If the idea of providing insight and advice to businesses sounds like a promising career, then becoming a business consultant could be a good fit for you.
Although many consultants have a college degree, you may not, which is fine. You might not have the time or money to go to college right now, but you still want to get started. I know the feeling.
This article will discuss how to become a business consultant without a degree.
What is a Business Consultant?
A business consultant has many of the same responsibilities as any other consultant, only focusing on solving business problems. Business consultants are brought in to improve performance, suggest strategies, and prevent future problems from arising. As a result, consultants often become trusted partners of various companies.
Business owners usually seek the help of a business consultant when they don't have in-depth knowledge and expertise in a specific area of operations. Or, in some cases, they may have the expertise, but not the time or on-site resources required to fix a particular issue, so hiring a consultant is more efficient.
What Does a Consultant Do?
As a consultant, you will fill in the gaps your client has identified in their business. You'll provide an expert opinion, make recommendations, and develop strategies to help solve their problems. In addition, consultants are great communicators and use real-world data to support their objective observations and decisions.
Consultants are often brought in for new energy and to look at things differently.
As a consultant, you will meet with business owners and team members, collect and analyze data, and communicate your findings. Once presented, the business owner will decide on a plan of action. They may simply use your insights and go it alone. However, if they're serious about solving their problem, they will hire you to formulate and execute a strategy.
Most consulting work is based on a contract with a specific time frame to deliver your findings. Consultants also need to display outstanding professionalism at all times.
How Much Money Do Consultants Earn?
The salary of a business consultant can vary significantly based on factors such as location, experience, education, and specific skills. In the United States, the average salary for a business consultant, according to Glassdoor, is approximately $98,323 per year.
However, a consultant's salary can range from as low as $55,000 to as high as $121,000 per year.
Just as an example… the average business consultant salary in Richmond, Virginia, is around $77,105, with a typical range between $63,803 and $94,789.
The salaries of business consultants can also vary widely across the US, ranging from $16,620 to $447,665, with a median salary of $81,226, using pay statistics from Comparably.
ZipRecruiter is another source we can reference, and they also peg the US average at slightly over $80,000 ($83,130 to be exact), or just shy of $7,000 per month…
Of course, these figures are averages, and how much you earn will vary based on various factors. For example, when starting out with little or no experience, you might consider taking on clients for free just to build your reputation, get positive testimonials, and even referrals.
It's also important to remember that your rate as an owner of a consulting business is significantly higher than the rate paid to a consultant employee, and although you'll have expenses that employees don't, you will also have tax advantages and a higher overall ceiling to your earning potential.
Benefits of Becoming a Consultant
There are several advantages to becoming a consultant. They include:
- Being in control of the days and hours that you work. You can manage your time without being tied down to an office.
- Consultants are compensated well. It's especially true as you build your brand and track record for success. You'll be able to set your price and terms.
- New challenges always come up. You will rarely find yourself bored as a consultant. Companies and clients will always present unique obstacles for you to overcome. Days are fast-paced, and you have to think on your feet a lot.
- You will build a fantastic network. Consultants meet with new people constantly, and you will have important decision-makers in your network.
- Growth can occur rapidly. Your work ethic and drive can determine a lot as a consultant. You won't be at the mercy of a boss to assess your potential.
Drawbacks of Becoming a Consultant
A consultant may sound like your dream job, but there are also some challenges, including:
- A lot of “elbow grease” to get going. Expect to spend at least 60-80 hours a week once you get started. This may not be every week but be prepared to be diligent about managing your time.
- Finding clients. It's challenging when you're starting a new side hustle, so you'll have to learn how to market your services.
- Lots of traveling involved. Successful consultants often expand their services to multiple states. You may even find you're only home a few days a week or less. Therefore, expenses can add up quickly.
- Expectations are always set to the highest level. Consultants are viewed as experts, and you will have little wiggle room for error. Frequent mistakes will hurt your reputation and could cost you clients.
- It can get lonely. If you have to travel for clients, you will be away from your family and friends. Also, many consultants have solo operations. It can be hard to be by yourself all the time (although for some, this may be the best part of being a consultant).
