So, you’re a consultant...now what?
Congratulations on making the decision to work for yourself! While challenging, being a consultant has the greatest rewards. Flexibility being the main one that led me to taking the leap four years ago. I wanted to travel and working at a desk in an office was not going to get me where I wanted to go.
If you’re like me, you took the leap without much thought to actually running a business and were more concerned about getting clients and starting to work. If you did have a plan, you’re my spirit animal . After years of trial and error, I have developed some key actions to consider before (or during) you flip the sign to “open.”
This piece is still my nemesis. I have always been organized but running the “behind the scenes” of a business is another beast altogether. Take the time to set up proper processes such as bookkeeping, contract development, invoice scheduling and project management structure. You can do all of these yourself but having proper documents in place before you need to invoice your first client will make your life so much easier. Blocking time in your calendar each week for business development, invoicing and admin tasks is an easy way to ensure they don’t get missed.
There are many contract templates on the internet, just Google to find what works best for your industry. Having your final contract reviewed by a lawyer is also good practice but not a necessity.
A simple bookkeeping software such as Freshbooks or Quickbooks can make invoicing and tracking expenses quick and easy. And you don’t need to be a numbers whiz at all, just load everything into the program and it takes care of everything.
Project management software is really all about personal taste. Do you like visual charts, lists, the option to share with your clients? Each one is different but with 30 day free trials you can find what is best for you. Trello, Slack and Basecamp are some of the most popular.
2. Find your niche.
When first starting out, many consultants take any and all work presented for fear of missing out on potential opportunities. You will quickly discover that this is both exhausting and defeating. Mainly, as you end up working with clients or on projects that don’t interest you.
Sit back, have a latte and figure out the type of sector/s you’d like to focus on and what specific services you’d like to provide. We all can’t be everything to everyone, so remember the days of working for others and what you loved working on and what made you want to throw your laptop across the room. Pro tip: focus your consultancy on the former.
Oh yes...boundaries. Sometimes I wonder, “what are those?” Boundaries are important as you start to become busier with juggling multiple clients and priorities. Contracts should provide clear deliverables and hours attached to those deliverables and anything outside of those parameters requires re-scoping the project.
Put an “out of office” on your email and/or voicemail after 7 p.m. indicating all messages will be returned the next day. While we exist in a 24-hour news and technology universe, you are not required to provide 24/7 service.
When taking time off, ensure your clients are aware of your plans and won’t be immediately accessible and perhaps bring on an assistant or intern to handle day-to-day activities in your absence.
4. And the biggest tip of all...never be afraid to ask for help or advice. People are always willing to provide insight and answer questions. Just reach out.