March 25, 2023
Read time: 3 minutes

I’m always searching for creative ways for full-time employees to build side income.

Especially models that don’t require deep technical skills or lots of capital.

Well, I found a new strategy that I’m excited to share.

Today, I’ll show you how a friend of mine built an independent consulting firm to $500k/yr of profit in his mid-20’s.

Sean O'Dowd started small, scaled intelligently and eventually left his high-paying day job to focus on building his firm full-time.

Here’s the playbook:

  • Start as a Freelancer on Upwork
  • Build consulting experience
  • When ready, join Catalant
  • Land Fortune 500 clients
  • Outsource and scale

Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Freelance on Upwork to Build Experience

If you’re unfamiliar, Upwork is a marketplace that connects businesses to freelancers.

Businesses use it to find contractors with specific skills:

  • Website Development
  • Graphic Design
  • Data Analysis
  • Bookkeeping
  • Copywriting
  • Etc.

You don’t need super-specialized skills to make money on Upwork.

My guess is 99% of you have one skill you could monetize:

  • If you’re an Excel wizard, build analytical reports.
  • If you can format beautiful PowerPoint slides, create presentations.
  • If you’re an expert with highly valuable knowledge, share it as a consultant.
  • If you’re none of the above, take a few classes on Maven or Skillshare and learn something new.

It’s incredibly easy to create an Upwork profile and land your first paid engagement.

Sean breaks it down in this video:

Why start on Upwork?

Two reasons:

  1. Most people have never sold themselves before. It is much easier to sell a $5 million plumbing company that needs help creating a KPI dashboard than it is selling to a Senior Vice President at Bain Capital (more on that in a minute).
  2. Reviews are the lifeblood of this strategy. Make your early mistakes on Upwork, when the stakes are low. Once you master the process, move on to the Big Leagues.

Step 2: Jump to Catalant

Upwork is great, but you won’t make real money there.

You’ll probably earn $30-50 per hour and most of the jobs are short-term.

When you’re ready to up-level, join Catalant:

Join Catalant to find consulting projects for Fortune 500 clients.

Fortune 500 companies and prestigious private equity and consulting firms use it to find independent consultants to help with short-term projects.

Here’s the insight: clients pay 10x for work that’s not all that different from what you do on Upwork…. or what you do for your day job.

Just check out this 10-week finance project:

Catalant project for consultants with a finance background

If you have a background in corporate finance, FP&A or even accounting, you could crush that.

Here’s another project that’s even less technical:

Catalant consulting project for non-technical consultants

Anyone can find companies in a specific market and pull relevant info. To be honest, I bet ChatGPT could do most of the work for you.

Not rocket science.

But remember: these are big companies with bigger budgets.

Sean’s typical assignment on Catalant sells for $2,500-$3,000 per day

And the contracts are often 3-4 months at a time.

It doesn’t take more than 1-2 engagements to earn multiple 6-figures of income.

Outsource, Outsource, Outsource…

I hate trading time for money.

But at a certain dollar value it just makes sense.

Particularly if you don’t have a lot in savings and want to accelerate your earned income quickly.

The key to taking on multiple projects at one time is outsourcing.

In Sean’s words:

I have support for just about everything. I do the selling and land the job. Then I break the task down into different buckets. One contractor does my research, another works with data and another creates presentations. I’m the project manager organizing it all and managing the client.

Where does he find these contractors?

You guessed it: Upwork

Or Fiverr, another freelance marketplace.

A classic example of working smarter and using labor arbitrage to unlock massive value.

Final Thoughts

Here’s why I love this strategy:

  • It can start as a side hustle (10-15 hrs per week) and quickly scale to replace your day job
  • You don’t need a big team, fancy software or a high IQ to be successful
  • You can earn a lot quickly and reinvest it into other, lower-risk assets

As you know, I’m a big believer in using earned income to buy assets that produce passive income.

Work hard for 5-7 years, live at or below your means and buy cash-flowing real estate.

You’ll look back and be surprised just how far you’ve come.

That’s it for today.

If folks like the case study deep dives I’m happy to do more… I really enjoyed this one.

Until next week,


PS - if you read last week's issue, you may enjoy seeing our new website. Just know it's optimized for desktop (85% of our traffic).

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