Should you go consulting?

Should you start your own consulting business? Here's a helpful guide to help you decide whether becoming a self-employed professional is the right idea for you and your goals.

What you'll learn in this consulting starter guide

In this guide, learn more about what a self-employed professional is and why it's a great career option. Clarify your purpose, values and goals, and define a compelling value proposition for your business.

What you’ll learn:

  • What a self-employed professional is.

  • Different self-employment modes.

  • Why self-employment is a great career option.

  • The skills you need to succeed as a self-employed professional.

  • How to get clear on your purpose, values and goals.

  • How to write your Statement of Intent.

Who this guide is for:

  • Employed professionals who are thinking about going out on their own.

  • Contractors considering a shift into consulting.

  • Consultants who want to get clear on their intentions and future.

How ready are you to go consulting? Take the quiz!

Should you go consulting? Take this handy quiz to see what you most need to work on to take the leap into consulting and self-employment.

Take the quiz now!

What is a self-employed professional?

There are lots of options aside from working in an employed job - and there’s never been more ways to become self-employed.

However, if your social network is filled with people claiming to be self-employed, it can be confusing to work out who’s credible, and what they’re really doing.

Maybe you’ve seen ‘influencers’ or ‘course creators’ online and you’re dubious about looking like another online wannabe.

In this section, find answers to questions like:

  • What's the difference between contractors and freelancers?

  • How is a thought leader different to an influencer?

  • What's the difference between a contractor and a consultant?

Six modes of self-employment


  • Temporary employee for a specific organisation

  • Offer services on a temporary or project basis, scoped by the employer

  • Self-employed

  • They are not generally required to undertake management, marketing or sales activities.


  • Self-employed

  • Offer services on a project basis, usually scoped by the client

  • Hired by organisations to provide specific services, such as writing, graphic design, or web development.

Business or Agency Owners

  • Own their own business

  • Offer various products or services - may be scoped independently or by the client.

  • Responsible for all business aspects, including management, finance, marketing, and sales.

  • Business owners have employees and may have a longer-term vision for the business.

Thought Leaders

  • Experts in their field

  • A trusted source of information in their industry

  • Independent ideas that inspire new thinking and action

  • Maybe authors, speakers, or consultants

  • Tend to have a large following on social media or a website

  • Responsible for all business aspects, including management, finance, marketing, and sales.

Influencers and Course Creators

  • Tend to have a large following on social media or a website

  • Often focus on teaching a skill or providing information on a particular subject

  • Help people to learn new things and improve their knowledge

  • Usually paid by brands or companies to promote their products or services to their followers

  • Known for their ability to influence their followers’ buying decisions

  • Responsible for all business aspects, including management, finance, marketing, and sales.

Self Employed Professionals (SEPs)

  • Experts in their field

  • A trusted source of information in their industry

  • Independent ideas that inspire new thinking and action

  • Own their own business

  • Offer various products or services, scoped independently or in partnership with a client.

  • Responsible for all business aspects, including management, finance, marketing, and sales.

As you can see, the different kinds of employment vary based on expertise, independence, agency, diversity and responsibility.

There is no correct answer – your chosen path will depend on your skills, reputation, comfort level and preferences.

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How to Choose Your Self-Employment Mode

Small Steps

If you want to take a small step, perhaps on the side of your current employment, freelancing or contracting could be a great place to start. This way, you gain comfort with managing time, money and deliverables without the guardrails of employment.

Business Builder

If you’re hoping to build a business or agency, test the waters with a SEP model unless you have a partner or are already experienced in running a business.

High Profile

If you want to become a high-profile thought leader, influencer, or course creator but haven’t yet gained enough experience consulting in your field, I would also advise starting as a SEP.

Then, you will have the reputation to back up your claims (rather than becoming another snake-oil salesman in the Wild West of the Internet.)

Self-Employed Professional

If the SEP description sounds like you… you’re in the right place. Check out Consultants of Choice to learn how to make this business model work for you.

Why you should consider self-employment

Self-employment is an alluring prospect for many. It’s a chance to live your life on your own terms, to achieve more fulfilment and meaning from your career, and to earn enough money to create the lifestyle you desire. 

But not everyone manages to create the self-employed lifestyle they were hoping for. Many self-employed professionals find themselves trapped in a situation where they’re overworked, underpaid, unhappy – or even all three! 

There are three great reasons to become self-employed:

  1. Flexibility in how you live your life

  2. Fulfilment in the work you do

  3. Financial rewards for taking a risk on yourself.

1. Flexibility

Self-employment offers a shot at freedom, autonomy and independence. You have unlimited potential for professional development and growth and absolute responsibility for making that happen.

When you design your business, begin how you mean to continue. Many consultants are so nervous about being unable to attract clients that they take on more than they can handle and make compromises they’d rather not have to. However, you risk getting burnt out if you don’t draw some boundaries early.

Before you start your SEP journey, ask yourself a few critical questions so that you can build your business with flexibility in mind:

  • What aspirations do you have for your life that haven’t to do with work?

  • What kind of work/life balance will you need to achieve these?

