I was both scared and excited when I moved into self-employment in April 2014. Here are some of the things I have learnt along the way that may be of interest to you, if you are also considering taking the leap to work as a consultant.
1. Leverage your existing strengths, experience and contacts
Is there some work you could do for a previous employer?
Some kind of retainer, even five hours a week, can be a brilliant option. It takes the pressure off the rest of your time while you’re figuring out what you want to offer and finding out if it’s a goer.
2. Value your time – don’t take on low paid work even when you have no other work
I took on some low paid employment when I was one year into my business, at a time when I didn’t have much work. I quickly came to realise my mistake, when I had no time to invest in developing my business.
I was better off being paid nothing for those hours and spending that time on learning new skills and marketing.
3. Decide on your target market (or markets)
Choose a target market of people who can afford to pay you at a rate that will mean your business (and therefore your life/work balance) is sustainable.
That doesn’t mean you can’t branch out over time into other target markets. However, when you have a reasonable level of ongoing work you’ll have a lot more fun exploring other options.
4. People buy from people they know
A lot of my work comes from existing clients. It's really important to value and prioritise work with existing clients because they already know, like and trust you.
On the other hand it's important not to be overly reliant on one or two big clients. It's worthwhile spending time and effort to actively seek out new clients. The two most effective methods for me so far have been:
A website is essential so that people can find out more about you and your services. I also highly recommend writing regular blogs to attract visitors to your website. However, these strategies are most effective as a complement to personal connections and other networking, rather than as a stand-alone solution for gaining clients.
5. Consider what strategic alliances are possible with people who have different strengths or services
One of the best things to happen in my business in 2016 was meeting up with several people who could potentially have regarded themselves as competitors, but who instead chose to take a collaborative approach.
Collaboration (through referrals, and sharing ideas) works really well with people who either have:
The awesome thing about being self-employed is expressing who you are through how you go about your business. Be on the lookout for the kind of assistance and support that is a good fit for you. There’s a lot to be said for acting on your gut response when considering what’s available.
7. Allow time for catch ups with friends and exercise
I love working at home but when I find myself constantly checking my email, I know I’ve been home alone for too long! I aim to make time for one catch up each week for a walk or a coffee … it’s not always possible, but it does provide a good work-life balance.
It’s also ideal if these people are happy to hear about your business progress, want to discuss new ideas, and believe in your future success. Catching up with other self-employed people will make you feel more normal, especially if you (like me) have been an employee for most of your working life.