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Twelve years ago, I
decided to work for myself
. While I learned from my early mistakes and built a business, I had some tough moments in the first year. Along the way, I learned a few lessons that helped me grow my business and enjoy working for myself.
Focus on delivering work, not just building your brand.
I am a trained marketer, so naturally, I gravitated toward my favorite kind of work: branding. I’m embarrassed to admit how many hours I spent on my company name, logo and website. Your brand definitely matters, and you want potential clients to be able to find out about your work online. But at the end of the day, your work is what matters the most.
I realized that I needed to dig into the work. When you first start out as an independent, you have to start producing revenue right away. If your business basics — like winning and completing projects, billing for your work and getting paid — aren’t working perfectly, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your website is. You won’t make it.
I see a lot of independent consultants making this mistake — especially people who have no intention to build their business beyond a solo practice. They get really worried about the company name, their website and their business cards. If you’re going to be an independent consultant, your brand is you. You need to create equity through the value and expertise you’re delivering to clients.
The lesson: Spend time only on the marketing activities that will ultimately drive client activity. Spend the rest of your time doing great work for clients and seeking your next project. If you’re a solopreneur, focus on your personal brand and your personal work product — not building up a company brand beyond yourself.
Get strategic about how you spend your time.
In my first year, my goal was to work on consulting projects for Fortune 500 companies. Instead of doing the strategic work of outlining what companies I was targeting and what steps I needed to take to get hired, I chased every possible lead. I met with anyone and everyone. When each meeting ended, I had a new business card in my hand, so I felt productive.
In reality, I wasted a lot of time because I wasn’t focused on clear outcomes. If you want to build a client list of specific companies, you need to know the right people to talk to. Learn who can actually hire you, and make a plan to meet those people.
The lesson: Decide what outcomes you want to achieve with your time every day and every week. Set those goals and objectives for yourself, and then go out and meet them.
Don’t underprice your work.
As an independent consultant, I underestimated how long I’d need to complete client projects. I spent a lot of time learning about my clients, getting up to speed on their industry and going to meetings. A lot of that work went beyond the specific scope of my project, and I didn’t account for all of the extra time beyond the actual product.
Every independent consultant I know has changed their pricing over time. I wish I had spent more time researching how other consultants priced their work and asking questions about pricing challenges.
The lesson: Spend time on your pricing strategy. Research market rates and ask your peers for advice about pricing pitfalls to avoid.
It’s OK to turn down work.
In those early days, I said yes to everything. I routinely took on client work because it paid, not because it was good work I was excited about. I was hungry for revenue and I didn’t feel confident enough to turn down a project or a client.
I had to get over the guilt about saying no. Turning down work didn’t make me a bad businessperson — it made me a really smart one. Taking on bad work drained my energy and kept me from going after the projects I really wanted. After a few bad projects, I did the hard work of defining what kind of work I wanted to do, what kind of people I wanted to work with and how much I needed to charge in order to make it worth my time.
The lesson: Define what clients, projects and pricing make you feel good, and say no to everything else. If you need a script, try saying: “That project probably isn’t a good fit for me, but I’d love to work on other projects like X, Y and Z if they come down the pipeline for you.” If you turn down a project, suggest someone else who might be a better fit.
Always ask for the next project.
When I finished a project, I felt excited and relaxed. I’d done good work and my client was happy. But I realized I needed to be more assertive and strategic — I often missed the easy opportunity to turn the project into another one.
Over time, I learned to ask specific questions at the end of a project:
• Are you happy with my work?
• How did this work affect your business?
• Is there a follow-up project I could help with?
• Who else in your network do you think I could help?
Asking a customer these direct questions can feel awkward, but asking for more work is a must. When I started to ask these questions, I’d often get three or four names of people who could hire me. Those referrals were gold and turned into work much faster than the broad-based networking I wasted so much time doing early on.
The lesson: Don’t be afraid to ask for more work. Use every completed project as a chance to piggyback to your next paying job.
If you’re just starting out solo, you might recognize these common mistakes. Working for yourself can feel hectic, but it’s worth taking time to reflect on what you’re doing well and what you can improve.Brendon Schrader is founder of Antenna, a marketing firm that delivers experienced marketing professionals to companies of all sizes
December 20, 2018 at 08:54AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs