The business landscape has never been more conducive for independent consultants (IC). Businesses are operating with a leaner workforce and relying on contractors for flexibility, and specialised skills. Reducing fixed costs positions organisations to withstand the vagaries of the economy and adjust quickly to shifts in market demand. This new project based economy has created an environment ripe with opportunity for professionals who have the skills, tools and fortitude to succeed as an independent professional – or “IC.”
Diversifying your income stream, creating your own work-life balance, choosing your clients and projects are just a few of the reasons that many professionals are attracted to the idea of independent consulting.
For more than 25 years, I have run a business that serves the independent consulting market. In that time, I have observed firsthand very distinct success factors. While there are many variables that can contribute to success, there are also commonalities. Below is my checklist of traits and tools common to those who are successful businesses of one.
Conserve Time and Energy. As a startup, be very conservative in how you spend both energy and cash. There is no need to invest valuable time and dollars on office space or expensive branding tools. Your intelligence is your greatest asset and you can launch with as a little as a services brochure, presentation or simple website. You can invest in logos and other tools once your business is generating a cash flow.
Outsource your Business Management. Without an infrastructure for managing the risks and administrative details of business, consultants can become full time business managers instead of focusing on their core expertise. The best way to avoid the distraction of business management is to outsource your administration and infrastructure. Sure, you could do it yourself and spend countless lost billable hours on the Internet finding solutions to manage the administrative, HR, legal and financial end of your business – or you can seek out solutions that easily handle all these processes for you. When your primary product is your knowledge, every minute you spend doing something else is a lost opportunity.
Resolve to Succeed. Successful ICs are tenacious. They are on a mission to succeed and willing to withstand the challenges to make it happen. As an independent consultant you must have the ability to persist in spite of temporary setbacks, missteps or even failures. If you do not have the emotional stamina to press for success, independent consulting may not be the right choice for you.
Quantifiable Talent. You must have talent that produces results. In order to sell your skill set you need to be able to quantify what you do and how it translates into measurable returns for your clients.
Integrity. You will not last long without a high degree of integrity. You must be honest about your skills and your limitations. You should have defined, verifiable expertise and never over sell your capabilities. If you over commit, or inflate your abilities too often the market will find out and your IC career will be short lived.
Marketing. It is essential that you become comfortable with telling others what you do and why you’re good at it. You are the best representative for your brand, so you need to be able to articulate your value. Be visible by attending relevant conferences, local meet-ups, or promotional events. With a good elevator pitch, business cards and a fearless attitude you can cast a wide net of opportunity for your new business.
Efficiency. As an IC, clients are hiring you not only for your expertise but also your ability to effectively and efficiently apply it. Time is money for both you and your client. You must be able to apply your skill in a way that satisfies the client and allows you to run a profitable business. If you are a perfectionist who agonizes over inconsequential details consulting may not be the right path. You must have the clear headed ability to be strategic with your time and audit your own productivity.
As an Independent Consultant you are not simply working on contract — you are operating a business-of-one. Before you make the leap make sure that you have not only the talent but the right mindset and drive for an IC career.
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