Ask 100 random people if they would rather continue in their current career or become an independent consultant earning the same amount of money, and I guarantee 90 would choose consulting.
Successful independent (also called "freelance") consultants get literally everything people want from their careers:
- High pay and financial security
- Complete freedom and personal independence
- Socially impressive career and job title
- Personal fulfillment and satisfaction
Independent workers enjoy their lifestyle so much that half of all freelancers say "there is no amount of money" that would get them to stop freelancing and take on a 9-5 job.
That's insane: "No amount of money".
And if that weren't enough, the money is actually really good if you know what you're doing. Unlike most careers, you don't have to hit the top 1% to become financially successful as a freelancer. 19.8% of full-time independents earn more than $100,000 per year.
That is literally one out of every five!
In this guide, we'll be covering everything you need to start your own profitable consulting business:
- Even if nobody knows who you are
- Even if you have no special skills or experience
- Without being pushy, slimy, or salesy
The framework we'll be covering today comes from working with over 10,000 students here at Consulting.com, 30% of whom have quit their jobs to go full time. Out of that group, at least 15% are earning six figures and nearly 1% have crossed over into seven figures.
If you have any interest in ditching the 9-5 grind and creating a career on your own terms, this is the guide for you.
Let's get started.
(This guide is over 3,500 words long! If lengthy reads aren't your thing, click below to watch our video training instead)
Consulting 101: Solve A Problem
The definition of consulting is being "engaged in the business of giving expert advice to people working in a specific field."
What this means in practice is that you are helping a specific group of people solve their problems.
This desire for constant progress is a fundamental part of the human condition.
Clinical psychologist Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D. explains:
"The urge toward progress … is the evolutionary 'survival of the fittest' drive that pushes us beyond the limits of safety and comfort to adapt to new challenges. It is an innate biological and psychological force that propels a child from crawling to walking, from dependence to independence, from deference to authority."
This means that there is always a gap between where someone is, and where they want to be.
And, your job as an independent consultant is to help bridge that gap.
Bottom line? If you can do that, you can make money.
For example, if someone is unsatisfied with their restaurant's earnings (current self), they might hire you to help them increase their profits (desired self).
Or in an entirely different niche, if someone is unhappy with their body image (current self), you could help them lose weight (desired self).
People are happy to pay consultants for their advice for a number of reasons:
- They can't get there alone.
- They want to get there faster.
- They'd like help from someone who's been there and done it.
What's more, the faster and the closer you can help get someone to their desired state, the more money they'll be willing to pay you.
Okay, but how do you do it?
Let's get into the nitty-gritty.
The Importance of Choosing a Niche
Often, people don't want to ‘limit' themselves to a niche, because they fear ‘losing opportunities.'
In reality, the opposite is true.
Six-figure consultant Ilise Benun shares:
"You can't be everything to everyone. Focus is essential to success and builds your competence and self-confidence."
Bottom-line? No one wants a generalist when they can have a specialist.
Let me explain.
Imagine you own a software business. You need a writer to create long-form articles for your website to drive traffic and secure new leads.
Four writers apply for the job. Here are the headlines on their websites:
- Writer 1: "Freelance writer"
- Writer 2: "Freelance writer available for blog posts, reports, copywriting, etc. Whatever you need, I can help!"
- Writer 3: "Freelance writer specializing in long-form articles for businesses"
- Writer 4: "Freelance writer specializing in long-form articles for software businesses that want to drive traffic and secure new leads"
Which writer would you hire?
Obviously, Writer 4.
This is the power of specializing — you can position yourself as the perfect solution to your target clients.
In his book Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin argues that niche expertise is essential to become a top performer and reaching your highest potential.
So how do you choose the right niche for building a freelance consulting business?
How to Choose Your Perfect Niche
First, understand that there is no universal "best niche".
Here at Consulting.com, we've helped our students become successful independent consultants in literally every niche you can think of — from accounting to horse dentistry to Amazon-selling to porn addiction recovery.
