When you’ve climbed the corporate ladder and reached the pinnacle of your personal knowledge, business contacts and professional expertise, it’s natural that you might want to seek new opportunities for learning, development, and growth. Not to mention shattering the ceiling over your potential pay and prospects. Many who are at the top of their professional game consider branching out into freelance independent consulting. Still, their risk-averse natures often preclude them from self-employment.
Yet while there are no guarantees when you become an independent consultant, there are a host of opportunities. It’s just a case of knowing how to take them. One guiding principle that should inform everything you do, even before you cut ties with your current job and take a leap into freelancing is this…
When you’re a consultant, your name is your brand!
Consultants either falter, survive or thrive on the strength of their reputation. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you can coast on the reputation you’ve earned in your current position. Many senior executives get used to being the big fish in a small pond, but quickly learn that they need to make an effort to build their reputation outside of the relatively small confines of their contacts lists.
That said, your existing contacts are a great place to start and you can start sowing the seeds of your reputation before you leave your current position. Reach out to contacts who know, like and trust you within your network. Tell them you’re thinking of branching out into independent consulting and ask if they, or anyone in their network would benefit from your services in this capacity. These people or their contacts could well be your first clients.
It’s easier to build your reputation from a strong foundation of people you already have a great working relationship with.
Make time to learn
The best consultants are true autodidacts who are always looking for opportunities to learn, expand on their knowledge base and keep abreast of changes and developments within their industries. But when starting out as an independent consultant it’s tempting to book out your calendar as solidly as possible to get your income as close to your old job as possible or to even surpass it.
Successful consultants, however, understand the importance of playing the long game. They’re able to pace themselves and dedicate time to expand upon their learning in order to bring greater value to their clients.
Set time aside in your schedule to attend lectures and seminars or simply carry out your own research in your office.
Write thought leadership articles on LinkedIn
Thought leadership is a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field and build value in your brand by giving prospective clients a little something for nothing. Take a page from the books of industry experts like Peter Peterka. Use LinkedIn not just as a tool to build contacts and generate leads but to publish useful and authoritative thought leadership content. Its blogging platform provides great opportunities to create articles, infographics and tutorials that will demonstrate your knowledge and expertise while building trust in your name and value in your brand.
Just make sure that your content is posted regularly and strategically with a clear focus on the problems, issues and pain points that prospective clients within your industry are likely to face on a regular basis. If your blog becomes an extended list of your experiences and achievements it may come across as grandiose or self-congratulatory.
By all means allude to case studies where you’ve leveraged your knowledge and expertise to benefit clients, but frame everything through the lens of the prospective clients’ best interests.
Learn how to network properly
It’s okay to admit it… Nobody likes networking events. They can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially when you’re meeting people you don’t know and who don’t know you. As such, it’s vital that you master the art of networking properly. This means first of all identifying what networking is not. It is not your opportunity to pitch your services to prospects. It’s your chance to meet people, be yourself, make an impression and do your best to have a good time despite the inherent weirdness of the event.
If you’ve met someone you get along with, feel free to exchange business cards and follow up later. But unless someone explicitly asks you to, do not make the mistake of pitching at a networking event. It’s considered bad form and can make you look desperate. Not a great foundation on which to build your reputation.
Join the right kind of consulting partnership for you
Consulting partnerships and associate programs are a great way to increase your value to prospective clients. They are associations of consultants who represent a shared pool of knowledge, resources and contacts. They can even lend you administrative support so you can spend less time on paperwork and more time on things that will improve your value proposition like networking and building your skills.
However, there’s a difference between consulting partnerships and associate programs. Broadly speaking the former will be able to help you to line up more work quickly but they can be restrictive. The latter will afford you greater operational autonomy but will leave it up to you to line up your own work. It simply depends on where your priorities lie.
Keep nurturing leads and looking for opportunities to add value
Finally, it’s important to play the long game when you’re an independent consultant. You need to keep touching base with prospects, even if it’s just for a coffee and a chat, lining up tomorrow’s clients even as you dedicate yourself to servicing the needs of today’s.
Maintaining operational excellence and achieving outstanding results are among the surest ways to ensure that your reputation grows.
When you’re playing the short and long games simultaneously, keeping prospects “warm”, constantly learning and regularly networking you can build a powerful reputation which will lead to a full schedule, a robust contacts list and the kind of autonomy and work / life balance you always dreamed of.