Many of you know, thanks to LinkedIn’s algorithms, that I have now been an independent consultant for four years. In fact, a number have written their congratulations. It does indeed feel like a time to both celebrate and to reflect. So here are some thoughts as well as some tips on the subject.
When you first tell people that you are going independent you tend to get a variety of responses. Some regard the phrase as merely a polite euphemism for “I’ve lost my job and I’m desperately looking for another one”. Many talk about how brave, reckless, or foolish you are to give up security for lifelong insecurity. But there are others who look at you with the puppy dog look of sadness tinged with a hint of jealousy. These are the people who would love to follow in your footsteps but are fearful of leaving the known and jumping into the unknown. They feel tied to their current job, regardless of whether they enjoy it, by financial obligations and, often, a perceived need for status. Or, in Belloc’s famous words: “Always keep a hold of nurse for fearing of finding something worse.”
Self-employment is a growing phenomenon. A recent survey suggested that by 2018 the number of self-employed could outgrow the size of the public sector. There are many reasons for this growth and they are not all what you might imagine. The same survey suggested that in the past five years only 27% became self-employed in order to escape unemployment. (For more on the RSA/Populus survey see http://bit.ly/1jMjNJI).
For many, the move to self-employment is about independence and the freedom to follow one’s nose. Like it or not, many organisations create a dependency culture. Pay, reward, recognition, promotion, working environment, and opportunities are all provided for. All you have to do is turn up to the office. However, in exchange for being provided with the sense that someone has your best interests at heart you have to park your independence and play by their rules. Typically this means working when and where and at what they want you to. Sometimes it means placing a higher value on input over output and on output over outcome. Often it means operating in a hierarchical structure with both spoken and unspoken group rules. Security often comes with a price and the price can often be to limit the opportunity for autonomy.
Independence, however, is scary. It is especially scary for people, like me, who had grown up in large organisational environments. Starting out on one’s own is both the most liberating and the scariest thing imaginable. It is a very fine line between these two emotions. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t change. A bit like tightrope walking: the moment that you think you’ve cracked it is the moment that you fall off. The bad news about being on your own is that there’s no one else to blame. The good news is that there’s no one else to take the praise. When you do succeed it is because of what you have done yourself.
Independence is a state of mind. It is a way of working for people who like making their own luck. It suits those who find life endlessly fascinating and enjoy being active. And so if you are thinking of taking the plunge, here are my ten top tips:
Unique offering – everyone has a unique blend of knowledge, experience and outlook that can be invaluable to other people. Use yours to create a focused offering. Start with something simple and evolve your offer over time
Offer value rather than be transactional – charging by the hour or day is best left to cab drivers and lawyers. Aim to offer value and stay away from the purely transactional
Give your ideas away for free – it may be counterintuitive, but give freely of your ideas, thoughts and contacts. Some people will abuse your generosity but others will repay you in full
Network – shake trees and kiss frogs. Meet people to share and learn. The more enriched you are, the more people will gravitate towards you
Blind alleys – don’t be afraid of driving around whilst watching the fuel gauge go down. Success is not a straight line and sometimes opportunities only appear after seemingly aimless wanderings
Alliances – having an anchor client, a one-day-a-week role, or a part-time role can be a great way to establish yourself as an independent and to build your contact base. Also, consider hooking up with other fellow travellers to share ideas and to huddle together to stay warm
Make mistakes – the bigger the better. It’s the only way to learn. For instance…no, it’s too embarrassing to say
Invest in yourself – take time to read, think, go to lectures, do courses, and doze
Ask – don’t be afraid to ask your contacts to betray a friend. In fact, I’d be very grateful if you could pass my name on to your contacts with your recommendation. Do tell them what an outstanding advisor, consultant and coach I am and how you’re positive that I could be of immense value to them. There really is nothing as powerful as a personal recommendation
Have fun – and, as Churchill said, keep buggering on…