According to online salary aggregators, the average annual salary for a freelance consultant in the U.S. is more than $70,000 per year. Rather than becoming part of an organization’s full-time staff, these consultants are hired to solve specific problems or meet specific goals. They bring a fresh perspective, a clear plan and a series of strategic solutions to the companies they work with.
Whether you’re considering becoming a freelance training consultant for the first time or are taking your existing consulting career to new levels of success, this 10-step guide is for you.
1. Prepare Yourself for Consultancy
Many consultants start as full-time employees to build a nest egg and acquire the skills they need for their consulting career. The key to making this first step effective is going into it with an end goal and an exit plan in mind. In addition to (sometimes in place of) full-time employment in your area of expertise, read, take courses, volunteer, and otherwise prepare yourself as fully as possible for your chosen niche.
2. Create a Different Kind of Resume
Unlike a traditional resume, the resume of a freelance consultant is hyper-focused. Its end goal is not finding a single job but finding an ongoing series of jobs. To make your resume effective, highlight past projects, clients, key benchmarks and results, and make your resume fit your industry and niche. An instructional design consultant and a sales training consultant should have different resumes in design, format and content.
3. Develop and Define Your Consultancy Niche
Whatever you do as a freelance consultant, avoid being seen as a jack of all trades. Consultants are highly prized – and highly paid – for their expertise. Become an expert in a single field. Study the way your niche functions, who its target market is, what marketing avenues are most successful and which companies have the greatest need for your service.
4. Establish Your Professional Environment
Will you work onsite for the companies that hire you? Will you establish a home office? Will you rent office space? Keep in mind that for some companies, where you work is not as important as how effectively you work to meet their needs. Avoid spending big dollars on a fancy space or a prestigious address you’ll never use. Instead, choose an affordable environment that fits the way you work and the image you want to portray to potential clients.
5. Create a Professional Presence
In today’s digital age, a website is one of the first professional presences you’ll create. Even starting with a simple landing page gives you the online presence you need. Create a logo and branding, an engaging tagline, and social media pages on the sites your clients are most likely to frequent. Finally, find freelance sites that cater to your area of expertise, and create profiles there.
6. Showcase Your Expertise
There are a number of ways to highlight your skills and expertise in specific areas. Host a webinar, join professional groups and associations, and create an email newsletter with a free downloadable white paper or e-book for new subscribers. Try answering questions on sites like Quora and Lessons App to highlight your skill set. You can also guest blog with links back to your website and social media platforms to build your audience.
7. Establish Your Fee Structure
Avoid the practices of trading dollars for hours or underpricing yourself. You’re running a small business and deserve to be paid for the service you offer. A web search will help you understand what others in your niche charge and what your target market can pay.
Another key to success as a freelance consultant is not only setting your fees but having the courage to stick with them. Develop the habit of under-promising and overdelivering for your clients, and your rates – as long as they’re fair – won’t be questioned.
8. Network Like You Mean It
For some people, networking means being in a room full of people and spitting out business cards. A more effective way for consultants to make lasting connections is to keep these four networking principles in mind:
- Choose networking events where your target audience and their strategic partners are present.
- Choose networking events where the attendees can afford your products and services.
- Choose networking events that allow each attendee to individually address the entire room.
- Choose networking events with built-in follow-up methods (because whoever said the money is in the follow-up was right).
9. Create an Effective Follow-up System
A follow-up system that increases your revenue has two distinct functions. The first is to circle back to potential clients you meet at networking and other professional events. This process tells new prospects what working with you looks like and what benefits they will receive. The secondary function is to circle back with previous and existing clients to resell and upsell your service to them. It’s always easier to sell more to an existing client than to recruit a new one. It also means asking them to serve as referrals for your freelance consulting business.
10. Master the Art of Saying No
When you build a reputation for on-time delivery, a professional demeanor and results-driven project completions, clients will start lining up to work with you. When you’re first getting started, though, it can be tempting to take jobs for lower rates of pay just to get your foot in the door. Some consultants even work free for the “exposure” it brings. When you learn to say a clear and final “no” to these requests, you’ll build a reputation of self-respect, self-worth and fairness and establish a firm line in the sand that tells clients how to treat you right from the start.
Starting a career as a freelance consultant enables you to take an existing business model and build a sustainable career. Harness your skills, leverage your expertise and create strategic connections that grow your experience. Start by choosing a niche you love, and then use these 10 strategies to cultivate a career you’ll never need a vacation from. Don’t become just another freelance consultant. Embrace the age of independence and become a successful freelance consultant.
Download the free e-book “Career Pathways in Learning and Development: Perspectives and Strategies for Your Training Career”: