Do Politics and Small Business Mix? I Say Yes.

politicsA day before the 2016 Presidential election, I wrote a piece about the strengths and weaknesses of the Trump and Clinton campaign. But I left out one thing: who I was voting for. Why? I didn’t want to come off as biased or call attention to my political leanings.

A lot has changed since then. We’ve endured Trump in office for almost two years – the longest 21 months of our lives, whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or household pet. For those of us who are not Trump loyalists, it’s hard to stand by and do nothing during a massive amount of turmoil, divisiveness, and government corruption.

For big brands, turns out it’s a mixed bag to take a stand on political and social issues in the Trump era. In a June survey, two-thirds of American consumers want companies to share their views on social media, particularly when there is a business connection to the topic. For millennials, that approval number is even higher. Sharing those views is unlikely to change consumer minds, however. Worse yet, if they disagree with the views, more than half said they are less likely to purchase from the brand.

And while consumers expect companies to peel off the corporate mask, what are the risks and rewards for a small business or consultant to showcase their political views? Though eyeballs on brands are much greater than a little business, the impact in the small universe of clients, vendors, and followers can be equal or more.

Post-November 2016 election, one of the changes I made to my business was to step out behind my name. Here’s what I learned:

Have a game plan

Assess your social media channels and decide where it makes the most sense to post your views. Since I don’t have a Facebook business page, no issues there (I’ve always been comfortable being open on my personal page, despite the strong possibility of Russian bots hovering). I selected Twitter to express views since it naturally blends my personal and professional lives like no other social channel. Because LinkedIn is exclusively business focused, I only post articles about overlapping political topics, such as the recent voting PSA or the Colin Kaepernick Nike Campaign effect.

Know the risks

Revealing your political views in front of the world means you’re prepared to take some heat. I knew from the outset that I could alienate current and potential clients who may find my perceived Trump trashing on Twitter annoying. I was willing to face consequences and be OK with it. (Then again, I have more than one client.) I haven’t experienced any blow-back – yet anyway. On the positive side, I’ve bonded with certain vendors, clients, and colleagues in the industry as we group-therapy our way through these difficult times.

Be judicious

No one wants to see partisan posts all day long, including me, so mix it up. I typically tweet three to five times a day, interspersing political tweets that I find particularly relevant, smart, or entertaining. I also “like” tweets as an alternative to retweeting, which cuts down on newsfeed noise. Of course, as any good marketer would, I monitor trending topics and which political tweets are getting traction.

Be tolerant of others’ views

Lastly, one thing we’ve learned in Trump times (besides the fact that if we walk away for an hour, an insane new political twist occurs), is that we’re in the most tribal of times – right, left, middle – we stay on our sides. To say it’s polarizing is an understatement. We should at least listen to others’ views – whether clients, friends, or God forbid, family. It doesn’t mean we have to agree, but we should be respectful, or refrain from discussing altogether. If we don’t, Trump’s divisiveness works.

Bottom-line, it’s fine for me or anyone else to espouse their views, but the most important opinions matter on November 6.🇺🇸

 

 

 

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From the Consultant Files: Make That First Impression Count

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We all know that phrase, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Trite as it may sound, it’s also true. I put the shoe on the other foot (to borrow another cliché) and recently interviewed vendors for my website redesign. It was a stark reminder of how important that first meeting is. Here’s what I learned.

Do Your Homework

When I interview for a gig, I prep: research the position, company, potential client, you get the idea. One of the vendors I spoke with seemed to have no clue about the project (even though I emailed her about it in advance). Worse yet, I had to spell out my website address, which is my name. Don’t be that vendor. I’ve learned everything I need to know before we (don’t) go any further. Being unprepared reflects poorly— either you’re not interested, too busy, disorganized, or all of the above. Harsh? Yes, but goes back to that first impression.

