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How to become a freelance HR consultant

Making the decision to become a freelance HR consultant is a big step. You will be your own boss, of course, but your income will depend on the quantity and quality of your clients, as well as how often you work with them. It is a choice that offers huge opportunities in terms of career growth and income, but there are few aspects to consider before you hand in your resignation. 


In this article, we will consider the benefits and risks of going freelance, and how to make the move from employee to independent. 



Why are HR consultants choosing to become freelancers? 


There are definite benefits to working as an employee for a company: fixed office hours, training, a regular salary, sick pay, and pension, among others. So, why are so many HR consultants choosing to become freelancers? 


Becoming an independent HR consultant may mean you forego many of the standard benefits that come with being an employee, but the opportunity for career growth on your own terms can be an enticing proposition. Below we’ll take a look at some of the advantages and risks of becoming a freelance HR consultant. 


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The advantages of becoming a freelance HR consultant


Aside from the ego-boost that comes from being your own boss, there are several practical advantages of becoming a freelance HR consultant, including:


  • Growth opportunities: experienced HR professionals build up a wealth of knowledge during their careers that can be converted into an instant business proposition. With networking, hard work and, of course, the right combination of skills and expertise, freelance HR professionals can build their own personal brand and pursue all opportunities that arise.  
  • Flexibility: freelance professionals enjoy the freedom of arranging their own schedule and being able to organise their work around their family and other commitments.
  • Remote working: during the pandemic, many professionals have relished the work-from-home scenario and are reluctant to return to office working. While in-person contact is key for building relationships with clients, many companies and freelancers are embracing video conferencing technology wherever possible for its convenience and time and cost savings. 
  • Earning potential: companies recognise the value of a skilled HR consultant, whether that’s recruiting the top talent, creating targeted training programmes, or improving employee communications. As a result, the best consultants are in-demand and experienced freelancers can earn considerably more than they would in an employed role. 

The risks of becoming a freelance HR consultant


While the benefits can be appealing, the move to self-employment is certainly not for everyone and not without its risks. Some of the disadvantages of becoming a freelance HR consultant include:


  • Income instability: self-employment is often characterised by peaks and troughs in terms of workload and consequently income. The period when HR consultants are starting out as freelancers, looking for their first few projects and clients, can be particularly daunting, as it may be some time before income starts to arrive on a regular basis. 
  • Loss of work/life balance: while freelancers are, to a degree, free to organise their own schedules, the line between work and home life can sometimes become blurred. Without dictated office hours, it is easy to fall into the trap of frequently working late and missing out on the expected freedom of the freelance lifestyle.
  • No sick pay: if an employee falls ill, they can take time off work to recover and receive sick pay. For self-employed professionals this is not the case; a week off with the flu could mean losing a project or client and the related fee. Freelancers are therefore wise to build in an allowance for potential sick days over the year when setting their hourly rates. Professional insurance that covers lengthy illness is also a must.

How do you become a freelance HR consultant? 


There is no one path to becoming a freelance HR consultant, but there are a number of important steps towards a successful independent career.  



Ensure you have the required training and experience


HR consultants do not need a degree, but most are in fact graduates. The degree subject varies, from specific human resources courses to business management or business administration, for example. You may also have completed a course by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which will improve your knowledge and provide professional credibility.


You will also need several years of experience working as an HR professional in one or more companies, to build up your expertise and inspire trust in your potential clients. 



Plan your transition strategy 


Once you’ve decided to become a freelance consultant, it’s critical to carefully plan your work future. Decide how you want to work, how you will make relationships and whether you intend to specialise in a specific area of HR. 


Ensure you have enough savings or a plan in place in case you do not earn as much income as expected straight away. 



What your transition into an independent HR consultant could look like


The initial period of your freelance HR consulting career will require a great deal of effort to get started and win clients. Networking both on and offline will be key to spread the word about your services. Without being too optimistic, you will be entering a much more open market than the one HR freelancers faced in the past. A few years ago, it was almost unthinkable to find a place in the market as a freelance consultant, but new economic and working dynamics have encouraged many companies to look to HR consultants for advice and guidance. 


Becoming a freelance HR consultant means adopting a new lifestyle: there will be highs but also moments of uncertainty. The idea is to progress and make your mark.



How do I position myself as a freelance HR consultant


Just like any other business, freelance HR consultants need to position their personal brand to demonstrate their expertise and attract the right clients. There are a number of elements you will need to consider. Let’s take a look at these in turn:



Specialisations and unique selling points


For new HR freelancers the temptation is to try to do everything; to widen the net as far as possible to improve the chances of winning new clients. However, generalising too much does not deliver reliable results and exposes you to high levels of competition. Perhaps you will focus on high-level recruitment, or health and safety training. Or maybe your strengths lie in improving employee wellbeing and the workplace environment. 


You cannot become an expert if you try to do everything at once. In contrast, finding your specialist niche market will allow you to take advantage of all the opportunities that arise and build a credible brand.



Define your target group


HR is relevant for all companies, meaning there is a broad range of market opportunities. As we mentioned above, specialisation is key to building a successful brand, and this applies to the companies you target, as well as your service offering. 


Your specialisation may be a natural choice if you have worked in a specific sector during your career, such as recruitment, training, or human resources for technology companies, for example. If you have more general experience, try to focus on one or two areas to build your specialist expertise and reputation.



Analyse the market


Chances are, if you’ve decided to become a freelance HR consultant, you will be an experienced professional. In which case, you will already have a good idea of the types of companies that need the HR support you can offer, the other companies or agencies active in your target market and any evident gaps in the market. Analyse the opportunities alongside your intended specialisms to help define priority targets and your marketing strategy.



Project and client acquisition


Whether you are working full or part time, your goal will be to win clients. Business conferences and networking events are useful for making contacts and spotting potential future clients. Online, ensure your social network profiles demonstrate your qualifications, professional experience and recommendations to increase the chance of converting potential clients. Create profiles on LinkedIn and Instagram, etc, to reach more people and expand your network. You can also create profiles on freelance sites such as Upwork and Freelancer and bid on individual projects.



Develop your marketing strategy 


Once you have pinpointed your specialisations and target groups, you can develop your marketing strategy around them. As we saw above, an active online presence will be key to building your brand, but you should look to combine this with other marketing methods, such as speaking at conferences or attending trade shows, that provide a good opportunity to sell your services to your ideal clients. 

How do I expand my network as a freelance HR consultant? 


As we’ve already mentioned, these days, online social networks such as LinkedIn are an essential networking tool for the freelance HR consultant. Connect with other HR professionals who may be able to offer tips to new freelancers or recommend you to colleagues who may require your services.


You can also partner with other companies in the HR sector, such as recruitment fair organisers or software providers, to build your reputation and offer added value services.

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