Are you ready?
You work for years to grow your skills, ply your trade, become the best, and one day you look up and decide you are ready to move away from the hectic world of freelancing on your own. You know enough now that you can easily spread your wings and claim a niche. Bigger projects don't intimidate you and the money to be made by expanding to a bigger team vs subcontracting tiny side jobs on ODesk is calling your name. You call a buddy or two you have made over the years, make some handshake agreements on work, put together a fancy name, buy a new tie, and voila! You're a consultant.
Wait. No, you're not.
If that was how it worked then I'd be the real Santa just because I put on a red fuzzy hat and rode to the grocery store in a sleigh.
Making that transition requires more than a nice tie. I know you think putting on a pair of slacks and hiding your Green Lantern t-shirt under that Eddie Bauer button-up makes you look more professional, and it does. However looking the part is only half the story. You need to look like a person that is trustworthy and honest, yes, but don't forget the importance of SOUNDING like that person as well.
Along with the new digs and name you need to evaluate your business strategy. It has to get the same facelift as your exterior business front. New paint on an old house only means that you won't see it falling apart from the road. It's still an old house. It's still falling apart. If you continue to do business the same way you did alone you will not gain anything. You'll just be an old house with new paint, and the real estate market is bad enough as it is. You'll never sell yourself that way.
OK, I'm done with the analogies (you're welcome). Let's put it in perspective, your business inside needs to match what you are portraying outside. If you say that you are an expert, a specialist, organized, efficient, etc, then find ways to do that through your dealings with clients. Making the switch from by-the-task work means you have to be more discerning. You have to demonstrate some sort of authority in your business dealings that shows you are more than just another developer/copywriter/great person.
Here are some starting points to help you take that first look at making sure your paint job is an accurate reflection of the structure beneath (ok, ok, last one I swear!)
- Learn to say "No." The first thing that will separate you from your freelancing kin is being able to say this word. Even if it means turning down work.
- Come up with a plan after you say "No." Being able quickly follow up a "No" with "because this is better for you" is key.
- Stop giving free advice. You need to personally value the knowledge and expertise you are relying on to step up your game. Any by personally value I mean put a price on it.
- When you charge for advice, deliver a product. Consultation, Game Plans, whatever you do make sure you are charging for the service AND providing a product. A properly formatted pdf will go a long way with clients vs a plain ole email.
- Charge more. Seriously. Make sure your rate reflects your new business goals, relationships, and acumen. Your years of hard work need to be reflected in what your knowledge is worth to clients.
Making sure your business practices match the persona you are putting forward to your clients makes the difference. It is what will separate you from your peers.
Have you found any other strategy changes that helped you move from working alone to consulting or agency status? I'd be interested to hear what you've learned.