Go Easy on the Critique 

That first call with a potential client always walks a tightrope: You want to show your value, but too much feedback or criticism can backfire. For instance, when the gig is to rewrite website copy, I don’t trash the current site since the person I’m speaking with may have approved it, or worse yet, wrote the copy. I let the client lead the conversation. One vendor suggested I get rid of my blog, even though I told her it was part of my marketing strategy. Another commented that it was a “red flag” when I told her I was busy and might be delayed in getting back to her sometimes. (Ironically my red flag was  her saying that.)

Gig First, Money Second

No consultant wants to waste time on a job that is not in his or her price range, including yours truly. But it’s not the first question that I ask about a contract. Sure, it’s in the top three but we’ll get to the money soon enough. One email exchange with a vendor ended the job before it even started when he relayed his minimum project amount (which was over my threshold). It reminds me of that famous quote from former supermodel Linda Evangelista back in the ’80s: “I don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.” It’s not always wise to reject a gig outright before you have all the info. What if this work leads to bigger and better projects? Or I can introduce you to others that can hire you? Don’t close a door before you know what’s behind it.

Follow Up the Right Amount

We’ve all been there, even for a 9-5 job: You have that first call, everything goes great, and now you have to gauge when to check back in. You want to show that you’re interested but not appear desperate. There are no hard and fast rules, but do something (unless you don’t want the work). Several vendors followed up at the right cadence; one even sent me ideas for potential design directions. Another vendor’s proposal didn’t come through due to an internet service glitch, which I only found out by contacting her. On the flip side, there can be toooo much communication. One vendor asked me to fill out a lengthy questionnaire before our call, even though I told her we were having an intro chat (she then shrunk the meeting invite to a measly 15 minutes). Unsurprisingly, that didn’t go over well.

Chemistry Matters

Like most relationships, that first call is a microcosm of what’s to come in the future. Did you have a natural back and forth, or was it awkward and stilted? Did the person ask the right questions? Did you have anything in common? While being chummy is not a requirement to work together, a decent rapport and good communication are. You’ll be collaborating closely, so pay attention to how you relate to one another. Building a client relationship isn’t just about your expertise, it’s also the interpersonal dynamics. Both matter and are part of the hiring package.

Treat Referrals with Care

When someone gives me a referral, I am not only grateful, but well aware I have an inside track to getting the contract over some random vendor. But it’s also not a guarantee I get the gig either. I still have to put in the work to show you’re the best fit for the job. Of the referrals for my project, some weren’t right fit, which is to be expected. That’s why I extended the same respect to the them that I would want when I don’t get a job. After I made my decision, I notified the candidates and thanked them for their proposals. We all put time and energy into landing a gig, so don’t leave vendors hanging.

In the end, I followed my gut from first impressions: I chose someone that I thought had the right mix of skills, clearly wanted the work, came with good references, and seemed reliable. Hopefully my next blog post won’t be another cliché: “Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” 😆

photo credit: Frabz.com

 

5 Ways to Make the Best Use of Your Freelancer’s Time (and Your Money)

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Big companies. Small companies. Startups. I’ve worked with all of them as a contract marketer and writer over the past almost two decades. They all have one thing in common: no standard way to work with freelancers.

How could they, though? There is no rule book or baseline. Based on my own experience, here are some practices I’ve learned that will always make financial sense that next time you bring in the contractor.

Start Work on Done Deals

Change happens. It’s a natural part of any project. However, some deliverables are more “dynamic” than others (See, I told you I was in marketing). If your project is in a state of flux, halt the contractor until the work is on lock down. Why waste everyone’s time and money on something that isn’t rock solid? I had a client for years that was hurry-up-and-wait on every project. I would block my time, work just a wee a bit on the project, release the time, rinse and repeat. Finally, this year, I decided 10th time’s a charm and became “too busy” for the work. Sad but true.

Don’t Use Contractors For Internal Processes

I would hazard to guess that 99% of freelancers despise administrative work (it might also be half the reason we left corporate America). Put it this way: We hate bureaucracy more than your average bear. Filling out forms, chasing people down, and working through internal systems… lots of work and little payoff for everyone involved, including whoever is tasked to explain everything to us and get us up to speed. Here’s a better idea: Assign those tasks to an employee that can do it faster and at less cost. It’s not the “not my job” thing but “doesn’t make sense” thing.

