While some tech pros like the prospect of full-time employment (and the benefits that come with it), others appreciate the flexibility that comes with freelancing. The latter can even prove more lucrative than working for an employer, at least according to a recent survey by Upwork and the Freelancers Union.
If you’re thinking of heading out as an independent contractor, however, there are some key things to consider. First and foremost is your skills base: No matter how good the economy at a particular moment, potential clients only want to pay for people who can actually do the work. (This is in contrast to full-time employment, where a company will sometimes give an employee the time and resources necessary to pick up a new skill.)
Even with sufficient skills, it can prove difficult to build a strong client list, especially in competitive areas such as security, programming, and analytics. Here’s how to stand out in contracting:
Build the Brand First
Building a brand is an important—and often overlooked—step toward building up a contractor business. Blogging, participating in online forums and Webinars, and even creating instructional videos on YouTube are all solid methods of building a reputation. If there’s a downside, it’s that few of these activities pay substantial amounts of money; but it’s a bullet you might have to bite in order to get your contracting name out there.
Build Out Your Network
Former co-workers and employers are an immediate and obvious choice for network connections (and possible future clients), so start there. If you haven’t done so from the outset, create a Website with a “Contact Us” form, and a regular newsletter—not only will those help you build your brand (see above), they’ll give new clients an easy way to reach out to you.
Be Patient (and Collaborate)
Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say; creating an awesome client list sometimes requires years. It also takes time to build a great relationship with new clients, especially if they’re unclear about their own project requirements; you may need to spend a lot of time helping them solidify their workflow and desired outcomes. With every new client, you have an opportunity to provide customized service that will ensure they stay with you for years.
Keep Improving Your Skills
It’s easy to neglect learning new skillsets. When you’re contracting, though, falling behind on your industry knowledge can quickly translate into lost opportunities. Carve some time out of your monthly schedule for professional development.