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The Corporate Refugee’s Guide to Making Piles of Money as a Solo Consultant

How to turn your contacts, experience, and expertise into a lucrative consulting practice.

I’ve lost track of the number of people I know who have decided to take the plunge into starting a consulting firm . . . and who have asked me for my thoughts, ideas, and insights into doing that.

Admittedly I’m a fan . . . a fan of people taking their destiny into their own hands and starting a business. And specifically, a fan of “consulting” or maybe “advice giving” as a wonderful way to leverage your expertise, experience, and insights.

Generalizing another person’s motivations is always a presumption . . . but I’m thinking by starting your advice business you want most or all the following:

  • The business you deserve . . . you have sweat for your employer for years, not always convinced the folks around you really got what you were about. All I can say is “welcome to the fray.”
  • Something that resembles balance . . . a business that works for you and not the other way around. Don’t let that thought go.
  • To do something meaningful and important . . . your clients will be better for working with you. The world around you will be better because you’re doing this. Keep pushing on that idea.
  • Clients to seek you out the other way around. Good. Keep thinking that way. There are ways to make that happen.
  • To be compensated for the value you bring and the value you create. There is nobody better at what you do than you. Don’t lose sight of that.
  • To build something that has financial value that doesn’t depend on you showing up everyday. Perhaps even wind up with something to sell. Few consultants think about that when they start. Nearly all start thinking that way eventually. You should start thinking that way right now.


There is another side to becoming a consultant.

While in theory anyone with expertise and experience can give advice to someone else, that doesn’t mean “Professional Consulting,” in the sense that you’re doing it for bread money, is for everyone.

  • You’ll have to “sing for your supper.” Constantly. Building a pipeline of clients is probably the single biggest challenge solo consultants face. It’s hard to emphasize this point enough. Let me double underline this point. Doing the work is the easy part. Getting the work is the hard part. If you don’t want to allocate a significant amount of your time to building and maintaining a pipeline of consulting clients and contracts, seriously, do something else.
  • Cash-flows are lumpy. Some of this is a function of your project backlog. Some of this is a function of how you bill and how your clients pay. You’ll most definitely want a financial cushion.
  • If you have work/life boundary issues, consulting can take over your life. Clients want what they want when they want it. If you’re not careful you could wind up living on a plane (ugh). You may find it difficult to take time for yourself and your family.
  • It’s lonely out here. If you’re used to having lots of people around you, direct reports, people to report to, staff to support you . . . well that’s not going to be the case as you start your own business.
  • Bluntly, you will not succeed if you have trouble making plans and following through, organizing your time, organizing your work, or staying on task.
  • There are a lot of jobs that need doing when you start your own business. Only one of those jobs is serving clients. So that means you’re either going to be a crazy multi-tasker or you’ll have to find and manage folks to look after your legal, accounting, billing, paying, office supply ordering . . . you get the idea.
  • The power dynamics are completely different. You’re used to telling people you want something done and it happens. Less so as a consultant.
  • Depending on what you do, you’ll have to move your licenses, get new licenses, figure out how to handle compliance, update certifications, and figure out where and how to get your continuing education.


Not saying these are show stoppers. Just saying be realistic about what you are signing up for.

For some, consulting will be a resting place before he or she gets another “real job.” I get that. Some of what I have to say will help and apply.

For others, this is a serious decision. “I’m not going back.” If that’s you, if you’re committed to the idea of monetizing your hard-won experience, expertise, and love of your subject matter as an advice giver, carry on . . . well, what I have to tell you will help.

A lot.

Who am I . . . and why you should listen to what I have to say

This would be a good time to tell you something about me and why you should listen to what I have to say.

I’m Kevin Hoffberg.

I have been in the “advice giving” business since 1981, with a big chunk of that time devoted to helping other advice givers build better businesses. During that time, I have done the whole circle of consulting . . . founded, run and sold advice giving businesses; consulted to advice giving businesses; and hired advice givers in my role as entrepreneur owner and senior executive. I think I know this space about as well as anyone.

Some quick highlights. I have . . .

