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How to Make Money as a Freelance Business Consultant, Step by Step

5-minute read

Emily Thompson

Emily Thompson

2 June 2020

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Been dreaming of working solo? If you have industry expertise and the drive to boot, you absolutely can.

Maybe you were recently laid off, and you’re scoping out your next career move. Maybe your job isn’t as thrilling as it used to be. Or maybe you’ve had the idea in the back of your mind for some time. There are a lot of reasons to consider becoming a freelance business consultant.

After all, business consultants can make a great living, with the average national salary being nearly \$80,000. Consultants can also have freedom and flexibility in creating their schedule. Often they work from home, have limited travel, and visit clients on their own terms. This can contribute to greater job satisfaction, especially if you desire a better work-life balance.

If you’re ready to venture out on your own, but you’re wondering how, I can help. Just a few years ago, I started my own freelance business, so I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

Here’s what worked for me.

Step 1: Get an industry niche.

Business consultants are hired to solve problems for companies. Before going out on your own, I recommend getting a few years of industry experience under your belt. This way, you can make solid recommendations for clients that are backed by research and experience. Not only that, but clients will want to review your resume.

It also helps to hone in on a particular industry. Pick one that you’ve already worked in, you’re prepared to pursue, and where you feel particularly passionate. I specialized in healthcare writing early on, mostly because that’s where my career led me, but also because I felt my work made a difference.

Define an industry niche for your business, whether it’s finance, technology, real estate, or something else. Demonstrate your experience solving problems in this industry, and think about building a website that showcases your experience.

Remember to prioritize industry keywords so clients will find you online.

Step 2: Protect yourself early on.

Think freelancers can’t get sued? Think again.

Sadly, 43% of small business owners say they’ve dealt with lawsuits or have been threatened with one. If you’re a freelance business consultant, you’re at risk. A client could potentially accuse you of negligence in your work if you make an honest mistake or if they’re unhappy with your work. Even if it’s not your fault, you may have to hire a lawyer to defend yourself.

Let’s say you’re a business consultant who specializes in marketing. You develop a thoughtful communication plan for a high-profile client. After executing your plan, the client unexpectedly loses revenue and blames you for the outcome.

You could be on the hook to pay for damages, as well as exorbitant legal fees.

Fortunately, if you get business insurance ahead time, and specifically general liability and professional liability coverage, you can enjoy financial protection. Your policy can help pay for the costs of a lawsuit, up to its limit.

And trust me, the cost of purchasing a policy is well worth it compared to the cost of potentially suffering through a lawsuit.

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Step 3: Define your business's format and style.

As a consultant, you have the freedom to choose how you work with clients. Here are some formats I’ve seen consultants use:

Going onsite to work. Sometimes, to create the best business recommendation, you need to go onsite to ask questions and observe. If this is the case, try proposing regular, ongoing meetings or one, longer visit. Do what works for you and also meets your client’s needs.

Offering one-on-one consulting. Perhaps a CEO or department head needs guidance. Often, consultants offer their services in a one-on-one format. This allows them to ask questions and get support as they execute work.

Starting a group coaching service. Other consultants offer group coaching to teams and departments. Maybe you have experience working in human resources. If so, you can offer guidance to small business owners on hiring employees, offering benefits, and following state guidelines.

Selling an online program. If you create a successful online program, depending on your business and services, sometimes you may be able to sit back and watch passive income roll in. That said, the market for online training is more crowded than ever before. If you’re just starting out, you may have more success offering online training as a buy-up to existing clients.

Step 4: Write a business plan.

Success doesn’t typically just happen. To make it as a freelance business consultant, you need to create and follow a business plan. After all, isn’t that what you advise your clients to do?

Get out pen and paper, and put some thought into answering the following questions:

  • Who are my target customers? What are their industries?
  • What is their primary market need?
  • How will I charge for my services?
  • Who are my competitors, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What is my unique selling point?
  • How will I market myself? Will I rely on social media, a website, Google Adwords, networking events, and/or something else?

Hashing out these details ahead of time will help you reign in your focus and target the right customers successfully.

Step 5: Get administrative details in order.

This doesn’t have to be the last step. In fact, organizing administrative duties at the get-go is a good idea. As a small business owner, you want to be as organized as possible, especially when it comes to finances and process.

As a freelance writer, I admit I’ve struggled in this area, and unfortunately, I’ve paid the price. In the past, when I was disorganized, I spent time searching for receipts and missed key deductions.

Wondering how to get organized at the start of your business? Here are some tips I’ve found to be helpful:

Invest in invoicing software. It can help you track your expenses, income, and time spent on a job. Try out Freshbooks or Quickbooks—they can work well for consultants. Want to learn more about invoicing software? Check out Simply Business’s guide here.

Dedicate time for answering email. These days, email can be a full-time job. It helps to set aside time each day to keep up with communication, especially to clients. If you go too long without responding, you might risk losing business.

Enlist help from project management software. I’ve used Asana and Trello, two free or low-cost software project management programs. They help me keep track of deadlines, which is especially helpful when I’m juggling multiple clients.

Pull in an expert when needed. Sometimes, it’s more efficient to outsource work. You may even hire someone to do all of your bookkeeping. It really depends on your skill level, the amount of time you have, and your budget.

If you put time and effort into following each of these steps, you should be well on your way to starting to grow your business. Still waiting for your first gig as a freelance business consultant? Try revisiting your business plan. Ask yourself what’s working and what isn’t. Chances are, your target customer, pricing model, or marketing plan may be off.

Remember, starting a business is a process and can take time and dedication. If you keep at it, learn from your mistakes, and pivot when needed, you can be successful.

Emily Thompson

Written by

Emily Thompson

I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.

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