A big trend in business these days is hiring freelancers or contract personnel for the duration of a project, rather than permanent staff. According to a recent poll, contractors and freelancers could make up half of the American workforce within a decade. Yet I find that few of today’s workers realize that succeeding as a freelancer requires a whole new focus on “marketing” yourself.
In essence, as a contractor, you are a consultant who is competing regularly for new work, and you constantly have to differentiate your offering from other candidates, including price. In addition, like an entrepreneur with a new business, you have to factor in all the indirect costs previously covered by employers, including training, health care, and time off for vacations.
In fact, thinking like an entrepreneur is a good strategy today for success, even if you are currently in a long-term employment situation. As you know, things can change quickly, as businesses try to survive and adapt to an evolving market, so it’s better to be prepared than caught off guard. Here are some key strategies that I recommend to every worker today:
Develop and highlight your competitive differentiation. Every entrepreneur and every startup needs to have a clear “elevator pitch,” which identifies a unique strength and value they bring to the table. Internally in a career, you need to do the same thing to solidify your position among peers, and prepare for either promotion or freelancing.
Drive your role and direction, rather than let the job drive you. You can’t win doing something you don’t like to do, or don’t know how to do, so focus on your passion and strengths today, and make that come alive in the delivery of everything you do. Pick your niche, and continually invest in improving your expertise and keeping up with trends.
Build relationships to attract future business or roles. Too many employees count on their managers to get them promotions, or count on a resume to get the next job. Today, customers and future managers put a higher value on relationships, and expect to know you from industry conferences, social media, or recommendations from peers.
Market yourself both inside and outside your current job. Use blogging, outside publication, and speaking or mentoring opportunities to establish credibility and stand out above peers. The days of being somehow found as a hardworking introvert in the back room are gone. It’s time to learn how to do marketing, and apply it to yourself.
Start today thinking at least one job ahead. As a business, you should always be looking for your next customer, as well as satisfying your current one. That means regularly scanning LinkedIn and job sites for roles and opportunities that you may quality for, and honing your skills and connections to be sure you are competitive.
Be an advocate for change in your current role. Keeping a low profile, or fighting change, will not serve you well as a freelancer or an employee. Focus on the ultimate customer, and find a way to improve satisfaction, grow revenue, or cut costs. If you find yourself playing it safe, or not willing to take a risk, it’s time to think again.
Walk away from a bad role or customer. You can’t please everyone all the time, so don’t kill yourself trying to satisfy a bad boss or an overly demanding customer. Real entrepreneurs are quick to make the tough decisions, with proper respect, to minimize frustration, resource drain, and reputation loss. Develop the courage to move on.
Write down some target objectives and milestones. Every employee and certainly every freelancer needs to have a clear set of objectives as a “business plan,” just like every startup. If these aren’t written down, reviewed regularly, and measured, then your career sounds more like a hobby than a serious commitment.
Prepare financially. As a contractor, you'll need to get your finances in order. This means having enough savings to get you through slow periods and when you may be without work. Also, don't forget you can write off business expenses like office supplies/equipment, part of your mortgage (if you work from home) and maybe even your car and car insurance. Learn what changes for your tax wise and seek counsel from an accountant if you need it.
With these strategies, I believe you will be well prepared for the new age of freelancers and contractors, and you will be a more successful employee in your current job. I have found that the delivery of my special expertise in professional services is one of the most satisfying and fulfilling roles I have ever experienced.
It’s great fun to build relationships with clients, see directly your impact on the world, and get paid for your real value. That’s the definition of success in any business or career.
*** First published on Inc.com on 02/12/2019 ***