  • Founded or cofounded nearly a dozen advice-giving businesses (and one coffee company). Most were founder-funded, one was venture funded, and one angel funded.
  • Turned my ideas into programs that have generated millions of dollars of revenue for me and my partners. I have literally cashed single checks from clients for more than a million dollars.
  • Helped some of the biggest accounting firms, ad agencies, and financial firms in the world dominate categories and make hundreds of millions in new annual revenues and book billions in new assets by developing breakthrough top line strategies, programs and tactics.


I have been an employee six times.

  1. I worked for Michael Gerber before he wrote his blockbuster book about the e-Myth. He was still trying to figure it out then.
  2. I worked for a General Engineering and Construction firm running the back office. Great example of thinking just because I was smart, I could figure it out. Not my superpower. Massive mistake on my part. I lasted about a year.
  3. My partners and I sold a consulting firm to Onyx, at the time a hot CRM software company. I ran vertical markets, ran competitive intelligence, wrote a book, and did go-to-market consulting for our clients.
  4. And then because I thought it would be interesting to be on the other side, be the executive instead of the advisor, I joined Russell Investments as a Managing Director running US retail marketing.
  5. After “retiring” from Russell (in that case, it was all about getting my non-quals off their balance sheet) I became the Executive Director of an arts organization.
  6. Joined a seed-stage venture capital firm called Ulu Investments.


Add all that up and it’s about ten out of 41 years, half of which were at Russell.

Just to give you an idea, here are some of the big-name firms I have advised.

Arthur Andersen, Advisor Software, Bank of America, Barra, Bristol-Myer Squibb, CapitalOne, CIBC, Colgate Palmolive, Colonial First State (Aus), Commonwealth Bank (Aus), EDS, Ernst & Young, Fidelity Investments (FESCO), Fleet Bank, KPMG, Lloyds / TSB, Microsoft, Russell Investments, Teletech, Trimble, Union Bank, United Utilities, Washington Mutual, Wells Fargo Bank, Wells Fargo Mortgage, Young & Rubicam.

There are more lessons learned from these clients than I can recount here. Having said that, If I were to boil it all down to just a few points, they would be these:

  1. Focus and specialize. Much, much more than you think you should.
  2. Treat people fairly . . . don’t offer someone something you wouldn’t accept if they offered it to you.
  3. Work with “true pros.” Don’t take assignments from clients you don’t like and don’t match up with. Don’t hang around with people who drain your energy. Do hang around with people who bring out the best in you . . . who make you want to be the best version of yourself you can be.
  4. Think “lean.” There is a ton of literature on lean startups. The basic idea is get things into the market as quickly as you can. Minimum Viable Offers. Test, learn, measure, modify, repeat.
  5. Never lose sight of value . . . the value you create for your clients; the value you place on your time, life energy, and expertise. A timesheet is horrible way to measure and compensate you for what you know.
  6. Build a business that makes you smile.

What it takes to succeed as an independent consultant

I use the words “consultant,” “advisor,” and “advice giver” interchangeably to get at what I think is the essence of the thing . . . someone who gives professional advice to someone else. The word professional is the key here.

  1. It suggests your advice is based on hard-won expertise, the kind that might come from academic study, accreditation, years of experience, or deep insight based on your own direct observation. You could be 16 or 60, as long as you know your stuff.
  2. It also suggests that you’re getting paid in some way to provide this counsel. The fact that there is a value exchange is important.


There are lists upon lists of what it takes to succeed at consulting. This treatise will not disappoint in that regard. But let us start with a simple set of thoughts.

  1. You need to be an expert in something.
  2. And people need to see you that way. What I can help you do is package and leverage what you know so you can make more money now and in the future. While working less.
  3. You need clients.Not just anyone with a bank balance. You want ideal clients. This means you need a marketing strategy built to deliver them. Our team can help you.
  4. You need to learn how to package your expertise. What you do needs to be measurable, repeatable, and scalable. That’s how you get to charge the big bucks. Showing up and winging it is how you get to charge the medium bucks I have packaged more IP into sellable consulting and training product than anyone you’ll ever meet. Believe me on this point.
  5. You need to be organized. There will be seven things to distract you before you finish your first cup of coffee. You probably aren’t going to start out with an executive assistant who will organize your calendar and keep you on schedule.
  6. You need support. You will benefit immensely by working with a coach, “accountability partner,” informal advisory board, or mastermind group.


