I’ve been working as a self-employed consultant since 1996.
I’m happy to say that I’m always learning something new. Sometimes it makes sense to take inventory of those insights.
Perhaps you’re thinking about striking out on your own. You might find value in the lessons I’ve learned to-date.
20 self-employment insights
1. Relationships matter
Who I know makes a huge difference on my success. Meeting people is an excellent use of my time. I don’t do nearly as much of this as I could. Writing this article reminds me to double down on my connecting efforts. You can help me in this by sending me a LinkedIn invite.
2. Be helpful
The consulting business isn’t about selling services. It’s about finding ways to be helpful. Sometimes people pay for my help. Sometimes I give it to them for free. There are always interesting ways to help. The trick is seeing the opportunities when they are before me. I need to remember to keep my eyes open.
3. Leverage your network
I don’t need to hire employees to expand my capability or capacity. These days it’s easier than ever to build and maintain an amazing network of partners who know how to do what I don’t. My job is to stitch together our unique skills to provide my clients with just the right solution.
4. Ups and downs are normal
Business booms and business busts. The economy might have an effect, but it’s more likely random variation. Because I don’t know which way the winds will blow, I live in a way that allows me to be okay when things are slow. That keeps the stress levels low.
Diversification is important. Large clients represent a big risk. Over the years, I learned, more than once, that 20 small clients are much better than one or two large ones.
6. Keep getting better
I can always improve on what I’ve done in the past. Maybe that’s why I always change up workshops that I thought were good to go for years to come. When I compare my late 90’s work to versions I’ve done recently, I’m almost embarrassed, but then I turn that around by recognizing how far I’ve come.
7. Lose the PowerPoint
Just because I can use PowerPoint when doing a presentation doesn’t mean I should. If it doesn’t add value, I don’t use it. Never has someone come up to me at the end of a session and said, “I wish you had a slide deck.”
8. Fancy doesn’t equal value
Big consulting firms spend way too much money trying to impress clients. Fancy offices, expensive suits, and power lunches isn’t what this is about. That just adds extra cost. It’s about uncovering problems and finding ways to solve them. It really is that simple.
9. Always be learning
Between the library and the Internet, there is no excuse for not learning. Every day I try to learn something new. It’s even better when I find an immediate application for what I’ve learned.
10. Focus on what matters
The difference between activities that add value and those that don’t is clear. If it doesn’t help my clients or help me find new clients or make me better, then I don’t do it. These days I work hard to stay focused on that which matters.
Nobody hits a home run every time they step up to the plate. When I have an off day, I recognize it as just that. I don’t let my disappointment about a poor performance turn into, I’m not good enough. I pick myself up, dust myself off, and give it another go at the next opportunity.
12. Keep my promises
The number one expectation I work every day to make sure I meet is to do what I said I would do. People depend on my word, and it’s important that I keep it.
13. Take some risk
Just because I haven’t done something doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I’ve gotten quite good at judging whether I’ll be able to figure it out. And when I think that I can, I tend to go for it.
14. Help them be smart
My job is rarely, if ever, to be the smartest one in the room. Even if it was, I likely wouldn’t pass the test. People hire me to help them be smart, especially when they need to work on a problem together.
15. Stay alert to Us vs. Them
Whenever frontline employees refer to leadership as “Management,” I know there are big problems. Us and Them is never good for teamwork. Never.
16. Speak up
Most relationship problems at work are caused because people don’t meet one another’s expectations, and the reason they don’t is because few people express their expectations in the first place. A big part of my job is to help people talk to each other.
17. Sometimes you start fresh
The worst organizations are full of people who have quit but haven’t left. Trying to reengage them is pointless. Figure out what caused that to happen, help people leave, and start fresh; creating a new kind of environment this time around.
18. The top team struggles too
Teamwork problems are just as common in the executive team as they are in a frontline department. It’s much more serious, though, because top level dysfunction infects the whole organization.
19. Culture sinks to what you tolerate
Organizational bad habits grow and spread because nobody calls them out and does something to change the practices. Anything you and others are willing to accept tends to become a defining characteristic of the culture.
20. Winning is fun
Having to troubleshoot all my own computer problems is time consuming and often frustrating, but when I am successful, I feel like I can accomplish anything.
How about you?
If you’ve been doing your own thing and are willing to share what you’ve learned, use the comments to share your insights. That way we can both get a little smarter together.