Are you ready to freelance? Part I in the Training Entrepreneurs Series

We are fortunate in the field of training and development to have the option of working either within an organization or for ourselves as either internal or external consultants. Many enter the field with the notion of one day transitioning to an independent practice, while others prefer the security of working for someone else. How do you know if you are ready to hang out your shingle? Entrepreneurial success consists of three essential components: timing, niche, and expertise.

Timing refers to where you are in your life, your career, and your motivation. Although there will likely never be a perfect time to start a business, many external consultants strike out on their own during a period of transition: job loss, early retirement, education completion, or changes in a family situation. Life transitions can serve as the impetus for change and maximizing the motivational value of a transition can provide the necessary “push” to start your own business.

Although there are consultants, who offer a broad array of services, the trend today is to carve out a niche or specialization that is in demand. Technology offers many opportunities for consultants who are skilled in E-Learning design, virtual training, mobile training, and virtual reality. Opportunity also lies in more traditional areas. Training in customer service, sales, leadership, and safety are solid standbys that never go out of style. Others focus on a specific aspect of training design, like evaluation, or specialize in a particular field, like medicine or hospitality. A thorough examination of your interests and skills can guide you in identifying your niche.

Finally, consultants must be experts in their fields, bringing their knowledge, skills, and abilities to their clients. Consultants who transition from an established career are in high demand because they have demonstrated their expertise. Unless you have a highly developed skill set or lots of moxie, a business start-up with little prior experience is a challenge. If you are wondering if you are ready to take your talents on the road, take the brief Entrepreneurial Readiness Survey (URL below in Reference).


Entrepreneurial Readiness Survey:

Questions for Discussion

  1. Have you considered a business start-up in training or another field? Why or why not?
  2. What are the rewards or benefits of working as an independent consultant? What are the negative aspects?




  • This article was interesting to read and offers good information for those that desire to be their own boss and be in control of their future and earnings. I have always admired those that take the chance to pursue their own business. I have thought about opening my own business in a field other than training but I have not pursued it. As your blog mentions timing is one essential component. It is important that consultants be experts in their field with an established career. As we get more experience and prove we have the knowlege, skills and experience others will respect our recommendations and pay for it.

  • I think it is important that consultants are experts in the field because when you go into an organization to help, they expect you to be there for them and to have the remedy fix. This is not always the case of having the perfect fix but having the tools and the process to get them there is a vast improvement for what they had before. I think when you are the expert, this includes changing our consulting language to a language that the organization understands and can go along with. People like to have concrete information, facts and language that they can relate to and communicate back so really creating a sense of relatedness with the organization is important before going out and working on your own.

  • I thought the survey link included in this post was very helpful because it can serve as both a self-assessment, as well as a tool for action planning on the competencies that most often translate to success as an entrepreneur. I especially like the linkage between your current day job and what you hope to do in the future. I am planning to open an independent consulting firm focused on leadership competency and change management within organizations. As with all things, there are rewards and challenges. What’s rewarding is the opportunity to work independently, setting the strategy and vision for how you approach your work, develop approaches and models that benefit organizations across industries, flexibility in how work is approach and building many relationships to become a part of your network. Challenges include securing funding, maintaining a consistent clientele base and not having company offered benefits. As a development towards opening an independent business, it can be beneficial for a future entrepreneur to begin free-lancing work to gain experience and a following with a clientele base while working for a larger organization or working for a consulting firm as a compromise.

  • A very timely article; encouraging and realistic! Two points you made were the biggest take-aways for me. The first one is certainly your encouragement to evaluate your disposition or readiness to take the leap into entrepreneurship. It’s attractive but certainly not for everyone, as I have learned firsthand. A potential solution is to align with a company that offers complementary services, such that your expertise can be “sold” as part of a package. While I have been in corporate training for over a decade, I was once able to offer training and coaching services through a search firm specializing in identifying sales people. We found that often the “problem” could be solved by training existing sales staff instead of hiring new ones. The second point I found particularly helpful was emphasizing that the trend today is carving out a niche that is in high demand. Again, while I once thought that offering a variety of capabilities would lead to greater earnings, I am confident now that if I were to strike out again focusing on keeping the saw sharp in one specialty would lead to the greatest outcomes for all.

  • Hello Kathleen,

    Hope you are well. I always enjoy reading your articles. Thank you again for your outstanding professorship while I was in the Training and Development program.

    I started a consulting business just after my early retirement four years ago and then went back to Corporate America. I am out again and working on promoting my consulting business, Managagement Advocate and Training Associates,

    I completed the online assessment and it appears my answers align with what it takes to be an independent consultant. As you may recall, my expertise is in Leadership, Managagement, and Talent Development. That said, it has been challenging aquiring clients.

    Please offer any advice or support and if I can help anyone reading this, let me know.

    All the best,

    Marty, M.A.T.D.

    • HI Marty, it’s good to hear from you. I’m glad you are staying active in the field. As far as suggestions for clients, I suggest attending association meeting to network with others in our industry, getting involved in business oriented community organizations, putting together a portfolio including references from past clients and work samples, and in general, continuing to put yourself out there (like you did here in this post!). Having a digital presence is also important (LinkedIn) is also important. One book I recommend is Michael Hyatt’s Platform: Get noticed in a noisy world. One other option is to offer your services to consulting companies that specialize in training as you can build your resume by subcontracting.

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