In a few weeks, I’ll celebrate 13 years as an independent consultant. It’s kinda crazy to think about. Most days, it feels like I just made the leap! And, over those 13 years, I’ve talked to a lot of people who have been considering “making the leap” to solo life.
In fact, just the last couple years, during the pandemic, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of these conversations. Maybe that’s due to people getting sick of their jobs more. Maybe it’s due to the “work whenever, wherever” culture that seems to be taking hold. Whatever the case, I’m hearing a lot more questions–and seeing a lot more people take the leap, which is great!
Since I have a fair amount of these discussions with people, I thought I’d lay out my top 7 considerations when making the jump from full-time gig to the solo lifestyle. These aren’t really “watch outs”, as some people like to call them, but rather just things to make sure you think through thoroughly before taking that final step to independent working.
#1 – Make sure you’re comfortable being alone
Now, we all got a taste of what this lifestyle is like the last couple years thanks to COVID. But pre-COVID, I used to ask people “how many people did you see today?” The answer, usually, was “a lot” ranging from 10-15 if the person worked for a smaller company to 100+ if they worked somewhere like Best Buy. Then, I would respond by telling them I saw ONE PERSON today (them!) who wasn’t my wife or two kids. That’s the reality of solo life. You’re alone–a LOT. If you’re a super extrovert and you draw your power from other people, this probably isn’t for you. And sure, there are coworking spots. Yes, there are coffee shops you can work from. But, professionally, you’re on your own. That’s a huge shift a lot of people don’t think about first.
#2 – Can you handle not getting a lot of credit?
When I meet people at a party and they ask “What do you do for a living?” and I say “I’m an independent social media consultant”, you can imagine what those folks are thinking. I’ll just tell you: they typically think I’m either unemployed or searching for a full-time job. What’s more, as a solo, you don’t get a fancy title. And sure, you can say you’re the president of XYZ agency, but that doesn’t carry near the same weight in most circles as those who are VPs of comms at places like Medtronic, Target and Best Buy. What’s more, solos don’t get much public recognition. There are no awards for us (by and large, at least). There’s just our work and the knowledge that our lives are probably more flexible than our VP counterparts. You have to be OK with that, and have the ability to stay strong knowing that trade-off is worth it.
#3 – You have to be OK figuring things out on your own
As a solo, you have no IT department to fix your computer when it breaks. That’s all you, my friend. Or, what about all the admin work? I mean, you could hire a virtual assistant to handle that kind of stuff, but looking for that person and hiring them is on you, too. My point: All the little things you had “people” for before at the companies that employed you–yeah, you’re expected to figure that out on your own as a solo. If that gives you hives, this isn’t for you because there’s a LOT of that from week to week.
#4 – You don’t really need a web site (or business cards, for that matter)
Not everyone agrees with me on this one, but I firmly stand by my long-time claim that you really don’t need a polished web site to be a successful solo consultant. Many people put way too much stock in that. What you do need is a way to market yourself. Now, that may include a web site–sure. But, I could also see someone saying “I’m going to start out by using LinkedIn as my marketing tool of choice and we’ll see how that goes.” Sure a web site helps legitimize you a bit and provides an online home base for your business, but you don’t need one to get started.
#5 – How’s your network? And how do you feel about actively networking on a regular basis?
This will be the lifeblood of your business. No question. Talk to any successful solo consultant and ask them where their business comes from. I would guess 99% of them will say “referrals.” And those referrals come directly from your network. So if you have a great network, you’re starting from a position of power. If not, you better be super comfortable networking on a regular basis to grow the number of people you know. The business isn’t going to magically show up on your doorstep. You need to cultivate those personal relationships so A) People know who you are and what you do, and B) People like you enough to hire you when they have a need.
#6 – What else are you going to do to drum up business?
Networking is a great first step. But, it can’t be the ONLY thing you do to drive new business your way. Here’s a list of the things I do under the guise of “new business”:
- Blogging – 1-2 times per week
- Podcasting – once a month
- E-newsletter – once a week
- Mastermind groups – I manage 2, each meets once a month
- Speaking gigs – usually 4-5 a year
- My own speaking gigs – I’ve been organizing my own quarterly webinars recently
- Adjunct professor – this work gives me the opportunity to bring all sorts of people into the classroom; people who are potential clients and referral sources
Now, admittedly, I do a lot of new business work. Probably too much. You don’t need to do nearly this much. But, you need to do *something*. Make sure you’re thinking about which of the items above (or other strategies) you’re comfortable with and make a plan for how you’ll pull that off.
#7 – What’s your plan for keeping your life in balance?
One of the biggest benefits of being a solo is there’s no one to boss you around. You are your own manager! But, that can also be a detractor for some. Case in point: There’s no one telling you “hey, you’re working way too hard, why don’t you take a week off.” Or, “You just worked 4 12-hour days in a row. Why don’t you just take Friday off.” As solos, we’re often our own worst enemy. We work ourselves into the group. So, we have to be uber-cognizant of our own balance and how we achieve it. I work at this by essentially taking Friday afternoons off in the summer to play golf. I work pretty hard all week (and on weekends)–Friday afternoons are “me time.”