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After years in the game, you’ve built up enough experience (and bear enough scars) to consider becoming a freelance HR consultant.

For many, transitioning to freelance provides the opportunity to work on projects that are more interesting to them—normally in a strategic capacity.

But it’s not all sunbeams and rainbows, and moving to freelance consultancy comes with its own set of challenges.

This article aims to help you decide whether becoming a freelance HR consultant is the right move for you and how to approach making the transition.

What Is A Freelance HR Consultant?

A freelance HR consultant is an HR professional who provides expert advice, guidance, and support in various human resources areas on a contract or project basis, rather than being employed full-time by an organization.

Freelance HR consultants may specialize in specific industries or areas within human resources, allowing them to offer tailored advice based on their expertise and experience. 

They work with organizations of all sizes, from startups to multinationals, providing flexibility and specialized knowledge to address specific HR challenges or projects.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

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What Skills Are Needed To Be A Freelance HR Consultant?

To go freelance successfully, you’ll need excellent HR skills and knowledge combined with solid work experience where you can illustrate your expertise and stand out as a consultant.

But now you’re essentially running your own business, so there are some new skills you need to acquire:

  • Sales: pitching your skills and philosophy to new clients
  • Marketing: building your brand and getting your name out there
  • Business admin: running a business: read taxes, insurance, contracts, and legal documents.

You’re going to need to be active in finding new business opportunities and building your brand to attract the projects and clients you want.

This is both daunting and exciting—there’s nothing quite like the kick you get from landing a cool project!

But, on the other hand, you have to be psychologically prepared for rejection and potential lean times.

What’s It Like Being A Freelance HR Consultant?

We asked some successful freelance HR consultants what the journey is like. Words they used were:

  • Enriching
  • Rewarding
  • Fulfilling
  • Joyful
  • Exhilarating
  • Freeing
  • Unpredictable
  • Tumultuous
  • Challenging
  • Isolating
  • Stressful

The occasional need to scream was also mentioned!

“Being a consultant can be really tough, but the feeling of helping clients, providing innovative solutions, that's the best. I love to drive meaningful impact.” - Dan George, CEO, Piper Key

“Being a consultant is an exhilarating and frightening experience that I wouldn’t change for anything. Not only can I make an impact in the way that fits my style, but I get to work with my bestie, share moments with my husband and son, and be in control of my own destiny.” - Keri Ohlrich, Ph.D., CEO, Abbracci Group

“Consultancy is like being a professional problem-solver and matchmaker rolled into one. It's about helping businesses navigate challenges, find solutions, and connect with the right people to achieve their goals. Plus, it's a wild ride filled with ups, downs, and plenty of surprises along the way.” - Elena Agaragimova, Founder, Elena Agar LLC

Step-By-Step Process For Becoming A Freelance HR Consultant

The move to freelance is usually the result of a few factors: disillusion with certain aspects of the in-house HR grind, a passion for a certain specialism and/or industry, changes in life circumstances, freelance work being offered to you with a healthy list of prospective clients.

Once you decide to make the move into consultancy, it’s really about creating an identity for yourself and striking the right balance between demands. 

“To be successful is all about your stages. In the beginning, it's about defining the work you want to do, be specific. The second is to find the type of client, industry, etc you want to have. Once you get a client or two, next is managing your time between client work and biz development. Next/last, is managing admin, finances, and cash flow,” says George.

No two people’s entries into freelance life will look quite the same but, if you’re considering taking the plunge, here are some steps to take:

  1. Assess your skills and experience: Evaluate your current HR skills and experience to identify your strengths and areas for improvement. This is about honing in on what differentiates you in the market and why organizations would want to hire you.
  2. Upgrade your skills: Based on your assessment, take courses or obtain certifications to fill any gaps in your knowledge and enhance your credibility.
  3. Start building a network: Start building a professional network if you haven’t already. Connect with former colleagues and industry professionals, and join relevant HR and business associations.
  4. Create a business plan: Outline your business objectives, target market, services, pricing structure, and marketing strategy. Determine whether you’ll operate as a sole proprietor or establish a legal business entity.
  5. Set up your business infrastructure: Includes incorporating your business and creating a professional website.
  6. Market your services: Use your network, social media, professional platforms like LinkedIn, and local business groups to market your services. Consider offering workshops or speaking at industry events to establish yourself as a thought leader in HR.
  7. Start small: You might begin by taking on small projects or part-time consulting work while still employed (if your current job allows it). This can help you build a portfolio and gain confidence before making the full transition.
  8. Plan your finances: Plan for the financial implications of freelancing, including setting aside money for taxes, health insurance, and periods of fluctuating income. Consider consulting with a financial advisor to set up a solid financial plan.

Some Final Words of Advice

I’m not in HR, but I have been a freelancer and can somewhat attest to the ups and downs of entrepreneurial life. 

Some advice from me is to be methodical and persistent with your sales outreach (it’s not a no until there's a “no”) and aim for projects that excite you because your passion will shine through from the beginning.

Some final words of advice from our experts:

“My number one piece of advice for becoming a successful HR consultant is to never stop learning and adapting. The world of HR is constantly evolving, so staying updated on industry trends, regulations, and best practices is essential. I always say that curiosity will keep you relevant because you will never stop learning and growing. Oh, and don't forget to keep a sense of humor handy—you'll need it!” - Elena Agaragimova

“As a consultant, you have ideas on how you will make money and the value you can bring to the industry and create goals based on these ideas. However, the market, environment, and clients may change and force you adapt your goals and services. Being able to pivot and meet the market demands is critical to being a successful HR consultant. To pivot, you need to hone your creative thinking and problem-solving skills.” - Keri Ohlrich, Ph.D.

“The best independent consultants have two loves... doing the work and finding the work. It's a tough balance, but that's what it takes to survive/thrive.” - Dan George

Join The People Managing People Community

For further advice on going it alone and making the next step in your career journey, join our supportive community of HR and business leaders sharing knowledge and advice to help you grow in your career and make greater impact in your org.

By Finn Bartram

Finn is an editor at People Managing People. He's passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.