I can think of ten more things that might help, but I think that’s a great starter set and forms the basis of what I have to tell you.

This Program

I don’t know in what form this content will come to you . . . could be a webinar, could be a series of videos, it might be an eBook. Who knows? So, I’m just going to call it a program. Following is the order the content appears, organized by what felt like logical sections.

Section 1: Start Strong

This chapter is about getting properly launched. The idea is to develop working hypotheses about the pillars of a consulting business that fits your superpowers and business objectives. The word “working” is worth underlining. The idea is to get things into the market as quickly as practical so you can start testing, learning, and refining. The topics I cover are as follows:

  1. Scan the Terrain: Some clues about what to research as you get started.
  2. Talk to People: Build deep understanding of the problems, players, and points of view you need to get into the game.
  3. Build on your superpowers (what are you the very best at). This is all about putting yourself in position to be “the very best version of yourself.”
  4. Figure out your ideal clients . . . targeting a specific client niche.
  5. Think through your business model: You have four fundamental ways to think about what you do, how you charge, and whom you serve.
  6. Get hired the first time . . . a simple process for getting work.
  7. How to price what you do . . . you’ll need to revisit this section many times.
  8. A basic project management model . . . the standard order of services for doing custom consulting. Use my model until you come up with something better.
  9. Budget your time . . . the whole point is to exert some control over how you organize your time over the course of many years.


You need to do all those things. I’ll tell you how.

Section 2: Create Killer Offers

Turn the stuff you know better than anyone else into proprietary frameworks, processes, tools, and programs. I’ll explain what I mean by those words later but they should be relatively self-evident. We’ll look at the following:

  1. How to do your own R&D
  2. How and why to create and use Surveys
  3. How and why to create unique Points of View
  4. How and why to create consulting Frameworks
  5. How and why to document your consulting Processes
  6. How and why to create Packaged Offers

Section 3: How to Build a Pipeline of Motivated Clients

This is where advice givers almost always struggle. There are lots of reasons. The biggest is that you’re not doing it all the time. This means you’ll lose your edge, fail to close sales, and soon you’re avoiding it all together.

There are tons of strategies that work here. We’ll cover the basics of . . .

  1. How to position yourself as an expert
  2. Why you should use a process to drive your client acquisition and retention efforts
  3. Why and how to create a content strategy
  4. How to have more valuable client conversations
  5. The importance of anticipating six key client questions
  6. How to memorialize your client agreements

Section 4: Nuts and Bolts of Being in Business

I’m not an attorney nor a CPA . . . and I get questions all the time about the basics of working with clients and setting up a practice. I’ll tell you what I have done, what I would do, and what I’m doing about the foundational stuff that supports you being in business.

  1. Business Formation . . . the basics of organizing a consulting practice.
  2. Incorporation and Taxes . . . incorporating and filing for a business license.
  3. Naming Your Firm . . . simple strategies for calling yourself something.
  4. Making a Mark: The minimum things I would do to “brand your new business.”
  5. Teaming with Other Professionals . . . the best way to think about collaborating with other professionals.
  6. Rent a Great Support Team . . . don’t try to do everything yourself just because you have time on your hands and can figure it out.
  7. Insurances . . . what you need to have if you want to do business with large enterprises.
  8. Contracts and Agreements . . . The four documents you need to know.
  9. Protecting Your Intellectual Property . . . The minimum you need to know about Copyrights, trade secrets, trademarks, and Patents.
  10. Technology . . . One person’s opinion on the gear you need. Everything else is optional.


With luck, you will hear the voice of a real person in this program. My voice. The voice of someone who has a strong point of view earned over more than three decades of consulting.

But, and, so, here comes my disclaimer.

  1. What I have to say worked for me and the clients I served. It doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. As they say in the securities business, “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”
  2. I am not, and do not claim to be, an attorney. As such, I cannot and do not give legal advice.