10 Steps to Become a Self-Employed Consultant

how to be a consultant

Have you ever wondered how to be a consultant? What does a consultant do? Well, the answer is simple – a consultant consults. The answer, though true in its basic sense, is much too vague.  If you want to become a self-employed consultant, you need to have a better idea about the business and the way to set it up. Let’s try to define the role of a consultant.

The task of a consultant is to provide advice to an individual or organization about matters in a specific niche. Still sounds vague; right? You need to dig a little deeper into the area before you plunge in to establish your business as a consultant.

Below is a step-by-step guide to help you start off as a self-employed consultant.

How To Be a Consultant: 10 Steps to Self Employment

Step 1: Identify the Niche in Which You Have Knowledge and Experience

You may have an interest in computers. However, this does not mean you can become an independent computer consultant (though it can give you a head-start in this field). Knowledge and experience coupled with interest is the only way to begin.

If you have knowledge about computers (hardware or software), have worked with these for a considerable period of time and have the latest detailed, information about them, you can plan to start a computer consulting business.

Step 2: Acquire the Certifications and Licenses

Some consulting businesses do not require formal training and certifications (e.g., gardening consulting). However, if you are planning to work as an accounting consultant, you need to get professional certifications from recognized accounting institutions.

Also, consider the licensing requirements to start a consulting business. The local or state legal guidelines may require you to get a particular license to work as an independent consultant in certain specialties.

Step 3: Decide Your Short and Long Term Goals

If you excel in a niche that has a good prospect, such as business consulting, computer consulting, career consulting and so on, you may paint a rosy picture of clients waiting for your advice within a week of starting your consulting business.

It’s not magic.  If you have such unrealistic expectations, you are sure to be disappointed. Every business takes time to grow and become known and established. If you lack the time and effort to start and establish a business, you may end up headed towards failure.

Step 4: Choose Your Target Market

If no one pays for your ideas and advice, your business will face failure. It will also face the same result if the recipients of your ideas do not have the money to pay you. The first thing you need to do is to decide whether you will advise individuals or companies.

Every niche in the consulting business provides these options. For example, if you are working as a career consultant, you may help individuals plan their careers. You may also work with a large corporation to help the employees excel in their chosen fields.

Step 5: Research Your Target Market

Individuals and organizations need consultants for a number of reasons. A tax consultant can help a millionaire plan his/her taxes. A computer consultant can help the employees of a large company learn software basics. A human resource consultant can help a big business implement a change in a policy.

After you determine the target market that will hire you for your expertise, you need to find out the various ways in which you may help them. This will help you market your consulting business. You need to tell your clients why they need you.

Step 6: Consider a Home Office

If your local laws permit this, it can work to your advantage in more ways than one. You don’t spend any money to buy or rent an office space to start your business as a self-employed consultant. You don’t need to pay for utilities separately. You don’t need to pay for a regular commute.

Along with the money, you also save time and energy when you work out of your home. You may acquire new premises after you have established your business and employed associates; but more on this later.

Step 7: Build Your Network

If no one knows you and you know no one in your field, you may find yourself in the midst of a disaster soon. It is important to start building your network as soon as you have decided to be a consultant. A strong contact base ensures that you have the sources to find work.

A professional network, coupled with a social network, can help you market and advertise your business. References are also important ways to find work in the niche. Rely on your initial contact base to build your network.

Step 8: Fix Your Fees and the Way to Bill Clients

As a beginner, you may not receive high fees as a consultant. Your charges increase as you become known as a consultant. Keep in mind your credentials and experience as well as market conditions, your target group and your competitors when you fix your fees.

Also, decide how you will bill clients. Hourly billing may seem to be a convenient method; the problem is many clients think that you charge too much for your time. It is best to use the project-based billing method when you start your consulting business.

Step 9: Arrange for Advertising and Marketing

You are not selling a house which, by the way, is much easier than selling your advice. Many of your clients may not be even aware that they need your ideas and advice. How do you market and advertise something so difficult? Believe it or not, you have a lot of choices – print media, cold-calls, online ads and many others.

Before you choose any avenue to advertise, decide your budget. If the costs go out of hand, the chance of success of your business plummets. Newsletters and brochures, advertisements in niche-specific journals, websites and blogs offer the best options.

