I mentioned in my previous post that I’m celebrating just over 5 years of being an independent contractor. Though it’s not a huge amount of time, for me it’s a real achievement. It’s the longest career I’ve ever had! And it’s all been working for my own company doing more or less my own thing with me in the driving seat. When I think about it like that, it’s pretty amazing really!
You don’t do something for 5 years without learning a few lessons along the way. So here’s my Eight Top Independent Contracting Pro Tips, for your reading delight:
I’m actually taking a bit of time out from this at the moment, but over the course of my career it’s been pivotal. Meeting and conferring with industry peers in small and large gatherings has proven to be both great fun and a great learning opportunity in equal measure. Depending on variables like the kind of industry your work in and how mature the peer community is, the kind of events and their quality may vary greatly. But the thing to remember is, you’ll get out what you put in. The more of your energy and enthusiasm you can give to these kinds of events, the more benefits you’ll get from them in terms of contacts and potential future business. And lets not forget learning either.
Look for opportunities to serve
If you really want to make your presence felt, just look for opportunities to serve. There’s always stuff that needs doing somewhere by someone. If you’ve got the bandwidth for it, then get stuck in without expecting to reap the benefits immediately. There’s a principle at work that says for the most part, you’ll reap what you sow, But sometimes these things take a while to come around and don’t always look like what you expect them to. The best thing to do is to give your time and energy freely, without necessarily expecting anything in return. Then when it eventually does, it’ll be a surprise and a blessing. And if you prove yourself reliable and conscientious, and add a lot of value through your voluntary efforts – you’ll most often be recognised with more responsibility, which can translate to leadership, which ultimately raises your visibility.
Develop an online presence
While we’re on the subject of visibility – maintaining an online presence is a must. There’s just no way around it. You absolutely need a website and probably a couple of social media accounts too. Again, depending on the industry in which you’re working, the specifics may vary a bit. Some industries will be a bit more Facebook or Pinterest friendly for example. But you should at least have a website and a way of sharing what you’re doing with people. If you don’t, then you’re missing out on a massive opportunity to market yourself, your business and your services.
Take charge of your own learning
When you’re working for yourself, it’s very easy to let your own learning and development slip – with the pressures of running your operations, servicing clients, balancing the books and doing all of the other things that you need to keep on top of as an independent business owner. But setting aside time to make sure your own learning and development needs are being addressed pays dividends over the course of time. After all, as an independent, it’s YOU that your clients are buying. You may have productised your services and offerings to some extent, but ultimately the value you’re able to deliver will be a function of the knowledge inside your head and your ability to communicate and apply it in a way that translates into value for you client. The more you know, and the more you practice what you know, the better you’ll be able to do just that.
Generalise don’t specialise
But don’t specialise too deeply. It’s good to have range as well as depth. Having deep skills and experience in one specific area can serve you extremely well when your clients need them and are prepared to pay a premium for them. But you should hedge your bets, because there may come a time when those skills aren’t quite so in demand. Try to add some breadth and diversity to your skill base so that you can switch and pivot if necessary. It’s been very useful for me over the years to be able to provide both very niche services for example, in combination with some very general services. When it’s come time for clients to make some cutbacks – the fact that I provide them with a range of services, not just one – has made my continued engagement a much more compelling proposition than had I been a one trick pony, so to speak.
Be like a business
Good businesspeople understand that if their business isn’t growing, it’s dying. If you just see yourself as a one man (or woman) band who just needs to find their next gig, then you’re missing the bigger picture. There’s a big opportunity for you to expand your operation and serve more people at a higher premium by working smarter. Figure out how to productise and scale your offering. Look for ways to sell your knowledge and skill in ways that don’t depend on your actual onsite presence. Could your knowledge and ability be captured in a piece of software that could then be sold as a service for example? Or could your special sauce be turned into an information product? Give it some thought. The future expansion and wellbeing of your business depends on it!
I mentioned earlier that as an independent, your clients are still basically buying you. Even if you follow my advice from the previous step, probably your people are still going to buy your product because they feel they have a relationship with your brand. Your brand is the story your customers tell themselves when they buy your product or service. It’s the feeling they have when they do business with you. It’s the relationship they have with you and what you stand for, what you’re passionate about, what you want to say to the world.
Make sure you say it loud and proud. We’ve already covered the need for an online presence, but social media and your website are obvious places to start developing that brand. To really figure out what your message is and who needs to hear it. As you show up with your message, broadcasting it far and wide through the interwebs and other marketing channels, you’ll call your people to you.
Get a good accountant
And, oh yeah. One last practical tip. Get an awesome accountant. Life’s too short to worry about whether you filled in your tax return right. Let someone else do that and you focus on what you’re good at instead. Unless your providing accounting services of course!
Some of the stuff I mention above is time-consuming to be sure. You may not feel like you have space in your day to be able to do it all. It’s a big ask to be sure, but it’s necessary – if you want to stand out from the crowd. To help you nail down all of the activities you need to be doing to grow your business, we developed a 90minute plan you can implement daily. If you want it, go download it here.