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How to Become a Successful Consultant (8 Steps)

Want to become a consultant but not sure where to start?

You’re in the right place.

In this guide, I’ll share the exact steps for becoming a successful consultant who helps others with your unique expertise. AND how you can use those skills to build a business that offers you more freedom and flexibility. 

Ready to learn more? Read on!

We’ll cover: 

What is a consultant?

A consultant is a person who gives professional advice to businesses and individuals to help them achieve their goals. 

And the industry is huge – the global consulting market is expected to reach $372 billion by 2031. 

The Big Four consulting firms account for 60% of that revenue. These are: Deloitte, KPMG, PwC, and Ernst & Young. 

As a consultant, you work as an employee of a consulting firm, in-house for a corporate company, or as a self-employed consultant.

But before we get into how to become a consultant, let’s talk about what consultants do.

What does a consultant do?

As a consultant, you… 

  • Help your clients analyze and identify problems with their current processes.
  • Analyze and translate key pieces of data into actionable items your client can understand.
  • Create effective strategies to address problems and improve your client’s practices.
  • Communicate your plan of action with your client using professional presentations and reports. 
  • Track progress by analyzing data and conducting regular check-ins with your client.
  • Present the impact of your work to the client at the end of the project (or at regular intervals if it’s an ongoing project).

As you improve your skills and deliver results, you build a career that can increase your income and help you transition from your current 9-5.

For example, one of my first online businesses was a digital advertising consulting business.

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And within four months, I doubled my income and quit my job.

But that’s not all. There are so many benefits of consulting, including…

  • Flexibility: If you own your own business, you have the flexibility to set your schedule. This can help you prioritize important areas of your life like family.
  • Impact: You can help businesses and individuals reach huge milestones that will transform their trajectories. So consulting can be highly rewarding work.
  • Freedom: As a self-employed consultant, you have the freedom to work with clients you choose and set your own prices. This gives you more flexibility than most day jobs.
  • Remote working: Consultants often work remotely – even if they’re in-house. 
  • Income: The average consulting rate for new consultants typically ranges between $100-$150, which means it can be a highly profitable business. 

That’s what you have to look forward to if you move into consulting.

Next, let’s look at how YOU can become a consultant (even if you haven’t done any consulting before or have a degree).

What qualifications are needed to become a consultant?

So do you need any qualifications to become a consultant?

It depends.

The short answer is: If you work for yourself, you generally don’t. If you work for a company, you generally do. 

But let’s dive a little deeper.

Education

You don’t necessarily need a degree to become a consultant. 

In fact, many consultants don’t even have business degrees. It all depends on the niche. 

Popular degrees include:

  • Human resources
  • Public relations
  • Marketing
  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Business and Management
  • Economics
  • Law

But here’s the thing, you only need a degree if you want to be an in-house consultant for a company or consulting firm.

For example, if you want to work for Deloitte, you’ll need a Bachelor’s degree. 

But if you want to create your own online business, you don’t need any official qualifications. The most important thing is that you have a track record of results you can show future clients.

Certification

You don’t need any certifications to become a consultant. But many consultants find them useful. 

Typically, certifications aren’t worth it if you want to build your own consulting business. Sometimes, they are a requirement and/or your clients (especially bigger corporations) might require that you have one. 

As for in-house consultants, many employers don’t require them either – unless it’s an industry-specific certification. 

That said, certifications teach you many soft skills you might not learn with a degree. So if you want a certification to build your confidence as a consultant, consider a well-known, highly respected one. 

For example, the CMC (Certified Management Consultant, Management Consultants USA) program has a great reputation.

Work experience

If you’re reading this guide, you likely haven’t been a consultant before.

Does that matter? It might to some employers if you want to work as an in-house consultant.

As a self-employed consultant, you don’t need any work experience to get started. 

Now you’re probably wondering: 

“Luisa, you just said you need to be able to show your results to get clients as a consultant.”

And that’s true. But those results don’t need to come from working as a consultant.

For example, my first online business was a digital advertising consulting business. I had experience working with digital advertising at my corporate job. 

So people were willing to pay me for my knowledge even though I didn’t have ANY certifications, relevant degrees, or consulting experience. 

Want to know how I did it?

Keep reading for the full breakdown.

How do you become a consultant with no experience or degree?

Now you know what a consultant is. But how do you get started? 

And how do you compete with the thousands of consultants already out there?

Well, even though there are a lot of consultants in every niche, over 60% of businesses hire consultants. So there is demand.

