A common fear for new consultants is a belief that self-employment means insecure employment. This preconception is wrong. When you strike out by yourself, you can gain more security than you’ve ever had working for someone else.
The independent consulting industry is growing and there is a need for every kind of consultant. Now is the perfect time to build your consulting business. As long as you plan ahead, continuously grow your network and deliver value to your clients, you can create a prospering business and gain job security that you didn’t know was possible.
Not convinced? Here are some more ways that independent consulting can bring you job security, and tips on how to ensure that outcome.
As an independent consultant, no one can fire you
With self-employment comes autonomy. And while that is a blessing, it’s all too easy to see it as a curse if you don’t have personal experience building your own business.
When you’re self-employed, it’s your responsibility to find new work — this is where the misconception that self-employment is unstable originates. As we will get to, this is actually an advantage. What we need to establish first, however, is the instability in traditional employment.
In a salaried position, you could lose favour with your boss, your department could end up getting restructured, or a poor business decision could see the entire company you work for collapse. None of these threats to your continued employment are directly under your control.
As an independent consultant, you are the boss. You remain accountable to your network, but the distributed nature of that accountability puts you in far greater control. No one person, business decision or change in the economy can take your employment away.
Building this stable network of clients is the challenge of building your consulting business. But once you have this network, your position as a self-employed consultant will be far more stable than anything you could build working for someone else.
Building a consulting business and job security both come down to networking
As we touched on above, networking is the quintessential skill for all consultants. When you’re self-employed, part of your role is finding new work — you need to accept and embrace that. Consultants, in particular, dedicate a sizable portion of their working week to networking, building contacts and sowing seeds that will later bear the fruit of regular paid work.
The more clients you have, the more tenable your consulting business. Of course, clients won’t be beating down your digital door, flooding your inbox with requests for consultations… At least, not on day one.
Networking is all about building contacts and cultivating those relationships until the contact is ready to convert and become a client. As time goes by you’ll need to walk a fine line between maintaining your existing relationships with clients and diversifying to build new relationships. When you have a diverse portfolio of clients with whom you have a great working relationship you know that your business won’t be brought to its knees if one client goes out of business or retires.
For independent consultants, it’s vital to play the long-game and the short-game, servicing the needs of short-term contracts as you line up your next opportunity.
Remember to add value when networking
Never forget that networking is not simply a matter of hustling for clients. It’s about generating value in yourself and your nascent brand. It’s about making sure that people know who you are and what you can do for them when they have need of you.
Don’t look at networking as an opportunity for a hard sales pitch. The best way to get clients as a consultant is to let harmonious and lucrative business relationships grow organically. Know your new client’s needs, know how you can service them and give them a little taste for free. This can be either through insights you share in a face-to-face meeting or through thought leadership such as blogging, white papers and other useful resources. It all goes a long way towards building value for prospective clients. This brings us to...
Focus on building your personal reputation
In any business, your reputation is your greatest asset. This goes double for independent consultants. After all, your clients will be entrusting you with the wellbeing of businesses they’ve worked for years to build. What self-respecting entrepreneur would take a chance on a consultant whose reputation was anything short of stellar?
In order to be successful and keep contracts rolling in, you’re going to have to work on building your own brand. Establish yourself not just as an experienced, creative and knowledgeable person, but as someone who can bring value to clients in ways that your competitors cannot.
A big part of this is ensuring that you consistently deliver excellent results to your clients. How do you ensure this? By constantly building upon your skills and acquiring new knowledge that will benefit your clients and improve your operations.
Remember the importance of thought leadership to establish your professional persona and building your brand by networking online. Create fresh new copy on LinkedIn’s blogging platform whenever you are able, engage with comments and posts left by others — keep yourself front of mind with as large an audience as possible,
When networking online, you need to remember your in-person networking skills. Don’t just write self-congratulatory filler, write useful content that provides practical solutions for day-to-day problems that your network has. This can provide excellent social proof and demonstrate to new prospects that you have experience, insights and ideas that are well worth paying for.
Make an effort to build your brand and you’ll find that converting contacts into clients is practically effortless.
Improve your reputation and develop stability with partners
Working for yourself does not mean working alone. There are a number of organisations and resources that you can call on to build a support structure around yourself. This can improve your reputation and create a more stable consulting practice.
There are two broad types of organisations that independent consultants can turn to: consulting partnership and associate programmes. Associate programmes deliver ready-made clients, providing a consistent stream of work if your own network fails. However, it needs to be pointed out that these come with a number of downsides that should be considered — ranging from decreased day rates to opportunity costs when it comes to investing in your own client relationships.
Consulting partnerships provide training, mentorships, networking opportunities, administrative support and a reputational boost, while leaving you in control of your client relationships. If looking to build a business of your own, this is the type of programme you need to investigate when seeking support.
Never take your eye off networking — that is your long-term security
Finally, it’s imperative that new independent consultants never rest on their laurels. Don’t assume that your address book is full enough. Make sure that you’re sitting down with 3-6 people every week. Even a half hour chat over a coffee is enough to position yourself at the forefront of a new client’s mind and lay foundations upon which a strong business relationship can be built.
Remember that successful consultants are able to turn every relationship into 5 new relationships. Through a combination of operational excellence and stellar thought leadership, independent consultants can ensure that delighted clients are a constant source of referrals. Happy clients will refer you to their own contacts without you even asking. Deliver results consistently and this process will keep repeating itself so that your calendar remains full throughout the year.
Still, that doesn’t mean that you can afford to neglect the long game. Keep on expanding your network outward and meet new contacts from a diverse range of fields, industries and backgrounds. Not only will this allow you regular and varied work, it will help you to ensure that your skills are sharp and your skill set well-rounded. Keep meeting people both in person and online. Engage with prospects in ways that bring them value.
It’s a balancing act, to be sure… but master it, and you’ll never see blank spots on your calendar.
Create your own job security
Becoming an independent consultant doesn’t mean that you surrender your job security. It simply means that you get to create your own. If done right, taking a leap of faith in yourself and starting a consultancy business can actually provide greater job security than remaining in a salaried job. You’re free to succeed on your own terms with full autonomy and control over the variables. This is a common concern of new consultants, but one that is unfounded in the long run.
Build your network, deliver excellence consistently and keep an eye on future relationships even as you cultivate those in the present. This will allow you to build trust and expand your network simultaneously.
Don’t forget that while you may be independent, you are never alone. Consulting partnerships and associate programs can help in a number of ways. They can help you to find your footing and start building contacts to get your first few clients through the door. They can provide a valuable support network while helping you to learn new skills, hone your existing competencies and be the best that you can be.