Frankly, this was the number one question I received back when I started doing this 19 years ago, back then, I wasn't quite sure!
I often tell the story of how I became a consultant. It goes something like this...
I had had some success helping build and sell a number of different successful start-up companies. It didn't go unnoticed and soon I had callers asking me to come have lunch, they wanted to just talk and "pick my brain". I thought to myself, "Hey, cool free lunch", and was happy to meet. While at lunch I realized that my friend was having problems in his business and he was looking for an experienced opinion. He mentioned a few obstacles he was facing, so I shared some ideas I developed when I had had a similar experience. He bought lunch, took my advice and had great success after implementing the ideas we came up with at that lunch. I went on my way happy to help.
This similar situation went on to repeat itself a couple times. Then one day when again a caller came calling and asked to "Buy me lunch" I realized I could actually make a living doing what I love, helping people. So this time instead of Lunch I said. "I'll be happy to meet with you to talk about the issues you are facing in your business, and the first visit is free, I will provide you with initial thoughts and ideas, and then a quote for a complete recommendation and implementation plan, how's that sound?". Without hesitation, "Great Dan, when can we meet". This client accepted my bid, and that's how I started Consulting.
It's pretty simple how it works.
We get together and have a conversation about the things you may need help with, free of charge. I will provide you with an initial evaluation and my ideas on if/how I can help, after the discussion, we decide if we are a good match. If we think it's a match my next step will be to provide you with a quote and scope of work for recommendations and implementation. Once terms and scope are agreed on I will provide a standard contract, payment plan and scope of work and we get to work!