The number of freelance agents grows exponentially every year, and approximately 54 million Americans currently work as consultants or freelancers in some capacity. More than 60% are making the switch to freelancing by choice, a 7% increase from 2014.
Many people stick to their day jobs while freelancing on the side. Some people just want to supplement their income with a side hustle or two, while others aspire to eventually transition to full-time freelance consulting.
Leaving a steady job for full-time freelance work can be challenging, however. Despite having more technology available, including digital channels for marketing and lead sourcing, growing a consulting business isn't easy, and the difficulties go beyond having the technical skills to perform the work.
If it were a simple process, we could all leave our jobs to become successful freelancers. It's usually the business aspect that limits a consultant's potential. Without strong branding and marketing, it's virtually impossible to stand out in a sea of freelancers and attract new clients.
Here are six tips to help you stay on track to eventually transition to full-time consulting.
1. Grow Your Network Connections
You probably won't have very many clients in the beginning, if any at all. Calling on old connections is a good place to start, but you need to continue growing your network and making new connections.
I engage people on a number of social platforms, from Quora to Snapchat, and I'm not just talking about responses on my own content. I actively seek out and engage others I want to connect with by commenting on their social activity and responding to them when they reach out to me. Constantly expanding your network will open more doors for you later on down the road.
"Just having raw skills isn't enough to start any type of business," writes Dan Schawbel, author of Me 2.0. "You need to constantly put yourself out there and connect with new people daily. Go to networking events, meetup groups, conferences, and use your social network channels to stimulate interest in your new business. The more you get out there, the more clients you'll have and the more people can spread positive word-of-mouth about you."
2. Focus Your Growth Strategy
I recently did an interview with Nathan Chan of Foundr Mag, and he shared some great insights on their marketing strategies. His team focuses on learning the ins and outs of a single channel until they master it, then they move on to the next one. It's a smart, focused approach to market more effectively and understand what works and what doesn't on every channel.
As you grow your consulting business, be sure to outline a basic content strategy for guest posting and blogging, and develop an understanding of your available promotional platforms. The best way to do this is by finding out where the largest segment of your audience spends their time and mastering that channel.
Doing one thing exceptionally well is more productive than doing 20 things with a fraction of the effort and attention.
3. Never Stop Marketing
Henry Ford once said, "A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time."
When you're in the middle of growing a consulting business, you probably won't shut down your marketing efforts just to save a buck, given how affordable digital outreach has become. But that doesn't mean marketing is forever guaranteed a slot on your list of priorities.
I've seen countless freelancers sell themselves with a ferocious tenacity, only to suddenly feel so overwhelmed by projects that they no longer devote time to managing their businesses. They stop blogging and social activity falters. When projects come to an end, these freelancers are forced to go back into high gear and sell like crazy to find new clients.
Finding a careful balance is key. If you're paddling a boat, it takes more effort to build up speed, coast to a stop, and then start paddling again to accelerate, than it does to maintain a consistent pace. As you manage both operations and production, make sure you never stop marketing. If you want your consulting business to be a success, you need to sell the next client while focusing on the current one.
4. Differentiate Yourself
There are tens of thousands of people out there who are doing exactly what you're doing. The best way to get your audience's attention is to differentiate yourself from the crowd.
Develop your unique selling position and market that. Promote the unique value clients could get while doing business with you. You must be able to clearly differentiate yourself from your competitors, especially in a saturated online marketplace.
"You can reduce the competition you'll be coming up against in the consulting industry by being different," says investor and entrepreneur Brian Ainsley Horn. "Consider what you are good at and how you can make your approach different than the other consultants."
5. Don't Compete on Pricing
Your price should never be your USP. That will only create a race to the bottom situation in which the client wins and you lose. You'll work twice as hard for half the revenue. When you sell prospective clients on your value, you'll be able to earn the rates you need to continue growing your business.
In fact, as a consultant, your pricing should start from the jump. "Charge for everything," is copywriter Aaron Orendorff's advice. "Even by going in for an initial get-to-know-you 'freebie,' you devalue yourself before you've begun. If someone's not paying for your help, they won't value it. That's a lesson I had to learn the hard way."
Not sure you can make the economics work? Automate as much as you can. There are dozens of tools that freelancers and small marketing agencies can use to cut down on the amount of time they have to spend on the minutia. You never know what will move the needle, so make it a habit to constantly try new tools and processes to see what works for you.
6. Find the Knowledge Gaps
Most organizations experience growth by relying on talented people. There's no shortage of talent, but organizations still need someone who can help them with unfamiliar problems. They need people with outside perspectives and approaches that their in-house teams haven't considered yet.
Be the one who provides solutions to those unfamiliar problems. When you fill knowledge gaps for companies and organizations, you can craft a USP that is far more likely to draw the attention of your target audience.
"My firm, TechSavvy, helps customers create value and cultivate a competitive advantage on the back of emerging tech markets and trends," says Scott Steinberg, CEO of TechSavvy. "My clients don't hire me to provide raw data on technology; they have plenty of that. Rather, they need help translating it into actionable strategies, creating cutting-edge products and services, or adapting businesses and brands to new spaces. So that's the niche I try to fill."
In the midst of building your consulting business, remember to focus your marketing strategy on selling the results you could bring to prospective clients. That's where you'll show the value of what you can do. Don't try to sell your services or you'll be viewed as a commodity rather than as an expert.
Are you in the middle of making a move or have you already made the transition to full-time consultant? Tell me about your journey in the comments below: