The biggest fears of new independent consultants, and how to overcome them
Having some concerns about leaving your job to become an independent consultant is normal, but don’t let that stop you. There’s so much to be gained on the other side of that fear.
I believe most people at least think about working for themselves at some point in their career. If you have any kind of professional skill (like project management, graphic design, network security, preparing tax returns, or programming), there’s no reason you can’t freelance – so why do most people not take the plunge?
In a word – FEAR.
Or rather, fears.
Generally speaking, it’s fear of the unknown. Being an independent consultant doesn’t just involve you doing what you’re selling, it also means running your own business. And if you’ve only ever worked for others, it’s no surprise that you’d have some hesitation.
The good news is that, provided independent consulting does make sense for you, the transition to becoming a successful business owner is much more simple than you think.
As for more specific fears, these are the ones I hear about the most often.
Number 1 – Fear of losing a regular pay
This is overwhelmingly the biggest individual fear. And it’s not just your fear, your significant other probably has the same fear. This fear alone has no doubt stopped so many dreams. But is it realistic?
We equate a regular pay with job security. But job security is an illusion – especially today. A regular pay creates the illusion of permanence, so we just don’t think about it. In reality, you could lose your job at any time, for any number of reasons: downsizing, a global pandemic, acquisition or merger, cost-cutting, and so on.
And when you think about it, are you safer having one job that can disappear on a whim, or having multiple projects/clients bringing in revenue?
The truth is, you can have more job security as an independent consultant than you could ever have working for someone else.
So how do we address this fear? There are a number of things you can do.
First, have enough money saved to cover 6 months of living expenses, because when you’re starting out, it may take a bit longer to find work. You could also start looking (or even start working) a little on the side whilst still employed.
Secondly, for most consultants, working just 8 months a year would make them the equivalent of a full year’s employee salary (roughly speaking), so it’s ok to have some small gaps between clients.
Number 2 – Fear of having to network/”sell yourself”
This is usually more about not knowing how to do those things, rather than a genuine fear.
Networking can be learned, and even managed strategically. And there’s no need to “sell yourself”, as such.
You do need to be clear about what you do and who you can help, and you need to get that information out there so that potential clients can find you, but you don’t have to become a snake-oil salesman.
In fact, with options such as LinkedIn, Seek, and Expert360 (to name a few), it’s easier than ever to find work without even having to network or promote yourself in the traditional sense.
To look at it another way, you’re not selling yourself. If you have a skill companies will pay for, and you believe you can add value to your potential clients, you’re not selling anything – you’re actually providing them with a solution to their problems. Not doing so would be a disservice.
Number 3 – Fear of starting and running a business
Again, this is more about not knowing how.
And it’s totally reasonable. If you’ve never done it before, you likely won’t know where to start, or exactly what you need to do.
And there are a lot of things to consider (business structure, marketing, invoicing, accounting, taxes, etc.), but that shouldn’t stop you. All the information you need is readily available on the internet, and there are numerous resources to help you.
Working via a recruitment agency or consulting firm takes many of those things off your plate – for a fee. Or you could even outsource the admin side of the business if you really want to.
And there are also plenty of coaches, like me (gratuitous plug!) and programs out there if you want to go faster and avoid the common pitfalls.
Just Do It
Independent consulting is growing, faster than employment, so if you’re seriously thinking about it, don’t let your fears hold you back.
Consider everything above, and do everything you can to maximise your chance of success, then get out there and do it. It’s really not as hard (or as scary) as you might think.