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how to become a consultant guide

How To Become A Consultant: Quit Your Job & Get Your First Client

By Michael Zipursky

Do you want to know how to become a consultant?

If you’re looking to quit your job and start a business, a consulting business is one of the best businesses to start.

With a consulting business, you can leverage the skills and experience you already have from working as an employee in the corporate world to serve and add value for clients instead of an employer.

If you’d like to be your own boss and realize your full potential, read on.

In this article, you’ll learn how to transition from an employee to become a consultant.

how to become a consultant workshop by michael zipursky



Step 1: Make Your Decision

Quitting your job to become a consultant is a big decision. It’s one you don’t want to take lightly. We’ve studied the reasons why people decide to become consultants.

Why People Become Consultants

There are many reasons why people in corporate careers want to quit and become a consultant:

  • They lack freedom and flexibility — being forced to work on projects they don’t want to work on
  • They dislike their boss and would rather be their own boss (and don’t have to ask for a raise)
  • They feel like they are aren’t realizing their true and full potential — and are wasting their best years to create someone else’s dream instead of their own

With your own consulting business, you have the freedom and flexibility to work on the projects you want to work on.

You don’t have to answer to any boss and you determine your income, not them.

And perhaps most importantly, starting and running your own consulting business is one of the most powerful vehicles for self-development. You will be challenged, overcome these challenges, and become a much more complete person as a result.

If these points resonate with you, then it might be time to give it a shot.

How To Quit Your Corporate Job (The Right Way)

To give yourself the best chance of success, you want to start by quitting your job with grace.

Give your employer at least two weeks’ notice. Thank them for the opportunity. Offer to help them as much as possible to make their lives easier with you leaving.

As you’ll learn, consulting is a relationship business. You don’t want to burn bridges, especially with your past employer. If you can quit with tact, your previous employer will help connect you to your first clients — in fact, they might even be your first client.

In your final 2 weeks on the job, give it your all. But, you should also use this time to prepare and get your consulting business started.

Step 2: Decide On Your Transition Strategy

There are two ways you can approach transitioning from employee to consultant: the Side Transition or the All-In Transition.

The Side Transition

The Side Transition is where you start consulting on the side while you work in your corporate job.

It’s more of a comfortable, risk-averse approach to starting a consulting business. It allows you to test and validate the demand for your services while you still have income from your 9-5 job.

With The Side Transition, you’re looking to gain traction before you quit your job. You want to prove to yourself that you can get clients and do the work so that when you do quit, you will have income from your business.

This also gives you the chance to develop some case studies, giving you a marketing asset to help get even more clients once you make the leap.

However, with the Side Transition, you’re not giving it your 100% effort. You’re being held back by spending most of your time and energy in your full-time job. Thus, you won’t know how successful you can truly be if you’re only giving it 50% (or less) of your concentration and effort.

The All-In Transition

The All-In Transition is where you go all-in on starting your consulting business with little to no pre-existing income from it. You’re quitting your job to become a consultant, and that’s that. You go 100% into it.

sam zipursky from consulting success, corporate to consultant case story
Sam Zipursky, Co-Founder of Consulting Success — learn about his all-in transition in our story

It is going to be stressful. And you’re going to have real pressure to perform: to get clients, deliver excellent work, and generate income.

But, with the All-In Transition, you’ll see faster results. You’re committed. You have to generate an income, and that means you’ll have put more time and energy into it.

Pressure makes diamonds: and when it comes to quitting your job and starting a consulting business, the All-In Transition gives you the good kind of pressure you need to succeed.

NOTE: If you are going to make the all-in transition, make sure that you do have income saved up. 6+ months of living expenses are often more than enough to remove a lot of the stress that comes with this transition.

Step 3: Adopt The Mindset Of A Consulting Business Owner

So far we’ve talked about tactics and strategies for making this transition from employee to consultant. Now, it’s time to talk about the foundation of it all — your mindset.

Being an employee is very different from running your own consulting business, or any business for that matter. You don’t have an employer who is supplying you with a steady paycheck. Instead, your income comes from a variety of clients who pay you for your consulting projects. The pressure is on you to not only do the work, but also to bring in the business.

You Are In The Marketing Business

For that reason, it’s useful to think of your consulting business as a marketing business.