Think Before You Meet

Ask yourself this question first: Does the freelancer really need to be in on this meeting? If it’s essential for background, introductions, or a working meeting, then by all means yes. If it’s a nice-to-have or a routine team check-in that doesn’t involve our work, leave us out. Reminder: You are charged for each hour that we log. Even if it’s a project fee, put that time to good use. We could be focusing on your deliverables instead. A positive trend I’ve seen the past few years is 30-minute meetings. Corporate America has realized that when you have less time, you’re more productive and get sh*t done.

Embrace the Brain Dump

One of the biggest learning curves for freelancers is ramping up on projects with new companies. As we gain more experience, we also become more adept at figuring things out quickly. Please help us along by giving us the scoop on everything: work background, org charts, and anything else that is going to help us do the work more efficiently. Clients often say “I feel like I’m overwhelming you” in a brain dump, but we’re used to soaking up new information up like a sponge, and want it — everything will make sense later. This should also include the lowdown on politics, where to tread lightly, etc. It’s not gossip; it helps us get the job done without incident, which in the end, makes everyone look better – including you the client.

Write the Job Down

Sounds simple, but it doesn’t always happen in the rush to “get the contractor in ASAP.” No matter what the timeline is, written roles will always trump the possibility of your freelancer misunderstanding his or her priorities. Whether it’s a formal job description or an email with a bulleted list, provide some sort of document. If and when new responsibilities get piled on, the scope can be reviewed for time and budget. Last year, I was provided cryptic one-word answers to the role I was taking on, and sure enough, it ended up being a hodge-podge of tasks. That was my bad, but as contractors, we always learn new lessons, no matter how long we’ve been doing it!

On any new contract, both the client and consultant are  responsible for a successful project — but it will be the client who leads the consultant down the path in a straight line instead of falling into expensive potholes all along the way.

 

7 Changes I Made to My Freelance Business in 2017 (That I Won’t Regret in 2018)

2018   

As a freelance marketer for almost 20 years – many aspects remain constant – but 2017 wasn’t that year. Shifts happened in the way I do business – some of them painful and others enlightening. Maybe it was changing priorities, collective consulting experience, the political climate, or all three – but it happened and I’m grateful for it going into 2018.

#1 Don’t Hide Behind Your Brand

With Trump in office, many big brands decided took a stand – even us little “guys” (and women) got in on the action. Whether it was his immigration policy or slashing national monuments, I was inspired to express opinions on Twitter interspersed with my normal dose of industry content. I questioned: Should I be tweeting negative things about the administration? Should I open a pseudonym account? After all, personal branding 101 would advise that you put your “best self” forward, not necessarily your “true self.” But in these dangerous times, it was more important for me to be human than to worry if potential clients would be turned off by my views.

#2 Good Riddance to Client Drama

This year, after a short stint, I walked away from one of my all-star worst clients at a well-known Silicon Valley company. It wasn’t easy.  Yes, I was very unhappy there, but in the past, I would have gone through rigorous mental gymnastics to make a difficult situation work. But this past year I decided life is too short to spend time with difficult people. Of course, I’ve had occasional lively discussions with clients over the years, but when a person is downright unpleasant on a regular basis, it time to move on – no amount of money is worth it. Severing ties is a hard pill to swallow financially and emotionally, but it’s also liberating knowing there are always new clients I haven’t met yet. 

#3 Don’t Get Distracted by Shiny Objects

AI. Chatbots. Self-driving cars. Bitcoin. Fintech. Sound familiar? Of course, these are important and trendy tech topics that dominate the daily headlines. Last year, I spent too much time reading sexy articles that have little to do with my work. While interesting for conversations and increasing my general knowledge, I now focus more effort on content that benefits my clients and business. That time investment has much higher ROI than learning about the latest fashion-forward wearable.

#4 Take More Work Chances

Speaking of shiny objects, in the past I would have said “no” to contracts out of my wheelhouse. This year, began saying “yes” and in the process, also became more open to change. Learning about new industries like cannabis testing, management consulting, and solar energy got my brain neurons firing overtime and fueled new work interests and ideas. I now have new expertise and fresh confidence that I can take with me when another client comes along in one of these fields, or for something completely new. 

