Thinking about ditching the 9-to-5 and transitioning from Corporate to Consultant? You’re not alone.
More people are diving into independent consulting, loving the freedom to pick projects they care about and work on their own terms.
But, there’s a catch: starting isn’t just about being good at what you do. It’s about planning, learning the ropes, and getting key things right.
And I’ve been doing this since 2016, so I’ll do my best to share what I know.
Ready to take the plunge? Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you kick things off.
What Is An Independent Consultant?
An independent consultant is a self-employed professional with deep expertise in a particular domain. These consultants work with various clients, leveraging their specialized knowledge to address unique challenges.
Here’s a deeper look into how to think about it:
Some consultants are sole proprietors, but many choose structures like LLCs for legal and financial benefits.
Consider creating a formal corporate structure to reduce risk and help with taxes.
Consultants bring to the table advanced knowledge, often complementing or exceeding their clients’ in-house capabilities.
However, not all consultants are hired just for their expertise. Sometimes, they’re hired to add an extra resource to a team.
Rather than being tied to a single employer, they serve a diverse client base, tailoring their services for individual projects or through retainer agreements.
The diversity of projects and ability to choose who you work with draws many people to transition from corporate to consultant.
They have full autonomy to select projects, determine their fees, and choose their work settings, ranging from home offices to co-working spaces.
The flexibility is amazing. Shoot, you can choose the hours you work to or shift time blocks around so you can go for a hike.
But beyond just consultation, they handle various business requirements, including marketing, accounting, and administrative tasks, ensuring their consulting business continues to grow.
You’ll need to learn to run every part of your business, hire a freelancer, or automate the process with software.
By combining domain expertise with entrepreneurial skills, independent consultants provide invaluable insights and solutions, distinguishing themselves from traditional employees in function and freedom.
What Do Independent Consultants Do?
Independent consultants are versatile experts who adapt their specialized knowledge across various domains to address distinct client challenges, ensuring that solutions align with and advance client goals.
Here are a few examples of what independent consultants do:
Example 1: Independent IT Consultant
- Assess and recommend enhancements to IT infrastructure.
- Establish robust cybersecurity measures.
- Seamlessly integrate new software or technological platforms, optimizing system performance.
Example 2: Independent HR Consultant
- Advise on effective talent acquisition strategies.
- Create training programs that bridge employee skill gaps.
- Update company policies to foster a positive and compliant work environment.
Example 3: Independent Environmental Consultant
- Conduct comprehensive environmental impact assessments for upcoming projects.
- Advise businesses on strategies to minimize their carbon footprint.
- Assist companies in adhering to prevailing environmental regulations and standards.
Each consultant tailors their approach, ensuring that their expertise translates into actionable outcomes for their clients, reinforcing the pivotal role they play.
How To Become An Independent Consultant
1. Conduct a Self-Assessment
- Evaluate yourself and your situation using a personal SWOT Analysis
- Determine Personal and Financial Risk Tolerance
2. Perform Market Research
- Determine client needs and pain points
- Analyze the competitive landscape
3. Pick a Consulting Niche
- Choose a relevant sector or field based on your expertise
- But consider a niche that brings you energy and has clients you want to work with
4. Develop a Value Proposition
- Define what sets you apart
- Who you are, who you work with, what you do, and how you help
5. Formulate Branding Strategy
- Select a business name and logo (Don’t get stuck here. You can use your name)
- Build a basic website and expand it as needed (You can even use Carrd)
6. Create a Marketing Strategy
- Establish an online presence
- Join relevant associations or groups (if needed)
- Focus on relationship building and referrals
7. Pick a Pricing Strategy
- Understand your cost base
- Set rates that reflect your value
8. Form a Legal Entity
- Decide on a business structure
- Ensure compliance with licenses and regulations
9. Select Operational Tools & Implement Systems
- Choose relevant software and tools
- Standardize a client onboarding process
10. Set Up Essential Benefits and Retirement Accounts
- Plan for long-term financial security and health
It’s important to remember that your journey is unique. Some steps might occur at the same time or could be revisited from time to time.
