There’s unprecedented growth in the self-employment market, and it’s a global movement. Originally fuelled by economic recession, when many people were displaced from full time jobs, it has now finally become the preferred choice for many.
The interesting thing about this growth spurt is the number of people who are starting new freelance careers later in their careers. It makes sense really. By the time you hit your forties you have much more experience behind you and you’ll also have experience the risky business that working for large company brings with it. You come to realise that there is no ‘job for life’.
For many, starting a consulting business is a good way to draw on your expertise. It’s relatively easy to set up a business on your own, and you’ll have minimal costs, at least at first. You probably have a specialist area of expertise and, if you are lucky, some existing clients or colleagues who will be willing to pay for your services.
But all too many of throw ourselves into the consulting market without preparing the ground. Trust me. Setting out your consulting stall is like decorating your home. There’s a small amount of boring but necessary preparation work that you need to do before you launch yourself in your full glory
So here’s 5 things to remember as you start your own freelance consultancy business:
1. Reputation, reputation, reputation
I cannot underline this too much. To be honest, the freelance market is full of consultants. Many of these people are barely scraping a living because they didn’t do the groundwork before they started advertising their services.
If you are still in a job, then start thinking now about how you are going to differentiate yourself and what your unique offer is. Build your reputation now. That might be for the way you do business, the unique service you offer or a niche specialist subject that you have.
Without establishing this before you start, you will find yourself spending more time looking for work than actually doing paid work.
2. Find a way to exploit specific knowledge gaps.
Your prospective clients aren’t sitting there waiting for you to ‘go freelance’. Well maybe they are, but it’s more likely that you need to identify areas that their full time employees can’t provide.
Look for gaps in knowledge in the firms you want to work with. In my case, it’s in the way organisations adapt to digital technology. Work out how you can complement and enhance the work that their employees already deliver and what your advice will do to improve their business success – however they measure it.
3. Become uber flexible
One of the biggest culture changes to make when starting out in your consulting business is to understand that your jobs will be transient. That’s the whole point of going freelance! It’s not to replace your old permanent job with another one just like it.
OK. If you are successful (and I’m sure you will be), your client may want to stay and will find you lots of other projects to work on, Some consulting firms can build very lucrative businesses by charging retainers so that their clients always have them on tap.
But, if you’ve done a great job, and you’ve solved the problem that you came in to solve, then you need to find a new client to work with. Many relationships sour when you have overstayed your welcome, and one of the advantages of freelancing is that you get to work on diverse, and new challenges all the time
4. Hit the ground running with your toolbox in place
Don’t forget that when you are offering consulting services, time is money! For every hour that you spend fiddling around with IT problems or creating your beautiful website, or deciding which accountant to go with, you aren’t earning.
Develop your IP – by which I mean that killer product or service that you offer which differentiates you from other consultants in your field. For some, this is a model for consultancy delivery, for others it’s the process and the way that they work. Consider protecting your intellectual property and make sure that you are properly covered with a contract before you start work. Lawbite can help with this – you’ll find them here.
Take time to get your personal branding right before you start, and if necessary spend a bit of money with an expert to help you get your Linkedin profile and your consulting proposition right in advance. Lay out a small amount of money to get yourself a nice website. You really don’t need to worry about anything fancy at this stage, but make sure that you can be found on the web. Your clients will almost certainly check you out online, just as they would do for a permanent employee.
5. Get your team around you
Just because you work for yourself, you don’t have to work on your own. Being around other people who are in the same boat can help stimulate ideas, open up opportunities to other jobs and keep you motivated.
The additional bonus of working alongside other freelancers and independent consultants is that you have a team at the ready when you need to bring in other skills for a client project or need a little support so you can take a break.
6. Devote plenty of time to new business
The downside of working as a consultant is that you often need to spend huge amounts of time looking for new business. The general rule of thumb is that it’s 50/50. And the average amount of time that it takes to secure a new consultancy contract from the first contact can be between a month to 6 months.
So don’t underestimate the challenge ahead of you. Anyone can ‘go freelance’ and start a consultancy business. You want to be in the top tier of consultants who are able to command the highest rates for their sector and who are able to work to their own agenda.