- Deadlines are strict, and you are hired to get results under a tight schedule. Self-discipline and persistence are needed to be successful.
Starting a Consulting Business Without a Degree
One of the biggest challenges getting into consulting is starting. Where do you begin?
There are many ideas and pathways for consultants, but the best plan is to begin as soon as possible and make adjustments along the way. In other words, if you wait for the perfect time, you'll always be waiting. There is no perfect time.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't be prepared though.
Some may want to hold off starting a consulting business until they finish college, and for some that will be the right decision. Procrastination though, can cause you to spin your wheels. There is much you can accomplish without a degree and if you're not planning on getting one currently, you shouldn't let that hold you back.
Start consulting as a side hustle, and avoid areas of operation where incorrect advice could lead to legal issues. These might include things like accounting, human resources, etc.
Instead, you can help small businesses with inventory management, more effective purchasing procedures, training phone staff, planning cost-effective delivery schedules, social media marketing, etc.
Much of the knowledge you gain from consulting comes from real-life practice and experience, not from books. In other words, you must be willing to fail. You will have wins through trial and error, and your successes will build confidence.
In addition, many potential clients will find your ability to build your consulting business from scratch admirable and proof in itself that you have experience.
Consulting is a continuous learning process that takes patience. So be prepared to get down and dirty with lots of practical experience, which begs the question…
What if you don't have any experience?
Starting a Consulting Business Without Experience
Determination is essential to succeed without experience as a consultant. There will be ups and downs, but your ability to stay focused and not give up will set you apart from others. Consulting is not a nine-to-five job where you work and come home. You should expect to go outside of your comfort zone, and it's in those situations that growth occurs.
Decide What Kind of Consultant You Should Be?
First, determine what area of operations you want to focus on. You'll need to concentrate on your experience and existing skills. It will be difficult to make recommendations if you have limited knowledge or experience, but nothing is impossible.
You may have worked in a warehouse shipping and receiving, for example. If that were the case, you would have been exposed to procedures involving logistics, inventory control, etc.
Or, you might be an expert in social media, setting up profiles, and building a network of followers.
There are multiple areas of consulting that also include growth strategies, operations, financial, information technology, and human resources. Of course, you can't advise on financial matters if you don't have financial education and experience. Human resources is also an area that requires a higher education.
But starting out in areas of lesser consequence will help you build a consulting business that grows into other departments. You may choose to hire experts in various fields or even get a degree yourself while also running your business part-time.
Types of Consultants
There are several types of fields to apply your consulting knowledge. Business consulting is the most common, and the one you're interested in the most. But you might consider other types of consulting if they match your background. Some different types of consultants, in addition to business, include:
- Education – All levels of education, from primary to college, need constant support.
- Healthcare – It's an industry that's always looking for continuous improvement. You will work with healthcare administrators and staff to identify problems and develop efficiencies.
- Information Technology (IT) – There are a lot of specialties in this area, and consultants are always in demand. An IT consultant works with the other fields listed here, setting up networks for businesses, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, etc.
- Sales – Sales consultants provide support to sales representatives and managers. They may help with closing strategies, new business acquisition, account management, etc.
- Safety – As a safety consultant, you will assist with weekly or monthly safety meetings discussing industry related hazards and methods to eliminate or mitigate them.
Set Up an LLC
As a business owner, you must set yourself up for legal liabilities and tax purposes. The most effective way is to start an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation).
The primary benefit of forming an LLC is personal asset protection. In addition, an LLC limits the responsibility of the owner, which means you (as the LLC owner) are not personally responsible for debts incurred by your business or business-related litigation.
The other benefit of setting up an LLC (in addition to registering your business being a requirement) is choosing how you are taxed and properly claiming business expense deductions.
Find Your USP (Your Unique Selling Proposition)
Now that you've registered your business, it's time to plan. Becoming a successful consultant (or any business owner) is about becoming the best known in your particular field or specialty.
How can you differentiate yourself from the competition?
Think about what your customers need that other consultants are not offering. For example, it may be working on weekends or straight-line strategies that eliminate redundancies (or add redundancies in situations where they are required).