“You’re not in the consulting business, you’re in the marketing business. I know this sounds harsh, but here’s an even more frightening thought: your consulting skills may be good enough right now to implement the business you acquire, but I’ll almost guarantee that your marketing skills aren’t good enough to continually acquire business.”
—Alan Weiss, Million Dollar Consulting 

You don’t need to be a world-class marketer or salesperson to become a very successful consultant. But you need to be comfortable with marketing and sales. Marketing and sales are what help you attract clients. And it’s from your clients that you’ll earn the income necessary to keep your consulting business surviving and thriving.

For more resources on marketing and sales for consultants, read:

(To learn more about the mindset of six and seven-figure consultants, read The Elite Consulting Mind™ 16 Proven Mindsets to Attract More Clients, Increase Your Income and Achieve Meaningful Success)

So what is the best way to adopt this mindset? It’s not by thinking about it. It’s by taking action. But not any kind of action — what we call imperfect action.

Taking Imperfect Action

Imperfect action is putting your perfectionism aside. It’s taking action without all the information or practice you might feel you need to move forward. It’s exploratory and experimental. And it’s how you learn how to do marketing, sales, and attract clients.

When you first become a consultant, you won’t feel comfortable promoting yourself. You won’t feel comfortable writing a proposal, firmly pricing your service, and actively trying to get your prospect to sign the dotted line.

Instead of being frozen because of this discomfort, imperfect action gets you to move forward and try things, see what works, and discard what doesn’t. It’s where all the elite consultants you read about started — and there is no better mental model to adopt when you first become a consultant.

With imperfect action on your mind, let’s talk about the next step: winning your first consulting client.

Step 4: Win Your First Consulting Client

The Power of Pro-Bono Work

Now, we’ll answer the age-old question…should you ever work for free?

It’s not a simple question. There are situations when it makes sense to provide your consulting services for free. There are other situations when you should never provide your consulting services for free.

Because your first 1-2 clients are so important, this is one of those situations when doing pro-bono consulting work can make sense. Take a long-term view. Acing your first 1-2 consulting projects and getting those first 1-2 testimonials will pay dividends when it comes to searching for — and winning — paid consulting work.

When doing pro-bono work, it’s critical that you never devalue your work and expertise. It’s helpful for both you and your client that you send them an invoice for the actual amount you would charge, and then waive the fee.

By doing this, you’re demonstrating to both your client and yourself that what you are providing does have a monetary value — even if in this case you are providing it for free.

Pro-bono work is valuable when you first transition from corporate to a consultant because of the relationships you’ll build, the testimonials you’ll receive, and the case studies that result. Do good work for your client, and you’ll develop a good relationship with them. After the work is done, ask them directly for a testimonial. Once you’ve finished the work and learn the results of your project, write a case study.

Finally, once you’ve completed these steps, ask your client for a referral:

“A referral from you would be incredibly helpful for me in this early stage of my consulting business. Do you have the name or two of one of your contacts who’d benefit from this value?”

If you can develop a relationship, receive a testimonial, write a case study, and get a referral, a pro-bono project can end up being very lucrative. That’s how you should approach them.

You might also get the chance to turn pro-bono relationships into paid work. Either with your existing client or through a referral, it will be much easier to charge your usual fees for the next project. You’ve proved your value and have some marketing assets that demonstrate the value you can create.

Getting those first 1 or 2 clients is difficult. But if you follow this framework for pro-bono work, you can not only get these first few clients — but you can use them to build up a pipeline of paid consulting business.

Turning Your Previous Employer Into Your First Consulting Client

Like I’ve said before: consulting is a relationship business. Even if you despise your current job and current employer, try and resign without burning any bridges. You can even turn your previous employer into your first client. Here’s how.

You’ll need to ask them if they’re willing to become your client in the first place. If you leave your job with grace, then this could be one of the easiest sales you make: your previous employer already knows you, likes you and trusts you.

Tell them in advance what you’re thinking about and get their input. Position it as collaborative and that you can support each other. You’re deciding to leave anyways. Why not provide mutual value?

Focus on the benefits for them. Unlike full-time employees, they don’t have to pay you a full-time salary, provide benefits, or give you a bonus. They only need to pay you for what they need and the value you’ll create for them.