#5 There is No “Free” in Freelancing

Let me explain. This past year, I interviewed for a communications gig at an older, well-known tech company looking to reinvent itself. As I moved through the interview process, I was told no candidate had yet met their criteria as the “purple unicorn,” (that should have been my sign that something was amiss). Soon thereafter, the potential client wanted me to write an article on their product as another step to get the contract. I declined and ended the opportunity. Why? I had delivered a range of writing samples to demonstrate my credibility as a freelancer. At this point in my career, the work should speak for itself. If it doesn’t, I’m not a good fit for the role. This is not meant in a “cocky’ way, it’s that I have the confidence in my skills, and so should my clients.

#6 Give Yourself a Work Check-Up

Freelancers rarely (to never) have the luxury to sit down and develop a business plan or ask hard the questions like: What could I be doing better to service my clients? Am I networking enough? Is my online content full of digital cobwebs? We often to get so focused on clients, we neglect our own business needs. Working on improvements requires extraordinary self-discipline, especially when you’re busy, but it’s also a necessity. For 2018, I’ve identified several business areas to tackle and incremental action plans to get there. Baby steps are better than no steps.

#7 Say Yes to Vacations or Staycations

It’s widely known that freelancers often plan their time around clients and don’t proactively plan vacations. When we do have time off, it’s typically a slow work cycle (in which case we’re not working so shun spending money). Instead, I took advantage of unplanned time off a few months ago with a last-minute vacation to South America (thank you 85K travel miles). It’s easier said than done when you have bills to pay, but breaks help recharge your creativity and readiness to conquer the business world.

Whether it’s a mid-life crisis, personal growth goals, or other transformations, listen to the voice and follow your gut. Though sometimes difficult, embrace these shifts and you’ll be a better and happier consultant (and person) because of it.  After all, the only thing that is constant is change.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ten Commandments of Consulting

10 commandments17 years. 50+ clients. And 10 lessons I’ve learned running my freelance communications business (sometimes I’m schooled a few times, lucky me).

Obey your contracting creed. We all have our happy work place — pay attention to it. If you’re the type that gets distracted easily and seeks quiet to concentrate, park yourself at home (like me). If you crave socialization, head to the co-working space. Though these sound like obvious choices, the almighty dollar can sway you otherwise. When I moved to San Francisco from Sunnyvale seven years ago, my frequent and long drives to clients back and forth to the south bay were making me miserable. After my inaugural year of barely-contained road rage, I committed to only taking Silicon Valley gigs that were remote or called for only a few office visits. I am clear I don’t want to spend half my time in the car. Have I lost work because of it? Absolutely, but I’m also open for contracts that fit within my lifestyle (and there is much less yelling in the car).

Fake it till you make it.  Let me explain: when I am asked if I do graphic design, the answer is always no —  that is a gift that I do not have nor claim, BUT I can recommend designers and oversee project management (always offer clients a silver lining). On the other hand, several years ago when clients asked me for social media help, I self-taught online, grilled social media experts I knew, and implemented in my own business. Point being, if clients want a new skill and you realistically can and want to add to your wheelhouse, do it. But don’t ever lie about a skill. That will come back to bite you in a painful way, not to mention you’ll make enemies fast.

Trust your gut. Like most things in life, if something doesn’t feel or smell right, it isn’t. If a client seems vague, the work has PITA written all over it, or any other reason your brain and gut are duking it out, follow the gut, it will always set you straight. Example? An ex-client (emphasis on ex-) blurted out during our interview “You’ll really dislike me and want to leave this job.” We both laughed, but she was right, I was gone a few months later. And so was the other freelance writer she hired. This is a rare occurrence, but it does happen. In the battle between head and gut, embrace the latter instead of shoulda woulda coulda thinking.