Your USP (or Unique Selling Proposition) is simply being the best at what you do in most cases. Providing exceptional expertise and having a consistent track record of solving your client's problem.
USPs help you communicate your specific brand. When business owners talk amongst themselves, your name consistently comes up when particular solutions are required.
Research other companies and competitors with successful USPs. What makes them different? Why do they have the reputation they have? How do they communicate their USP to their clients?
Take Classes and Acquire Certifications
Credentials and experience are an excellent combination to start building your consulting business. If you get started without a degree, you can begin taking baby steps towards gaining more knowledge. You can take introductory classes at a local university and work on adding specific certifications to your consulting field.
Additional knowledge is vital if you work in a constantly changing field like IT or operations that are susceptible to advances in technology.
You will need to hold yourself accountable to keep learning and stay current with your industry. Additional training can also help you bring fresh ideas to the table.
Work For Experience, Not Money
Many people who start consulting expect that they will be rich right away. Young entrepreneurs see their peers on social media flexing their success. But ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it's not real. The actual average age of successful entrepreneurs is 45.
Don't be afraid to work for pennies or even offer your services for free to gain experience.
You will find out early it takes time to build your reputation and gain the authority to charge clients your desired cost. Success follows experience, and you don't go into consulting to get-rich-quick. Contrary to what wannabe “influencers” and fake gurus would have you believe, there is no such thing as get-rich-quick.
Work Towards a Degree While Consulting
You might not have a degree now, but a college degree is a perfect complement to consulting. As mentioned earlier, you can start consulting now as a side hustle and get your degree in the process.
And a degree is an excellent backup plan should you find out that consulting is not for you.
In addition, a degree could be the added confidence you need to grow your business and for clients to choose you as their consultant.
Some degrees you might consider are business, entrepreneurship, healthcare, or education, just to name a few.
Finally, a degree will demonstrate your ability to think critically and provide solutions.
Start Your Own Non-Consulting Business
What better way to get good at business-related skills than to start your own business. I know you're probably anxious to start as a consultant sooner rather than later. You're reading this to become a consultant, after all.
However, nothing will stand out on your list of business consulting qualifications more than owning your own business.
Narrow Your Focus
Business owners are jacks of all trades. They are strong at some aspects of their business and weak (or disinterested) in others. So they hire consultants who are experts in those areas they are not particularly good at or just don't have time to commit to.
Your goal as a consultant is to be better at that one thing. You may be an expert social media marketer, for example, or a big-picture strategist who helps business owners who barely have time for their day-to-day tasks.
Without a degree or experience, it's an unrealistic expectation to become a high-paid consultant overnight (or even within a few months). Becoming a successful consultant is like anything else. It takes time, effort, practice, continuous learning, etc.
It would be unfair to you and your clients to expect anything less.
If becoming a successful consultant is what you really want, then it's worth doing well. It's worth the long-term commitment needed to acquire the knowledge, skill, and experience a successful consultant needs.
It might not feel like it at times, but failure is your friend. Failure is how you learn. Failure is how you grow. Failure is how you improve. The more failures you endure, the faster you'll reach success.
The best consultants are those with the most failures under their belt. They've learned from them and applied those lessons to succeed.
Of course, you don't want to let your clients down, but you won't get good without making mistakes. Failure is inevitable, and with it comes insight and experience that future clients will pay handsomely for.
Don't Stop Learning
Being a successful consultant often requires more than specialized knowledge in a particular area. You must also develop soft skills, like effective communication and leadership capability. In addition, you should get good at planning and organization so you can identify your client's needs quickly, accurately and develop efficient strategies.
Learn and take courses in other aspects of business to better understand and empathize with your client's needs. They will appreciate your ability to “speak their language.”
No matter what you do, being a well-paid high-demand professional requires excellence. This applies to everyone from athletes to artists, executives, doctors, lawyers, and yes… consultants.
Clients pay for expertise acquired through experience and continued education. They want a consultant who can confidently and quickly fix whatever problem they have because you've dealt with it before. You've experienced it in various types of businesses and situations, and you know how your solution will play out with a high degree of certainty.