It’s a win-win for both parties. You get to work with them as a consultant instead of an employee. And they get to receive your value without having to pay you a full-time salary.

The worst-case scenario is that they say no. That doesn’t mean you should change your plans — as you learned about in the previous section, you can still leverage pro-bono work to win your first couple of clients. But it’s absolutely worth trying to turn your previous employer into your first client if that’s something you would enjoy.

Learn about the 9 ways to get more consulting clients for alternative means of getting your first client.

Step 5: Creating Your Consulting Discovery Offer

Here’s the thing about pricing your first consulting engagements: they don’t have to be massive projects.

I’m sure you’ve heard about, and eventually want to win those high five or six-figure projects. That will come. But first, you can go small to get started.

What Is A Consulting Discovery Offer?

A consulting discovery offer is a service designed to get your foot in the door in a business and demonstrate your expertise. It’s a low-risk, one-time form of a productized consulting offer.

Discovery offers are easier to sell because they are…

  • Inexpensive: Discovery offers are often between $1.5K-$15K, which is much less expensive than a typical custom consulting engagement. They allow your client to “try you out” before taking more out of their budget.
  • Quick: Discovery offers are often quick, anywhere from an hour conversation to 1-2 weeks in length max. They allow your client to get a feel for working with you without spending too much time.
  • Low-risk: Because they are inexpensive and quick, they are low-risk. Buyers can be very risk-averse, especially to bigger projects, so your discovery offer reduces the risk and makes it more likely they will work with you.

Above all else, your discovery offer should add value to your client. Creating a discovery offer will help you articulate how you can add value to your client’s business in a shorter time frame, which is an excellent exercise for a newer consultant.

Here’s how Sam Schutte, Clarity Coaching Client used discovery offers in his consulting business:

“We will not do a project unless the discovery. It’s probably been that way for about a year. I tell folks, “We’re delivering real value. We’re giving you design documents, requirement documents, a roadmap, and a feasibility study.” These are real things. There are people out there that probably charge tons of money for that.

We’re providing a lot of value through these discovery things because we’re telling you if what you’re even talking about is feasible. Is it possible? Are you crazy? Is it going to take ten times what you’re thinking or is it going to be ten times cheaper than you think? What’s the value of that? There has to be a price on that.

What I found is if they do the discovery project, they always do the other project. Your win rate was much higher there. Whereas, if you didn’t make the discovery, it was 50/50.”

Turning Discovery Offers Into Bigger Consulting Projects

As Sam says, you can and should leverage your discovery offers into bigger consulting projects.

Think about what happens in the mind of your client after you’ve finished a discovery project.

Now, they know you, like you, trust you — and you’ve created a good result for them. This is exactly where you want to be with your clients. At this stage, they are willing to invest more in you based on the fact you’ve already added value to their business.

Turning your discovery offers into bigger consulting projects is known as existing client development.

Setting this up is quite simple. First, your discovery offer should have given you a good idea of the problems they are facing. You should always be paying attention to these problems and study them, as helping to solve these problems is the best way to add value to your client.

Second, you can’t just keep all of these ideas to yourself. You must bring them up in conversation with your client. Ask them more about this problem. What is their goal? How is this problem keeping them from achieving their goal? How is it making their day-to-day life harder? Then, introduce your ideas and solutions — which can be a larger consulting engagement.

Conversations — be it with new or existing clients — is how you make more offers. And making more offers is how you win new business, increase your income, and continue to build your consulting business.

Next up, it’s about tracking what works and what doesn’t, so you can build the proper systems to grow your consulting business.

Step 6: Rinse & Repeat: Creating Processes To Continually Attract Clients

So now, you’ve started your consulting business and became a consultant. You’ve won your first couple of clients. You’ve created a discovery offer. And you’re taking imperfect action — putting yourself out there, talking with ideal clients, and making offers. The longer you’re in business, the more patterns you’ll start to observe.

Tracking Your Wins

When you take imperfect action, you’re trying all types of different marketing and sales methods. You’re trying LinkedIn outreach, phone calls, email, content — all of it. After doing this for a couple of months, you’ll start to get a feel of what’s working: what’s actually generating conversations with buyers.

