website in your own name (yourfullname.com) if you want to have a consulting business based around you. If you are looking to potential grow a larger consulting company, you may decide to name your company something that captures people’s attention or relates to the services you’re offering. Your platform should dictate your services, testimonials, case studies, contact information, and media mentions. You can also integrate a blog component, where you can write about trends, research, big ideas and industry insights. You will also want to use social networks, including Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, in order to provide value and solicit new business.

2. Do free work in exchange for a case study. The hard part of starting a consulting business is that every new lead will ask you about your previous clients and you don’t have any. The best piece of advice I can give you is do some free consulting for a friend, family member or someone else. This way, you can wrap up your client engagement into a case study, promote it on your website, put it in your sales sheet, and they can refer you new business if they like what you’ve done for them. Don’t cringe at the fact that you are doing unpaid work. Instead, think of it as an investment that will help jumpstart your business and something you can leverage for years to come.

3. Connect with new people daily. Just having raw skills isn’t enough to start any type of business. You need to constantly put yourself out there and connect with new people daily. Go to networking events, meetup groups, conferences, and use your social network channels to stimulate interest in your new business. The more you get out there, the more clients you’ll have and the more people can spread positive word-of-mouth about you. Avoid networking at your own peril!

4. Partner with other businesses. If you see successful businesses that are relevant to your consulting company, it might be a good idea to partner with them. If they aren’t offering your services as part of their portfolio, but their customers could benefit from them, then you should reach out to them. They might be able to build you into their portfolio and outsource your services, which will help you build your client list and give you revenue.

5. Promote yourself on freelance websites. There are many freelance websites where you can promote your services for free, including freelancer.com, guru.com, and elance.com. You are competing against other consultants for projects on these sites, but it can help  generate new leads.

Dan Schawbel, recognized as a “personal branding guru” by The New York Times, is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, LLC, a full-service personal branding agency. Dan is the author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future, the founder of the Personal Branding Blog, and publisher of Personal Branding Magazine.