Step 10:Determine Whether You Need to Outsource Certain Tasks

You may find it easier to handle all tasks of your business on your own when you start. But after your consulting business is up and running, you may need the help of others and you may decide to employ people. Check both legal and tax details before you do this.

You may also outsource some tasks that do not require your immediate attention. Make sure that the tasks are not connected to your consulting business. For example, you can outsource auditing for a career consulting business but not when it is your niche.

Consulting Photo via Shutterstock


Richard White Richard White works as an editor at Yellow Brick Path. He enjoys varying his work and researching new and different approaches. He shares an interest in career counseling and recruitment.

91 Reactions
  1. This is something we could say that expert information for becoming an expert in an specific niche of choice, thanks for sharing such an advice for free because I’m going to use it my market research for a product launch business.

  2. Great job with this one, Richard.

    I can tell you from personal experience that focus is the key.

    Any would-be consultants…here’s a tip: Focus on one niche. Don’t try to be a Jack or Jill of all trades.

    It’s too difficult…stick with one thing in a niche…or create a niche of your own!

    The Franchise King®

    • Thanks Joel.

      I agree with your advice – it is much too difficult to handle more than one niche at a time. Creating a niche of your own sounds like a great idea. Sure makes it easy to succeed when there is no competition!

      • Great step by step thought process!

        I’ve been in the electrical utility for over 31 years and thought about become a consultant as I make the move toward retirement. I feel I could consult other utility companies and help with their needs. I would think the process would be the same as your outline right?

      • Outstanding recommendation. I totally agree with the checklist that you have shared with anyone who is interested in becoming a consultant. I have been playing with the idea of becoming a consultant for several years now, and this article has given me the tools to began taking the necessary steps into making this live-long dream into becoming a reality.

        Thank you!

  3. Awesome checklist. Becoming a self-employed consultant can prove to be difficult but your list has simplified the steps involved. Thanks for sharing.


    • Thanks Ti. It’s nice to know that my checklist is of any help to you! Succeeding as a self-employed consultant takes time, but it can be a rewarding career choice if you plan it well and take one step at a time.

    • Helpful tip. I actually got a reminder from a superior today on this. And here in my email box, this was waiting for me.
      thanks Richard.

  4. Mario Zaldivar

    I will add, be prepared, at the beginning, for:
    Lots of work, pressure
    Manage your own time
    Become Proactive ALLWAYS
    Keep an eye on the cash flow

    • Yes; I agree with you Mario. It is very important to be prepared for the challenges ahead. There is no secret to success – except hard work, sincere effort and responsible management.

  5. Hi,
    These points are self evident but aspiring consultants like me forget to consider when starting as a consultant.

    • Hi Vinodh,

      It’s true that aspiring consultants do tend to forget even these self-evident points. My article is just a small reminder to help keep on track.


  6. Great tips. Finding the right niche is the hardest part.

    • Thanks Jeremy! Yeah, I agree with you; I think that the key is to find the thing you love. Then you would have the enthusiasm to learn and gather experience in the same.

    • I second jeremy. Its difficult to find right niche.
      despite that i have 15 years of full time programming experience
      i find it difficult to choose a niche. finding clients etc.

      • I agree that it is difficult to zero in on the niche. But I think that the way to do it is to ask yourself – what do I love the most about my area of expertise. This is often the right answer.

  7. Timothy O. Avele

    Am thinking of starting a consultancy business on counter-terrorism for corporate bodies and VIP’s. I found your article simple and direct to the point. But what other advice can you give to me? Thank you very much for a well done job of helping people.

    • Thanks Timothy! Well, you have the 10 basic points to start off as a consultant in this article. It is a good idea to read up as much as you can about the niche you have chosen. This would give you the necessary insight you need to succeed.

  8. Hi Richard,
    Thanks for sharing these simple and very direct tips.

    I want to pick up a career in that line and I find your write up really helpful.

    Thank you very much

    • Hi Deganon, It was nice to know that the article was helpful. And all the best for your new endeavor!

  9. its simple and direct and i love it. thanks Richard. i am now ten steps ahead!

  10. Hi richard,I’m thinking of consulting on computers or ICT,how do I go about it…. I need help,thanks

  11. I love your advise. I was actually thinking of being a garage sale consultant. I would offer to getbsupplies, and help get the word out for the customer. Any hints to start this would be appreciated. It would be a more seasonal thing, but there are always fundraisers or bizarres.

