Taking the plunge as a freelance IT consultant
The transition from employee to freelancer is a big decision, and there are both advantages and disadvantages to giving up the safety of an employment contract to leap into independence. But in return, if you succeed as a freelance consultant, you can create a unique career, with freedom, flexibility and more money in your bank account. Here is some good advice on taking the first steps as an independent freelance consultant.
By Claus Schack, sourcing manager at ProData Consult with over 12 years of experience in advising freelance consultants
1. Do you have what it takes?
Let’s make one thing clear at the outset: Being a freelance consultant is not for everyone. The most important prerequisite is a foundation of experience and skills which are in demand on the market. The leap from employee to freelancer also has implications on both the professional and private fronts.
Professionally, you must thrive under considerable pressure, and you must be able to land in an organization and start delivering from day one. You need to have a heavy professional ballast, be resilient and be prepared to stake your good name on what you deliver. Personally, you must thrive with the increased risk connected with freelance work, and you must be able to take on a more exposed role than you have in a permanent employment situation. Freelance consultants are seldom security addicts.
If you can live with the pressure and the uncertainty connected with the life of a freelance consultant, you have the possibility to create a career which brings you exciting challenges as well as financial gain.
2. What are you good at?
The path to becoming a good freelance consultant starts with you. What are you good at? Or perhaps even more important: What aren’t you good at? This may sound like a simple question to answer, but self-understanding is a difficult discipline for many people.
Start by acknowledging that you aren’t an expert in everything. As a consultant, you get hired on the strength of your specialist knowledge, which is why it’s important for you to be able to define your area of expertise with extreme precision. From the perspective of the client, external consultants have no learning curve, and they demand that you deliver at a high level from day one. The client expects you to be a specialist within a domain, and if the client’s expectations harmonize with your abilities, you have every chance of becoming a success.
Find a professional ‘sparring partner’ who dares to challenge your view of yourself and who can pose the right questions. Preferably someone who knows what it takes to be a consultant, and who’s used to identifying and highlighting core skills. This can pave the way to a greater awareness of what your strengths are. Self-awareness is a huge advantage in relation to getting matched with the jobs where you’ll succeed.
3. Learn to communicate what you’re capable of
When you know what you’re good at, you can communicate it.
Create a clear pattern when you explain what you’re capable of. Your expertise must be presented as an objective truth. In other words, there must be a clear link between the things you’re an expert in and the things you’ve worked with previously. This applies to how you present yourself both in person and in writing.
Put yourself in the listener’s place and consider carefully who you are communicating with. It’s your responsibility to make the listener understand what you’re capable of. This applies both when you’re talking to the client as wells to consultancies, sourcing and recruitment specialists and other professionals in your network. Remember that the people you meet on the road towards a job don’t always have the same expert knowledge that you have.
The better you are at communicating what you’re good at, the greater chance you have of succeeding. Not only do you avoid being matched with the wrong jobs. You also ensure that the client has realistic expectations about your abilities. If you’re assigned to a job where the client’s impression doesn’t match your skills, you risk failing in the client’s eyes and being labelled as incompetent. Bad publicity has a tendency to spread even when it’s not justified.
4. You are your brand
As a freelance consultant, you have to rethink yourself as a brand. You are just one of many products on the shelves. For this reason, remember to always protect your professional reputation and to take responsibility for marketing and selling the product in an appropriate way. Stand out from the crowd in relation to your competitors and only take on jobs where you can deliver the best possible quality.
5. Take control
Take ownership of your own success. Take control of your profile and your opportunities for landing the right jobs. No consultancy can guarantee you new projects. Keep your ears open, and choose the consultancies you want to work with. Use your network to navigate towards the right jobs and to create the right connections.
Make demands on your business partners. Agree on the guidelines for how you want your CV and your profile to be presented to clients. If you have control over what jobs you are proposed for and how you are presented, you have a better chance of landing in the right places.
6. And then there’s the financial side of things
The issue of how to handle self-employment as a freelance consultant is a chapter in itself. But we do want to point out that there are certain administrative, tax-related and financial conditions you need to have under control before you take the plunge.