If, at your work, you’re the go-to whizz for problem-solving, strategising, and project management, then a career as a freelance consultant could be for you. But what’s the best way to break out on your own? How do you get set-up and started as a freelancer? What keeps the work coming in?
We spoke to Andy Barnes, CEO at ethical consultancy 6prog, to get his top tips for professionals thinking about starting their journey to freelancing freedom. 6prog are specialists in frictionless contract engagement processes for clients, recruiters, contractors and freelancers, and Andy has years of experience in consultancy delivery and apprenticeship recruitment. In this blog, he shares six pearls of wisdom gained from those years of experience to give a leg-up to those just starting out on their freelancing journey.
1. Know your worth
Don’t undersell yourself and charge too little – this is a mistake Andy sees a lot from newbies to the freelancing game. Do a bit of research before you set your rates. Andy advises checking sites like IT Jobs Watch to view the average fees associated with your areas of expertise. Don’t be afraid to be cheeky and ask other consultant friends what fees they charge. There are more tips for setting your rates as a freelancer in our recent blog. Andy also stresses the need for you to switch how you work as you move from employee to consultant. For IR35 purposes, it’s important that you avoid being tied to employee-type contracts (those that require set working hours, using client’s equipment etc) and ensure that you are operating as a business in your own right.
2. Get a coach or mentor
One of the biggest culture-shocks in switching to consultancy work is how lonely it can be, especially if you’re used to being part of a big team at work. You may also find yourself moving from an organisation that you know inside out to feeling like you’re starting from scratch again with each new client. One way to help ease the transition and overcome any anxieties you’re feeling is to find yourself a mentor. Someone who’s been consulting for a few years can help support you as you start your journey, offering you connections and networking opportunities, business know-how and a wider knowledge of the industry.
Andy recommends apps like Sidekick to help pair you to your perfect coach. A good coach, Andy says, is one that will guide you to growth and support you while allowing you to retain your own autonomy. Sidekick coaches offer live or asynchronous video coaching to fit in with busy schedules and promise to help you reach your goals and manage your well-being. Sidekick’s support also includes a library of curated resources on development and self-management topics and tools. If an in-person mentorship seems too daunting at this stage, Andy has put together a series of YouTube videos with the team at Productised Consulting. In this series, the team discuss consultancy work strategy, dos and don’ts, and how best to engage with clients – it’s a great place to get started.
3. Have a story – and know how to tell it
“Interviews are 10% about the project and whether you can do it and 90% about personality,” Andy says. Knowing how to tell the client the story of why you’re the perfect person for the project is a huge part of preparing for interviews as a freelance consultant. Andy says it’s important to ensure your buyer knows your core competencies but also the soft skills you’ll bring to the project: “Integrity and communication are incredibly valuable to a buyer.” Make notes before you go into an interview and do your research about the client so that you know what to say to win the work.
4. Be brave
Much of the work you do as a consultant you won’t have done before. But Andy doesn’t think you should let this worry you! “This is part of the fun – don’t be scared of it! Just rely on your core competencies and work hard. Be brave and be curious.”
5. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Even as you’re being brave though, Andy stresses, you still need to be realistic. Part of being brave is saying “no” sometimes. Andy advises that both when you’re quoting for jobs and when you’re doing the actual work, you should “chop projects down into realistic chunks. It will be more manageable and reduce guesswork. Clients might want to fix price everything but realistically they know no one wins if the supplier cannot deliver something that was undocumentable at the beginning.” Andy is a big believer in making sure that briefs are clear and the responsibilities, jobs and deliverables of any given project are properly set out and costed before you get started on a contract. This helps to stop the risk of scope creep and disputes at the end of a contract. As a new consultant you will also still be getting used to managing your own time and working hours, and possibly juggling more than one job at a time, so you must be realistic about what’s achievable.
6. Get your freelancer insurance sorted
Don’t go out alone unprotected, says Andy. New freelancers are particularly vulnerable to making mistakes while they work, or being accused of negligence by clients, even if they think they’ve delivered exactly what was asked of them. He recommends being backed up by a full package of small business insurance, especially professional indemnity cover, which will act as a guarantee and reassurance to clients that they are protected if things go wrong. Public liability insurance is also an important one if you’re working out and about, for example, at a client’s HQ or using co-working spaces. This protects clients and members of the public who might be injured as a result of the actions of you or your business. If you’re looking for flexible insurance tailored specifically for freelancers, Dinghy has got a whole suite of freelance insurance policies. You can pay monthly with no extra fees and pause cover when you’re not working. A quote takes just 30 seconds on our website.