Thinking of going independent?
Today's my first anniversary since I switched from an employee to an independent consultant and launched my company, Top Line Focus. Many friends and acquaintances asked for advice throughout the year, so as I reflect on year #1, I thought I'd share some of my secret sauce.
Play to your strengths. I turned down more assignments than I accepted because they didn't fit my greatest strengths. Note I used the word "greatest." I had the basic skills, but given that it was outside my sweet spot, I knew I'd only deliver average results, which would hinder my reputation and preferred price point.
Know your market. Since most of my prospecting is through networking, having a clear niche is paramount. Ambiguity will result in your network not working for you. Create an ideal client profile and communicate it to anyone who will listen. Besides the obvious data like market segments, revenue target, and the number of employees, also discuss more esoteric items like pain points, challenges, and mission.
Define what makes you come alive. Before going independent, know yourself and what motivates you. If you're unsure, read the book Flow by the world-renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I read this book many years ago, and it helped me identify the environmental characteristics necessary for me to be "in the flow."
Listen and be open to change. Feedback is hard to hear, but don't allow yourself to be deaf. Ask your clients what's working for them and what needs to change. Listen carefully for what's being said and what's not being said. Then, be creative in your response. Remember, your buyer matters most. Hear their feedback and adjust to meet their needs. Feedback has helped me reprioritize work based on its perceived value, resulting in a key shift in my business model.
Always be networking. The hardest part of being independent is always needing an overflowing pipeline of future gigs. Networking is my favorite activity; don't consider it a chore. Listen with an open heart and open mind. Sometimes it's total misfits, but I thoroughly enjoy learning more about the industry and entrepreneurs. My words of wisdom: 1) make learning the objective of networking, 2) document your discussion in a CRM, and 3) set a goal. My minimum goal is 20 people/month, and I've exceeded it every month since inception. All it takes is a common interest and a 15-minute call. You'll be amazed at the wonderful people you meet!
Set realistic goals. I'm a huge fan of SMART goals that include a cliff, a target, and a stretch goal. Do this for your business. I set the exact minimum amount I wanted to make by month 3, month 6, and month 12. I then socialized it with my husband, and we agreed that if I hit those minimums, I'd stay self-employed. I also knew my target amount and stretch amounts. I'm happy to say I'm beyond the mid-point between target and stretch, so I'll continue my journey as an independent.
Track your time. I've tried various online tools, but I didn't have the knack for them, so I reluctantly admit Excel won out. I start every day by entering all appointments, planned work, networking, volunteering, writing, researching, reading, and even personal time. Each line item has a start time and duration. I end every day (yes, every single solitary day), by validating my time tracker. It's the only way to evaluate whether I'm spending my time wisely and cost-effectively. For me, it's also my early warning sign when I'm heading out of balance.
I hope you found this post informative, and if you're thinking of going out on your own - as an independent consultant or as an entrepreneur, I'd love to hear your story and happy to share more of mine. Just reach out on LinkedIn or email me at linda@toplinefocus.