6 more tips for striking out on your own

Back in the day, I marked Sarah J Consulting's first and second anniversaries with blog posts about entrepreneurship and how to create your own consulting business successfully.

More than six years in (!), it's high time to offer new tips--one for each year of SJC--to help you forge your self-employment path.

Whether you're interested in hanging out your own shingle or simply curious about how SJC manages its daily work, please read on!

1. Embrace what you know and own what you don't. No consultant can be all things to all people. Which abilities, skills, and expertise areas are your strongest? Focus on those and scrap the rest. Identify and lean into your niche; success will follow.

2. Speak up. If a client's project direction or idea worries you, tell them. If a plan just isn't working, say so and course correct. Consultants should be honest, authentic, and vulnerable, always prioritizing their clients' best interests--even if it means (tactfully and diplomatically and with grace) saying the hard things.

3. Find the right fit. When it comes to partnering with clients, listen to your instincts. If you find the interview and contract negotiation process aggressive, difficult, or simply "off" in some way, those are indicators that the contract period will follow the same pattern. It's okay to walk away from a possible engagement if the preliminary conversations worry you.

4. Always put a contract in place. The Freelancers Union has a lot to say about this important topic! Some consultants will work on spec or good faith. These methods might function adequately...until they don't. A good contract should include details about the scope of work, deliverables, timeframe, fees, payment schedule, contingencies, and the names of the individuals on both sides of the partnership responsible for completing the contracted work together. This will help to ensure that everyone is satisfied with the end result, while avoiding the dreaded scope creep and other common pitfalls!

5. Invest in efficiency tools--and consider the cloud. For years, I LOVED keeping paper to-do lists for work. Then, I moved to a whiteboard. Now, I rely on a Smartsheet subscription to keep all of my projects carefully organized. There are tons of similar, secure project management and client relationship management (CRM) services out there, from Insightly to Salesforce. Likewise, several years ago I transitioned from keeping native desktop files to saving everything in Dropbox. As a result, my entire business is in the cloud and with apps on my smartphone, critical project data is always just a few swipes away. I invest in the paid versions of these services and feel that it's money extremely well spent. 

6. Outsource the key stuff that doesn't bring you revenue. Do you earn money by coaching executives? Then don't spend time learning bookkeeping. Are you a freelance editor? Then let an insurance professional advise you on what to get for property insurance or E&O. Are you an expert at mergers and acquisitions? Then don't try to design your own website. I cannot emphasize this enough: Any tasks that are essential to your business but that do not generate revenue should be delegated to specialists in those fields. 

Want more tips? Subscribe here for SJC's monthly e-newsletter so you can learn more about nonprofit fundraising and entrepreneurship!

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