Consulting: The quick and dirty FAQ from my perspective

As of late, I’ve been getting an unusual amount of emails asking me what I do and how they too, can “make big bucks” (their words, not mine), and start freelancing without any experience right out of school or fresh from a job that has no connection to consulting whatsoever.

I will never tell you what I do, only to say that I’m a business consultant, and I don’t mind helping, and I’m even glad to do so but I’m starting to feel like there’s a big one-sided view out there (my view), that isn’t representative of what “consulting” is.

So here’s my clarification.

You might find the whole post a little harsh, but there’s nothing like a little tough love and a dose of reality.

Please don’t think of this as being discouraging or as a “hey, don’t bother” post.

This is really for me to tell you what it consulting is at its core for me and from my perspective.

I am not saying I’m the golden girl who can do everything or is the only one in the world who can get into a job like mine, but I feel like people are starting to get the wrong idea, and that it’s so easy to get into.

You need a mix of capability, skills, experience, and opportunity.

To get the perfect cocktail of all that to hit on exactly what you want is not that easy…

Becoming a consultant is not a single path that is set in stone where you study for 4 years, get a degree, get a certification and then POOF! you’re being paid money for whatever it is you do.

Even if you do EVERYTHING RIGHT and by the book, there is no guarantee you will become a consultant. Companies are fickle.

Update: To all the skeptics out there

If you really think you can make a lot of money by being a freelance writer/blogger or a novelist because I am clearly lying about being a consultant, then why don’t you go ahead and try writing for a living?

I have no reason to lie about being a consultant. If I were a writer/blogger full-time, I’d say so. Just because you have a book with your name on it, it doesn’t mean you’re “rich”.

And really, what would be the point of trying to hide it behind this nonsense of Anonymity? I’d be an idiot because I’d WANT people to give me book deals, go on TV and get people to hire me.

I’d be promoting myself with my name and picture plastered all over the blogs if I were a writer/blogger/novelist.

Read my full answer about whether or not I’m really just a writer/blogger looking for a book deal that was asked on Formspring here.

For the record, I actually LOVE my job and I work hard at it.

If I earned a quarter of what I did and didn’t have the headaches of administration, I’d still do it.

You will find a lot of people who are happy, and make good money will tell you that they enjoy what they do. It’s the first “rule” I guess.

If you make tons of money but you’re unhappy, you will ultimately detest your job and not care about how much you make. True story.

If you do what you love, you may not make a ton of money but you will wake up each day happy to go to work.

This sounds trite but many people say that the money will follow your passions, but they fail to mention that you have to also be good at what you love to do. 😛

It’s slightly insulting to get emails that just talk about your job in dollars and cents

I find the work interesting and fulfilling, so to have someone say: WOW!! How can I become a consultant and make sooooooooo much money too!!?!?

It’s like saying to a doctor: WOW!! you make so much money saving lives, how can I make tons of money off sick people too?

See what I mean?

I know what I do doesn’t “save lives”, but I love it and I enjoy it, and I feel that people only want to enter the field just to make lots of money, but they don’t really love it.

Why not do something you do love, rather than just looking at the salary?

Would you want to become a surgeon if it made you big bucks? Well you need skills for that, so what if you didn’t have steady hands or good eyes? What next?

It sounds so stupid to tell you to love your job (even to me), but it is insulting for me to think that others feel you are only a consultant because of the money.

I’m not in this for the money.

I didn’t even know it was there!

The money is a nice, unplanned bonus for me.

I never expected in a million years I’d ever make this much.

In fact, I told myself early on I’d be happy with just making the bare minimum I need to live as long as I was able to enjoy life a bit and save.

For me right now, this salary is around the $30,000 – $40,000 range.

Before that, I even thought I’d become a teacher, or go into advertising, and I was just lucky enough to fall into a totally different calling that I not only love to do but also something I understand and am good at.

So really, when I landed this job at $65,000, it was far was beyond my initial expectations.

What I get paid is highly unusual as well

Not all consultants make a lot of money, so don’t think that this is the whole picture when you see what I make per month.

My job is ONE SMALL slice of the pie, not the whole pie.

Some make $30/hour which is $60,000 a year but they only work part-time (contracts are tricky like that), so it’s really $30,000 a year.

Others go by a fixed rate of $10,000 that is spread out over 6 months and all they do is work for that client day and night.

That’s $1666/month or $67/day, which is $8.93/hour.

But they do it anyway, because they’d rather work for themselves at $8.93/hour than to work at a company for $10/hour.

My job is highly specialized and I worked hard to get the experience I have, so my pay is unusual as well.

Many consultants don’t even charge for overtime!!!!

They do it because they want to do a good job and get more referrals to other clients to build the business.

That in itself, is unusual, that I get paid by an hourly rate, I work a full 35 hours a week for a single client, and I can charge for overtime.

I don’t talk about the hard parts of the job

That’s because I love most of it, most days, and it feels great to hear such good feedback from the client.

But some days, it’s awful. It’s rough, people yell at you, you feel tired and wonder what you’re doing working for people who especially hate you because you’re an outsider and think they have a right to treat you like dirt because they pay you a lot of money.

I don’t talk about all the bad stuff because I can’t unless I heavily disguise it for the blog, which distorts what I actually do.