Just pick an industry below to meet consultants achieving major success:
- Health & Wellness
- Marketing & eCommerce
- Education & Coaching
- Financial & Legal
- Construction Services
- Real Estate
- Art & Design
- Small Business
The "best" niche for you is the one you are most passionate about and the one you are best able to solve problems for.
Again, our goal is simply to help a specific group of people bridge the gap between where they currently are and where they want to be.
So, ask yourself:
- What industries do I already know?
- What skills, knowledge, and experience do I already have?
If you know a lot about management, what type of management do you know the most about? If you're really good at social media, which platform are you the most knowledgeable in?
Also, consider your passions. You can't build a consulting business through passion alone, but the more passionate you are about a niche, the more motivated you will be to learn about it, discover its challenges, and learn its solutions.
Clearly defining your target niche and clientele is the first crucial step to attracting high-value clients as an independent consultant.
Identify a Need or Desire In Your Niche
Human behaviour is driven by our need to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
This is the root of all human behavior and by extension, it is the driver behind virtually all business.
A business either sells something pleasurable or beneficial, or it sells a solution to a pain point or challenge.
But, here's the interesting part:
People will do far more to avoid pain than they will to gain the equivalent in pleasure.
Because of ‘loss aversion.'
According to psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, we typically fear loss twice as much as we enjoy success.
So, what problems and needs does your target client have? And, what are their desires?
Don't guess — go to the market and find out!
Use a tool like BuzzSumo to find the most popular websites and articles in your niche. What problems and desires do they address?
Find the top influencers in your niche — why are they popular? What pleasure do they provide, or what problems do they help solve?
All these data points will help you zero in on your niche's most prevalent problems, which are exactly what you want to help solve if you plan on becoming a freelance consultant.
Shape and Hone Your Skills
At this point, you might need to further develop your skills, or fill gaps in your skillset — let's talk about the best way to do this.
Because, most of the world has it wrong.
They use what we call a ‘Skills Forward' approach.
This is when someone goes to college, earns a degree, and maybe a Master's, and then takes those skills to the market and tries to find a job.
... only to find that the market doesn't care for their skills.
Like the guy who was working the nightshift at a gas station, but has a business MBA from a top college.
Instead, it's best to use the ‘Market Backwards' approach.
Now that you've chosen a niche and you know what their needs and desires are, you can hone your skills to become an exact fit with what the market wants.
That's how you create value.
Remember, you don't need tons of qualifications, you just need to be able to help people or businesses solve one problem.
Now that we have the skills we need to solve a problem, it's time to deliver those skills to real clients.
Pick an Entry Point
There are a five primary consulting delivery methods:
Let's run through them.
1. Done For You
When starting out, we're usually not just paid for our advice. Often we have to complete the work.
For example, if you're a Facebook ad consultant, you would actually set up and run the campaigns.
This is the most labour intensive stage.
But, you can start immediately, and get paid to sharpen your skill set.
2. Done With You
This is when you and the client split the tasks or work together.
Often, you'll be working in a more strategic role.
For example, you'll create the Facebook ad campaign strategy, while your client runs the campaigns.
3. 1-on-1 Coaching
This is what most people think a consultant does.
You don't do the work (unless they pay your extremely high rates). Instead you provide advice, and your client puts that advice into action.
4. Group Coaching
Now, you can start to scale your coaching service by coaching 10 or 20 people at a time.
This allows you to offer a more accessible price point to clients who can't afford your 1-on-1 rates.
5. Online Programs
Lastly, you package your knowledge and experience, and create an online training program that clients use to develop their own skills.
The best part?
There's essentially no limit to the amount of clients you can take on with this delivery method.
But, your program needs to deliver exceptional value.
Choose a Method
The right method for you will depend on your current level of experience and expertise.
If you're just starting out, hone your skills with a done-for-you service. If you're highly experienced, jump straight to 1-on-1 coaching or create an online program.
