How to Become a Freelance Consultant
Imagine going from making $70K a year to $50K a month in three years.
Freelance consulting has many benefits, from greater control over your schedule to the potential of creating multiple passive revenue streams. They work in several new and traditional industries such as law, writing, finance, social media marketing, web development, etc. Let’s find out what’s involved in the making of a freelance consultant and how you can go about your way to become one.
WHAT IS A FREELANCE CONSULTANT?
A freelance consultant is someone with marketable skills who works independently. They provide advisory and management services to clients they find on their own. Their clients range from companies, corporations, and individuals. While they are usually location-independent, in pre-pandemic times, sometimes clients would require them to work on-site.
Many areas of work like project management, marketing, accountancy, training, etc., have freelance consultants working and thriving in them, helping organizations become more efficient and effective in achieving their business goals.
It’s easier than ever to work-from-home with the availability of affordable teleconferencing software tools and faster internet infrastructure. Plus, you can work on monetizing a skill that drives you, something that you’re passionate about. It could be helping people enhance their online brand or assisting organizations in framing more inclusive business policies.
With the right mindset and initiative, you can take the path to become one!
JOB DUTIES FOR A FREELANCE CONSULTANT
Beyond skills you can market to become a freelance consultant, you’ll be relied on to perform many tasks for which there would have been designated people for in a traditional employer-employee setting. For instance:
- Billing your clients
- Filing business-related taxes like GST, VAT, etc.
- Setting up your own office
- Drafting contracts and work policies
- Client-building activities
- Maintaining a website and activities related to it, such as copywriting and graphic design
DO YOU HAVE THE RIGHT SKILLS?
No matter what traditionalists would have you believe, most skills are marketable and can be monetized with the right strategy. In essence, what you’re doing is offering a skill someone is willing to pay real money for, which could be any of the following:
- Design: Craft social media templates and help transform social media presence for small businesses like a nail art salon or a cloud kitchen.
- Editing: Editorial services, not just in English but also in other languages, are high in demand with businesses who want to tap into the diaspora market. If you’re proficient in Spanish, Mandarin, French, then there are plenty of opportunities for you.
- Video production and photography: Many brands are realizing the success of video content in community-building and customer acquisition. Vogue – a fashion conglomerate that has been around for ages – has successfully pivoted their YouTube channel as an extension of their magazine, with the channel clocking in 3 trillion views as of today. While your videos don’t need to have production value of a Vogue ’73 questions’ segment, many small to medium-sized businesses see the value in investing in quality video content.
- Business Strategy & Marketing: It takes a village to build a good and successful business. If you’ve spent years perfecting the right mix of business tactics to grow brands and expand to new markets, there are people ready to have you on board.
Apart from the most well-known ones, there are broad areas of work such as:
- Investing & Finance
- Wellness and beauty
- Life coaching
- HR and Recruitment
- Personal finance
- Informational Technology
- App and software development
- International and domestic admissions
You won’t be an expert on day one and might not even have a full roster of clients within the first few months of beginning. Patience and perseverance are crucial in succeeding as a freelance consultant.
STEPS TO BECOME A FREELANCE CONSULTANT
Let’s dive into how you can monetize your skill to become a thriving freelance consultant.
1. Find out what you’re good at
Consultants have the freedom to specialize in any unique skill and provide services related to it. You don’t have any qualifications per se; however you need to make evident, either on your website or social media presence, all that you have achieved for your clients.
Before you launch your business, make a whiteboard of your unique skills you can offer as part of your freelance services. You could go as broad as graphic design or as specialized as logo and brand design. Once you’ve made a list of your marketable skills, find out how you can offer something that nobody or very few people are offering currently in the market.
If your skill is social media management, what kind of businesses would you primarily like to work with? Wellness & beauty brands, salons, car dealerships?
A useful research method is to think back to freelancers you’ve come across in your journey and what did they do:
- Project managers ensuring the timeline is followed and budget doesn’t go over
- Campaign managers managing digital marketing budgets
Discover your saleable skillset and find someone who can pay you top dollar for it.
2. Choose your area of specialization
Identifying your area of specialization can be challenging at first. Depending on your skill set, the possibilities could be wide-ranging. Defining your area of specialization can help you settle on the type of clients you want to go for. You can hone a targeted client acquisition strategy and only pick up the projects you’re interested in.
Take Tori Dunlap, who is a U.S.-based money coach and keynote speaker, for example.
The finance space is saturated with by-the-desk CFAs, accountants-turned-financial-advisors, mortgage specialists-cum-realtors, how do you set yourself apart from thousands of others like you looking to get a share of the wealth pie?
Tori Dunlap carved a niche for herself by showing she saved $100K by 25 and you can coach your way to financial freedom. Her target customers are young people who are either under crushing education debt, struggling to save in this economy, or want to save up millions for retirement.
To determine your niche, you need to determine whether the skill you’re good at has a market demand to match it. With personal finance, there’s always going to be new people entering the workforce who need those services. The question remains, whether they need the usual fare or something that truly meets their needs.
3. Set your rates
Great! Now you know for sure there’s a demand for your niche. It’s time to talk about money. Find out what you will charge your clients by researching what others in your niche are charging for it. There are several ways to go about it, one of which involves creating packages for 3-4 ideal types of client needs.
For instance, the following freelance consultant offers services in three types of packages in web and print graphic design on fiverr.com. Depending on the quality of work your client is looking for, you can build packages that meet at least 60-70% of your client’s needs.
If you’re unsure or do not have enough understanding of your client base to come up with a host of packages, an alternative is to research hourly rates other consultants charge in niches like yours and set the starting rate to that.
