Consulting is a booming industry, with management consulting alone growing to a $39.3 billion industry in 2013. There are no signs of slowdown; June 2013 research by Source Information Services, a market research firm, indicates that 82 percent of businesses surveyed have no plans to reduce their spending on outside services over the next 12 months. In fact, 42 percent said they intended to use consultants more over the next 12 months. Combined with new healthcare mandates and regulations leading many small businesses to reduce employee hours, all signs point to freelance consulting as a viable career path.
Sharpen Your Skills
First things first: If you want to start a freelance consulting business, you need to have a marketable skill that businesses need and are willing to pay for. If you don’t, it’s not the end of the world. There are plenty of training courses, certification programs and even degree programs you can pursue to get the expertise you need, no matter what industry you want to work in. Successful consultants run the gamut from freelance writers to change management gurus and software-specific experts. Here are a few resources to get you started:
- The Institute of Management Consultants offers a process for becoming a Certified Management Consultant.
- SkillShare is a platform where many leading experts share their expertise through project-based courses that you can work through at your own pace – and they’re affordable, too.
- MIT OpenCourseWare is an excellent resource for those interested in consulting in the technology and marketing fields. The university publishes materials for many courses online, free of charge for anyone to access. It’s also a great way to sharpen your skills.
Handle the Legalities
There are also some legal issues to handle before you hang out your shingle. If you’re planning to operate as an independent contractor, you can simply use your given name as your business name – there are no additional legal steps to take to form your business. At tax time, you’ll fill out a Schedule C to report your earnings, and you’ll use your Social Security number as your tax identification number.
There are plenty of reasons to establish a formal business entity, however, such as liability concerns and the ability to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN), which acts as your tax identification number so you don’t have to give our your Social Security number. If you’re considering going this route, talk with an attorney or accountant for advice on whether you should set up a Limited Liability Company (LLC), Corporation, Partnership, C-Corporation or S-Corporation. Services like LegalZoom will handle the paperwork process at an affordable price.
Building up your social media presence will take some time, but you need some cash flow in the meantime. Listing your services on professional consulting marketplaces puts your qualifications right in front of businesses who are actively seeking consultants, so it’s a great way to land your first few clients – and continue to feed your business with new leads over time. Offer your services through marketplaces such as:
You can also seek out niche communities online in your industry, and participate in the conversation by offering helpful advice and answering questions. Many consultants land clients this way.
Establish Your Online Presence
While consulting marketplaces are an excellent way to generate business, your online presence doesn’t end there. Many potential clients will look you up in the search engines before they hire you, so you’ll want a professional website. WordPress is a great option for getting a clean, professional website up quickly – and it’s easy to update yourself, even if you’re not a designer. You can get a custom domain name and hosting account from a hosting company like GoDaddy for $60 to $75 per year.
Social networking is important, too. LinkedIn is a great social network for showing off your business background and experience and connecting with potential clients, but there are others worth checking out:
There are, of course, hundreds of social networks out there. But these platforms are a good starting point when your goal is to build credibility and immerse yourself in the professional business world. Reading up on social media best practices and how to connect with your target audience is probably a good idea if you’re new to the social media sphere.
Setting yourself up as a freelance consultant is a pretty simple process. You’ll need to develop your own methods for keeping track of invoices and expenses, decide where you’ll set up your office, and establish your own schedules and routines. Thanks to the many resources available online, setting up a freelance consulting business is both easy and affordable.