How to Build An HR Consulting Business, Take the Leap, and Be Prepared When You Do It
Outsourcing HR is nothing new. Businesses have been doing it for years. The pandemic opened up even more opportunities for consulting work, as more and more divisions go virtual. This is good news for those who have ever had the itch to branch out on their own. To become an HR consultant and start their own business.
But we know from experience that starting your own business can be a scary endeavor. While it’s ultimately up to you when it is the right time to take the leap, we’re here to guide you. To let you in on what you need to know before getting started (aka what we wish we had known), what you can expect along the way, and how a mentor and a good community can make the journey so much sweeter.
Getting Started in HR Consulting – Set a Strong Foundation
“Organizations hire external HR consultants to cover gaps in expertise they may be lacking internally. Expertise is the operative word here—you’ll need to have a strong knowledge base to earn consideration for the work.” – Rasmussen University
Experience is Key
First things first, start by getting experience under your belt. If you’re brand-spanking new to the HR world, it’s important to get a couple of years of experience working for an established consulting firm or internally at a company. This will prepare you to expertly handle any situation when you have your own clients.
Landing Your First Client
Starting your consulting business with some strong HR experience has other advantages. It brings you in with a wealth of knowledge and an HR community by your side. It could even lead you to secure your very first client. Here’s what we mean.
Turn Your Current Job Into Your Very First Retainer Client. If you’re thinking “how on earth is that possible,” we hear you. But it can be easier than you think. SHRM recommends converting a current employer as a “good starting point” to landing your first client.
And over on the Quirky HR podcast, we chatted with HR consultant Meg Martin who did just that to secure herself a hefty retainer before officially launching her consulting business.
Start a Side Hustle. Another great option to build your client base is starting your HR consulting business as a side hustle. A nights and weekends, or early mornings, kind of gig. This gives you the space to slowly build your client base. You’ve still got financial security from your W2 job, which gives you the flexibility to take on one-off projects as your build your reputation.
Once you have a few solid projects under your belt you’ll feel a whole lot more confident when you’re ready to take HR consulting from a side hustle to a full-time business.
Lock Down Your Niche
“Carving out a niche ‘can… help you identify your value proposition and what you bring to the table.’” – SHRM
Will You focus on a specialized area of Human Resources? Or serve clients across the board in a more HR generalist approach? There is no wrong answer, as every HR consulting business is different.
We recommend thinking about your current HR knowledge and asking if it lends itself more toward a specialized niche. Which aspects of HR do you love? Which are more difficult for you?
Knowing what your strengths are, and building your business around those strengths is key. This can help you get really intentional about your ideal client – who you are speaking to, who you are looking to serve, and how can you serve them best.
Determine what sets you apart. Identify your USP (unique selling point) and lead from this place. There are clients out there who are looking for you and your services. When you’re clear about exactly what it is you offer, the right clients will come to you.
Building Out Your HR Consulting Business
Make a Plan & Set a Financial Goal
Some bumps along the road are perfectly normal when starting your own business, but going in without a plan isn’t doing you any favors. Ask yourself what income goal you are looking to meet. Then account for the overhead costs of running your business, taxes, and ongoing education.
You’re a business owner now, it’s time to think big picture. Simply replacing your current take-home salary isn’t going to be sustainable in the long run because you have many other expenses and factors to account for.
The good news is, you get to set your rates. Be consistent with each client when it comes to what you charge. And remember, you’re not simply charging an hourly rate, you’re charging for your expertise. It’s a lot less costly for businesses to bring on a consultant than a full-time employee, so you can account for that as well.
When your consulting business is still brand new, you may start off with lower rates. As you build credibility and experience, raise ‘em up!
Network, Network, Network
“As a consultant, the product that you’re selling is your brand, and having a presence… is critical to building a brand. It also helps you develop credibility.” – SHRM
Okay, yes you’ve heard this one before. But it’s an important one, so we’re repeating it again for the people in the back. Networking is imperative to building your business. And yes, you can (and should) be networking… even in HR.
Networking is non-negotiable. Be prepared to show up.
Remember, you do have control over how you show up. Determine where and how you are comfortable putting yourself out there. Get clear on which ways feel most authentic to you and start there.
So what are some great opportunities to network as an HR consultant? We’ve got an entire blog on that topic – You Need an HR Community – We'll Show You How. Here are a few of our favorites:
Join Your Local HR Chapter
Networking Through Service
Chambers of Commerce
Join a BNI (Business Networking International)
Networking is a great way to generate leads. There is true power in word of mouth. Don’t be shy, tell everyone what you’re doing. You never know who knows someone else who may need your services.
Referrals can bring in the best clients, and the longest-lasting relationships. You start your working relationship with a level of authority (having been pitched by someone else) and a foundation of trust in your skills. Past and present clients are also valuable for referral sources.
Be Prepared to Outsource What You Don’t Know
We aren’t talking about outsourcing work to other HR consultants. We are talking about the necessities of running a successful business.
You can’t do it all, nor should you have to. Identify what you’re good at and what you’re not. Be honest with yourself in advance. This will make it a lot easier to set up systems that work for you.
For example, how do you feel about numbers? And what about math? You’re not a bookkeeper, you’re not an accountant. You are an HR expert. Taxes and day-to-day books may be something you need to outsource to free up your own time to focus on what you’re best at. The client work.
Prepare for those expenses in advance. Your business will thank you.
Find a Mentor
It is normal to learn as you go. To pivot to what the market or your ideal client needs. And then, pivot again.
But it’s easy to assume those pivots or bumps in the road mean your business isn’t working. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Having a mentor, someone who’s been where you are and can encourage you when you get stuck is one of the biggest value-adds for any business owner.
If you are looking for a mentor in your own HR consulting journey, we encourage you to check out Quirky HR Coaching. A program for HR professionals just like you who are starting out on their business journey. Quirky HR is one-on-one and small group coaching where no topic is off-limits. We know how much of an impact mentorship can have, and at Boss Consulting HR we are here for all of your success.
If you’d like to learn more from the experts, we have two very special episodes of the Quirky HR Podcast for you. Give ‘em a listen to hear from those who have successfully transitioned into the HR consulting world.