Finding Independent Work by Finding Yourself
Don’t let the this article’s title deceive you. Making the leap into an independent consulting career doesn’t have to mean making a pilgrimage somewhere, taking a cathartic journey around the world or even doing a lot of quiet soul searching. If you have confidence in your skills and your workaday life isn’t cutting it anymore, chances are you’re ready to explore the rewards of working on your own.
Of course, independent careers carry with them challenges from which traditional full-timers are mostly sheltered. And to the uninitiated, there’s no more daunting challenge than that of continually having to market your skills and services in order to keep working.
Uncertainty about self-marketing is the number-one reason talented professionals don’t go independent. But if you ask the millions of individuals already enjoying consulting careers, they’ll tell you: It certainly can be done.
There’s no single method that will work for everyone. But the common element that most independent job-finders share is an understanding of themselves. Here’s how to find projects by understanding yourself.
Know Your Skills
Make sure you’re the best you can be at your specialization. Consider continuing education or getting certified. Make sure your licenses and association memberships don’t lapse. Stay on top of industry news by reading publications and attending industry events. And certainly don’t hesitate to expand your skills into complementary areas.
Know Your Rate
Check online rate surveys—there are loads of them out there. Some list rates; others list salaries. These can tell you the general range of rates you should be earning. Just be sure that the survey is recent (within six moths), as economic changes can wreak havoc with rates. Also, try asking for help—colleagues, past managers and even recruiters are often great sources for an honest rate assessment.
Know Your Tools
That the Internet has career sites is nothing new. That these sites are now accommodating contract workers is less well-known. Many major job boards now have contractor-specific features, and some (like www.dice.com) are packed with short-to-medium-term contract positions.
Know Your Options
As I discussed in a previous column, independents have several ways to work these days. Using a staffing company may help get you in the door at more clients’ sites, but don’t expect a pot of gold at the end of the contracting rainbow—staffing firms take a hefty cut. If you’re more confident about securing your own projects, try a Contractor Employment Services Provider (which helps with the minutiae of self-employment) or becoming a true “1099” independent (the most effort, but potentially the most return).
Know Your Goals
Is there a particular industry or company for which you’d like to work? Search their Web site—many now publish contract positions. Call their offices and talk to the people responsible for contractors (it may be procurement, HR or even individual project managers). And don’t hesitate to send your resume unsolicited, as many companies have taken advantage of the economic slowdown by implementing applicant tracking systems that are hungry for good resumes.
Know Your Limits
Like anything else, know what you can handle. This goes for more than just skills—consider your time, geography, rate, project length—even ethics come into play if you find an opportunity to which you are ideologically opposed. But remember that limits can change: The more skilled and educated you become, the wider a net you can cast.
Know Your Network
This last tip is probably the most important. No matter how much technology changes the way people and companies find each other, there is still no better way to get your foot in the door than to have a friend or colleague bring you in. And if you’ve exhausted your Rolodex with no success, it’s never too late to broaden your contact base. Make it a practice to attend networking events, and get onto mailing lists for business card exchanges, local chapter meetings and speaker/industry programs.
Gene Zaino is president and CEO of MyBizOffice Inc., a Reston, Va.-based provider of administrative and business management services for independent professionals and the organizations that use them. E-mail Gene at email@example.com.