Whether you're just getting started or have a few years under your belt, there's never been a better time to be an independent consultant.
Organizations are increasingly recognizing the value of hiring independent subject matter experts. We know because the data in our platform confirms this. YTD spend on hiring independent experts is up 159% YoY.
So, what are some things you can do to be successful as an independent consultant and take advantage of this trend in demand? We checked in with some experts on our platform and here are five independent consultant success tips they provided based on their experience.
Tip 1: Define your niche and expertise
The phrase 'riches are in the niches' exists for a reason. This doesn't mean you're stuck working in that niche forever, but taking this approach at the beginning is key to building a solid client base. And it makes sense.
At the start, it's likely that you may not have additional resources, so trying to be everything to everybody can do more harm than good. Companies hiring independent consultants rarely want 'jacks of all trades' - they want 'masters of one.'
By clearly explaining your niche and expertise, you'll make yourself a more attractive resource to a prospective client. They'll know exactly what you can help them with and will trust the level of expertise you bring to the table.
Once you have built a solid client base, you can start expanding into different areas. More on this topic later on.
Tip 2: Dig into your network
This tip may seem like an obvious one. But it's worth mentioning: leverage your network. It can be a treasure trove of information and full of opportunities that can help you further your career and professional development.
When used strategically, your network can reduce the amount of business development you have to do (a warm introduction is always appreciated!) and ensure a healthy pipeline of incoming projects. Even if not immediate, somebody in your network can refer new business to you or serve as a trusted reference at some stage in the future.
But there are other benefits to networking outside of finding new project leads/building your client base. If you're a highly extroverted person, networking can provide a much-needed sense of community. It offers a way to meet and build relationships with like-minded experts, which is incredibly valuable whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out.
Likewise, your network can help advance your career. Colleagues and friends can point you to resources and groups specializing in various areas. You can learn techniques for finding new clients and selling your consulting services. It can even serve as a temperature check on your performance.
Make a concerted effort to meet other professional consultants in the industry and discuss the projects they're working on, the processes they've adopted, and the resources they seek out for new information. This will reveal certain areas where you might need to learn a new skill, helping you identify opportunities for improvement.
Tip 3: Develop a customer service/success mindset
If you started your career in a traditional consulting firm, chances are that your engagement manager or director spent a significant time maintaining the client relationship. As an independent consultant, you're a company of one - meaning you're responsible for delivering the work product while managing (and building!) the client relationships simultaneously.
The key to success is operating as your very own customer service/success department. Established consulting companies place a premium on maintaining excellent relationships with all their clients. Ensuring a successful client relationship matters just as much as project execution as it relates to getting repeat clients and growing those accounts.
Possessing strong communication and interpersonal skills are as important as your domain of expertise. You need to be empathetic, understanding the challenges that your hiring manager or project manager, their team, and the wider business face.
Keep communication lines open. Explain precisely what you're going to do, when, and be receptive to any feedback. Be proactive, sharing project timelines clearly and in a timely fashion. Explain any roadblocks that you might encounter or have already encountered - and offer suggestions as to how you can overcome these hurdles.
Fostering a great client relationships will not only ensure a specific project is a success, but will also open doors to further collaboration in the future.
Engage in self-reflection and seek feedback. To be a successful independent consultant, your growth and your future success are entirely up to you. This can be daunting for some, at least initially. Engaging in true self-reflection will help you identify specific areas that you need to work on.
For every project, write down any instances where you felt outside of your comfort zone. When you have some spare time, sit down and see what you can learn about these areas going forward - or seek out additional training opportunities if necessary. Ongoing development will be critical to your long-term success.
Tip 4: Tap into an on-demand hiring platform
A surefire way to ensure your project pipeline is strong is to leverage third-party providers like on-demand hiring platforms. Using these platforms can help you connect with companies already looking for the consulting services you offer - freeing you up to focus on current projects.
And as mentioned earlier, on-demand hiring platforms are currently more popular than ever. As companies navigate the impacts of the 'Great Resignation,' many are turning to these platforms to actively fill roles in their organizations.
Tip 5: Seek new learning opportunities
During one of Graphite's recent webinars, independent strategy consultant Dominique Foster-Jordan shared the following advice:
"There will be many cases where you may be brought on to a project and it's within your expertise. But in most projects, there's also a small window to stretch, or flex, your capabilities. Try to be adaptable and embrace learning on the go. If you master this, you'll end up opening doors to take on even more opportunities going forward."
Dominique recommends actively seeking out these types of opportunities by setting 'stretch goals' (i.e., goals that are slightly outside your comfort zone). Recognize that learning new a skill and increasing your knowledge base will make you more employable and valuable to clients.
Be an independent consultant success story
Independent consulting is on the rise. While on-demand hiring platforms like Graphite make it easy for consultants and companies to find each other, ensuring your own long-term success as an independent consultant is another matter entirely.
It's one thing to be hired to work on a single project that closely resembles another you've previously worked on. It's another thing to grow your skills base, become a genuine subject matter expert, and build your reputation in the market.
By defining your niche, digging into your network, developing a customer service/success mindset, tapping into an on-demand hiring platform, and seeking new learning opportunities, you'll give yourself the best possible chance for long-term success.