Focus on what will get you started the quickest. You can always evolve your offer. Consulting.com founder Sam Ovens actually went through all 5 of these on his way to launching Consulting.com and becoming a Forbes 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur.
Define Your Offering and Your Value Proposition
Let's boil it all down.
You've got to become crystal-clear about what your business does.
How? By defining your value proposition.
This is a business or marketing statement that summarizes why a client should hire you or purchase your service.
Here's a simple template:
For example, "I help ecommerce businesses to sell more products by optimizing their Facebook ad campaigns."
Now, you need to communicate your value proposition to your target clients.
Let's look at an example from one of our students.
Andrew built a seven figure consulting company helping accountants to grow their businesses by teaching them online lead generation.
Here's another example.
Tania helps lifestyle businesses to create dynamic brands by using online quizzes and tailored digital marketing campaigns.
This part should be relatively simple once you know the key pieces. It's just a matter of clearly stating your offer.
Decide What to Charge
This is vital.
Charge too little, and you'll end up stressed out, working long hours, and living hand-to-mouth. Your work will suffer, and you'll lose clients.
Charge too much, and you'll price yourself out of the market and won't land any clients.
Most freelance consultants charge per hour. But, we recommend that you avoid this at all costs.
Because clients don't care how much time something takes you — they care about the results you can help them achieve.
So, base your price on the value you produce.
There's an old story about the Nobel-Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr that demonstrates this well:
A business's machine breaks down.
The business owner calls in the physicist to help fix it.
Bohr examines the machine, draws an X on the side and says, "Hit it right here with a hammer."
The company's mechanic hits the machine with a hammer and it springs into action. The business owner thanks Niels Bohr profusely and sends him on his way.
A few days later, the owner receives an invoice for $10,000.
Shocked, the owner calls Bohr. "Niels! What's this $10,000 invoice? You were only here for 5 minutes! Send me a detailed invoice."
Bohr agrees, and a few days later the business owner opens a new invoice that reads:
So, figure out how much it costs your target client to have the problem, and what it would be worth to them to have the problem solved.
During your sales call ask probing questions, like:
"Do you mind sharing what financial impact this problem is having on your business?"
Set Up a System to Find Clients
Most independent consultants take the feast-and-famine approach.
They never know where their next client is coming from, and even during good months, they constantly worry about sustaining their business.
This is exhausting and emotionally draining.
And, it's the top consideration holding moonlighters back from quitting their job.
Instead, it's best to use a proven, dependable system that delivers new clients whenever you need them.
To start, you need traffic.
Here at Consulting.com, we focus on 5 organic traffic sources, and one paid traffic source.
Let's take a quick look at each one.
1. Social Posts
Although organic reach on Facebook and other traditional social media has been declining for years, it's still a great way to source organic traffic.
First, set up a page for your business.
Then, post useful, relevant content, and use Facebook's targeting options to reach your target clients.
Also, join active groups in your niche, get involved and start building relationships.
2. Direct Outreach
Outreach takes marketing back to its roots and focuses on human-to-human connections.
Instead of marketing ‘at' your prospects, you attempt to connect with them personally, build a long-term relationship, and gain their trust.
This can start with a tweet, a comment on a Facebook post or blog, or even a cold email.
3. Lumpy Mail
Direct mail marketing has been around for years.
This is when you purchase access to a list of contact details usually based on demographics, and then post out a marketing letter.
‘Lumpy Mail' is a piece of direct mail that literally has a lump in it.
The key is to include an item related to your offer to get people's attention — this could be anything, from a whoopee cushion to a bottle cap.
4. Joint Venture Webinars
In this method, you join forces with another business owner in your niche.
Usually, they don't have a product or service in direct competition with yours, but your information and products complement each other.
Then, you come up with a topic that you can teach on a live webinar.
The idea is to cross-pollinate your audiences to find new clients, but if you don't have an audience, you could offer a commission to your partner.
