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Bet on Yourself or Get Out of the Game! 9 Non-Negotiables for New Businesses
In an environment where more and more people are leaving the “security” of a stable, corporate job to roam freely, the difference between those who succeed and those who fail can often be directly related to how willing people are. Invest in yourself.
Having “skin in the game” is an expression that describes how far you will go to prove you are invested in the business. I’ve met many freelancers who think that an idea, a cell phone, and an old computer entitles them to a contract, but I’ve found that people who do well on their own have made a significant investment in themselves before they expect others to. Invest in them (buy projects or fill in capital.) Over the past ten years, I’ve come up with a list of “no-brainers” that I think every consultant should keep in mind when deciding to go out on their own.
9 No-Brainer Non-Negotiable Keys to Success as an Independent Consultant
1. Give your company name real thought
2. Get a separate business phone line, internet address, web page
3. Buy good equipment and keep it updated
4. Ongoing education counts – attend conferences, trade shows
5. Visit clients now and then at your own expense
6. Do not misrepresent yourself, and do not discount the value of a virtual corporation
7. Join associations, volunteer, and network
8. Don’t be cheap
9. Don’t be greedy
What’s in a name?
Your company name and logo make an impression before you even have a chance to dazzle your prospects with your expertise. There are many opinions on naming conventions – but one thing that screams “small” is people who run one-man shops, and name their company by adding “and company”, or “and associates” to their last name. The exception to this is of course, those career professionals who have a real recognizable name in the industry they are working in. Otherwise, your company name itself binds you and everyone who hires you in your name. And your name is usually not an indicator of the benefits you provide to your customers. Starting a real business means creating something above and beyond yourself. Get out of your way. Be clever, be original, and be descriptive. And, incidentally, if you come up with a good story about how you got your name, you’ll have something to break the ice with when you meet prospects.
You are not your company.
Outsourcing work to other consultants is part of my business model and over the years I’ve learned that people who don’t take themselves seriously as contractors are inconsistent with their deliverables. I look for partners who have a separate work space at home (with a door!), have established a business line of credit (business separate from personal expenses), have a cell phone (not for the family they share, but their own), have a dedicated phone line , own a domain name for business use (eg don’t use email@example.com for business mail), a relatively new notebook computer, a scanner, and at least one black and white laser printer. Also purchasing valid copies of software calculations. When you’re “official” you have access to help lines that inevitably come in handy, when you need real help solving a problem. (For example, I have complicated writing statements in Excel, but my legitimately purchased software entitled me to technical support.)
Keep yourself updated with the best tools you can afford
I always pay a little more to get tools that meet today’s needs and give me room to grow. A high-quality business-class telephone (such as Polycom), a laser printer, a scanner/fax machine – these are all essentials for your home office. Virtual phone systems like GotVMail can forward your calls to any number while giving you a professional appearance for less than $10/month. And of course, keep in mind that today’s best package is tomorrow’s outdated tool set. When you’re on your own, your time is your most valuable asset, which unfortunately, you can’t buy more of. When you take the time to equip yourself from the get-go, you’ll be able to deliver professionally with minimal worry! And as you grow, you need to keep reinvesting to maintain that edge.
Continue to learn.
Now there is no sadder sight than meeting a “consultant” who thinks he knows it all. If you go into business thinking that your clients are going to pay you to improve your skill set – you are wrong. Schedule a class, trade show, or conference at least once a month. Sure, you may have had 60 people working for you at your bake and call in the past. now? You are on your own. So for goodness sake, learn how to use Word or create Excel macros. Go to trade shows, pick up literature as an exhibitor-only attendee, and attend conferences and sessions every now and then. By taking those one- or two-day seminars that dive beneath the surface of applications, you can help in unexpected ways when you’re trying to solve vexing problems. really Take the time to develop an alternative view of everything you can do.
Stop in and say hello.
Not just customers in your city. Schedule a trip – visit clients across the country, just because – and do it at your own expense. Find a convention and schedule trips around it. The more proactive you are, the more mindful you’ll be when a project comes up. The key is not a high pressure sales call. Your long-term agenda may be to get more work done, but short-term – you should focus on checking in with people and demonstrating that you care about them and their problems even when you’re not on the clock. It’s easier to set up your schedule if you don’t push people to meet you. At least twice a year, I find a good conference to attend in a city where I have clients and prospects. I mention that I’ll be in town for X conference and would love to stop in and catch up. I don’t always miss deals, not often, I’m the first one when they come up with something new and interesting. And don’t limit yourself to customers. If you work with others (other contractors, vendors) make it a point to meet with them. It makes all the difference in the world when people can shape you personally.
Represent who you are.
I have run a virtual corporation for about ten years. I have Fortune 50 companies on my dining room table. How is this possible? I honestly represent what I do. Let me explain that I have a virtual team. We are all connected via the Internet with group collaboration software (think Basecamp, WebX intranets) and we meet regularly for updates on our projects. I invite clients to meet with the team – and host everyone at my home, or we agree to meet at a trade show. On those occasions where it counts, those who want to grow together find ways to get there. Showing up is 90% of success or so it seems. Once people know they can trust you, they do.
No mentor is an island, get out there, network and share!
As a professional information specialist, I belong to as many associations as possible to keep on top of industry trends. In my business, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), American Marketing Association (AMA), Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP), Market Research Association (MRA) are just a few of the many groups I have affiliated with over the years. . As a woman-owned business, I also joined the WBOC in Syracuse, NY and the National Women’s Chamber of Commerce. While I can’t attend all meetings, I actively participate in listservs, attend conferences, and volunteer when I can. Keeping contacts is easy using LinkedIn as well as address book software, such as Plaxo. I know that the more I share with others, the more they share with me. The more I know, the more value I bring to my clients.
Don’t be cheap.
The tighter you are with your money, the more people will think you’re desperate and the less likely they’ll do repeat business with you. On the other hand, don’t be a prima donna. You don’t have to go overboard to impress others. If someone invites you to join a customer call, pick up the tab for lunch. If a colleague invites you to stay (instead of staying at a hotel), bring a small gift. When you’re at a conference and you go get coffee, buy one for your client. And when it comes to projects and deliverables, if you can do something more, do it. Nickel and undercutting your associates and clients will earn you a reputation that’s impossible to shake. The old saying “it takes money to make money” – is true. You need to dress the part, act the part, feel the part, and suddenly, you’ll be the consultant you imagined.
Don’t be greedy.
Some of the smartest people I know are poor team players. They put themselves first – above and beyond reasonable expectations. Over the years I have been very close to working with potential partners who decided to negotiate hard at the last minute – and almost exclusively on their own side to the detriment of the rest of the team. I think that’s why some people are independent; They don’t really play well with others.
People don’t like to be taken advantage of or forced into a corner. The more you push someone, the more likely they are to withdraw from the discussion. I’ve learned to think through options and keep them open to opportunities as they develop. Keep in mind that a truly beneficial compromise is one where everyone sacrifices a little for the good of the group. This is true for client contracts and collaborative opportunities. Some people think that you should start much higher than you expect to achieve and negotiate at an acceptable level. Personally, I hate to feel like I’m giving up so much. I prefer to start reasonably, and take things off the table rather than put on a show and try to get the other side to a bare bones deal or price. Everyone should feel like they got a good deal. Greed has no place at the negotiating table.
What is the bottom line? To be successful, you must invest time, money, and thought into yourself, your customers, and your collaborators. In my opinion, if you can’t bet on yourself, why would you expect anyone else to bet on you?
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