  12. i started become consultant at agribusiness field, any advices dear Richard ?

  13. Thanks for the advice. Finding a niche is important but its also tricky to find a profitable niche that can generate positive cash flow for your own business. Just my two cents worth.

  14. You missed one major step: learn to accept the word “No”. As a senior partner for CXXC Group, I have heard “no” more than I heard yes starting out. It’s not you, just business.

  15. You mention setting project prices instead of hourly. Any ideas where to find competitive pricing for a niche with no competition?

    • niche with no competition itself means that there is no money in that niche

      • vinodh: f there’s no competition, I don’t think it necessarily means there’s no money in that niche. It could be that it’s a totally new area or one that a very small amount of people have given thought to exploring.

  16. Hi Richard, as a retiree I could easily sell my services in the form of technical advice to my particular industry. I would do this on my own (no outsourcing)as a kind of hobby/ interest. When should I consider obtaining a limited co ? Is there an earning level below which I should simply manage this on my self assessment.
    Also, If I am giving advice on a technical basis, should I take out insurance to protect myself if somebody takes issue with my advice ? ie. is there a basic insurance cover for the individual consultant; a sort of liability cover I should consider ?

    Any suggestions or pointers would be greatly appreciated.
    Many thanks,

    • Yes I highly reccommed getting a professional liability insurance policy. Mine cost me about $500 a year. No way was I going to touch a client’s IT without it. Even though I am very confident in my abilities invariably there are pre-existing issues that some clients will try and blame on you. A solid contract with very specific details as to work being performed and a $1 million Liability policy help me sleep better at night. Got mine at http://www.consultantinsurance.com

  17. Hello Richard, Great article! I am retired but elect to do consulting to keep myself busy. So far I have joined Linkedin with lot of contacts and groups in my field. I have posted resume tailored for consulting and getting good response.

    Do you have an article to expose other side of taxation, forming business with your city/county etc.?

  18. I really appreciate this piece.
    However, I have been consulting freelance for individuals and a few firms, thus I want to go into the market. But my problem right now is that I’m being consulted for almost everything. How do I do it?

    I love the youth/students career consult. but I cannot concentrate on just that because I’m way into consulting for lots of things.

  19. Great information. Thank you

  20. this steps i agree it but another problems facing its starting capital for establish self employment

  21. Hi thanks for this list. I have being thinking of how to start my Hr consultancy but not sure how to go about it, now I can do just that with your help.

  22. I was curious to know how a person would start a consulting business doing the work he is presently employed to do without causing a conflict of interest. Any ideas?

  23. One comment regarding fees. I respectfully disagree with the statement that one needs to start low until they build up their client base. Quite the opposite is true. Fees should be set with your experience and the gain that the client will get from your consult. For example if a former CFO with 25 years of financial experience starts her own consulting business and saves a company $500,000, there is no reason she should set her fees low. Higher fees can also give the perception of a higher level of accomplishment and expertise.

    I do agree however to qualify the potential client in terms of ability to pay. Establishing what budget they have from the beginning is critical to avoid putting time, energy, and money into a prospect that can’t afford you. Made that mistake early in my outside sales career but learned quickly not to do it again.

  24. Thanks for sharing with us aspiring consultants. I read we should focus on one niche. I understand why most would say that, but every time I meet someone I know what they need.

  25. Thanks you Dan. You just took the words out of my mouth. I strongly agree with your point.

  26. I’m wondering about the business licenses and tax reporting that a consultant needs. In order to operate as a consultant in my field, I know there are no state requirements like for accounting, but do I need to file for a business license or fictitious name statement in order to legally call myself a consultant? And how are taxes handled? I’ve tried looking online for more information (and I came across your helpful article), but I couldn’t find any answers to my specific questions…thank you!

  27. I know an acquaintance who has very, very nominal experience in anything. Has created many businesses with NONE to succeed. The most important factor in qualifying to-be or wanta-be a consultant, is to have full knowledge about the product and/or services that one is consulting. If that is not a fact, get a JOB with a prospective employer….

  28. Hi Richard,

    Do you know of any short and low cost courses out there for people who want to become consultants in London? in the next month?



