How To Transition From Corporate To Consultant and Win Your First Client

Transitioning from Corporate to Consultant: How to Win Your First Client

You don’t have to quit your job to start a consulting business. In fact, consulting is one of the lowest-risk businesses you can start while still employed in a corporate job.

What is consulting?

Consulting involves giving (and charging for) advice to professionals and businesses.

Take, for example, a web designer who specializes in working with food and beverage brands. With extensive experience building websites for these clients, they become more than just a web designer. Their expertise allows them to offer valuable advice and strategy, not just create website designs. Companies are willing to pay for this specialized knowledge and are increasingly hiring freelancers and consultants.

With the rise of remote work (44% increase in the past 5 years), companies are more open to external hires, such as consultants, contractors, and freelancers. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to transition from a corporate job to a consultant, equipped with two proven strategies to win your first client.

Is consulting the right choice for you?

Let’s start with who consulting isn’t for.

  • If you don’t value your potential
  • If you don’t desire to be your own boss
  • If you don’t value flexibility and freedom
  • If you don’t see the potential for unlimited income

If these statements don’t resonate with you, then starting a consulting business may not be the best option. These are the top four reasons people transition from corporate jobs to consulting (according to our 2019 Marketing for Consultants Study). But keep in mind that increased upside also comes with increased risk.

If, however, these ideas do resonate with you, then consulting may be the right path. And if you have years of experience in the corporate world, you are already halfway to becoming a consultant.

Getting started as a consultant

Here’s the difference between providing your skills to an employer and doing so as a consultant:

As a consultant, you work with multiple clients instead of a single employer. When you applied for your current job, you submitted your resume, attended an interview, and got the job. Then, you stopped marketing yourself.

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As a consultant, however, the marketing process never stops. You need to continuously market and sell yourself, even after winning clients. Think of "jobs" as client projects. And you are always looking for new client projects, even while working on existing ones. The art of identifying new clients and turning them into paid consulting work is all about marketing and sales.

These are the primary skills you’ll need to learn as a new consultant. You already possess the necessary expertise, but you must acquire the skills to win work. The good news is that as a consultant, you can earn far more than you would in a corporate job.

Identifying your profitable area of specialization

Specialization makes marketing and sales easier. You become a big fish in a small pond by serving a specific industry, which reduces competition. Consider two variables:

Combine these variables to create a message like this:

WHAT you do for WHO you serve.

Examples:

  • Brand Consulting for eCommerce Start-Ups
  • Digital Marketing Consulting for Fintech Companies
  • HR Consulting for Universities & Colleges

Notice how much more specific these messages are compared to something generic like “marketing for small businesses.” By specializing and serving a specific industry, you not only have an easier time identifying ideal clients (business leaders in your industry) but they are also more likely to engage with you and hire your services.

Remember, your passion is crucial here. Define WHO needs your service, ensure you have access to that group, and genuinely enjoy serving them. As for WHAT you do, focus on skills you are an expert at, that people need, and that you enjoy practicing.

Your messaging may evolve over time, but having a draft puts you on the path to reaching and winning clients.

How to win your first consulting client

There are many ways to secure your first consulting client. Here are two strategies to get you started.

Method 1: Your Current Employer

Yes, you can turn your current employer into your first consulting client. Many of our students have successfully done this.

Here’s how:

NOTE: This method works best if you have a good relationship with your employer and enjoy working with them.

Schedule a conversation with your current employer. Transparently explain that you’re considering starting your own consulting business, emphasizing how much you value working with them. Propose a new structure for your position: instead of being an employee, you’ll serve them as a consultant.

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As a consultant, they can benefit from your expertise and skills without having to pay a full-time salary or benefits. This arrangement also allows you to work with multiple clients.

Method 2: Reach out to an Ideal Client

You already know who your ideal client is based on the WHO and WHAT of your specialization. The key is to engage them and convert them into paying clients.

Start by having a meaningful conversation about their business, their situation, their problems, and their goals. This conversation is “sales” in the consulting world, but it differs significantly from the stereotypical sales pitch. This conversation revolves around your prospect, focusing on their needs.

How to reach potential clients

To have these conversations, you must first reach out to potential clients. Whether by email or phone, your early days as a consultant will involve direct outreach to initiate these meaningful conversations.

Here’s an example of an outreach message:

“Hi [Name],

I’m impressed with what [Their Company] is doing in the [Industry] space. Recently, I shifted from working with companies like [Company], [Company], [Company] to bringing my experience to help other [Type of Organization] as an advisor.

As this is new to me, I would love to learn about your experience in the industry. I would greatly appreciate it if I could ask you a few quick questions—even 5-10 minutes would be invaluable to me. Are you available tomorrow afternoon by any chance? Thank you so much.”

You’re not asking them to listen to your sales pitch. Instead, you’re inquiring about their business, situation, problems, and goals. Notice how both methods require you to have a conversation. It may be uncomfortable and push you outside your comfort zone.

If you are unwilling to have conversations about creating value for people, you may be better off sticking with your current job. But if you embrace this task, continue reading to learn how to transition from a corporate job to a consultant.

Transitioning from Corporate to Consultant: Two Proven Strategies

After winning your first client, you have two options for transitioning from a corporate job to consulting.

1. The Side Transition

The upside of this approach is that it reduces your risk. You maintain a safety net and can quit your job once your consulting income matches or exceeds your full-time salary.

The downside is that your employer may not approve of your side business. Additionally, it will be more challenging to win clients and complete projects because you’ll be juggling consulting work alongside your corporate job, leading to less time and energy.

2. The All-In Transition

In this strategy, you quit your job and fully commit to consulting even before you have a guaranteed income to sustain yourself.

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The upside is that you have all the time you need to win and work with clients. You can pursue consulting without distractions.

The downside is that this approach carries more risk.

If you choose this route, save 6-12 months’ worth of income to sustain yourself. Based on my experience coaching hundreds of consultants, this should be ample time for you to find your footing and increase your income.

Remember, with every upside comes risk. Complete elimination of all risk is impossible. By following one of these strategies, you can choose an option that aligns with your risk tolerance. In the worst case scenario, it doesn’t work out, and you can find another job.

However, you will have gained valuable experience and earned respect for taking the leap.

Action Step: Go Win Your First Consulting Client!

Your action step after reading this article is to secure your first consulting client. It may be a messy, challenging process, and you may face rejection along the way.

However, winning your first consulting client is a life-changing experience.

For many, it’s the first step towards their dream of working for themselves, increasing their income, and realizing their full potential. It all starts with meaningful conversations with ideal clients.

Go out there, initiate those conversations, actively listen, add value, and if there’s a good fit, make an offer. Alternatively, you can continue wondering what could have been while working your corporate job.

Which path will you choose?

To prepare for your consulting business, writing a business plan is vital. Check out our business consulting business plan example and free template to kickstart your planning process.

To prepare for your consulting business, writing a business plan is vital. Check out our business consulting business plan example and free template to kickstart your planning process.

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