#144 How to Start a Consulting Business, Part 1

In 1000 Easy Steps...

Sure, there are lots of resources for starting a small business.

Starting an archaeological consulting firm, however, has it’s own set of challenges. I wish I wasn’t doing this by myself so someone else could shoulder some of the responsibilities but that’s not the case. It’s likely that I’ll make mistakes along the way and I hope they aren’t big ones. Maybe my experiences can help someone else go through this process with a little less pain and suffering.

Order of Steps

Starting a company is going to be different for everyone and depends upon where you are starting and what you want to do. First, you need to decide what your company is going to do. Out here in the Great Basin you have the option to just do survey and not do any ground disturbing activities. We generally don’t do shovel tests on Phase I surveys. Having a survey permit from the BLM is easy and requires little gear. Generally all you’ll need are pin flags and safety equipment. Vehicles, sub-meter GPS’s and other electronics can all be rented. As a company that focuses on surveys you might not even need formal office spaces. In the world of Archaeology 2.0 most activities outside of fieldwork can be cloud based, so, save money, be green, and dump the office cubicle model. If you absolutely need storage space just rent a storage unit. They’re cheap and easy to get.

If you want to bid on testing and excavation projects you’re likely going to need a lot more equipment. There aren’t generally any places to rent that stuff from, either. Although, that may change for some places in the near future. More on that later. Doing excavations will also mean having lab and storage space.

Since I’m starting a survey only company for the time being that’s what I’ll focus on for this post.


Out here in Nevada you need to get a Nevada State Museum (NSM) Antiquities permit and a Cultural Resource Use Permit (CRUP) from the BLM. I wanted to get those out of the way right away since you can’t do anything else without them. What I didn’t know was what the BLM was going to require of me. More on that in a minute.

The NSM permit is pretty easy to get as long as you meet the requirements and have experience as an archaeologist. I applied for one and had the permit a week later. It’s also free.

The BLM permit is a bit more difficult. At my last company I was on their permit as a Principal Investigator for both prehistoric and historic resources statewide. So, naturally, I thought it would be easy getting my own permit from the BLM. Not so much. I filled out the application and submitted it with my CV, my NSM permit, a curation agreement for artifacts (also from the NSM) and a supplemental page detailing the type of company I have, or plan to have.

Since I’ve never held my own CRUP before the BLM wants to see some sort of proof that I’m serious about having a real company and that I’m not some quack with a degree trying to mess up arch sites in the Basin (I will delete any comments relating to this statement. You were warned.). So, I’m about to give them all the things I’m going to talk about next. Then, they’ll sign off on the permit.

To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate

That’s not the only question. There are a few ways you can go when forming a company. There is a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a Limited Liability Company, a C-Corporation and an S-Corporation. Since I’m not a lawyer I’m not going to tell you which one to choose. What I will tell is to do your homework and check out each option. They all provide a level of protection should you get sued or cause a bunch of damage to a client’s site. Attend a SCORE class. They are free and can be found nation wide. I chose to go with an LLC because it provides me the level of protection that a small company like mine needs.

You can, and should, have a lawyer set up the paperwork for whatever type of company you choose. Since I’m setting this up as frugally as possible I did my own research. Here in Nevada there is a state website for setting up companies and obtaining business licenses. It’s called Silver Flume (I know, right?) and it’s real easy to use. I was able to set up the LLC, apply for a State Business License, and get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) all in about 30 minutes. The cost to set up the LLC was a total of $200. It was $75 to Charter the LLC and $125 to submit the list of officers (which has to be done within 30 days and since I’m the President, Owner, Principal Investigator, Report Writer, Project Archaeologist, Field Technician, and Janitor it was easy).

If you are worried that your LLC (or whatever you chose) isn’t set up right because you did it yourself, don’t worry. You can always have a lawyer look over the paperwork and make any changes later when you have more money. As soon as I have a few contracts behind me and some money in the bank I plan to have a lawyer look over all of my documents.

Business Licenses

Notice the plural: business licenses. Here in Nevada you have to start with the State Business License. The application is easy and can be done on the Silver Flume website. The cost was $200.

After the state license, you also need a city license and county license for wherever your business is located. The costs vary, depending on where you are. Here, it’s another $200 total for my current city and county. An additional challenge for a statewide consulting firm is the need for business licenses in other cities and counties. If I land a contract in, say, Elko County, I’ll need to contact the county and get a business license quickly. The turnaround is fast and the BL should be less than $200. The good thing is that most BLs are good for at least one year.

Employer Identification Number

This is the easy one. You can get an EIN from the IRS quickly and for free on their website. You need the EIN to pay taxes and to pay employees. If you don’t know what an EIN is, it’s the number on the W-2 you get from an employer that you have to put down in the tax software that you use. I got mine on the Silver Flume website while I was doing the business license and the LLC Charter.

That’s enough for this post. Check back in a future post for the remaining steps in the process, including writing a Business Plan, setting up insurance, and doing all those little things that you take for granted at other, established, companies.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the field!

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