The other hard thing is the travel. It sounds glamourous to people who don’t travel for business, but it isn’t for pleasure when I move from city to city.

I only like to travel for fun (but even then, I HATE it because of my sensitivity to motion sickness).

I usually end up in cities I hate working in, or even if I love it, I may only be in that city for a short time, or be so exhausted from commuting that I collapse on the bed when I get home.

You are also the one-person-show as a consultant. You are everything you take for granted in companies — salesperson, public relations rep, problem solver, accountant or bookkeeper, travel agent, budgeter, human resources, career advice, medical & health benefits, client-soother, representative for your name and so on.

I also can’t tell you how to become a consultant

What slightly bothers me is when people email me without any solid idea of what they have to offer as skills, and then expect me to tell them how to find and crack open the golden egg of wealth.

I can’t tell you what you’re good at, and I can’t tell you how to make money with your skills.

Only you can do that, but I can ask you questions to help you find that path (see below).

You need to find your own path for this, and it may turn out that consulting is simply not for you and working a full-time job at a company is far better than trying to find contracts here and there for a month or two.

The stress may not be worth it if there isn’t enough work to go around.

Also, you don’t need to be making SOOOO much money to become wealthy. You just need to stop spending so much, have a budget, track your expenses and live way, way below your means.

This is true for any income level. My motto is: The more I make, the less I spend. The rest? I save.

What I can tell you is the following:

You can start by joining companies and getting experience to use later on as a consultant, but frankly, many industries are not open to consulting after you’re an employee. Basically, you’d have to be in an industry that is full of companies that need help and expertise in their own industry or niche.

Really, you could work 30 years in an industry and not be able to transition to being a consultant.

It really depends.

For instance, you could probably be a consultant for the oil industry if you were awesome at helping figure out and predict WHERE to drill. Oil companies will pay big bucks to someone, even at a quarter of a million a year, if they can hit a motherlode of oil that will bring in billions.

Or if you’re really into numbers and statistics, you can help the insurance industry predict (sadly) the most “profitable” products and services to target and to show them the upcoming trends of what will be in demand in the future (e.g. Baby Boomers retiring = a market for what?).

What I’ve noticed is that if you transition from being an employee, your experience and title matters.

Many C-level executives or directors become freelancing consultants to help other companies grow and manage their businesses better, but they worked hard to get where they are, and they worked hard for that insider knowledge.

They also have the knack for turning around companies, proven by their rise in the ranks. Or they simply know how to sell their skills and deliver value to the client, and they can say: I back this up by having turned around this department in 6 months, achieving a savings of $1 million a year.

So what do you do?

Ask yourself the following: What skills do I have (hard or soft) that are able to be sold to companies, that they would be willing to pay for?

Once you get a list, then ask yourself: How much can I charge, per hour or by project, and would it be better than working full-time at a job?


  • No health benefits/insurance/coverage
  • No “sick days” — you don’t show up, you don’t get paid
  • No retirement benefits
  • No one to lean on for knowledge or help
  • You will NOT be working full-time as a freelancer
  • You will have to be able to continually find work
  • You will have to know how to save for the lean years
  • Need to hire an accountant or do the books yourself

A lot of freelancers I know went into it for a year or two, couldn’t handle the stress of not being able to work all the time or find steady contracts (they made HALF what they made as employees) and went back to being an employee for a more stable income.

So what do you charge?

A good rule of thumb is to look at what you’re paid now: $40,000 let’s say.

That’s $20/hour ($40,000 / 2000 hours in a year).

You will at a minimum HAVE to charge $40/hour, because you have to factor in all of the above “perks” that don’t come with working for yourself.

Then you have to save all your money, pay for your own health bills and dental care and handle everything on your own.

To get contracts, you also don’t just apply to online ads that say: Looking for a general consultant to pay a lot of money for doing nothing but waxing poetic at the office while asking for random facts and statistics!!!!

That would just be too damn easy.

Cold calling a company also won’t work unless you have done your research and you KNOW that they need someone like you. Then you have to go in there with your experience, your background, proven results and get them to give you a chance to present.

After that, you have to present and sell them on your services. Not easy things to do, when companies are looking to save their dollars and use them wisely… let’s say, on their machines or their employees, not on a consultant whom they are not sure of.

Companies already know what they want, and if your skill sets don’t fall into what they want, then you are out of luck.

They usually want specialized skill sets, like if you know how to set up, operate, train and run a manufacturing device that is brand new and cutting edge on the market.

If they need people to come in and do that for them, then you can be a ‘consultant’ who helps them set up such a manufacturing device, or to improve their numbers as an efficiency expert.

Anyway, all of that I mentioned above?

Needs experience and SKILL.

You have to have something concrete you can offer to clients, and they will see the value in paying you because you have been there, and done that.

You KNOW the job, and they can see that if you came in to help them, they would save X amount of dollars per year in increased efficiency, or whatever other return on investment they can deduce from your suggestions.

So that’s it folks. 🙂

Consulting is a broad, vague term that covers anyone from a social media consultant (someone who helps you set up a Twitter account and Facebook page) to an efficiency expert (as described above) and more often than not, a better pay isn’t quite that easy or simple to come by.

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.