Always carry your business card.  These days, business cards are considered passé or unnecessary. But sometimes analog wins. There is nothing like a visual reminder for potential clients than your business card. One of the largest contracts I’ve had in my consulting career appeared during a mani pedi session at the local salon. The woman in the chair next to me turned out to be the director of communications for a leading Silicon Valley company – and was looking to fill a contract marcom role. Voila! A new client was born (and yes, my biz card was handy). You never know when your services will be needed for a gig. This doesn’t mean you’re always in “sales” mode, it means be ready when it happens.

Different rates for different tasks is a no-win. If a client wants an a la carte rate menu, you’ll usually end up with the short end of the financial stick. Why? This payment model is based on the premise that certain tasks are more important (and should pay more) than others. Think of it this way: no matter where you’re spending time, it’s related to the project. For me that would be research, writing, editing, or meetings — they are all interrelated in producing a great end result. The one thing you cannot get back is time, so don’t give it away – it’s your most valuable asset as a consultant.

It’s client or company bon voyage. If your client quits to go to another company, be prepared to stay with to the company or leave with that person in their next role. Also know that sometimes you’ll be out of a gig when the new client comes in with “their own people.” Prepare for all of these options at any time. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes. Cultivate good, healthy relationships around your client— a stakeholder or decision-maker surrounding them could be your next boss. One company I worked with went through three marcom directors before it was purchased, but I stuck with the firm.

Hold your work cards close. Whether you’re busy at the moment, courting other clients, or desperate for a new gig, there is no need to tell potential clients. When asked about your bandwidth, find out what the work scope is first. This is not a game or sneaky tactic, it’s just good business. And when it comes to the almighty dollar, think of yourself as a negotiation ninja — the first person who opens their mouth usually loses. That doesn’t mean you’re out to gouge clients,  but get the most financial power for your skill-set. Be reasonable in your expectations, but also be smart and never, never undersell yourself.

Say goodbye to team spirit. Truth: You are not part of the team no matter how many happy hours you attend, kudos you get on that project, or office friendships you’ve cultivated. You are not getting a regular paycheck, you are an outsider contributing to projects at a company.  You must be OK with this fact. Some freelancers get their feelings hurt along the way. I appreciate and respect the people and teams I have worked with, but the nature of consulting is impermanence. If that premise makes you uncomfortable, hit up the full-time job ads.

Set ground rules early with friends. Some consultants have a policy that they never work with friends. But if you decide to engage, it comes down to communication. I have worked with one close friend for years because we keep business and friendship separate and professional. If there was ever an issue, we put friendship first. We also benefit from a shorthand that improves project collaboration and outcomes. Conversely, I’ve worked with one friend who took advantage of the situation and didn’t put in her best effort as a sub-contractor. Unsurprisingly,  we didn’t work together again but we’re still friends. Wherever you stand on this, know the risks and rewards before you commit.

There is one word I haven’t mentioned anywhere, and one most associated with consulting: risk. This is a top reasons people don’t go into freelancing, or leave it. So here’s your last commandment (that is also one of my favorite quotes): Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Believe it. Consulting never ceases to amaze me — the variety, the fun, the challenges. One thing is for sure, when you join the ranks of the independents, you’ll never be bored.

 

Answer These Questions Before Starting Your Freelance Business

Every year, millions of corporate employees fantasize about breaking out of their cube shackles to start a consulting business. In fact, freelancers make up 35% of our national economy—that’s 53 million people! Are you going to be one of them in 2017?

Before you make that jump, answer these nine questions.

#1 Are you obsessed with it?
enOk that sounds a bit extreme and stalker-ish but like most things, if you don’t really (really) want it and aren’t fully committed, it won’t happen. You’ll find excuses, you’ll delay, you’ll talk about it but never take action. It has to be at the top of your priority list. Something you can’t stop thinking about. An itch you have to scratch. If you don’t feel this way, you’re not in 100% and that’s a recipe for failure. I’ve witnessed this as colleagues “trial” freelancing it but don’t go all-in, and unsurprisingly end with a thud (and feeling bad about themselves). Freelancing isn’t like going vegetarian for a month – it’s going to be a big part of your life. Take it VERY seriously or don’t take it at all.

