Updated May 24, 2023
So you want to be an entrepreneur and try consulting. Awesome! What could be better than working for yourself and watching people’s puzzled expressions when you tell them you’re a consultant?
But let’s be honest. It’s easy to say you want to be a consultant. But if you don’t have consulting clients, you’re not going far. This post will show you six awesome strategies to get consulting clients and launch your business.
This post contains links to affiliate products, which–if you choose to purchase–pay us a commission at no extra cost to you. This helps to support our work. We only promote products we’ve used and love.
1. Book meetings with relevant people
When finding consulting clients, networking is sales. The simple reality is, you should be meeting with people as often as you can.
Choose companies that interest you, companies that you think might use your consulting services. Then, reach out to a decision-maker. I like to choose somebody who is high enough to make decisions, but not at the top of the company. For example, in most medium to large-sized companies, this is a manager or director of some sort.
Set up a networking meeting. When you introduce yourself, introduce yourself as a consultant who works in X. Ask lots of questions about how their company works, and don’t be afraid to ask if and how they hire consultants.
You will not offend people by asking this. And, if you know what you offer, don’t be afraid to tell them you are interested in being placed on their list of consultants.
Worst case scenario, you will learn something about their company for the future. And absolute worst case scenario, you will get offered a job 😊
2. Become a thought leader
While online thought leadership is relatively new, a product of the last decade, it is still a tried-and-true way of building a consulting practice.
In this model, you choose your platform, and start creating valuable content. Make sure you give enough away so that people know that you have the chops. Then, when people need someone to hire, they’re going to think about you first.
For example, if you want to write policy reports, you would start to share information about how to write an effective policy report. Or, start to share research and data about the area in which you want to work (like education policy or science policy).
Make sure that your profile is optimized to show that you offer Consulting. You can select this in the “Open to Work” section, but a more elegant way to do it is to show that you are offering services. As I write this, this is done through a ridiculous practice of joining this group on LinkedIn. You can read about how to do it here.
As you work to create content on LinkedIn, give value, but also make it clear that you consult. For example, you might have a post that says “the results of this study I did for X organization we’re really surprising! Here is what we learned about childhood obesity.”
My LinkedIn isn’t super optimized for my consulting work, because I don’t use it as much for generation anymore. Most of my clients come from word of mouth now. But I still show the services I offer.
This blends thought leadership with a bit of advertising. Don’t be afraid to also say that you are open for new clients now and then!
Pro Tip- Do you connect with a lot of people? Drop them a note about why you want to connect: “I’m a consultant who does research projects and I’m interested in the work you do at Microsoft.” People will disagree about the next step, but I absolutely hate people who connect with me and then sell. So, I would much rather focus on building relationships with interesting people, and talking about their needs on an eventual networking call. But you can decide what you are most comfortable with.
3. Get on a freelance platform
If only there was a place out there to find employers who were looking to hire consultants with your skills.
Oh wait. There are. There are literally people out there Googling ” I need a data science consultant.”
Instead of chasing your clients on LinkedIn, why not let them come to you?
Choose a platform that will let you freelance. Upwork can actually be a great place to start. You can build your reputation, and you can raise your prices as you get better and better. Alternatively, Toptal and Flexjobs are also great!
4. Search job postings
If you search the word “consultant” on Indeed, you will once again find openings. Ditto LinkedIn.
Companies will occasionally post for Consultants, so it is important to be watching for them when they do. You can set these job databases to notify you when a new position opens up in your area or your country.
5. Convert job postings into consulting gigs
This is actually a really cool strategy!
Let’s say a company is hiring for a digital marketing assistant. Let’s say it’s a company with leadership that actually has no idea what social media is or does.
The important question to ask here is, What does this company actually want? Chances are, they want a combination of brand visibility and increased sales.
And they think that hiring a 21-year-old to post generic messages on Twitter will fix their social strategy, because someone told them they needed social media.
So, let’s try something. What if I applied to the job, or reached out to a manager, with this message:
I saw your ad for the marketing assistant and I thought I’d introduce myself. Your brand is really great, and I think that a really solid digital marketing strategy would help you 10x your brand visibility and double your sales. I can actually show you how to do this for about half the cost of hiring a digital marketing assistant, and I promise it will be much more effective.
I love to set up a free chat to explain how this works, if you’re interested.
All the best.
See what I did there? It takes guts, but you need to recognize that behind every job posting is something the company needs done. They may not even know the best way to do it.
If you can come in as a consultant and fix their problem, doing a better job for less money than it would take for them to hire somebody full or part-time, you can make a living off of this.
6. Ask companies to be put on their list
This is the last strategy, and it is also gutsy. But, if you have a really clear value proposition, and a well-defined market, why not start calling potential clients?
You could email too, of course.
But in the 2020s, calling is an incredible way to get through to people. It’s pretty easy to ignore an email.
Your call could go something like this.
Me: Hi, my name is Chris Cornthwaite. I’m a former Think Tank and government employee, moving into the Consulting space. I think your work in policy advocacy is really outstanding, and your report on the future of K-12 education was great. I’d love to do some work with you. Could I ask how you hire Consultants?
Manager: Sure. We actually use a list of pre-certified consultants.
Me: How do I get on that list?
Okay, it might not be this smooth. But what have you got to lose? Make a few calls and see what you learn.
Of course, networking is probably a better way to get this done. But you could call 10 companies in the next hour and find out that 2 of them hire outside consultants. Then you could focus on networking with those two. That’s a heck of a lot better than spending the next month networking with all 10.
7. Get on a standing offer list (ie. with government)
There are companies that have standing consultant lists. But I want to talk about one place that’s a goldmine for consultants.
Governments of all types use consultants, often pre-vetted people that can be hired for contracts. For example, you can learn about the U.S. government’s procurement opportunities here, and there’s even guides for getting started with your business.
If you’re just launching your consulting business, hopefully these ideas will help you find some clients. Don’t give up! Finding your first clients is a challenge, but it gets easier as you go—provided you do good work. Let me know what happens!
For further reading, check out: 7 Easy Steps To Launch Your Consulting Business This Week