  • What kind of people do you most like working with?

  • How do you most prefer to work – location, time, relationships, etc.?

  • What boundaries will you need to draw around your time, energy and personal life?

2. Fulfilment

Two of the biggest frustrations experienced by employed professionals are the compromises they make in their values and the deficit they see in their impact.

They do great work, only to be hamstrung by corporate constraints, bureaucracy and delays.

Self-employment offers a career pathway outside those constraints, where you can have the impact you’ve been craving for your entire career.

However, this won’t happen by accident. Those constraints on progress and impact are there for a reason, and unless you’re clear on the difference you want to make in the world, you’ll find yourself in the same trap.

Even the most well-intentioned SEPs can find themselves working with clients they don’t like or doing work they don’t believe in.

In the early days, when you’re designing your business, consider some of the following:

  • What are your most important values?

  • What does success look like to you?

  • What kind of work are you not willing to do?

  • What are your criteria for clients and projects?

How ready are you to go consulting? Take the quiz!

Should you go consulting? Take this handy quiz to see what you most need to work on to take the leap into consulting and self-employment.

Take the quiz now!

3. Financial Rewards

So many consultants are struggling with cash flow – despite entering self-employment hoping to bring more home than they were in their jobs.

This is usually a result of inaccurate pricing calculations, fear and under-charging. When you’re used to a salary, you compare your chargeable hourly rate to that rather than the time you spend on your business and the value you bring to clients.

Some people are so grateful to have any work and to achieve the kind of freedom and fulfilment they’ve been craving that they feel uncomfortable charging appropriate rates.

But values are not incompatible with value, and if you don’t capture enough of that value for yourself, you’re choosing to take a purpose penalty – when it isn’t needed.

Here is some helpful advice for determining how you price your services:

  • Calculate the value of your work to clients (How much time, money or energy will this save my client? What is the value of my long-term expertise to their business?)

  • Consider the total amount of time you spend in your business (Chargeable time is rarely more than 50%. This necessitates an immediate doubling to capture your target hourly or daily rate)

  • Compare your rates to your target competitors (What are people paying for this kind of service? Remember to consider all their add-ons and extra staff in this number, and add it to your business-of-one rate.)

Are you cut out for self-employment?

Self-employment isn't for everyone. It's risky, it requires a huge amount of self-motivation and a high tolerance for rejection.

If you're wondering whether you're cut out for self-employment, check out the below list for what makes a great SEP.

Great SEPs have eight skills in common:

  1. Expertise

  2. Communication

  3. Problem-solving

  4. Organisation

  5. Self-motivation

  6. Flexibility

  7. Networking

  8. Risk-taking

Great consultants are:

Highly informed and experienced in their industry or subject matter

You should have a deep understanding and expertise in your industry or area, relevant experience, and a genuine passion and interest in improving things. Otherwise, you’re a snake-oil salesman and won’t last long!

Great communicators - verbally and in writing.

You’ll be talking to people… a lot. If you’re not good at chatting to potential clients, writing copy, drafting proposals, preparing great reports and working closely with clients, your business won’t fulfil its potential. The best SEPs are confident in clearly and effectively communicating verbally and in writing.

Excellent problem-solvers who thrive in complexity

People are hiring you to take their problems away because they don’t have the time, expertise or skills required to do it themselves. These problems will be complex - otherwise, they’d already be solved. You’ll spend most of your time taking initiative, digging deeper and finding solutions, so having the ability to think critically and creatively is vital.

Super-organised and totally onto it

You will be responsible for every part of your enterprise at the beginning: admin, sales, marketing, operation, comms and delivery. You’ll be managing multiple tasks, clients and projects at a time, so you'll struggle if you’re not a great juggler and time management isn’t your forte.

Self-motivated and disciplined

Starting a business isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s challenging work, and finding the motivation to get up every day and keep going, especially in the early days, isn’t always easy. No boss keeps you on task, so SEPs need the grit to stick to their goals and focus.

Flexible and adaptive to change

Your business, clients and projects will always change, and there will always be a new spanner in the works for you to handle. If you’re not good at rolling with the punches and pivoting quickly, business might not be for you. 

Savvy and enthusiastic networkers

Building and maintaining relationships with clients and other contacts is the lifeblood of your business. Great SEPs are confident about putting themselves out online and at events, following up on opportunities and new contacts, and connecting people with mutual interests.

Keen risk-takers

Starting a business involves taking a lot of risks - there’s no way of knowing whether your new idea will work, your clients will come through, or whether you’ll make enough money to cover your mortgage in the first few months. If you’re not comfortable leaping, don’t do it!

How ready are you to go consulting? Take the quiz!

Should you go consulting? Take this handy quiz to see what you most need to work on to take the leap into consulting and self-employment.

Take the quiz now!

What are you looking for in your career?

It would be best if you had a clear idea of WHY you’re going into business, before you work out what you’ll do, who you’ll help, and how your business will run.

This clear sense of purpose and intention will keep you on track when everything is complex or uncertain.

Before we launch into designing your new business, we need to bring your why together, which we can use as a guiding light for the decisions we make from now on.