And if you follow the steps, you can create a consulting business that can stand out from competitors.

Plus only YOU have the unique experience and expertise you have (even if you don’t have a degree or training).

The steps to become a consulting are: 

1. Identify your expertise

2. Decide on your goals

3. Get certified or a degree

4. Find your target market

5. Develop your offering

6. Build a network

7. Market your services

8. Deliver results

Let’s start with step #1 – a key part of starting a successful consulting business. 

Identify your expertise  

The first step to starting your consulting career is to define your niche. 

People overcomplicate this but your niche is very simple. 

It’s essentially what you do and who you serve. 

To figure that out, you first need to look at your skills. 

What skills and expertise have you learned from your day job, life experiences, and hobbies? 

Write a short list of the topics you have the most knowledge on. 

Now, you don’t have to come up with a highly original idea. There’s demand in a lot of niches.

But having experience in your consulting niche is key. How else will you show clients that you can create results? 

For example, you could become an HR consultant for law firms if you understand how law firms operate. 

What area of consulting do you want to specialize in? 

Your role can be pretty varied as a consultant. Or you can niche down into the areas that interest you most. 

For example, as a financial consultant, you could work with companies going through particularly tough situations like bankruptcy. And if you have experience with company insolvency, this experience is incredibly valuable.

Is there a market for your consulting services?

We’ll talk more about market research a little later. But for now, use Indeed and LinkedIn to see what available listings there are in your niche. If there’s a lot of market demand, that’s a good sign. 

Popular consulting niches include business, PR, HR, design, marketing, leadership, strategy, finance, and management.

The ultimate question is: 

What is your unique value proposition that will help you stand out from the crowd? 

Your background, professional experience, and track record in your field are all clues as to why someone would hire YOU as a consultant.

But don’t worry if you don’t have a complete answer just yet. 

Read on and you’ll figure out more about your niche as we go along.

Decide on your goals

Ask yourself: 

  • Do you want to work for a consulting company or build your own business? 
  • If you want a business, are you thinking of having a side hustle for extra income? Or a full-time business that can overtake your 9-5?
  • If you prefer to be employed, do you dream of working for one of the Big Four, or a smaller consulting company?

These questions shape the rest of your journey. 

Because even though you’re still a consultant, the qualifications, experience, and marketing strategies are all very different. (And yes, you still need to market yourself if you want to be an employed consultant, but we’ll get to that.)

One of the key differences is education. Let’s talk about it.

Get certified or a degree 

Want to work for a Big Four consulting company? You probably need a degree or certification to be considered. 

This depends on your industry, though. I recommend looking at job listings for consultants in your niche and seeing what the education requirements are. 

You can also search for consultants on LinkedIn and take a look at their credentials. 

It’s a competitive job market, so a degree from a well-known university is necessary.

Is this necessary for a self-employed consultant? No. You can use your expertise to brand yourself to appeal to your target market. 

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Speaking of…

Find your target market

If you’re building a consulting business, listen up.

A common mistake consultants make is targeting everyone.

For example, a PR consultant who works for every business that might need PR advice. 

People want specialists – especially in the consulting market.

Another mistake consultants make? Ending up with a niche audience who will never pay for their services.

So your target market needs to be both specific and able to pay for your work. 

Brainstorm the types of clients you would work best with. Maybe business types and individuals you already have experience with. 

For example, my student, Emily Liou created a career consulting business to help mid-level career women land their dream jobs. She already had experience working with that market as a corporate recruiter for Fortune 500 companies. 

To make this simple, use this formula to figure out your specific niche:

“I help ___ to ___ so that __.”

Need more help? Check out this video:

Develop your offering

The next step is to create your own consulting package.

I recommend this simple approach.

Start with a 3-month consulting program and price it at $1,500.

It might be tempting to price your services hourly, daily, or on commission. Many consultants charge that way (which we’ll talk about in a later section.)

But as a new consultant, agree on a clear end result with the client and set a fixed scope for the project. 

You can always increase your rates when you’ve helped a few clients get results.

In fact, some consultants charge over $10,000 for consulting packages. But only after they’ve built up a portfolio of results and a great reputation in their field. 

Starting at $1,500 and increasing incrementally will help you feel confident about your pricing.

Note: If you want to become a consultant just to make six-figures overnight, you won’t get very far. 

Yes, consulting can be profitable, but you have to design consulting packages that create real value. By that, I mean your client wants RESULTS. 

The transformation you provide through your expert strategy and guidance determines whether your business will work. 

