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  • Writer's pictureHarshal

What can you learn from 236+ years of consulting about starting a consultancy?

Updated: May 6, 2023

I interviewed 40 consultants worldwide to know how they got into consulting.


Have you ever wanted to start consulting? How would you do it?

You are a subject-matter expert. Now all you need to do is set up your business and start work on client projects.

Most people who are experts in their fields but want to start consulting have an incorrect worldview of consulting, which unfortunately leads them to a financial loss. I talked to 40+ consultants who collectively had 236 years of consulting experience.


How similar or different are they from you? Does your motivation to start consulting match with theirs? Does your domain expertise match theirs?


illustration of two consultants pointing to the 236+ years of consulting experience they’ve unearthed in cave paintings.
illustration of two consultants pointing to the 236+ years of consulting experience they’ve unearthed in cave paintings.

Illustration credits to Dall-E 2 Image search. I'll split my learnings into multiple articles to reduce the delay in publishing parts that are ready.


Whom Did I Talk To?

I talked to 40 consultants and might refer to some of them along the way in the article. I am including freelancers, contractors, and agencies too here, because they went through similar challenges and are viable career trajectories for experts in a field.

I learnt countless secrets of the consulting trade thanks to their generosity in sharing their career experiences. I would love to attribute them in the text but

Distribution of years of consulting experience. Bar chart with bucket of years of consulting experience when I talked to them and the number of consultants per bucket.
Distribution of years of consulting experience. Bar chart with bucket of years of consulting experience when I talked to them and the number of consultants per bucket.

What Did I Want To Know?

I asked many questions because I knew so little and wanted to learn so much. Some of those include:

  • How did you decide to start consulting?

  • What was your experience before consulting?

  • How did you get your first client?

  • How do you get your clients?

  • What projects do you work on?

  • Any other advice you have for me?

Poster of The Consultant movie. All of the consultants I spoke with were excellent at interpersonal communication and building relationships. However, the movie portrays an opposite worldview.


Q: How Did You Decide To Start Consulting?

One common motivation was a desire for flexibility and independence, often driven by changes in personal circumstances or dissatisfaction with traditional employment structures. For example, some consultants started their businesses after relocating to new countries, while others cited the need for flexible work arrangements to accommodate family or personal life.

  • “One day was frustrated with the Managing Director and I had a lot of projects on my plate. Decided to quit and start on my own.”

  • “I was married to a military guy, so moved around. So I started consulting.”

Another trend was the desire to learn and grow professionally, with consultants leveraging their existing skills and experience to gain exposure to new industries or roles. For instance, some consultants transitioned from sales or business development to product strategy, while others moved from full-time roles to freelance consulting to gain more operational experience.

  • “I had expertise in sales and Business development, but wanted to get a Product Manager role to eventually be a CEO and Founder. My goal to start consulting was to learn product strategy.”

  • “I was doing data entry. Realized I want to do something else. So, started freelance content writing.”

Some consultants were inspired to start their own businesses after receiving encouragement or opportunities from clients or colleagues. These consultants often had strong track records in their fields and were recognized for their expertise, leading clients to offer them consulting projects. Others were inspired by family members, such as spouses, who had already started consulting and saw the potential for collaboration.

  • “I started out because I was getting a lot of interest from clients in building smarthpone apps in my full-time role. So I thought why not go out on my own.”

  • “I won national sales award for 4 years. One customer was very impressed. He said start a company and I'll pay you.”

Additionally, several consultants cited the appeal of being their own boss and earning side income unrelated to their full-time jobs. Some had always been freelancers and saw consulting as a natural extension of their existing work. Others were motivated by a lack of job opportunities in their specific industries or countries, viewing consulting as a way to bridge the gap.

  • “I decided to start freelancing when I transitioned to part time at the company I had founded. to supplement my income, I began freelance consulting because I couldn't take another full-time job.”

  • “I was always a freelancer. There aren’t a lot of digital jobs in my country.”

Overall, the reasons for starting consulting businesses were diverse, yet generally centered on flexibility, independence, personal growth, and seizing opportunities presented by clients, colleagues, or family members.


What Was Their Experience Before Consulting?

The data reflects varied experience among consultants, with a few having fewer than 5 years, while a considerable portion had 7 to 13 years of experience.

Distribution of years of experience of consultants before they started their business ranging from 0 to 32 years. The data reflects varied experience among consultants, with a few having fewer than 5 years, while a considerable portion had 7 to 13 years of experience.
Distribution of years of experience of consultants before they started their business ranging from 0 to 32 years. The data reflects varied experience among consultants

I did not ask consultant mentors about their experiences before consulting. I wrote this section using either LinkedIn or parts of their stories.


Those who started consulting because of the lack of digital opportunities did it earlier in their career, right from 0 to 3 years of experience. One design consultant was always a freelancer. Another started a solo web design agency when he was fresh out of undergraduate.


Some had 20 years of marketing, sales, or business development experience before starting an agency on one of the skills out of their employment tenure. Those with 20+ years of experience chose to consult to have a balance between income and retirement.


Others had engineering, IT, recruiting, or accounting experience 5-20 years before starting a consultancy in the same skill that they had honed across companies. You can see the Wordart word cloud below.

common experiences before consulting, founding agency, or freelancing.
common experiences before consulting, founding agency, or freelancing.

Next Up…

My upcoming articles will cover my findings on:

  • How did you get your first client?

  • How do you get your clients?

  • What projects do you work on?

  • Any other advice you have for me?


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