Less freelancing, more consulting: how adding value leads to added income


I’ve been thinking recently that a lot of the success that I’ve had as a freelancer to date is that I’ve position myself as more of a consultant and less of a freelancer.

Freelance work tends to be transactional, where you’re delivering directly on a service that a client had asked you to provide – whether that’s online copywriting, web design, graphic design or social media work. The client asks you to complete a project, you deliver on that project.

The difference that comes with being a consultant is that you are looking to deliver value to a client, not just delivering on what they ask of you.

Yes, a client might have asked you produce the design for a new section of their website, but if there are fundamental issues with their website that would bring demonstrably more value to the client and their business, then as a consultant you should be confident enough to offer that opinion and back it up with sound reasoning.

A freelancer may simply do what the client says, even if they know it’s wrong.

It’s a subtle difference, but I hope you can already see that this approach can mean a large difference in the amount of value a client sees in your work and, ultimately, the value you bring to their business.

Consultants are indispensable, freelancers are a commodity

Positioning yourself as a consultant gives the impression that you are in the profession for the long run. As a consultant, you have dedicated yourself to specialising in your field and excelling at delivering value to your clients. This added value that you deliver as a consultant makes you indispensable them.

Positioning yourself as a freelancer means that you may be viewed as disposable, as there are many other freelancers out there that can replace you. You work will be seen as a commodity.

Think about the glut of freelancers on bidding sites like Elance or Odesk, all fighting for the same projects, driving down value across the board. These are buyers markets and even if you manage to win a bid for a particular project, you’re likely to be earning less for that product than you would be if you earned that client relationship away from that site.

As a freelancer, you might be seen as someone who hasn’t specialised in a field and so won’t deliver truly exceptional work in that area – especially if you offer multiple services, from web design to graphic design to copywriting.

Even if you are good at all of those things, you are effectively positioning yourself as a jack of all trades freelancer, not a specialist in one particular area. Your clients will likely value you less as a result.

Become a premium consultant, charge a premium fee

If you can demonstrate the value you bring to a client by being a premium consultant, beyond the transactional value of the services you provide, you can start charge a premium fee for your consultancy. And charging based on the value of the project rather than on the amount of time it takes is one of the simplest ways you can increase your income as a freelancer.

Increasing your freelance rates is easier said than done though, so take a look at my post on how to set your freelance rates for more advice on value-based pricing strategies or take a look at professional development for freelancers.

Of course, being seen as a consultant is more than just adding the job title to your business card. It means being professional in all aspects of running your freelance business.

That means:

  • being prompt to reply to client communications, whether that’s by phone, email or otherwise.
  • setting freelance contracts and client agreements at the beginning of a project, and invoicing promptly throughout.
  • consistently appearing to be a professional, from turning up to meetings punctually, to being well groomed and dressed, to having a well designed and regularly updated website.

It can help to register as a company and set up a consultancy business under a different name than just using your own.

I previously ran my freelance work under my own name – and not even that, it was actually my Twitter name – Benrmatthews Ltd. I also ran that company as a sole trader, which may have saved a small amount of taxes, but I was earning enough to have justified registering as a fully-fledged business.

Having a consultancy name, registers business and tax registration number helps to give potential clients that impression that you are a company professional consultants, not a group of freelancers for hire.

That’s what we’ve done with Montfort, the digital consultancy I run, which has allowed us to bid for bigger projects for bigger clients – both of which come with bigger fees.

This approach has also made it easier when it comes to finding new client leads and turning proposals into concrete projects. The bottom line seems easier to sign for clients when they have the confidence that they’ll be working with professional consultants who will look after their business interests.

I’m sure there are lots more ways to position yourself as a premium consultant, so let me know of yours in the comments below.

In the meantime, isn’t it time you spent less time freelancing and more time consulting?


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