When thoughts start to take shape in your mind that maybe it’s time to go independent and strike out on your own. This does not mean you need to go and start a business, that is a very different journey, but going independent may be the life you are looking for.
By the way there is nothing new about this working model, it has been around for years in the movie industry. When a movie idea is decided on, the money, people and resources are drawn together, and a movie is produced and sold. Then at the end of this process the various people all go their separate ways on to new projects.
As a consultant, after working for many years you may reach a point and ask yourself, ‘Is this it?’ Is it just going to be year in and year out working for a Microsoft partner and finding you live and die by the amount of time you are billable or not on the bench?
Any great company should be focused on three key things in business, People–>Product/Services–>Profit. Companies that are not so great don’t understand that there is a correct order to these three Ps and that priority order is as listed: People–>Product/Services–>Profit.
But sometimes managers can forget this and put Profit upfront and in doing so destroy People in the process. What People? The employees, the consultant.
So, you maybe you’ve found yourself in this situation and decided it is time for change. Time to move on to greener pastures. I can tell you straight up the greener pastures are most likely not going to be another Microsoft partner.
If you are thinking about going independent, you need to start planning early. I would aim for 12-24 months working on specific activities that will set you up for the best chance of being successful as an independent consultant. It goes without saying that you need to hone your technical skills.
I was chatting with Joel Lindstrom the other day, and he used a word that I had not heard before. He used the word Autodidact to describe someone who is self-taught or self-educated. I think it is a necessary approach to learning for many consultants and especially those on their MVP journey. Technical skills aside, what else should you focus on leading up to going independent?
Build Your Network
You need to build a strong network of weak ties as per Nick Granovetter’s 1973 article The Strength of Weak Ties. I first came across this concept when reading a book called The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (there is a reason this book has 2,420 ratings on Amazon).
There are two business tools that can help you with building your weak ties in our community. They are LinkedIn and Twitter (Yes they link to my accounts, so feel free to connect). You need to start building your professional network with people that could hire you on their projects in the future. People that can see your reputation build over time. People who know what you are “known” for. The value you can bring. Start a habit today.
Choose five people each day of the week and connect with them, look at what they are doing, and comment on their content. It does not need to be public. I use LinkedIn Messenger a lot to do this.
Watch out for events in their lives that they share, it may be anniversaries, birthdays or when they change roles. They may post something that you are interested in, so take the opportunity to comment and build weak ties. One of these people may lead to a project you can work on in the future.
Don’t wait until you need this network; start on the journey of building this today.
If you have not worked this out yet, we live in a global market. Your reputation can spread much further than the place you grew up. Technology means you can now work anywhere in the world. Often the only barriers to where you can work in our field are the limits of your mind.
If you want to turn your thinking upside down on this, consider reading the following books that have impacted me massively:
- The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss
- The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want by Diane Mulcahy
- Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried
- Book Yourself Solid: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even if You Hate Marketing and Selling by Michael Port
For you to compete in this global marketplace, you need to become known for your unique set of skills.
You need to build a personal brand by starting with your own personal website, invest in yourself and your own brand. I have found by doing this, opportunities keep coming my way. I can add value to people and companies by applying my skills and experience. You can do the same thing. Hone your skills and build your personal brand.
Setting Your Rates
One of the things to consider when going independent is what you will charge. The books above have things to consider in setting your price, so take a read and learn from the experts.
One thing I have observed, and I raise it as a word of caution. I have seen consultants go independent and they set their rate as what their previous employer was billing them out as. If you work for a big consultancy and are charged out at £2000 per day, it is wrong to do your calculations of what you should charge and earn based on that number.
Big companies have things called overheads, like sales, marketing, insurance and myriad other costs. They also need to make a profit after paying you. That is why they may bill you out at the rate they do. Adjust your prices according to your costs and profit model. Put some rigor into your thinking around this.
Company of One
Consider setting yourself up as a company. There are many benefits to thinking of yourself as a company even if you plan to remain the only employee of your company forever. Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business by Paul Jarvis is a book that is well worth reading and has many tools to help you think about setting yourself up as an independent the right way.
Do You Need an Agent?
If you don’t build a personal brand you will need to consider getting yourself an agent, once again just like the movies, someone that can find you work and roles and take a cut of the action.
I would love to hear your thoughts and steps you are taking to go independent.