Becoming an Independent Consultant 101: Everything You Need to Know
January 30, 2019
You’re a knowledgeable, experienced freelancer with a solid book of clients and a deep portfolio of work. You’ve proven you can successfully build your own career ‚ but is there a next step you should start thinking about? At this point, some freelancers begin to consider becoming an independent consultant. In this role, you could earn more for your time, work closer with clients on big projects and develop long-term relationships that result in a more consistent income stream.
Before you transition from freelancer to consultant, however, you need to know what’s involved. Most likely, you’ll be required to take on more responsibility and have to consistently prove your value as a consultant. If you’re ready to make a change, here’s what you need to know before you start making your next batch of business cards.
Freelancer vs. Independent Consultant: What’s the Difference?
While freelancers and consultants are both independent, self-employed workers, there are a few differences between the two roles.
As a freelancer, you typically work on specific projects and promise a certain outcome. You agree to a particular deliverable and deadline, and often complete your work alone and off-site. Companies look for freelancers when they’re clear on their needs and simply want a specialist to execute on the idea ‚which means projects often come with instructions from the client on how they want the work done.
Conversely, consultants usually agree to work under a retainer rather than a set scope of work. The retainer covers the consultant’s time and expertise ‚outlining a long-term strategy, but not necessarily a set of specific outcomes. As such, clients tend to hire consultants when they need guidance or ideas on what to do next. They don’t necessarily know the right outcome or solution, and instead rely on consultants to give them sound advice that will help them succeed.
What Abilities and Qualifications Do You Need?
If you’re ready to transition from freelancer to independent consultant, you’ll need to be able to think strategically and communicate big-picture ideas. You not only need to be able to direct a company to make the right decisions and choices, but explain why your recommendations are the right ones. Ultimately, your goal is to leave your clients with a thorough understanding of how to execute your suggestions so they can take action or outsource the tasks to another freelancer.
But before you can do that, you need to be able to sell yourself and explain why you’re qualified to consult for clients. In my own experience as a consultant, I’ve best been able to do that not by advertising my official qualifications or certifications (although I have those, too), but by proving my worth. Prospective clients are more interested in seeing testimonials, case studies and examples of past experiences where my recommendations and opinions have helped a business reach a specific goal.
That being said, professional qualifications help, too. The right ones to get will depend on both your field of work and the kinds of certifications your potential clients care about. As I work in the marketing space, I’ve benefited from certifications provided by HubSpot, Digital Marketer and Seth Godin.
Qualifications outside of your specific field can also have an impact. For example, I always bring up my history degree as something that qualifies me for the work I do. Even though it seems unrelated, that educational experience taught me how to research, disseminate complicated information, find the story in the facts and weave it all together to create a compelling narrative‚ and this is exactly what good marketers do to position, brand and raise awareness for the companies for which they work.
How Do You Make the Switch From Freelancing to Consulting?
If you want to dip your toes into the consulting waters, start with where you’ve already found success: your freelance clients. Look through your files and see if there are any clients who could benefit from your expertise and guidance, and reach out to them. If they appreciated your work as a freelancer, they may be interested in having you as a resource again.
Don’t be afraid to pitch yourself. You don’t have to be pushy; it’s more about inviting a former client to consider how you could continue helping them. Put the offer on the table and see who might be interested.
I also started offering “strategy sessions” to individuals who initially approached me for freelance work. I realized that some clients wanted to take action themselves, but were coming to me to do it for them simply because they didn’t know what to do. I started offering to consult for them‚ and discovered this is exactly what they needed.
Don’t hesitate to leverage your existing freelance career to jump start your consulting services. Remember to capture testimonials and other data to help attract new, future clients as an independent consultant. Once all of these pieces fall into place, you’ll be able to make the transition from freelancer to independent consultant in no time.
Kali Roberge is a writer, content marketer, speaker, and more. She started Creative Advisor Marketing to make business feel more human, especially in an industry that’s sorely lacking in trust between the professionals and the consumers.
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