So use client feedback to continuously perfect your strategies and processes. As you improve as a consultant, you can charge higher rates and feel fulfilled by doing great work.

Build a network 

As a consultant, your network is crucial. 

Why?

Well, referrals are one of the key ways you’ll get new clients. 

So how do you build a network? 

Here are a few ideas:

  • Attend conferences: Conferences help you connect with potential clients and fellow consultants. Share details with people you resonate with, regardless of whether they can give you work, as you never know where that connection might lead.
  • Reach out to potential connections on LinkedIn: As a consultant, LinkedIn will be one of the best places to advertise and network. Networking on LinkedIn is expected, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Don’t send random sales pitches to people you don’t know. Instead, approach people with value and an invitation to connect. This will help you build authentic connections. I talk more about this in this article
  • Connect with your existing network: Your colleagues, friends, and family may know people who would be interested in connecting with you.
  • Offer free consulting calls: If you’re new, offering a free 20-minute consulting call can help sell your services. That’s how I started out and grew my business early on. 

Now, building a network is one thing, but maintaining it is another. 

To stay top of mind with your network, make it a regular practice to reach out and meet with people. 

It doesn’t have to be every week. But maybe once a month, send a friendly message to your network just asking how they are. No sales pitches, just genuine connections. 

This will help people remember you if they or someone they know are looking for a consultant in your field. 

Okay, networking is powerful as a marketing strategy, but there are so many more. 

Want to know what they are? Read on.

Market your services 

What’s the first thing on your list of marketing strategies to get clients?

Build a website? Scratch that. 

Though many people will say you need a website, as a new consultant, building relationships is more important.

And you do that by providing as much value as you can in places where there’s already an audience.

That’s what I did. To book my first client, I went above and beyond giving free information until someone reached out and asked if she could work with me. 

So I didn’t have a website until I had signed several clients. 

How to market your coaching business early on

Because there are plenty of businesses and individuals who would love to work with you.

You just have to find them.

How? Start with:

  • Letting your network know you’re offering consulting services.
  • Finding clients on LinkedIn, Facebook, TikTok, Pinterest, Instagram, X, or Reddit.
  • Attending networking events.
  • Speaking at conferences and guest hosting on industry podcasts.
  • Posting consistently on social media, focusing on content that will resonate with your target market. 

If you’re still in a 9-5 and don’t want to broadcast your pivot to consulting, there are more subtle ways of doing this too.

My student Emily (who I mentioned earlier) got her first client by posting on LinkedIn. She asked people what their biggest career questions were which sparked conversations with potential clients.

You can do something similar. I talk more about different strategies here: 

Note, only focus on one or two strategies at the time. Master those first before you move on to the next.

How to scale your coaching business

Once you’ve mastered these “low-hanging fruit” strategies, you can move on to marketing methods that scale. 

For example:

  • SEO: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) involves creating a website and optimizing it for search engines like Google. The simplest way of doing this is by publishing blogs specific to your target audience. This can be a highly profitable marketing channel but it takes a long time to build.
  • Paid ads: You can invest in paid ads on social media (like LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and so on) or search engines (like Google) to get seen by clients. Paid ads are very effective at bringing in traffic. But it can take a while to learn how paid ads work and how to create sales pages that convert. Plus, this isn’t the most profitable traffic channel because you need to keep investing money for them to work. 
  • Email marketing: One of the marketing strategies with the highest ROI is email marketing. On average, it generates $42 for every $1 spent. And it’s still one of the best ways to stay connected with your audience. I have a daily email newsletter that sells my digital products consistently. However, it takes time to grow an email list. When you’re starting out as a consultant, focus on the tasks that bring in clients faster. 

Now, these are NOT beginner strategies. They’re for when you’ve been working for a while and are seeing great results from your work. 

Next up: Delivering those results.

Deliver results  

Ultimately, the success of your consulting career depends on the results you help your clients get. 

And to get great results, you need a tried-and-true method that WORKS. 

For example: 

Month 1 – Identifying key problems and strategizing the solution

Your first month working with the client should involve understanding the client’s pain points and plotting a solution. This stage might involve interviewing team members, analyzing data, and presenting your ideas.

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Month 2 – Implementation 

In the second month, you could help your client implement the strategy you’ve designed for them. This could include training members on how to use new software, creating a new corporate policy, or setting up tracking systems. 

Month 3 – Tracking progress and presenting results

In the final month, you may tweak your process to fine-tune what’s working for your client. At the end, you can present your results to the client and other key stakeholders.