Now that you know the basic steps for how to become an independent consultant, let me give you a few tips for a successful start.
Tips For Becoming An Independent Consultant
Becoming an independent consultant can be both exhilarating and challenging. To ensure a successful transition and sustainable growth in this new role, here are some valuable tips to consider:
1. Find the Fastest Path to Trust
Clients buy from those they know, like, and trust. Showcase past successes (social proof), offer initial consultations, or provide actionable insights upfront.
Your objective is to make clients feel confident in your abilities.
2. Consider Independent Consulting Platforms
There are platforms specifically designed for independent consultants. These platforms can be invaluable in connecting with potential clients, showcasing your expertise, and even handling administrative aspects like invoicing and contract management.
By leveraging consulting platforms, you gain visibility and access to tools that streamline your operations.
3. Use Your Network
Beyond platforms, you need to tap into your network. Too many new consultants fear using their network to get clients and referrals.
Let me say this…if you don’t use your network, you will fail.
4. Set Clear Boundaries
As an independent consultant, it’s easy to blur the lines between work and personal time. Define clear working hours, communicate them to clients, and be disciplined in adhering to them.
Boundaries ensure work-life balance and prevent burnout.
5. Stay Updated
Industries evolve, and so should your knowledge. Dedicate time for continuous learning, be it through courses, reading, or peer interactions.
Staying updated ensures you continue to offer value to your clients.
Integrating these tips into your consulting practice, you’ll be better positioned to navigate the challenges, cultivate strong client relationships, and build a thriving independent consultancy career.
As you navigate becoming an independent consultant, one of the key considerations is compensation.
Let’s discuss the typical salary for independent consultants and what can influence their income.
Independent Consultant Salary
The salary of an independent consultant can vary. Unlike traditional salaried employees, you earn money based on the projects you complete, the value you provide, and the demand for your expertise.
Here are a few things that can impact your salary:
Expertise and Niche
Highly specialized consultants in IT security, financial services, or legal consultancy often command higher fees than those in more general areas.
But that doesn’t mean an HR, Sales, or Marketing Consultant can’t make the same amount of money as those consulting specialists.
Seasoned consultants with a proven track record can charge more than those just starting.
Consultants in urban areas or countries with a high cost of living might have higher rates than those in other regions.
But since everything is digital now, this is starting to change.
Working with large corporations or high-end clients can lead to bigger paychecks than smaller businesses, non-profits, or individuals.
Duration and Complexity of Projects
Longer-term projects or those requiring deep expertise generally lead to higher earnings.
While it’s challenging to specify an average salary due to the vast differences in fields and individual circumstances, we can provide some insights:
Entry-level consultants might earn $75-100/hr but have the potential for rapid growth as they establish themselves.
Mid-career consultants with a solid client base and reputation often earn $150-300/hr
Top-tier consultants, especially those with rare expertise or in high-demand sectors, can earn significantly more, sometimes even about $500/hr.
However, most consultants wouldn’t charge an hourly rate. But I’m using an hourly rate to give you an idea.
While the potential earnings for an independent consultant can be lucrative, it’s critical to factor in business expenses like marketing, software, travel, and potential downtime between projects.
While independent consulting comes with financial uncertainties, the potential for high earnings, coupled with the flexibility and autonomy it offers, can make it a rewarding career choice for many.
Types of Independent Consultants (Examples)
There’s no possible way to cover all types of self-employed consultants. If there’s a business function, a consultant is focusing on it. If there’s a business specialty, there’s a consultant.
But here are a few examples:
1. Independent Strategy Consultant
Strategy consultants specialize in helping businesses identify their objectives and devise actionable plans to achieve them. They analyze a company’s current operations, market positioning, and potential opportunities to recommend strategic directions.