But pursuing excellence is about more than solving your client's problems. It's about increasing your confidence and self-esteem. It's about chasing goals and never getting bored. It's about respect and recognition. These are all intangibles that can't be bought. They can only be earned.
Finding Clients and Building Your Business
The lifeblood of any business is clients and customers. But where do you find them?
Where to Find Clients
There are many places to find consulting clients. You can start with friends and family, then move on to local businesses, non-profits, government agencies, and national companies.
You can also search online and use social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook to connect with people who need help.
The answer depends on what kind of consultant you are and how much experience you have.
Work for Free
Of course, your goal is to become a high-paid consultant one day, but when you're starting out and building your roster of clients, consider working for free. You will gain valuable experience and build relationships that will serve you well throughout your career. Not to mention referrals.
And, as mentioned multiple times already, failure is inevitable. You will make mistakes, and you will learn along the way.
It's a lot better to earn those scars from clients you're not charging.
They will be more understanding and supportive, even sharing their own insights and experience with you. If you approach them right, they'll be proud to be a part of your journey and witness your growth throughout your consulting career.
Of course, not all clients will be good, but some will be. You never know. Some might even become lifelong friends and a resource for future opportunities and relationships.
Build Your Network
You should begin networking as you gain experience and acquire new clients, relationships with vendors, etc. This means connecting with people who know people who could refer work to you.
This is a great way to grow your network because it gives you access to new contacts and opportunities.
Networking is often the difference between success and failure.
Landing a Job at a Consulting Firm
Maybe you’re not ready to go solo yet, or you just want to dip your toes in the consulting waters before diving headfirst into a business. In that case, you can start working for a consulting firm. It’s like an internship that pays you to learn and you make industry connections.
Why Working for a Consulting Firm Makes Sense
Let’s get real. Starting your own consulting business is a grind. You’re the marketer, the salesperson, the consultant, and the janitor, all rolled into one. But what if you could just focus on consulting? That’s where a consulting job comes in. Some benefits of following this path include…
- Gain Experience and Credibility – You’re surrounded by experts. You’re working on real projects. Every day is a masterclass in consulting. And guess what? That experience is gold when you decide to strike out on your own.
- Build a Network of Contacts – You know that old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? Well, it’s both. Working at a firm gives you access to a Rolodex of contacts that would take years to build on your own.
- Learn the Ropes from Seasoned Pros – Why reinvent the wheel when you can learn from someone who’s been there, done that? These pros can show you the pitfalls to avoid and shortcuts to take.
Preparing a Resume That Gets Noticed
You want your resume to be the one that recruiters can’t ignore. So how do you make it scream, “I’m the one you’ve been looking for!”
Tailoring Your Resume to Consulting Gigs
Generic resumes are a dime a dozen. Customize yours to highlight the skills that consulting firms drool over.
Highlighting Transferable Skills
Maybe you’ve never been a consultant and have no experience. But have you managed a team? Have you solved complex problems? These are transferable skills that should be added to your entry-level consultant resume.
The Importance of a Cover Letter
The cover letter is your elevator pitch. It’s your chance to tell a story that your resume can’t. Make it compelling, make it relevant, and above all, make it you.
Acing the Interview and Making an Impression
You’ve got one shot to make a first impression, I think. Perhaps there’s some debate here and I love a contrarian view. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend you only have one shot at it. What should you do?
Researching the Firm and Its Culture
Know the firm like the back of your hand. What are their values? Who are their clients? Walk into that interview room like you already work there.
Preparing for Common Interview Questions
“Tell me about yourself.” “Describe a challenging situation you’ve handled.” “What are three things weaknesses you have?”
You know the drill. Have your answers ready, but don’t sound like a robot.
Making a Lasting Impression
Be memorable but in a good way. Ask insightful questions. Show enthusiasm. Leave them thinking, “We need this person on our team.”
Another Way To Become a Business Consultant Without a Degree
Rather than starting your own consulting business, you can consult part-time online. Platforms like Clarity are a marketplace where entrepreneurs and new business owners seek advice. As someone with business experience, even if you don't have a degree, you can sign up and get paid as a freelance business consultant.