The rule of 80/20 — also known as the Pareto Principle — asserts that 20% of your results will generate 80% of the results. If you apply this principle to your marketing and sales, you’ll start to notice that one or two efforts out of the ten you do will generate most of your results. You want to double down on what’s working and eliminate the rest.

A simple way to do this would be to set-up a spreadsheet. In the first column, list out all of the marketing methods you are taking imperfect action on. Then, at the end of each week, write how many conversations with buyers each method generated for you. This will give you an idea of what works best for you.

Some consultants do very well with content. Others do very well with cold-calling. A lot of it comes down to your personality and your interests — different people enjoy and excel at different forms of marketing and business development. But unless you take action and record your results, you won’t have a clear picture of how to move forward and put what works into repeatable systems.

Building Your Consulting Systems

Now that you have a good understanding of what’s generating results, you want to create standard operating procedures (SOPs) and systems. Writing your most impactful actions you take in your consulting business — whether that be writing an article, sending an initial outreach email, or your questions for the first sales call with a client — builds the foundation on which your business runs.

consulting business processes and systems

You gain tremendous peace of mind and clarity when you know that when you need to get a new client, you have a process that’s worked for you before that you can rely on. That when you are first meeting with a client, you know the questions to ask for the best chance of a sale. It removes much of the uncertainty and stress that comes when you’re new to the game.

It’s not easy to create these systems. They require you to have earned some wins first, so you know what works and what doesn’t. In our Momentum and Clarity programs, we’ve crystallized and improved on these systems for nearly 2 decades. You don’t have to do it all from scratch. Consultants who make the transition successfully all stress the importance of having best practices they can rely on to get what they need — and at the right time.

Corporate To Consultant Stories: Learn From Those Who Made The Transition

Now, you’ll learn from consultants who successfully made the transition: their stories and what worked best for them.

How Husain Quit His Corporate Job To Become A Consultant

“I joined Clarity Coaching to help me transition from being an employee to a full-time, self-employed consultant. Mike and Sam helped me through the process of changing my current employer into a consulting client. They instructed me on how to approach my employer, help with proposals, help with negotiation, and gave me the confidence to go forward and seal the deal.”

How Dauwn Started Her Consulting Business From Scratch

“I engaged with Michael at the very beginning when I was really thinking about starting a consulting business, and with his encouragement, direction, and focused strategies about how to build, grow, and expand the business, it really gave me the courage to step out.”

Learn more about how Dauwn became a consultant in her Consulting Success Podcast feature:

> The Secret to Landing Six-Figure Consulting Projects with Dauwn Parker

How Elliot Went From 0 Clients to Over $100k in Projects in 7 Weeks

“I was reluctant at first to seek Michael’s help. But I was hit with the reality that being out on my own was very different from working for an organization, and I was finding myself like a squirrel in search of that next nut. I reached out to Michael, and he helped me see the action steps and provided me with the system — and a systematic approach to going out finding, and getting my ideal clients. I’m working for people I truly care about and feel as though I’m making a difference.”

Learn more about how Elliot started a thriving consulting business in his Consulting Success Podcast feature:

> Elliot Begoun and The Power of Betting on Yourself

(If you want to see dozens of other case stories of those who successfully became consultants, check out our Consulting Case Stories playlist on YouTube)

Need Help Becoming A Consultant?

Do you want help making the transition from corporate to consultant as smooth and stress-free as possible?

To quit your job with confidence, knowing that you’ll be able to earn the same income — or even far surpass it — by using a proven, step-by-step system?

There are many things we haven’t mentioned here that aren’t in the scope of this article: setting up a productive office, perfecting your proposals, building a team — all of these are also important.

So we’ve put together a course designed specifically to help those frustrated with their corporate career to become a consultant.

Click on the link below to learn more about Momentum — our flagship program to help you go from employee to successful consultant using a proven step-by-step system:

> Momentum: The Proven Implementation Program for Early-Stage Consultants

4 thoughts on “How To Become A Consultant: Quit Your Job & Get Your First Client

  1. Its really a great way to earn more rather than to do job whole life.

  2. Really helpfull and quite fantastic! Good work on this article. It’s worth reading.

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