So, you’re packing in your traditional employment and you’ve decided becoming a consultant is how you want to proceed – congratulations! This decision could change your life – but here’s your first major hurdle: finding work in the first few months.
Of course, no work means no income, no income means financial trouble, and financial trouble means an unsustainable way of life. You obviously don’t want to find yourself back at your old office, begging your former boss for your job back.
Once your consultancy business starts to gain a reputation and the testimonies and reviews begin to pile up, you’ll find work a lot easier to come by – but how do you find work to get the ball rolling, and continue to get the kind of clients that will keep inviting you back?
Word of mouth
Firstly, here’s the most obvious and straightforward one – word of mouth. If you’re excited about your new career, make sure everyone knows it. Don’t feel like a burden for contacting your nearest and dearest, explaining you have this exciting new business, and that you’d really appreciate if they could help you get the word out. You’d do the same for them, right?
Other than tapping up your immediate contacts, here are a few other ways to pick up clients (if you’d prefer to watch a video, we have a episode of our jargon-free Take the Leap series all about finding and landing clients.
Get your own website
Hosting your own business website gives you a professional aura and can be an easy way for clients to find you online, especially if you’ve taken advantage of some of our handy search engine optimisation tips.
There’s a big market out there for Content Management Systems (CMS) that allow you to create professional-looking websites with little or no coding knowledge. Tools like Squarespace or Wix can get your personalised site online within a couple of hours for free – providing you let them host ads on your site (ad-free options tend to start at around £10 a month).
If you’re too busy to knock your site together yourself – or want something a bit more bespoke – why not search local jobs boards for website designers? If your specialist services would benefit them, they may even be interested in doing a skills trade instead of a cash payment.
Organise your social media presence wisely based on your industry. Depending on your line of work, consider making accounts on the most popular platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. If you’re becoming a consultant, you should have a good idea of where your target audience tends to hang out.
Weigh up how much of your outside-of-work personality you want to share with potential clients. Honesty and transparency are certainly desirable traits for a consultant, but try to keep it professional – oversharing or getting into public online ‘beefs’ might put many would-be clients off.
There’s also more to social networking than the standard big platforms that your friends and relatives are all on. Sites like Reddit, Quora and sector specific community forums allow you to respond to pressing questions that someone of your standing is best qualified to answer – a polite alternative to interrupting people’s conversations in the pub. You may find better quality leads coming from these areas.
In case you need a hand getting started, we have a downloadable guide to Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses.
You know you have a vast knowledge of your chosen subject, but have you demonstrated this to your audience? Providing evidence that you know what you’re talking about via or blog or vlog (preferably both!) will bump up your credibility while providing a much-needed relatable touch to help you stand out from your competitors.
Be sure to include a newsletter signup form on your blog to ensure anyone who wants to stay in touch has an easy way to subscribe to your content – of course, you’ll need to make sure this is GDPR compliant!
As YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world behind Google, you’d be remiss not to consider how a strong presence on the video streaming platform can generate subscriptions, and hopefully build strong leads. If you’re stuck for content ideas, why not repurpose some old written content for a video tutorial?
Networking events are great places to pitch your services to business partners, as well as potential customers, or people who can point you in the direction of work.
Getting out and about amongst your target audience via networking events, meetups (like the regular ones Crunch Chorus present in Brighton) will help to keep you visible.
Go into these armed with a professional-looking business card which contains all your important messaging and credentials, as well as somewhere to note down any important info you pick up during the event.
If you come across another business that you think your target audience might be interested in, the feeling could be mutual. If you suspect this is the case, make contact and see what sort of relationship you can foster – a rising tide lifts all boats, after all. Who knows, a successful chat could result in you going halves on some promo material, sharing much-needed advice, or even entering a partnership.
Job boards and recruitment agencies
Recruitment agencies have access to thousands of jobs and, often, contacts with thousands more employers and companies, greatly improving your chances of finding work and opportunities.
The kicker is that recruiters could charge anywhere between 10% and 25% in commission fees. Even if you go on to do more work for the company they put you in contact with, they’ll often do what they can to take credit for putting you in touch in the first place.
To give you a head start, we’ve compiled a large list of great freelance job websites, which many thousands of people have utilised to help them find work.
Responding to enquiries
Quite often, you’ll receive enquiries simply asking for your rates. In these situations, it’s worth picking up the phone to ask them what they need, how you can help and what their budget is. This way you can get a better idea of what they’re trying to achieve, whilst building a rapport with the potential client.
If they have objections, you may deem it appropriate to haggle based on their expected rate, or explain to them that your rates are proportionate to your skills, experience and ability. By paying a little more, your clients can get a better service. Our article “How Much Should I Charge My Clients?” will help you decide on a sensible rate.
Impressing the client
You should never walk into an interview or meeting without ensuring you’ve done your research on the company. Failure to do so may result in you being perceived as someone who is too lazy to invest in.
What you’ll need to know depends on the type and level of the role you’re going for; at the very least, you should know what they do, how they do it, where they do it, and who they do it for.
Make sure your CV is tailored sufficiently to the gig for which you’re applying. Your CV is effectively your sales pitch, so you’ll need to dedicate some time to it – and make sure you’re selling yourself effectively. Of course, this can take a lot of time, and can be frustrating on the occasions when your time and effort go to waste, so it’s sensible to put together an easily-editable ‘master’ version of your CV. Just remember to double-check you’ve not left inappropriate bits from previous iterations in!
While your CV states you have certain skills and experience, a portfolio demonstrates those skills. It’s a tangible way of showing your potential client you have the traits they’re looking for in a successful candidate. This can be in the form of a slide deck, a blog, video, or website. Our “Land your dream gig with the ultimate contractor CV” article delves deeper.
Make sure you can talk about each section of your CV and portfolio, and have answers prepared for questions that are likely to arise.
Author of ‘From Crew to Captain’ series David Mellor has some advice regarding points that tend to come up in sales meetings:
- “Remember to differentiate between the features (what it is) and the benefits (what’s in it for the buyer of your offering.”
- “If you are asked what your USP (Unique Selling Point/Proposition) is, make sure you have a response. Silence will not help your cause.”
- “If you are asked for proof that you can do what you say you are offering, ensure you have some options up your sleeve e.g. qualifications, case studies, testimonials. The crucial issue is to de-risk the decision from the buyer’s perspective.”
After more great interview tips? Check out our “Interview tips for freelancers and contractors” article.
Confused about IR35?
IR35 is a tax law introduced to combat tax avoidance by workers supplying their services to clients via an ‘intermediary’ (such as a limited company) who would otherwise be an employee. If an assignment is ‘inside IR35′ then HMRC expects the correct employment taxes to be paid.
As a consultant, if you’re working for multiple clients and truly in business in your own right rather than being treated as if you were an employee, you should be fine. But, even so, you need to make sure that you’re IR35 compliant. This can be confusing, but our IR35 page can help you make sense of these complex rules.