I’d been drawn to the idea of working myself for a long, long time. The ability to be able to choose who I work with, what I work on and when I work on it was something I found hugely attractive. But for a number of reasons, mainly family-related ones, the timing never seemed right. The security of a regular wage was of too great a value.
Having eventually made the leap, I’d recommend it to anyone. Being able to make your own decisions is nothing short of liberating. I’ve previously written about the things I learned in the first few weeks of working for myself, and three months in I’ve encountered a few more ups and downs.
Variety is the spice of life
One day last week I spent the morning talking to microbusiness owner in a town near to my home, helping him to devise a strategy to drive footfall to his bistro using social media. I then spent the afternoon working on the high level strategic rollout of a content management and analytics platform across multiple European countries for a global motor manufacturer. The next day, I ran a digital media and SEO training session for a PR agency.
I absolutely love the fact that no two days are the same as an independent consultant. My client base currently ranges from a three-person boudoir photography studio to a forty-head communications agency to an international consumer brand. Each has very different challenges, and that keeps life extremely interesting.
The best laid plans…
Like any professional services business, you have to plan ahead when you’re an independent consultant. I have a working plan that looks three months ahead to projects that I have already secured or can see on the horizon. That’s the (relatively) easy part.
The difficult part is what happens when you carefully schedule projects in so that you’re busy but not overworked…and then one or more projects slip through no fault of your own. This happens all the time in the agency world, but as an agency with multiple staff you can shift things around and absorb the impact fairly easily.
When you’re on your own, the impact is far greater. In the last month a shifting project has left me with a quiet spell followed by an insanely busy spell. As an independent consultant, you’re somewhat dependent upon clients delivering when they say they’ll deliver.
Honesty is the best policy
One thing that has always wound me up about agency life for as long as I can remember is the ‘yes culture’ that exists.
“I know it’s last minute, but I’d like a meeting tomorrow to talk about the project.” “Yes, Mr Client.” “And I’d like a comprehensive presentation reviewing the status so far with together with all progress.” “Yes, Mr Client.” “Can we make it 5am in the Outer Hebrides?” “Yes, Mr Client.” “And please hop on one leg for the entirety of the meeting.” “Yes, Mr Client.”
I jest, but ‘yes culture’ is not healthy. It’s borne from a desire to exceed client requirements, but it leads to lots of stress and unrealistic expectations.
When I went independent I promised myself to be honest with people (at least as much as possible) and if that meant saying ‘no’, then so be it. And you know what? The world doesn’t collapse. As long as you explain why you’re saying no, people are reasonable.
The same applies if you haven’t been able to do something you said you would. Don’t spin it, just be honest. Explain why. People respect you for it.