#2 Does it scare the sh*t out of you? (in a good way)

f6There is a saying “Fear is the great extinguisher of  dreams…Conversely, it can be your best mentor and source of motivation.” Though my uncorporate lifestyle seems natural to me now with the built-in highs and lows, life wasn’t always this way. Freelancing to me is “controlled risk”: you look fear in the face most of the time but also get the rewards of your efforts. When you close the door on corporate, you  hit salary, benefits, and other cozy securities on the way out (not to mention those awesome free snacks). As a freelancer, you may have periods of “stability,” but get used to those air quotes – that word won’t be in your vocab often.


#3 Do you get bored with routines?            

f1Sure there are built-in habits we all have, whether it’s the rabid commitment to three cups of coffee before you talk to anyone, or lunch with your bestie every Friday, or being crazy busy during tax season if you’re an accountant. But the guts of your business – the pace, the timeline of work, the daily schedule, the ups and downs, will have a choreography of their own. One evening you can burn the midnight oil for a deadline and the next morning scout for a new client, or go for a walk in the middle of the day  – but you need to thrive on the variety, not fear it.  Which leads me to my next question…

#4 Are you exceptionally self-disciplined?
f3Yes, you’ll have an ever-changing life, but you also have to hunker down when you need to – big time. This is a core characteristic of freelancing. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I’m tempted to watch TV all day (no, just while eating lunch); or if I get up at 10am (nope again, but I don’t get up at 5am either). Like a regular job, you have to prioritize work and get it done in a timely fashion. The difference?  You won’t have a boss in your face pressing you on a deadline or cube mates noticing when you leave the office. And sometimes you’re working with two or three clients at a time so you practice your juggling skills. Sure there are times you can relax with wiggle room, but the majority is spent working or hustling for new work (or both).

#5 Do you have back up in the bank?
small busThis is another biggie if you’re going out on your own. How much is up to you. I recommend six months to cover personal expenses (not to mention start-up costs for your business). I realize not everyone can do this. However, a baseline of financial security provides a good balance of work-your-butt-off to-get-clients but also know that you have resources to live and take the stress level down a notch. Yes, you could challenge yourself to go out on your own without funds, but you may make decisions you regret – like take a client you’re not crazy about, sign up for work beneath your level, or even slog some lattes at Starbucks if you’re that desperate. The healthiest balance is to have a financial security blanket as you build your business.

#6 Are you able to turn off the perfectionist gene?        
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Here’s a secret: it’s pretty darn easy to start a freelance business. A lot of people think it’s tons of work and get overwhelmed and scrap the idea altogether. You don’t need an elaborate marketing plan, payroll system, or office space – especially these days with a computer, connection, and tons of online freelancer services for everything from productivity to accounting. Don’t spend tons of money on your business when you’re just starting out. A few years ago, a colleague delayed her coaching business until she built this complicated client interface that cost thousands of dollars. Start professional but lean. Pivots are common and your work focus can change, especially at the beginning. Pick and choose the must-haves. It’s easy to feel pressure to have the crème de la crème when you start out, but it’s better to iterate your business as you go.

#7 Do you enjoy your own company?
f2This is not a question we often ask ourselves. When I went out on my own in 1999 the world of the internet was a lot smaller. Yes, there was email and the “net”, but there was no social media, Skype, apps, smartphones, and the rest of technology we rely on to keep us connected (and often distracted by). Back then, you had to be very purposeful in daytime socializing. Even though now we have a plethora of red notification lights continuously assaulting our senses, you’ll likely still spend a lot of time by yourself. There are ways to reduce alone time if it bothers you: join a co-working space, go to your client’s office, or schedule social time every day, but it won’t make solo time disappear.  If you find this inherently bothersome, freelancing may not be for you.