Their insights can lead to organizational growth, increased efficiency, or successful entry into new markets.
However, unless you have a huge network and tons of experience, I wouldn’t recommend becoming an independent general “strategy” consultant.
One, you’ll get your ass kicked by specialized consultants. Two, you’ll be competing with giant consulting firms.
2. Independent IT Consultant
Focusing on technology and information systems, independent IT consultants offer guidance on a wide range of tech-related challenges.
From assessing and enhancing a company’s IT infrastructure to implementing cybersecurity measures and integrating new software platforms, their expertise is crucial in today’s digital age.
3. Independent Marketing Consultant
Marketing consultants help businesses build and execute effective marketing strategies. They can specialize in diverse areas, such as digital marketing, branding, content strategy, or market research.
For example, I’m a marketing consultant specializing in Digital Competitive Analysis.
Their role often involves identifying target audiences, crafting compelling campaigns, and measuring the results to ensure a high return on investment.
4. Independent Human Resources (HR) Consultant
HR consultants provide expertise on matters related to workforce management and organizational culture.
They might assist companies in talent acquisition, develop training programs, craft employee benefit schemes, or help navigate complex employment laws.
Their insights foster a productive and harmonious workplace environment.
5. Independent Financial Services Consultant
These consultants focus on corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and private equity (PE). They help businesses in capital raising, valuation, and strategic planning.
During M&A, they assess acquisition targets, conduct due diligence, and aid in post-merger integration.
In PE, they advise on commercial due diligence, investment strategies, and exit planning. Their expertise ensures businesses make decisions that boost shareholder value and promote growth.
Reasons To Become An Independent Consultant
Many factors drive the transition to independent consultancy, each resonating with personal and professional aspirations. Here are some reasons why you might choose this path:
1. Escape the Corporate Grind
The repetitive nature of corporate jobs can be exhausting. Becoming an independent consultant offers a departure from routine, infusing variety and energy into your work.
2. Make a Greater Impact
As an independent consultant, you can directly influence businesses, fostering transformative changes and making a tangible difference.
3. Get Paid What You’re Worth
Becoming a self-employed consultant allows you to set your rates, ensuring that you are compensated adequately for the expertise and value you bring.
4. Control Your Future
As an independent consultant, success is in your hands, letting you determine the trajectory of your career without external constraints.
5. Continuous Learning
The consulting landscape is ever-evolving. By taking on diverse projects, you’re always challenged to acquire new skills and broaden your knowledge base. And you get to pick what you learn!
6. Navigating Career Setbacks
An unexpected layoff doesn’t have to be the end. Many turn this into a positive opportunity by using it as a springboard to launch their consulting career.
7. Become an Entrepreneur
If you’ve ever had those entrepreneurial dreams, consultancy offers a less risky foray. It provides a taste of running your business, building clientele, and managing operations.
8. Achieve Work-Life Harmony
One of the most enticing reasons for many is the potential for a better work-life balance.
With the autonomy to set your hours and choose your projects, you can design a schedule that aligns with your personal life and well-being. You have no idea how good that feels!
The transition from Corporate to Consultant is more than just a career move. It’s a transformative decision.
And it’s a choice that can reshape your life to better match your personal goals and dreams.
Education and training for independent consultants
The education and training requirements for independent consultants vary based on the specific field of consultancy.
However, there are common educational backgrounds and training pathways that many consultants follow:
1. Bachelor’s Degree
Most self-employed consultants hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Their major often aligns with their consultancy area, such as Business Administration for management consultants or Computer Science for IT consultants.
2. Advanced Degrees
Many consultants pursue a Master’s degree to deepen their expertise. An MBA (Master of Business Administration) is popular among management, strategy, and financial consultants.
But in some specialized fields, particularly scientific or technical areas, a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree can enhance credibility and depth of knowledge.
3. Professional Certifications
Some consultants have industry-recognized certifications tailored to the consultant’s domain.