  29. Hi Richard

    I am learning a very usefull lesson from you,

    Please keep encpouraging me, I am moving towards that proffession

    Regards from

    East Africa Tanzania

  30. Robert C. Campbell

    IRS has publications (http://www.irs.gov) with step-by-step instructions for the necessary tax forms required quarterly and filing tax returns for those who are interested to learn about how to handle their tax responsibility as a “Self Employed” individual. Consulting is considered being self employed.

  31. Narendra Kothiyal

    Thanks Richard………….it is materialistic advise. I am a Travel &
    Tourism and Hospitality Professional over 40 years experience in the field.
    Will you please little specific for Consultancy job in that precise field!

  32. Thanks, Richard. I am increasing the time I dedicate to my consulting activities (my main activity is as a MBA and college assistant professor) and your advice is sound and practical. Keep it up.

  33. I can’t wait to start my own consultant firm.

    thanks for those tools.

    warm regards.

  34. Great TIPS and advice thank you very much.

  35. Thought-provoking comments . I loved the information – Does anyone know where my company would be able to locate a blank CA Form 275-321 example to work with ?

  36. Denise Cecilia Neal

    How can I become a “Finder” type of consultant for different types of business deals?

  37. HELLO, thanks for this information.

    i wish to go into consultancy after this public service job.

    But my question and worry is how will I become an entrepreneur before I leave service?

  38. Connie Greenawald

    Thanks very much for the free advice. They say that you get what you pay for, but I disagree – this is right on target – and it is nice to know there are generous people like you who will share. Thank you again!

    • thanks for the tips. I intend going into consultancy after graduation, what do you think I should do now am in school to prepare myself for that? Thank you.

  39. Do I need a degree or Certificate to be a Consultant.
    I have been giving people or friend great advise how to to sell their products and a lot of other things.
    I would like to hear ftom you on that.

  40. Ngamandla Naki

    Thank you so much for this informative website. My partner and I recently started a Health and Safety Consulting firm and with this information you have shared, I feel ready to take on the world. Thanks you a million times.

  41. Ok so this is great I recently heard a presentation from Sam Ovens a consultant from New Zealand and you guys say relatively the same stuff, it has really peaked my interest to become a consultant and everything you said motivates me more.

  42. Amazing website. I implemented all the ideas you shared on this wonderful website. Guess what, I got my first client yesterday. I’m starting to believe in the idea of being a SHEQ consultant, because the future looks bright. All thanks to your wonderful advise.

  43. This is wonderful advice! Thank you for posting! I have been in the telecommunications field for 20 years and I hold a PMP. I am considering starting a telecommunications consulting business to advise companies on their communications needs and assist with implementation and maintenance. I will be retiring in a couple of years and I want to get a head start on preparations – being a PM, that’s how I think. The information you provided was extremely helpful to get me thinking – thank you!!

  44. Thank you for the checklist, becoming a consulting in a field that you know as well as the back of your hand should not be extremely difficult. As long as you stay current with the change in rules and policies (depending on the business) Your business should flow.

  45. You mentioned that some consulting businesses do not require formal training and certifications but if you are planning to work as an accounting consultant you need to get professional certifications from recognized institutions. Do computer consultants need certain certifications? My cousin has always wanted to start an IT consulting firm and is trying to find out what services he will need. Getting the right licenses to be a computer consulting firm might be a good idea.

  46. Thank you, after being laid off I’ve decided to finally work for myself and become a consultant for Doctors offices front and back office. This really helped.

  47. Awesome tips you have here, Richard! I totally agree that we should think things thoroughly and plan everything accordingly. Impulsiveness may lead our business to go south. We should make an inventory of our skills and our capabilities to know our limits! Thank you for sharing this. Will make sure to keep this in mind 🙂

    • I am into CNC Sheet Metal Machinery Sales for the last 14 years working in India having knowledge of Laser, Plasma, Waterjet, Press Brakes Shears; . Now I want to turn into an online consultant for industries for buying Sheet Metal Machineries.Can you help me with some tips for the same.

  48. Your words of encouragement, awesome tips and great strategic steps gave me more insight on mu goal and put things into a clearer perspective. Thank you. Now my question to you is do you mentor and guide other inspiring businesses consultants?

