The recent discussion about job-loss included a debate on the merits of becoming a consultant. Regular reader Andréa Coutu is a consultant. She wrote this guest article on how to become a consultant in order to explain the concept to Get Rich Slowly readers.

Getting rid of household debt is one of the best ways to put your financial house in order. But sometimes debt can seem insurmountable. The percentage of disposable income used to pay debt hovers near all-time highs. And if you fall into the trap of only paying the minimum each month, you may face years of struggling to make ends meet.
 
The average household owes around $8,000 on credit cards. If you paid the minimum each month at 18% interest, it would take 30 years to pay off the card! Even at 8%, it would take you 17 years. Yikes!
 
If you’re struggling with debt, you may be thinking about taking on a second job. But, to make double the minimum 2.5% payment on an $8,000 credit card bill, you’d need to make $400 a month — and it would still take 10 years to pay off at an 18% interest rate. To make $400 a month after tax at a second job that pays $10 or $25 an hour, you’d have to work somewhere between 20 and 50 hours a month, depending on your tax rate. That’s a lot of time and effort for $400.
 
Bang for the second job buck
It’s little surprise, then, that many people turn to consulting as a way to generate a second income. As a consultant, you can typically charge somewhere between $35 and $300 an hour. Even at $35 an hour, you’d probably only need to bill 10 or 12 hours a month to clear enough to double your credit card payments. By billing just 20 or 24 hours a month, you could pay off the entire $8,000 credit card debt in less than a year.
 
Wipe out debt
By moonlighting outside your day job, you can create a second income that can help you wipe out debt. Even if you don’t have credit card bills, you may have a car loan, mortgage, home equity loan or some other financial obligation. Consulting can help you pay down those debts and start on the road to financial freedom. For example, in just three years, one family I know has used consulting to pay down $30,000 of their mortgage, pay for renovations that increased their home’s value by 10%, contribute $20,000 to retirement savings and create a $5,000 college fund for their toddler.
 
Get on your feet
Once you’ve erased your debt load, consulting can help you prepare for financial emergencies and save for goals. One of my friends has been earning $20,000 a year on top of her day job. She’s got $75,000 saved for a downpayment and more socked away in emergency and retirement savings funds.
 
Consult from anywhere
Whether you’re in a tiny hamlet or mid-town Manhattan, you can take up consulting. Many companies will work with remote consultants. When I was just starting out, the Internet helped me find clients in California, Georgia and Ontario, even though I was based in Vancouver. Over the years, I’ve even had inquiries from places like the Balkans and the Arctic.
 
Seize the opportunity
If you’re new to moonlighting, “consulting” may sound intimidating. It’s really just a fancy word for someone who trades their knowledge and expertise for pay. Every time you make a suggestion, recommend a process, draw up a plan or manage a process, you’re using consulting skills. To get into consulting, you just need to find someone who can use your expertise. By carrying out a personal inventory of your skills, interests and talents, you can better judge where your consulting opportunities lie. Then you can work out a plan for finding new clients. In many cases, you’ll find that just putting the word out to your friends, co-workers and business network will do the trick. People like to work with people they like.
 
So, if you’re trying to deal with a mountain of debt, consider looking for ways to pay it off sooner. Although it’s often easy to find a second job at minimum wage, you may be in for a long struggle. Instead, look at ways to earn a professional income so that you can pay down your debt faster or at least with fewer hours of work.

[J.D.'s note: I've done some independent computer consulting, and can testify that it's an excellent way to make money. The key to consulting success is to pursue new clients. One book that helped me is Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself by Daniel H. Pink, who actually has a blog. The magazine article that inspired the book is available online.]

Andréa Coutu is a marketing consultant in Vancouver, Canada. She runs consultantjournal.com, a blog designed to help people survive and thrive as independent consultants. For more information, check out her blog series on getting out of debt via consulting.