Something nice happened this month that prompted me to reflect on where I have been and where I am going with my career. I received a message from a fellow LinkedIn member asking about how I started consulting/freelancing.
When I saw the message I had to really pause and reflect to think about what advice I could offer that would help this person. After all, my path to consulting wasn't a straight forward one that could offer a sort of blue print. Looking back I can honestly say the path was a bit windy and the underlying theme of it all was that taking on consulting projects came as a natural result of good relationships. Ones I appreciate and hope will grow stronger in the new year.
So if you are looking to try your hand at consulting here is a little insight I hope will inspire you to appreciate the people you have in your life, believe in yourself and start living as if your dream of consulting came true already.
A Little Background
In my experience consulting starts with thinking and preparing far in advance about what we want, so we are ready when opportunity arises. I knew freelancing was something I wanted to do and I was willing to take on projects while working full time. I had helped people before for free with projects and would tell friends and family about those experiences, how much I liked them and how I wanted to earn paying clients.
Eventually a former colleague tapped me for a project and I jumped right in. Today I choose to still work a full time job and consult on the side. For me, the best way to do this was to choose a job that was more conducive to the life style I wanted (think of this as jobs that offer perks beyond salary).
3 Tips to Start Consulting
For a long time freelancing seemed like a distant dream. Something I wanted but had no clue on how to attain. There were many things in the works years ago, that took time and circumstances to reveal about making my dream a reality. So what have a learned a year later after my first paid freelance gig? A lot that I summed up in three points below:
1. Always do your best work no matter what job you have. Those people you work with and for have a good chance of being future clients.
2. Think like you are consulting already. That means get your business cards, have your website as awesome as it can be and be ready to mention to people that in addition to what your day job is you are looking to consult! I even created a flyer for my services and put it around town on local community boards. At first I was afraid no one would respond, but low and behold I got one client out of it which could lead to more.
3. Make connections in a way that means something to you. My relationships have come from connecting with people I have common interests with. Note these are not people I met at business mixers. These are people I have stuff in common with and genuinely like.
Here's a little about me -- I love non-profits, animals, roller derby and other things. I put time into those areas of my life and at every turn try to mention to folks who I am as a professional in addition to a volunteer or supporter.
A good example is my love for non-profits. I went to my local community foundation for information on starting a non-profit and ran into a roller derby friend there who introduced me to their communications officer, who later asked me to write a blog post. We are talking about me hosting a workshop in the summer (shout out to Santa Cruz Community Foundation!) Best part is I met some very cool people. And this all happened because of a series of natural connections. Nothing forced.
So try finding people you genuinely like in your community and putting yourself out there. Its sooooo much more enjoyable and easier than "networking" at a conference or mixer.
Ahh the challenges. There are always some sort of obstacles that come up that make you work a little harder for what you want -- que no?
Here were my challenges:
- Time - How to balance a life, full-time gig and projects? The answer for me was if you want something bad enough you will FIND a way to make it work. I love doing projects they keep my brain stimulated so spending my early mornings, nights and weekends helping clients has been a pleasure.
- The Paperwork - Understanding how to set my contracts and fees (along with taxes and some considerations that come with working with non-profits and small businesses). I've talked to our tax professional and took a new business workshop to understand more about how this additional work would impact my financial picture. My tax consultant is worth every penny I've spent to get her time and I've also found speaking to other freelancers who are willing to share their experience with Uncle Sam to be useful.
- New Clients - Where the hell do these people come from? And how much should I charge? Should I do one of those freelancing sites? In the end figuring out where new clients would come from was a mixed bag for me. I opted not to do a freelancing site because I wanted to know my clients well in the beginning and didn't like the idea of bidding on projects, etc. I know there are plenty of people this works for so more power to em! My clients primarily are primarily people I know and I like it this way! Some may call it luck, but really as a mentor once told me most people start out by getting business from friends who know you and like your work. There's nothing wrong with that! Just remember to return the favor when you can down the line. It's karma=)
All this being said, I've learned the challenges can always be worked through. And everyone truly does have their own unique path to launching their endeavors. I will leave you with this one more thought to get you started...
Believe it will happen (seriously sounds cheesy but do it!) Have complete confidence that this will happen some how and all your prep is going to pay off. For me it took a few years, but now I see why and can appreciate the journey. For you it might be sooner! Just be ready and when it does happen. I love the book Do Cool Sh*t. If you haven't read it yet, get it. It got my ass moving. The new year is just around the corner, so cut the excuses make it happen!