If you’re dreaming of becoming your own boss, having a flexible work schedule and increasing your earning potential, then consulting may be the right business opportunity for you.

Consultants provide advice and help their clients solve problems. This means consultants must also work hard to build great reputations and market themselves. For people who are prepared to invest the time and energy to make a consulting business happen, rewarding career opportunities and challenges are abundant in today’s economy.

Here’s how to get started in this exciting industry as a self-employed consultant.

Why Start a Consulting Business?

As a consultant, you can create a flexible schedule that fits your lifestyle and you can choose the types of clients you want to work with. You can also decide to specialize in more than one industry and adapt your services to fit the needs of different types of businesses, and thus expand your reach. For instance, you could choose to work with real estate, finance and technology clients.

Relatively little capital and equipment are required to start a successful consulting business, making it easier to turn a profit. All you need is a computer, a smartphone and a straightforward business plan spelling out your niche and client base.

Before you begin, consider how you can prepare your new business with the right planning and research.

Starting a Consulting Business in 8 Easy Steps

Thankfully, starting a consulting business is fairly easy to do. With a little hard work and diligence, you can keep your business growing and thriving. Get started with these steps:

  1. Write down a bit about your experience, interests and background. Why would someone pay for your advice and expertise? What qualifications do you have?
  2. Hone in on what businesses you’re excited or passionate about. Determine your personality strengths, and play towards those strengths.
  3. Identify your target audience: Who are your clients? What’s your value proposition?
  4. Exploit and build your connections. Networking is essential for building a consulting business. You’ll want an ongoing stream of clients to ensure stable and consistent revenue for your small business.
  5. Do your research and start talking to people in the industry. Learn everything you can about the market and read blogs, books and other information to determine how much demand there is for your business idea.
  6. Your consulting business plan doesn’t have to be complicated, but you should spell out how you plan to finance your business, how you’ll find customers and any licenses or documents you’ll need.
  7. If you’re already very knowledgeable in your field, you can probably jump right into client work. If necessary, do the first project pro-bono to get references and experience.
  8. Once you have your first few clients, start marketing and don’t stop. Fill your calendar and keep your work consistent.

How to Start a Consulting Business on the Side

Depending on your own lifestyle and needs, you may want to start your business alongside another source of income. Starting a consulting business on the side allows you to get experience and start building a client list while you support yourself with other work. If you fall into this category, keep the following in mind:

  • Find a compatible side gig. Find a job that lets you schedule-in your business consulting work.
  • Review employment contracts. While you’re still working, your employer may want to know about any side work you’re doing. Be sure to review any contracts you’ve signed as an employee, such as a non-compete agreement, to avoid conflicts and legal trouble.
  • Take care of yourself. Self-care is essential if you’re working long hours and juggling multiple jobs. Be sure to get enough sleep and eat a balanced diet.

Although starting a new business can be challenging, with the right planning and diligence, you can build your new business consulting company alongside a part-time or full-time job.

Thumbtack pins on a calendar marking a business consultant's tasks. 

How to be a Business Consultant While Working Full Time

It’s not easy to work full time while starting a consulting business, but it can be done. Here’s how:

  • Determine how much you want to work. Think about how much time you can devote to client work, marketing and overhead.  Set your hours and don’t look back.
  • Set realistic expectations with your clients. If you’re juggling both a full-time job and a side consulting business, make sure your clients are aware. That way, they won’t panic if they can’t reach you during the standard 9 to 5. Also, don’t overcommit yourself. There are only so many hours in a day (and sleep is important), so set realistic goals for your engagement.
  • Offload when needed. As you get busier, it’s important to have a resource you can fall back on to help you manage your growing workload.

Starting a Consultancy With Little or No Experience

You don’t necessarily have to already have a lot of experience in your niche. It’s possible that getting a few clients or earning certifications will lead you to paying clients.

All you really need is enough experience to help someone else solve their problem successfully. Find out how much knowledge that requires and make a plan to get what you need.

Business Consultant Certification: Requirements?

Technically speaking, there are no true certifications for general business consulting. There may be other requirements, degrees or certifications that make your services more marketable. You may need technical certifications to be credible and competitive.

To find out, you’ll need to research and identify qualifications that are major selling points for your industry. Typically, these certifications would be similar to those earned by employees or managers working in that area. Research what your competitors are doing.

Pick a Market for Your Business Consultancy

Every company experiences challenges, and organizations are often willing to pay money for the right advice on how to overcome work problems.

Some examples of business solutions consulting are:

  • Marketing consulting
  • Accounting and finance consulting
  • HR (human resources) consulting
  • Management consulting
  • Communications consulting
  • Business writing consulting
  • Production consulting
  • Logistics consulting
  • Event consulting
  • Customer relationship consulting

Software Consulting

Within the software and technology field, there are many other types of consulting worth considering:

  • Development methodology (i.e., Agile development)
  • Project management
  • Consulting for specific languages (i.e., Python or Ruby)
  • Specific industries (i.e., app development for the real estate industry)

Other Consulting Markets to Consider

There’s a nearly endless list of possible markets for consultants. Here are a few business strategies:

  • Weightloss/health
  • Business lead generation
  • Small business/self-employment advice
  • Event planning
  • Child development
  • Landscaping
  • Personal development coaching
You’re well on your way to a successful consulting business after you’ve picked a market, started your outreach and begun working with your first few clients. As you continue to grow your new company, don’t be afraid to make mistakes—as long as you learn from them. Continuously improve and you’ll have even more you can offer your clients.