Eight Tips for A Successful Career in Consulting

by Becky Olson

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Two years ago, I made the decision to shift from a full time position at a large PR firm to independent consulting. It was quite a leap for me, having spent nearly 14 years in traditional agency settings, but I was determined to achieve greater flexibility for my growing family while still pursuing the career I love. I was fortunate to begin working with Approach Marketing right away. Approach is a boutique virtual consultancy comprised of experienced PR and marketing professionals, like me.

Over time, I’ve come to learn a lot about myself as a professional, including how I have been able to make consulting work for me.

The following eight tips may be helpful for anyone who is currently working as a freelancer or considering the switch: 

1.     Do your research
I jumped then researched when I became a consultant because I was so eager for the change. In hindsight, I’d recommend seeking the advice of an accountant and even a lawyer before joining the ranks of the self employed. From understanding how quarterly taxes work for 1099 employees to banking and determining whether or not it’s necessary to file as a LLC or SCorp, these are important factors for anyone to review before hanging the “consultant” sign on the door. Also, think about how you’ll be able to establish a client base, which expenses you may be able to write off and if you’ll need to budget for access to essential software, etc.

2.    There are many tools that make consulting easier
Working at a large agency, it’s easy to take all of the expensive tools for granted. While some may make life easier, they also contribute to overhead. I’ve found many free or inexpensive resources that help me accomplish common tasks. Some of my favorites include:

  • Zoom, which offers a free video and conference calling program.
  • Google Alerts to help with media monitoring.
  • Help-A-Reporter-Out (HARO) newsletters that tip PR pros off to reactive media opportunities.
  • QuickBooks Self-Employed, for easy tracking of expenses and deductions.
  • MileIQ, an automatic mileage tracker that logs your business miles for taxes

3.    Don’t stop learning
Working in a big agency, I hardly had time to keep up with industry news or to read articles. I also hoped someone else on my team was doing this and would tell me anything important. Now that I’m on my own, I realize it’s my own responsibility to keep up with industry trends and developments. In fact, I believe it’s more important that I do this now to keep relevant as a counselor. As often as possible, I also participate in free webinars or take online classes that address topics of interest.

4.    Discipline yourself  
The first thing people usually say when I tell them I work from home is that they would never be able to get anything done. There’s this perception that people who work remotely do nothing but sleep in or watch TV while eating bon bons. That couldn’t be further from the truth for me. Since I am commonly the only person working on client work, it would become immediately apparent if projects weren’t getting done. I find myself super motivated to tackle my workload when I know people are depending on me. It helps to have a dedicated and inspiring office space and a regular schedule.

5.    Try not to doubt – or downplay – your worth
I’ve seen this topic raised in various Facebook groups. Many self employed individuals are bombarded with requests to either work for free or to significantly reduce their rate. Many of my peers, like me, sat at the VP/Director level before making the switch to consulting and bring a wealth of expertise. And, without the overhead bumping up the rate, most independent consultants are already extending a rate that is less than what would be charged for their level of talent at a big firm.

6.    Find your new “carrots”
I realized through consulting how motivated I used to be by chasing big titles at agencies. I feel like I depended on them to validate my success. Working as a freelancer, there aren’t many titles to aspire to anymore. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to strive toward. New motivators can range from growing a client relationship to establishing a new client and mastering a new or different skill. 

7.    Consulting doesn’t have to be done “independently”
It’s a myth that becoming a freelancer means you’ll have to do all your work on your own or miss out on co-worker interaction. Through Approach, I am lucky to have a growing team to work alongside. Some projects can be done alone but others require more hands. Even if you aren’t working for a virtual agency, you can always look for opportunities to support clients as a team.

8.    Network, network, network
Networking is the critical factor for success as a consultant. The majority of my client leads have come through having a complete profile on LinkedIn, or keeping my eyes and ears open on various Facebook groups for those who mention they need help. Being a freelancer means operating in a dual role as a business development officer and a PR/marketing expert.

I’ve thrived as an independent consultant because I get to focus on the elements of PR and marketing that drew me into this field. This position gives me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment because I can more tangibly feel the impact of my work for clients.

Do you have any tips you’d add to this list?