For instance, a financial consultant might pursue a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) certification, while an IT consultant could aim for certifications like CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional).
Or an SEO consultant may have certifications from tools such as Semrush or Ahrefs.
4. Training Programs
Many universities offer courses tailored to consultants, covering topics like client management, ethical considerations, and consultancy methodologies.
There are also workshops and seminars for continuous learning. These shorter, intensive training sessions can offer insights into specific consultancy tools or emerging trends in the field.
5. Continuous Education
Regarding continuing education, attending industry-specific conferences can keep you updated on the latest research, methodologies, and tools.
And with the rise of digital platforms, many consultants take advantage of online courses, which offer flexibility and access to global expertise.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all educational or training path for independent consultants, a combination of formal education, professional certifications, and continuous learning ensures they remain credible and informed in their chosen domain.
Skills For Independent Consultants
Navigating the world of independent consultancy requires more than just subject matter expertise. It demands a blend of professional and soft skills to manage the multifaceted challenges of self-employment and client engagements.
Here are some skills that independent consultants often have:
The backbone of successful consultancy, discipline ensures that tasks are approached with rigor and consistency. Without the structure of a traditional office environment, maintaining personal accountability becomes important.
Discipline ensures timely deliverables, adherence to commitments, and consistent work quality. If you don’t have self-discipline, either develop some or don’t become self-employed. Just being honest.
As the face of their brand, independent consultants must market their services. You need to understand your ideal customer, how to differentiate yourself, and leverage social media to attract potential clients.
But don’t think you need a large social media presence to become a successful consultant. You can find many clients using your network, generating referrals, or even SEO.
Beyond attracting clients, you need to convince them of your value. Sales skills involve understanding client pain points, presenting tailored solutions, and negotiating terms that benefit both parties.
It’s about building trust and demonstrating the benefits of your consulting service.
4. Time Management
Independent consultants often juggle multiple clients and projects at the same time. Effective time management ensures that each commitment receives attention without compromising quality.
This skill is crucial for balancing work with personal time, preventing burnout, and maintaining overall well-being.
5. Relationship Building
At its core, consulting is a people-centric profession. Building and nurturing strong relationships leads to repeat business, referrals, and long-term client engagements.
This skill involves active listening, empathetic communication, and consistently delivering value, ensuring clients feel valued and understood.
Most experienced consultants get the majority of their new projects from repeat clients and referrals. I get 85% of my clients that way.
6. Analytical Thinking
The ability to process complex information, identify patterns, and develop actionable insights is crucial for consultants.
Whether assessing a company’s operations, reviewing market data, or devising strategic recommendations, analytical thinking ensures that conclusions are data-driven and well-founded.
Client needs, industry trends, and challenges evolve. An independent consultant’s ability to adapt to new situations, learn fast, and pivot their strategies is vital for staying relevant and effective.
8. Conflict Resolution
Engagements might sometimes involve differing opinions, resistance to change, or unforeseen challenges.
The skill to navigate these conflicts, mediate discussions, and find mutually agreeable solutions ensures smoother project execution and maintains healthy client relationships.
Becoming an independent consultant requires careful planning, strategic thinking, and a commitment to continuous growth.
By following the steps outlined above in a logical and considered sequence, aspiring consultants can lay a robust foundation for their consultancy venture.
However, it’s essential to remember that your path is unique.
While these steps offer a comprehensive roadmap, adaptability, resilience, and a sharp understanding of your strengths and the market dynamics will play a pivotal role in your success.
Embrace the challenges, capitalize on the opportunities, and let your unique value proposition shine.
If you need guidance, I provide two distinct coaching options:
Corporate to Consultant Program: A comprehensive, end-to-end program designed to equip you with all the essentials for launching your consulting business.
Ad Hoc Coaching: A flexible, pay-as-you-go option where you choose the timing and topic, and I tailor my support to address your specific needs.
Take care and good luck!