The problem with this is, how does one get the ball rolling? Its easy to look at a consulting firm and see their diverse array of clients and say, "Hey, I can do that. And it would pay the bills, and it might even be fun!" But what we need to know, is how is that client base built?
The first thing that has to be decided is what sort of services would be offered? For someone like me, and I'm willing to be many of you, I have experience in Linux/Unix and some NT systems administration, programming in C, Pascal, PHP and ASP, in adddition to the skills and knowledge I acquired due to the fact that I have a degree in Audio Electrical Engineering. That opens the door to web design jobs, setting up networks, building specialized programs for a company, etc.
Once the task of deciding what services to offer, the next (and hardest) task is to make these services known to the world (or at least the local area). Obviously the first route would be newspaper advertisements. Where do you go from there? Your business or personal website are excellent promotional tools, especially for website designers.
I guess the real question that should be answered before any of the above is: Is any of this even feasible? Is there any sort of market for someone to basically whore themselves out like this?
One thing that looks very promising at first are sites like elance.com, where you can bid on projects of all kinds, including web design, programming, and even art. But a little digging around usenet and you will see that all is not happy in elance world. Taking a quick tour of the site, you'll see dozens of projects open for bidding, and what seems like little competition, especially if you're willing to bid low. But from reports on usenet, many of these 'companies' which post these jobs are nothing but kids playing around, or companies 'feeling' out the market. Many people post hundreds and hundreds of lowball bids, and win perhaps one every six months. Add that to the $25-150 monthly fee, and the 7-10% kickout to elance on each project you accept, and it doesn't look so attractive.
I discovered this helpful guide on about.com referencing freelance web design sites. But the first site listed is elance, so I'm wary of the validity of the other sites as well. Sites like programmingbids.com, projectspring.com, and guru.com look promising, but there seem to be few listings. Webprosnow.com appears to be legit, since they screen the buyers and sellers, and do the matching themselves. But I've had no luck finding any info on the success people have had with them.
As evidenced by the top "Ask Kuro5hin", I don't have a lot of answers, but many questions. Many of you have experience as consultants, or hiring consultants, so your advice is welcomed.