#8 Are you a natural or unlikely sales person?
smmmmGet that used car salesperson image out of your head. We’re all in sales one way or the other. Think of when you sell an idea to your boss with a PowerPoint presentation, or try to convince an employer to hire you, or sweet-talk a friend into trying a new cuisine she’s unfamiliar with. Freelancing forces you to be a natural connector. That means everything from going to networking events to having your elevator pitch down for random people you meet, to branding on social media. One trap I’ve seen (usually accompanied by the disdain for selling) is to rely on one client. That work could go away at a moment’s notice for a variety of reasons, but more importantly, it flies again why started a business in the first place. I know one colleague that only works for her former employer as a contractor, so she’s just working the same job for the same company without benefits.

#9 Are you prepared for blowback?
f4You’ll be starting a business, running a business, and thinking of your business – a lot. All of this “business” bleeds often over to your family, friends, vacation plans, and other important parts of your life. Some people may not understand why you work for yourself or worry about you. You’ll likely hear comments from certain corners like: “You work too much” or questioning your judgement with “Don’t you want an easier life?” and negative comments that (mostly) come from care. For this reason, make sure you cultivate plenty of social opportunities with supportive people who either have their own business or appreciate it. Join consulting groups, have coffee (or drinks for venting get-together) with other freelancers, and always remember why you stepped out on your own in the first place.

Well there you have it…did you answer a Big Fat Yes to all of these? Yes, there are many other factors that go into deciding to go freelance, but you’re off to a great start!

 

 

Five Consulting Reality Checks

nickThere’s a reason for stereotypes: Sometimes they’re true. But a lot of times they’re not. As a freelancer for 16 years, I’ve gotten all of these questions, multiple times: Do you wake up at noon? Do you charge clients every time they pick up the phone? Do you hate any of your clients? The answer to all of these questions is an unequivocal no, but I will spill intel that you won’t hear elsewhere.#1 You’re either a consulting type or you’re not

Plenty of friends and colleagues talk about starting their own businesses. It’s fun to chat about but hard to do: You work your ass off most days. You scour for jobs on the others. Your business and your personal life blend too much. Vacations are a rarity. And there certainly is no job security. While not an easy path, it’s very rewarding. I’ve known some folks who go in and out of consulting, but 99% either stick with it or not—there’s not much in between.

#2 We have different rates for different clients

There, I said it. This might come as a shock and even seem unfair, but consulting is not a one size fits all business. If you’re a big corporate client, for instance, I know the going rates versus a small business who can’t afford as much or is cheaper. Or a nonprofit. Or a friend of the family. Or the project is long-term versus a one-off. There are lots of reasons for different pricing. You can be sure I won’t gouge you, but all factors are taken into consideration to come up with that magic number.

#3 Expenses. Are. High.

I’m not asking you to take out the violin, but understand that even if you think you’re shelling out a small fortune, much of that money is already allocated: besides life expenses like housing and food, there’s health insurance, office costs, gas/travel, marketing, client meals and gifts, and that little thing called taxes every quarter. Know that a fair chunk of that 1099 check is going to it. The high rolling consultant trope is only a fantasy held by clients and well, us.

#4 We’ll work harder for you than the typical employee

This might seem presumptuous and even downright cocky, but there is a reason we put such effort into our work: We’re only as good as our last job with you. Employees have an ongoing flow of work and opportunities to show their stuff, not to mention a semblance of job security. Us?

We’re judged on every engagement. Being too comfortable can be the biggest downfall. It’s a great motivator to go that extra mile, every time. Which leads me to the last truth…
#5 We’re committed to you, but we’re always dating.

It’s not that we’re planning to cheat on you by running off with the competition, but we don’t have blinders on either. And don’t forget we have other clients. Like any open relationship, we still go to networking events, meet with other work suitors, and scan the job ads. We know that you could leave your company or get laid off. Budgets get cut. Or a new person comes in with their own cronies. We have to protect our investment in you. Remember that variety is a reason consultants do what we do. We don’t just love working for ourselves; we love working with lots of you.

One last truth: We are nothing without you. Clients are the lifeblood of our business and we learn a lot from these relationships, even if we don’t tell you that. We become smarter, grow as a work partner, hold up a mirror to our strengths and weaknesses, become better problem solvers, and even help evolve our businesses.

So thank you for letting me do what I love—but my payment terms are still net 30.