Now I know this is a broad example, but consultants all work very differently. Your exact program will likely differ depending on the client too, as no two clients are the same. 

The takeaway is this:

I recommend breaking down your client’s goals into milestones.

Then, break every consulting session into sub-goals that your client needs to achieve to reach the overarching goal. 

Every consulting session within your package should be on a sub-goal.

Then, in between sessions, answer any questions your client may have via email.

Now, once your client has achieved their goal and the project has ended, your work is done, right? 

Wrong. The end of your project is crucial because that’s when you get feedback. 

By requesting feedback from your clients, you can improve your processes for the future and grow as a consultant. 

Good testimonials also help you book future clients. 

Because testimonials are social proof that you can deliver great results. 

In fact, 77% of consumers say that online reviews affect their buying decisions.

To get feedback, send your clients a short email during the final month or straight after your project ends. 

You can ask: 

  • “What was it like before we started working together and afterward?”
  • “What was it like working with me? Were you happy with the experience?”
  • “What were your results? Can you be as specific as possible?”
  • “If someone was thinking of hiring me, would you recommend that they do so or not?”

How to get your first consulting clients

You’re probably eager to know how you can get your first few clients and start working as a consultant.

By the end of this chapter, you know exactly how. Read on.

Do market research

Many new consultants skip market research. If you’re choosing an established consulting niche, you don’t need to validate it again, right?

But you do – you need to understand why people need your services and how you can stand out.

Now how do you do that? 

Search Google, YouTube, Facebook groups, Upwork, or another platform, to see if people offer similar services. Are people looking for help with what you want to offer, in the industry you’re focusing on?

That’s a great sign that there’s a market for your idea.

Next up: Your unique selling point.

Understand your USP

Your unique selling point (USP) is what helps you stand out from other consultants. 

But it’s not about having a fancy website or a professional logo. 

I like to think about USP as your personal brand

And you don’t build a personal brand – you discover it by answering a few questions. 

1. What are your values? 

Your values are what help you connect with your audience and show through in all your work. For example, my values are integrity, family, and value. I attract clients who resonate with that message.

2. What makes you different?

Do you have a specific approach, personality trait, or perspective that sets you apart from others in your field? For example, I’m super practical and systematic because of my background in engineering. 

3. How is your audience different?

Do you service a market that’s currently underserved? For example, I started helping clients who wanted to leave their 9-5 start a business because I didn’t see many other people doing that. 

Combining these three answers will help you discover what your USP really is.

Build relationships

People buy from people.

And in service businesses, it’s definitely true. YOU are your brand as a consultant. 

To get your first clients, you need to show who you are and build trust.

How? Here are a few ideas:

  • Notify your network that you’re offering consulting services
  • Guest host on podcasts within your niche
  • Write guest posts for blogs and publications in your niche
  • Create authentic connections on LinkedIn

But a mistake many new consultants make is trying too many marketing strategies at once. 

That’s just a recipe for burnout and overwhelm. Plus, by spreading yourself too thin, you won’t master any approach. 

So pick just one strategy that will resonate with your ideal clients. 

Then start offering value with your content to build relationships and broaden your network. 

Now this next technique is a game-changer. Read on.

Use the Taster Technique

One of my best techniques for getting clients as a consultant is what I call the “Taster Technique.” 

This method will help you build trust faster and show your clients what you can do for them.

So what is the Taster Technique? It’s simple. 

Offer a free 20-minute consulting call to any potential client who wants to work with you. 

You want to give real value that helps your client on their goal.

This helps the person see how much value you could bring and why they should hire you. 

You can then end the consulting call with your sales pitch. 

If you want to get more comfortable selling your services, this video will help:

What additional skills do you need to become a successful consultant?

So you want to become a consultant, but what will make you stand out? 

Here are some key skills all great consultants have:

  • Communication skills: A good consultant is not only able to analyze and identify problems, but they can also communicate those problems. Transparent, candid, clear communication helps your client understand and feel understood. Written communication is also important. Sharpen your copywriting skills so you can create concise reports.  
  • Excellent presentation skills: In many consulting fields, you’ll probably use presentations to demonstrate data analysis and explain your solutions. So you need the ability to create professional, well-designed, straightforward presentations. Practice presenting ideas in meetings to ensure your words are captivating and persuasive. This skill isn’t necessarily as important for self-employed consultants as it is for employed ones. 
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills: As a consultant, you analyze problems and create a plan to solve them. Your analytical skills include accurately interpreting data, reviewing processes, and interviewing team members. Then you should strategize and guide with your unique perspective.
  • Flexibility and good project management skills: A great consultant is organized and efficient. You want a reputation for completing projects on time but also adjusting the plan when you need to. Listening to your client about what’s working and what’s not helps you stay flexible and attend to their needs.
  • Discipline: Even if you work for a consulting firm, you’re often working solo. That means you need the discipline of an entrepreneur to get work done efficiently. Set achievable goals and manage your time to reach client deadlines.

