How To Become an Independent Consultant (With Tips)

Updated January 26, 2023

The opportunity to work for yourself offers the benefits of flexibility, higher pay and a chance to create your own brand. Becoming an independent consultant is just one of many pathways to self-employment and can offer a unique opportunity to help others while pursuing financial freedom. Understanding more about this career may help you determine if this type of position is right for you. In this article, we describe what an independent consultant is, explain what they do and list steps for becoming an independent consultant.

What is an independent consultant?

An independent consultant is a professional who offers advice and guidance to people and organizations in various industries. A consultant typically has experience in the industry they're advising in, but some consultants pursue training or education programs to become niche consultants for specific industries or skills. Consultants can help businesses and individuals increase their skills, increase revenue, focus on particular industry skills or improve their health.

Read more: Q&A: What Is Consulting?

What do independent consultants do?

Independent consultants provide guidance for clients based on their wealth of experience and knowledge in a particular industry. A consultant's specific duties may vary depending on their industry of specialty. Some basic duties can include:

  • Performing work projects for clients for specific time periods

  • Helping solve strategic, operational or technical problems

  • Researching and analyzing problems and presenting reports

  • Recommending long-term goals to improve efficiency

  • Assisting with growing a new business or expanding operations

  • Advising clients on mergers and acquisitions

  • Managing accounting, scheduling and bookkeeping of independent consultant business

How to become an independent consultant

To thrive as an independent consultant, it's important to be able to prove your expertise and run your own business. Here are six steps to becoming an independent consultant:

1. Commit to your specialty

The first step to becoming an independent consultant is to establish your area of expertise. Examine your current industry and determine if you have the skills, training and education to offer expert advice and guidance about issues within your industry. If you've achieved industry milestones, made significant advances in the industry itself or simply have a lot of experience in your field, you may find great success as a consultant.

If you want to work in another niche or act as a general consultant, it's helpful to research the skills and knowledge you need to excel. Setting yourself apart from your competitors as a highly skilled professional consultant can help you advance in your career.

2. Pursue education or training

Consider the proficiency you hope to offer as a consultant and decide if more education or training would benefit your abilities and services. For example, if you want to become a financial consultant but only have bank teller experience, gaining a bachelor's degree in finance may help you learn high-level financial concepts. It's important to be honest with yourself about your strengths and your limitations to establish a clear picture of what you can currently offer and what you might need to improve on before becoming a consultant.

As you focus on your specialty, determine if there are any classes, workshops or certifications that can fill gaps in your knowledge or provide helpful extensions. You might also decide that you have time for the comprehensive education of an advanced degree. Clients are paying for your expertise, so it's important to reward their trust and investment with your best educated advice.

Related: Freelance Consulting vs. Employed Consulting: Benefits and Differences

3. Gain relevant experience

Experience is essential to the development and reputation of an independent consultant. Years of experience in the industry, working and learning industry skills, regulations and practices help accumulate their wealth of knowledge. Find relevant but diverse experience in your field of expertise, especially positions in leadership, as this builds your confidence in your proficiencies and your ability to consult. You can begin offering consultations while you continue to gain experience, as this can build a portfolio of clients and achievements.

4. Find clients

Once you establish your skills, education and specialty, you can begin building your client list. List all of your current networking opportunities, including professional social networking websites, conventions, industry membership associations and personal and business contacts you've established throughout your years of experience. In these networks, begin communicating your independent consultant skills and advertising your services.

Consider offering free or reduced services as a promotion to attract new clients. Because independent consultants depend on their professional reputation, as you gain experience consulting, you can also advertise this experience along with your field experience.

5. Create a website and increase social media presence

An online portfolio or website acts as your resume and presence when a client is assessing your proficiencies and experience. A well-designed, functional website can help increase your overall professionalism and convince new clients to try your services. You can include examples of your work, descriptions of your services and basic resume information such as education, job experience and special certifications. Consider building sections for your accomplishments or work you are especially proud of. You can also create a blog to display your industry knowledge, which helps to verify your credentials.

It's also important to use your social media connections to display your services, advertise your professional website or portfolio and attract new clients. This means posting frequently, keeping posts informative and maintaining contact with any clients through posts or messaging services.

6. Ask for recommendations

Ask your satisfied clients for a recommendation to place on your website or social media pages. This can help establish your credentials and verify that you have the expertise to solve new client's problems. Recommendations help highlight your skills and how they helped other people, which can be the deciding factor for new clients. Establishing a professional reputation can solidify your place in the consulting industry, and recommendations from clients are an excellent tool to use.

Related: 13 Benefits of Self-Employment

Education and training for independent consultants

Consulting requires a high level of expertise. Although there aren't any hard requirements for training and education, consultants who seek higher education to increase their skills and knowledge in their respective industries are often better able to serve their clients. This can include post-secondary training programs, bachelor's or master's degree programs or certifications. These degrees or certifications can also add credibility to a consultant's resume.

Consultants may find themselves in a better position to offer advice and guidance when they combine years of industry experience and educational credentials to support their skills. Occasionally, professionals consider a new career in consulting long after their education and experience in the industry because their gained knowledge is valuable to their field.

Skills for independent consultants

Because independent consultants are self-employed, their self-reliance requires a certain skill set. Here are some common soft skills that independent consultants typically have:

  • Discipline: Working for yourself requires discipline to stick to a schedule, meet your personal and professional goals and continue your training and education.

  • Determination: Independent consultants require determination to work toward their goals and their clients' goals even when challenges arise.

  • Time management: Independent consultants create their own work schedule, so they learn how to manage their time to be productive and efficient.

  • Money management: Independent consultants typically set their own prices and manage their own income, which also requires financial skills for maximizing revenue and meeting tax requirements.

  • Customer service: Independent consultants work closely with clients, which requires good customer service skills to communicate, collaborate and assist clients effectively.

Salary for independent consultants

Independent consultants typically command an average salary of around $70,355 per year. Because independent consultants can set their own fees, the opportunities to make more than the national average can be abundant, depending on the industry and how many clients you serve.

Tips for becoming an independent consultant

Here are some tips for becoming an independent consultant:

Be patient

Becoming an independent consultant can take time. You may need to pursue extensive training or education courses to increase your skills and industry expertise before you can effectively take on work as a consultant. These programs can take years to complete and after that, you still have to establish your client base and your place in the industry. Be patient and have long-term goals, because with determination and the right skills, you can make a living working for yourself.

Meet new people

Every new person you meet can be a potential client. It's important to put yourself in professional situations where you can meet new people, especially those in your industry who may benefit from your consultation services. You can attend seminars, training sessions or industry-specific events like awards ceremonies. This helps you increase your network and creates opportunities for more business.

Related: 10 Helpful Tips for When You Work for Yourself

Master your time

Time management is one of the most important skills for an independent contractor, because they set their own work schedules. It's important to focus on mastering your time by learning how to be productive and efficient at work and also make time for your personal life. Finding a good balance between the two can help your success and keep you in positive mental health.

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