So You Think You Can Hack It As An Independent?

By Julia Briggs

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Come on in!  The water is lovely…. and it’s a really great life being solo. I should know, I’ve been freelance since 1997 and assessed hundreds of interims and consultants.  It’s dead easy!  So, just to get you going, here’s some top tips. 

1. Anyone can go solo – can’t they?
The easy bit is working out what you have to offer and beating off the hordes of eager buyers. The harder bit is the psychology. Why do you want to go solo?  Ultimately, you don’t have a choice.  You reach a point in your working life where you realise you’re unemployable.  In a good way.  You’re the person who has always focused on results, you’re the over-achiever ('insecure perfectionist'). You just want to do a great job and side-step the politics.  And you never want to go to another meeting.  Ever again. Even if it means missing out on buzzword bingo.

The real crunch bit is working out if you have the behaviours that clients really want. You can fake these, but only for a very short time. Without them, you’re going to find it hard to build a great reputation, where the work comes to you. The holy grail of us independents. Not many people can tick all those boxes.

2. It’s all lying by the pool and fighting off clients with a stick – isn’t it?
You’re a business now so you have to cover: Finance; Legal; HR; Admin; Fulfillment; Logistics; and the real killer, Sales and Marketing.
That’s why you’ve done the work on your proposition and tested the market before even thinking about handing in that crumpled and tear stained resignation letter.
Of course you know the difference between
?    selling change (consultant)
?    project/senior resource (interim) or
?    warm body (contractor)

and the impact that has on day rates and approach strategies.  From £2000 plus per day all the way down to £250.   This is key stuff (and thanks to Andrew Turner).
Don’t think agencies are going to do it all for you. If they do, many of us won’t want you. We want to see repeat assignments, and recommendations for you from our trusted networks. Remember the holy grail above?

So for the first few years at least, it’s pounding the streets that works.  All those times when you’ve brushed someone off because you’ve been too busy or they were wasting your time?  Here’s where you learn how it felt.   Hmm.  You still want to go solo?  You have no idea how shockingly (and often unintentionally) rude people can be.  Brace yourself.  And you can forget status.  If it was ever important to you then you're in the wrong game.

3. Oooh, those vertigo inducing day rates – I’ll get paid a fortune.  Won’t I?
Those nasty big boys in procurement are always trying to negotiate you down, or set up ridiculous payment terms, which means that you have to know what you are worth and why (back to your proposition + market knowledge).  And stick to it.  Sometimes you might lose an assignment but think about the opportunity cost.  The right piece of work lands next week and you’re committed for a minimum of six months on a duff day rate.

And don’t think of resigning from your assignment early to get more money.  Big black mark.  Which we will get to hear about – you’ve no idea how connected we are and how much digging we do.  It’s a buyer’s market and we want the best.

That’s it.  Some dispiriting admonishments is the best I can do. If you still want to go solo with no doubts, I’m even more convinced you’re not right.  It’s the doubts and the worry that make you a really good independent. And a fabulous skill set. Oh, and those key ‘right behaviours’.

Good luck!


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