  49. Thanks a lot Richard for this inspiring lesson. It is my dream to become a consultant on Development issues here in South Africa but I have no clue as to where to start. It is not easy to identify the exact niche. Looking at the Development Imperatives around I find it very difficult to mov

  50. hi i am just thinking of starting up as a consultant in damp proofing as i feel that there are a lot of contractors do not tell the truth when it comes to this subject
    if i could save people money by telling the the best way to deal with there damp problem, as some times they can fix it without getting a contractor in then this would be great
    i want to set this up as a second job but not about the money more about saving other people money
    i have vast knowledge in this subject as well and wood rots and insect attacks
    i am just after advice on how to set up and get started
    hope you can help

  51. I have worked in my industry for 30 plus years and have had many questions about the feasibility of becoming a consultant. Your 10 step article has helped me to see the practicality of becoming a consultant. Thank you!

  52. I liked that you pointed out that you should find a way to market your business. It is good to know that you should set up a budget for marketing. After all, if you can’t get the word out them no one will no about your business.

  53. I have an MBA, MHRM I am getting ready to retire I was thinking of becoming an consultant in HR. I have been giving advice for free lately and thought this might be a new avenue.

  54. I have alot of friends mostly males who have stacks and stack of paperwork, anywhere from taxes needing done, to replying to complaints by collectors, to helping filling out paperwork such as unemployment, food stamps, ect..How would I turn that into a self employed business, I have the clients to take on, enough to keep me busy full time, but don’t want to do it for free, they basically don’t want to deal with it, and want me to handle it all and organize it and keep the files with me and on a monthly basis keep them informed as to what is done and/or what I need from them to do the job…Do I need to get a license or certification for that and what kind of profession is that called..And in your opinion how much would u charge for things like that..I honestly believe the 4 clients that want me to get self employed would give me a decent living, but I want to make sure iam doing everything legitimately…Any help or pointing me in the direction to make this dream a success would be greatly appreciated..Thank you.

    • Great idea Amber, the fact that you are thinking of this service means that you started the path to your entrepreneurship world. In my opinion no certification is needed as your tasks are mainly “organizing” your client’s business! of course it is not an easy task but that is why there are motivated people like you that are welling to do such job!

      I recommend -if you don’t already do- take some courses to strengthen your administrative skills, such as Microsoft products in order for you to work efficiently.

      I am a business consultant myself and I love it! Hope this was helpful …

  55. Been doing lots of freelance work but I think it’s time to cross over to the consultancy side. Thanks for this great post.

  56. I agree with your article. Consultancy has a lot of scope in the future.

  57. Leaving full-time employment, and bringing all the skills and expertise acquired over the years to set up as a self-employed consultant, has become a popular move for people in a broad range of industries and sectors. Historically, it has always been an option of choice for senior managers who have faced redundancy or taken early retirement, but with a growing freelance labour market, it presents opportunities for a much broader cross section of individuals.

  58. Do you want to know how to become a consultant, how to start a consulting business, how to become a business consultant, and what to do once you’ve embarked on the road to be a successful self-employed business consultant? It’s one thing to have the knowledge and expertise that organizations need and it’s a completely different thing to be able to turn that knowledge and expertise into a successful business consulting firm. Starting a consulting business is not the challenging part.

  59. The article all about Self-Employed Consultant by Richard White. In this article we have solved many problems like: Have you ever wondered how to be a consultant? What does a consultant do? Well, the answer is simple – a consultant consults. The answer, though true in its basic sense, is much too vague??? The article based on how we create business consulting and motivate people. In this article, we know that 10 steps to becoming self-employed.

  60. The article all about offer to get business supplies, and help get the word out for the customer. Any hints to start this would be appreciated. It would be a more seasonal thing, but there are always fundraisers or bizarres. Finding a niche is important but its also tricky to find a profitable niche that can generate positive cash flow for your own business. Just my two cents worth.

  61. I do agree that a consultant needs to be skilled in a particular field. It is important to do so as they will be regarded as an expert in their field. Therefore, when we need an international trade compliance consultant, we need to hire the right people as the field is wide.

  62. Your new valuable key points imply much a person like me and extremely more to my office workers. With thanks; from everyone of us.

  63. A freelance business consultant is no any other company’s employee, but their own employee, and has a set of duties that come with the job, and that set of duties is more wide-ranging for a self-employed business consultant because you need to sell your knowledge and expertise. It was great feeling and learning your informational guide, Keep sharing nice stuff.

No, Thank You