5. Facebook Ads
This is our preferred paid traffic source, and the one we teach in-depth to our students.
Because Facebook has more than 1.55 billion monthly active users.
And most of these people share so many details about their lives on Facebook, that it's very easy to target your ideal client.
Create a Funnel to Convert Traffic into Sales
Here's the proven system we teach, designed specifically for acquiring high-ticket clients:
This funnel looks simple, but keep in mind that we spend three weeks and around 50 hours of video teaching this process in our online training.
So, although I can't make you an expert in the next few minutes, I can break this process down for you.
It starts by sending your traffic to your landing page.
The point of the landing page is to capture the visitor's email address in exchange for access to your ‘value video.'
Your value video is how you hook in new leads.
The aim is to demonstrate your knowledge, build a relationship with your prospect, and give them a ‘win.' This could be anything of value — from increased sign-ups, to a feeling of empowerment.
But, don't hold back.
Do your best to help them improve some small part of their business or life.
Once they've watched your value video, some will want to schedule a free call with you.
So, send them to your calendar.
Check out Calendly, which is a free tool preferred by many of our students. It allows people to book a call in your schedule without the annoying back-and-forth of emails.
But, before you have the call, use an app like Google Forms to send them your survey.
Why? For two reasons:
- You want to get some background info to help you prepare for the call.
- You want to pre-qualify people and weed out any tire-kickers.
This is where you close the sale and land a new client.
Ideally, you'll want to use a proven sales script — like the 7-figure sales script we provide to students — as a proven script can help you dramatically increase your success rate.
Set up a Way to Get Paid
Our preferred method is Pay Funnels.
It integrates with the trusted online payment solution Stripe, but it's set up specifically for independent consultants.
It's super easy for you to create invoices, set up recurring payments or payment plans. And, more importantly, it's incredibly easy for clients to pay you.
You can even use payment links in apps like Facebook, Gmail, Skype, Slack, and Wordpress.
It's so good, we partnered with Pay Funnels to offer our students a $20 monthly discount.
The Benefits Of Freelancing
We touched on this in the introduction, but before we end, I think it's important to reiterate independent consulting has one of the highest job satisfaction rates among all careers.
Like we mentioned earlier, half of freelancers say "there is no amount of money" that would get them to stop freelancing and take a traditional job.
There is a misconception that 9-5 employment is more secure than freelancing, but in reality, the opposite is starting to be true. As Jacob Morgan, author of The Future of Work, discusses in this Forbes writeup, "Job security is a complete myth, as is long-term employment."
Which is why the majority of independent workers think that having a diverse portfolio of clients is more secure than having a single employer.
Another misconception is that freelancing is hard to break into, but it's actually easier now than it's ever been. 77% of independent workers agree that technology is making it easier to find work.
And, unlike other businesses that require huge amounts of capital to start, you can begin immediately with just a cellphone and laptop.
And let's not forget how lucrative the consulting industry is specifically. The average consultant salary is over $75,000. Freelance consulting is the perfect mix between industry and workstyle.
Best of all, as we've discussed today, you really can sell virtually any form of expertise.
Hunter Otis, a student at Consulting.com, actually built a six-figure consulting business by helping people overcome porn addiction.
Becoming an independent consultant is more rewarding and easier to break into than ever before. If you don't feel satisfied in your current career choice, it's time for an upgrade.
Your Turn: Become an Independent Consultant
In this guide, we've laid out everything you need to become a successful independent consultant. With enough initiative, some time, and a lot of trial and error, you can figure out each individual piece of the puzzle without any further coaching.
But like anyone who hires a consultant, if you want to get their faster and more efficiently, it always helps to learn from someone whose been there, done that, and helped others successfully follow in their footsteps.
That's what we're all about here at Consulting.com. We've helped 3,000 students quit their jobs and launch successful, full-time consulting businesses. 15% of these students are earning six figures and nearly 1% are hitting seven figures and above.
If you'd to work with us directly, click below to join our 100% free webinar training.