Work on a personal Statement of Intent (SOI), which will include three key things:

  • Your purpose: What do you think you were put in this world to do? What change do you want to see in the world? What problems do you want to solve, and what needs do you want to meet? What lights you up?

  • Your core values: What are your ethical standards and bottom lines?

  • Your goals: What do you want out of your life and out of your business? How will one serve the other? Set short and long-term goals to keep you focused and on track.

You’ll achieve maximum fulfilment from your business if it helps you to get closer to your purpose

Purpose gets a bad rap. It’s the domain of the out-of-touch woke millennials who spend more time thinking about working than actually doing it… want to shirk the real work… right?


The purpose isn’t fluff – it’s a responsibility. It’s how we get motivated and determines the energy we bring to others. Purpose is not about transcendence or self-development. It’s about tapping into the potential to do work that matters by clarifying why it matters.

Mark Manson, author of Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope, tackles purpose head-on. He recommends seven things we should consider when trying to find ours. You can read his full advice here or for the summary.

In brief, he suggests asking:

  1. What struggle or sacrifice are you willing to tolerate? The thing you’re most inclined to struggle with and stick with is a good start.

  2. What did you love to do that you were truly passionate about as a child, even if you weren’t rewarded for it?

  3. What do you get obsessed with? The stuff that you get so focused on you forget to eat or sleep? Look at the principles behind those things and use them for good.

  4. How would you like to embarrass yourself? The more scared you are of doing something, the more likely you are to do it.

  5. What problem do you care enough about to start solving it?

  6. What would you most want to do with your time if you had nothing else to do and nowhere else to go?

  7. What would you want to be remembered for if you knew your life was ending?

This conception of purpose is ideal in its simplicity. Discovering your purpose is about finding the things that are bigger than you, not so you can accomplish world-changing achievements, but so you can spend your limited time as well as possible.

Spend some time with Manson’s questions, and think about how to draw on those in your business. If it all looks overwhelming, try these:

  • What do you think you were put in this world to do?

  • What change do you want to see in the world?

  • What problems do you want to solve, and what needs do you want to meet?

  • What lights you up?

You’ll attract right-fit clients and thrive in your work if you operate in alignment with your values.

Every day, we decide how we spend our time, attention, and energy. Those actions reflect our values. When we know and live our values, we’re more connected to our behaviour and can focus on what matters.

Living your values is extraordinarily freeing. You can let go of everything else when you know what you’re not willing to compromise.

Core values express who you are, not necessarily how the world should be – which gives you the freedom to put a stake in the ground and be the master of your destiny and bring that into your business.

To find your values, try asking what you most detest in others. The reverse is what you care about. If stinginess is upsetting, then you value generosity. If lateness offends, you value promptness. If groupthink grinds your gears, you value independence.

  • For bonus points, try upgrading your values.

    Replace low-level values with more abstract versions. If you chase money, seek freedom. If you crave popularity, prioritise connection. Most importantly, commit to values that you have agency over.

    You can’t always control how much money you have or whether people like you, but you can control how you manage your time and how genuine you are.

    Try these three questions to determine your core values:

    • What do you detest or resent in others, especially at work?

    • What matters most to you? How will you protect this?

    • What are your bottom lines that you refuse to cross?

Focusing your limited time and energy requires clarity on your most important goals.

Now that you’ve decided SEP life is for you, you’re clear on your purpose, and you know your values, it’s time to set some goals for your new life and venture.

Consider goals around your:

  • Lifestyle

  • Finances

  • Professional development

  • Service outcomes

  • Personal growth

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Lifestyle: How do I want to spend my time? What activities and pursuits do I enjoy and want more time for?

  • Financial: What are my big-picture financial goals? i.e., paying off mortgages, having a passive income, and saving for retirement. How much will I earn monthly or yearly to achieve my financial goals?

  • Professional development: What technologies, methodologies, best practices, challenges and opportunities do I need - and want? - to know more about? What skills and knowledge do I need to acquire to stay competitive? Are there specific skills or certifications required to establish my expertise?

  • Service outcomes: What are the most pressing challenges facing my industry or niche? Which of these do I want to play a role in addressing? How can I measure the impact of my work on my clients, customers, and the wider community?

  • Personal growth: What kind of person do I want to be? How do I want people to describe me? What weaknesses do I most want to work on? What strengths of mine do I want to build on? What passions or interests do I want more of in my life?

How to set goals

Once you’ve considered how you want to shape your life, business and impact, express these as a series of 3-5 straightforward, specific, measurable goals.

Here’s some handy tips as you shape up those goals:

  • Be specific: Instead of saying, "I want to improve my marketing skills", set a goal to "Learn and implement digital marketing strategies to bring 1,000 people to my website in the first three months".

  • Make it measurable: You can track your progress and know when you've achieved it. For example, "Land six new clients in the next 12 months” or “Generate $100,000 in revenue in the next 90 days” are measurable goals.

  • Set a deadline: Give yourself a deadline to achieve your goal to create a sense of urgency and motivation to complete the work. For example, "Develop and launch a new product within the next three months".