There are also specific skills you might need depending on the type of consultant you are. 

Read on to learn more about the most common types of consultants.

Types of consultants

As I mentioned, your niche is a combination of your unique expertise and market demand. 

But if you’re still stuck, read on! In this section, we’ll go over common types of consultants. 

Management consultant

A management consultant works with businesses to help optimize their team structure and improve management practices.

Strategy consultant

Strategy consulting is a broad term, but essentially, they work with clients to create and implement a strategy. Often consultants will narrow their niche to a specific type of strategy (like financial strategy, SEO strategy, hiring strategy, and so on).

IT consultant

As an IT consultant, you would work with organizations to install and use tech solutions to streamline their processes.

HR consultant

Got a background in HR? By HR consulting, you can help businesses elevate their hiring, training, and employee satisfaction.  

PR consultant

PR consultants work with businesses and individuals to improve their public image. 

Marketing consultant

You can work as a marketing consultant in many ways (for example, digital advertising, SEO, social media, and more). And this can be a highly fulfilling and lucrative consulting niche. I was able to double my income and quit my 9-5 because of my digital advertising consulting business. 

Environmental consultant

Environmental consultants mostly work with businesses to implement greener practices to lower their impact on the environment. 

Financial consultant

As a financial consultant, you can advise companies on how to manage their finances better. You can also specialize in helping businesses going through tough financial situations like bankruptcy and debt. 

Healthcare consultant

Healthcare consultants are technically business consultants for healthcare organizations. They mostly focus on financial and operational issues. 

Legal consultant

You can work with individuals and businesses on their ongoing legal questions as a legal consultant. Consulting means you wouldn’t be their legal representative, but you can give specific advice.

Sales consultant

Sales consultants work with sales teams or entrepreneurs to guide them through better sales processes. 

But this is just a short list of types of consultants. There are many others; for example, my student Mara Freilich is a law school admissions consultant (Top Law School Consulting). She works with people who want to get into top law schools. 

That’s why it’s so important to find a niche that fits you and your experience.

Because it shapes your brand, your audience, and your income.

Speaking of income, let’s talk about how much consultants charge next.

How much does a consultant charge?

So how much can you make as a consultant?

Well, in-house consultants have an average base annual salary of $88,326

And self-employed consultants make, on average, $101,350 per year.

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So although it depends on your industry and experience, many self-employed consultants make six-figures and beyond.

Now, there are several ways consultants charge for their services: 

  • Hourly: Hourly pricing means placing a fee on your time working on the client’s project. This can work well if you have a done-for-you element to your work.
  • Daily: Day rates are similar to hourly rates in which you have a set fee for your time. The client can then use that time in any way that suits the project.
  • Project-based: Project-based or package pricing is when you charge a fixed rate for the total project. For example, a three-month package to help the client achieve a specific goal.
  • Retainer: Retainers are monthly fees you receive for working on ongoing projects.
  • Commission-based: You can charge a commission on increased sales or revenue as a direct result of your work.

I recommend that you use project-based pricing because it is the clearest way to communicate your value to the client. 

Think about it: With a single package price and time frame, you can create an offer that helps your client get to their end result. 

Next steps

That’s it. Now you know how to become a consultant. 

Look: 

A consulting business can be highly fulfilling, flexible, and profitable.

I’ve worked with thousands of coaches and consultants. And there are a few steps you need to take to build a sustainable and profitable business. 

Want to know what they are? 

Get my free blueprint to learn how to build a six-figure online business. 

Want to Build a 6-Figure Coaching Business So You Can Achieve More Freedom?

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Read more:

Coaching vs Consulting: Key Differences and Similarities

How to Start an Online Coaching Business

How to Build a Six-Figure Business in 4 Months

About Luisa Zhou

Luisa Zhou has helped thousands of students build and scale their own profitable online Freedom Business. Fun Fact: She used to work as an engineer for the Space Station and holds a B.S.E. from Princeton. Click here to learn more about Luisa.

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