The basic parameters of your research should also include your level of expertise, years of experience, and tools used by you. Would you need access to high-quality printing services? Factor that into the price before setting the rate.
When you’re starting, people might undercut you. It’s important to have some negotiation skills up your sleeve to get your way and demand what you deserve. There are plenty of courses online that can help you master negotiation tactics like Ray Croc. If you don’t get that reference, watch The Founder.
4. Start networking
Freelance consulting is isolating by design. You’re not working in an organized team like you would in a traditional setting. Sure, you’ll be working with collaborators from time to time but it’s not the same feeling as working in a team setting.
Networking with those working in the same space can open work opportunities by leaps and bounds. Taking the example of a graphic designer again, one can network with social media marketers, web designers, app developers, etc., who can provide them client referrals or bring projects which necessitate collaboration to them.
Also, it’s an effective way to get advice from like-minded people who were once in your shoes too – starting a business and overwhelmed with information. It could be a safe space to pose questions without feeling clueless.
You can find these groups on Facebook, Discord, LinkedIn, etc. More than a billion professionals gather on LinkedIn’s various tools. One of them is LinkedIn Groups.
One such group is Freelancing Females on Facebook which, as the name suggests, is a global group for female freelance consultants. A few types of questions it receives are on what kind of taxes to pay, how to deal with clients who ghost (not cool), and some posts celebrating victories.
The group is a thriving community of freelancers and offers resources, connections, and a directory of jobs as part of its membership.
Networking has wonderful benefits and can diminish that feeling of loneliness that sometimes goes hand in hand in life as a freelancer.
5. Engage in online marketing
Now that you’ve set up a foundation, it’s time to ring the bell and create an online brand for yourself.
Let’s go back to Tori Dunlap’s website – a compelling example in selling yourself.
Her booking page establishes her as a leader in the financial freedom space, lists YouTube videos of all her past speaking engagements, and features TV networks she has spoken on. She provides a short bio about herself in first voice, followed by quotes from her speeches, interspersed with videos and then at last, a list of her several workshops people can book her for.
Tori’s booking page is a first-rate example on how to sell yourself as a freelance consultant. You show what you can bring to the table and supplement with as many results as you can.
Having a website provides a place for potential clients to get in touch with you reliably.
Generating leads from your website will also save you a lot of money over time in platform fees which could easily be up to 20% of your fee.
A few ways to build an online presence sound very similar to the tactics deployed by brands:
- Social media marketing: Reels, Tiktok have shown they can boost your online presence overnight. Tori’s TikTok is a goldmine of personal finance tips and lets her show her public speaking abilities to the fullest.
- Email outreach: Various email marketing tools and list-building tools can position you well in helping you reach out to your target clients in a time-efficient way. You can automate cold email marketing by creating workflows for follow-ups.
- SEO: Optimizing for Google’s Featured Snippets can help you stand out from the crowd and beat the competition. It requires staying on top of trends and being in touch with the pulse of the market. What are people looking for at this exact moment? Pull up Google Trends and get working.
- Video Marketing: Build a YouTube channel. Several successful freelancers, from social media coaches to driving instructors, have built a massive following on YouTube by churning out videos on topics like ‘How to quit your 9-to-5’, ‘How I launched a 50K-a-month business’ that supplement their other revenue streams. The AdSense money doesn’t hurt, of course. Canada-based Vanessa Lau’s channel is an illuminating study on how to grow a freelance business through video marketing.
There are many more digital marketing tactics you can use to expand your client base and boost acquisition. Find out what is a lead magnet for your niche and focus on building a presence through that. Video content can, of course, be repurposed for TikTok, Instagram Reels, and Stories, so there is a lot more scope to flesh out an entire promotional plan simply using content from it.
6. Get your proposals ready
Several freelancing platforms require crafting proposals and sending them to buyers before they can hire you. A business proposal allows you to highlight what you bring to the table in a concise manner. Your skillset and breadth of services could range widely, but if the client is looking for something specific, a business proposal is a great vehicle to bring that to them.
A useful way to cut down on time spent on creating personalized proposals is to draft a template. A proposal also helps you upsell and cross-sell services that a client might need in the future but hasn’t sought you as the one who cold supplement it. For example, a freelance website developer could provide services in post-launch maintenance and UX design audits.
An outline that is proven to work looks like the following:
- A short bio about yourself and your work experience
- Relevant services provided by you and accompanying results
- Pricing packages and any discounts
Once your proposal template is ready, you can start pitching it to your network and doing email outreach to potential clients.
7. Know when to say ‘no’
It can be exciting at first when you start expanding your business and receive more projects than you can manage. You could be stretching yourself too thin if you’re not careful and burn out.
You could have myriad reasons to take up those projects in the name of ‘building your rolodex’ but if they are not truly helping you specialize in your niche, then it won’t be worth your time.
How do you say no when you’re only starting out?
A rule of thumb is to see if it’s something that’ll add to your portfolio or not. Will it get you more clients? If you were to show this work to a potential client, would it increase your chances of securing them? If your answer to all these questions is a resounding ‘YES!’, then snap up projects.
Be mindful of overbooking yourself. It can make time management very challenging and be detrimental to your trustworthiness.
FREELANCE CONSULTING: ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE IN MANY WAYS
Becoming a freelancer can be a liberating experience in so many ways. Maybe you’d like to spend more time with family or diversify your income streams, freelancing can make it possible to have more control over your time.
People predicted that professional photographers would go out of business now that high-quality cameras were so accessible. However, a contradictory trend emerged. It grew the demand for professional photographers because suddenly, it became cheaper to hire one.
The truth is, if you can find your area of specialization and establish yourself in a niche, making six-to-seven figures as a freelancer consultant won’t seem like such a pipe dream.
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