There are many benefits to starting a consulting business—flexible hours, unlimited earning potential, the freedom to choose your own clients and projects—and these benefits have made this career choice increasingly popular. In fact, our 2019 State of Independence in America study found that the independent workforce currently stands at 41.1 million people. However, not everyone who is drawn to the prospect of independent consulting may be able, or ready, to dive in with both feet.
Perhaps you’d like to temporarily keep your current job while your consultancy gains traction and begins generating income. Maybe independence interests you but you want to test the viability of consulting in a non-traditional field before leaving your current position. Or, you may simply be unsure of whether the lifestyle of independent work is right for you. In any case, moonlighting as a part-time consultant is an option that can give you the ability to gradually transition from a traditional employment role to that of a full-time consultant. If moonlighting sounds like a viable option you’d like to pursue, keep these three considerations in mind when testing the consulting waters.
How to start a consulting business on the side
1. Review Your Employee Agreement
Any agreements you signed when you came on board with your current employer may include provisions that restrict or limit your ability to freelance as an independent consultant. These restrictions could include non-compete agreements, conflict of interest guidelines, or requirements that mandate disclosure of all outside employment. In some cases, employment agreements may outright prohibit additional employment, or even retain rights to any projects or work you do while employed—even if they are done outside of work.
Before launching your consultancy or taking on a project, obtain a copy of this agreement along with any other restrictions from your company’s HR department so you can make sure you are in compliance. You may also consider consulting an attorney to go over any agreements or language to ensure full understanding.
2. Clearly Define Your Goals
Part-time independent consultants may have unique goals to consider regarding their dual-employment status. While some part-time consultants may plan to moonlight indefinitely, many view their situation as temporary as they transition into full-time independence or as they decide whether to commit to consulting or to their current employer.
From the outset, it’s important to clearly determine what your goals are. These goals should also include a timeline and list of criteria. For example, if you’re planning on transitioning to full-time independence, outline the standards you will use to signal each phase of your transition such as a certain sustained income or number of clients needed to leave your current job. If you’re testing out independent consulting before deciding whether or not to commit, creating objectives as markers of success or failure can help you determine where to focus your career efforts.
3. Manage Your Time Carefully
Starting your own business and landing your first clients can be arduous and time-consuming, particularly if your hours are limited by another job. Make sure to keep the working hours for your two jobs completely separate. Clearly communicate your availability to any current or potential clients so they understand when you are and are not available. Also, take great care to ensure you don’t inadvertently use any resources—time or otherwise—from your current employer in pursuit of your consultancy. In many cases, this may be grounds for termination.
In addition, for any independent worker, maintaining a healthy work-life balance requires a conscious effort. For part-time independents who are also holding down a full-time job, this balance becomes even more difficult. With more hours spent working and fewer hours for yourself, family, and friends, the potential for stress and burnout increases. During this time, be sure to define boundaries and use free time to stay mentally and physically healthy.
4. Join Online Consulting Job Marketplaces
If you believe you have skills that would be valuable to enterprises looking for highly skilled independent talent, start your moonlighting career by joining online job marketplaces like MBO’s marketplace. More and more enterprises are using marketplaces to get direct access to qualified independent talent and often create talent networks so they have a pool of talent available when they need someone for project-based work.
If you’re considering becoming a full time independent consultant, learn how to prepare yourself by reading: How to Transition from a Full Time Job to Self-Employment.
Search independent consulting jobs through MBO’s marketplace