How to Start a Museum Consulting Business

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Museum consulting is the business of assisting museums in attracting customers and developing captivating spaces and exhibitions. Museum consulting businesses offer their clients consulting services that are relevant to the museum. The scope of museum consulting can range from museum planning, exhibition development, and interior design to marketing support, project management, and a litany of other tasks.

Learn how to start your own Museum Consulting Business and whether it is the right fit for you.

Start a museum consulting business by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your museum consulting business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

  • What are the startup and ongoing costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening a museum consulting business?

In this business, your greatest asset will be industry knowledge and contacts. Many consulting firms work out of small offices or from home initially. Startup costs are low to start, with overhead costs increasing as the business expands and the scope of the projects increases.

You will need to budget for a few items when building your business strategy:

  • Permits and licenses - varies by state and county
  • Computer, phones, Internet
  • Business insurance
  • Professional website
  • Marketing
  • Travel expenses - consider traveling to various conferences as part of your networking and marketing strategy

What are the ongoing expenses for a museum consulting business?

Since much of your time will be spent meeting with clients, both physically and virtually, travel and technology will factor heavily into your monthly expenses. Monthly costs will fluctuate greatly, and range between $2,000 and $7,500.

This will include:

  • Dependable vehicle and fuel
  • Airplane tickets/travel expenses
  • High-speed internet and communication devices
  • Mobile devices
  • Lease - $1,500 to $5,000 monthly
  • Business insurance
  • Payroll and taxes - to save on this ongoing expense, consider hiring some of your employees on a freelance basis
  • Marketing

Who is the target market?

Much like your duties, you will have a very diverse customer base. Their passion and support of art will be the commonality. Your consulting firm will act as a resource for the global art community, including galleries, museums, auction houses, et al.

How does a museum consulting business make money?

Museum consulting firms make their money from the many services performed for their clients.

How much can you charge customers?

Consulting fees will vary, depending on the scope of work and length of time working. Fees can range anywhere from $200-$1000 per day.

How much profit can a museum consulting business make?

Depending on the number of clients your firm is currently consulting, monthly revenue will vary. Anywhere from $3,000 to upwards of $10,000 per project can be made in this profession. Factoring in related business expenses, an annual profit of $100,000 or more is attainable, once established and sought after. Make sure you do your research on the front end to determine if you have enough of an art community within (at least) your regional area to give you a start and sustain you.

How can you make your business more profitable?

One of the best tools for increasing profits is to network and market your previous work and overall industry reputation. Many of your clients will come from other museums and art houses, who have seen your work, or hired you in the past. Reach out to various organizations and art appreciation societies. You may even consider offering services for artist management or art buyer consulting.

You can also interact on social media to increase your media presence and overall reputation through:

  • Webcasts and podcasts
  • YouTube videos
  • Art community forums
  • Guest spots on industry blogs and in magazines
  • Art appraisal
  • Represent clients in art auctions

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your museum consulting business is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.

You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

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For most small businesses forming an LLC is a great option, but if you still want to weigh all your options check our our article, What Structure Should I Choose for My Business?

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to open a museum consulting service. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

STEP 8: Define your brand

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

How to promote & market a museum consulting business

The art and museum community is a close knit group. Most professionals in this industry will know and talk to others in the industry, so your reputation is critical. Establish your reputation through extensive networking, successful project completions, and customer referrals. Your best assets will become the positive words of others. It is also recommended that you get involved in the art community on a local level.

It’s advisable to be aware of trends within the art and design communities. Be an innovator in your field, as well as an excellent listener and visionary. When a customer approaches you about re-designing their museum or adding a new exhibit, make sure you are respecting their wishes while adding your own flair. Join related museum groups and stay active within their social media circles and share the projects you have successfully completed.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

Network and connect with other museums, consultants, and art industry professionals. Much of your success will be based on your reputation and previous work. Your personal marketing and testimonials from prior clients will figure greatly in your overall success. Be personal and professional and listen to the desires of your customer(s).

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Start A Museum Consulting Business In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

This profession is recommended for those with an understanding of the art and design world. If you possess this knowledge, as well as a keen eye for style and forward-thinking trends, museum consulting might be your niche.

What happens during a typical day at a museum consulting business?

As a museum consultant, your responsibilities will vary, depending upon the client, the project you are working on for them, and the timeline you have to work with.

Your duties will include:

  • Meeting with potential clients - this will be to determine the parameters of the project and your role
  • Coordinating with client, artists, art dealers, and contractors
  • Delegating responsibilities to project team members
  • Traveling - consultants often work with clients all over the world
  • Researching the latest trends in the art and museum industry
  • Networking
  • Marketing your consulting business 

Additionally, you will have a number of administrative duties to tend to. When building your team, consider hiring someone to take over these tasks.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful museum consulting business?

To realize long-term growth and success for your firm, you must possess strong networking and interpersonal skills. This will serve both your consulting firm, as well as your customers, as you work to turn their vision into a reality. In many cases, you will serve as the project manager, so motivational and delegation skills would also prove beneficial.

You should also be keenly aware of the trends in design and marketing for museums and art houses. Stay connected with a network of professionals and potential clients and look for opportunities to show your knowledge and skill set. The American Alliance of Museums offers a wealth of information to help navigate the intricacies of running a business and in keeping up with the latest trends.

What is the growth potential for a museum consulting business?

Currently, the museum industry is experiencing a change in how to connect and engage with customers. Because of greater technological advancements, drawing customers to museums is becoming more difficult. Museums are also revamping their exhibitions in order to connect with a younger, more tech savvy, audience. Therefore, creative museum consultants are a hot commodity, especially ones with innovative ideas for a modern audience.


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Take the Next Step

Find a business mentor

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a museum consulting business?

Leaders in the museum consulting industry offer the following advice:

  • Extensive experience in the museum industry or expertise in the art world will be beneficial.
  • Cherish and protect your reputation; it is your calling card.
  • Bid on smaller projects you can complete successfully, to start. You want to present successful work, in order to get larger jobs in the future.
  • Be personable and professional with clients. Learn to listen to the client’s ideas and create complete plans which bring their ideas to life.
  • Become involved with the community you’re working for. Show a true passion for the work and the art.

How and when to build a team

Developing a team for museum consulting will most likely be a slow process, at first. You will have to establish your business’ reputation and monthly workload to understand how much help you’ll need. Ideally, your team should also be well-versed in art, marketing, interior design, graphic design, and public relations. A good team member should be personable and enjoy meeting and networking with clients and peers.

Next Steps

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