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  • Diana Schneidman

Why start your own freelance / consulting practice? (Part 1)

There are a zillion good reasons to set up shop as a consultant or freelancer. Let’s start with four of them.

  1. Earn money.

Well, duh. Everyone works to make money, right? But this is more of a driver for some people than others. Some people are content to pursue their interests—or “passion”—and wouldn’t mind earning a few bucks for their trouble. That’s totally valid but so is going for the gold . . . or at least the silver.

If this is your primary goal, recognize that freelancing and consulting tend to pay substantially more per hour than corporate employment. Taking low-paying assignments at the beginning may be quite acceptable as you get your feet wet, create a portfolio, assemble references and testimonials, learn from your peers and clients, and simply build up the courage to ask for more money. However, over time you will want to identify and go after the services, industries and customers that pay well.

But note the financial downside to freelancing and consulting. While ongoing, effective marketing and customer satisfaction will help generate a more dependable income, self-employment is rarely as consistent as a corporate paycheck. (On the other hand, a full-time employer can terminate you without warning and there you are with all your eggs in a single broken basket.)

  1. Create immediate employment.

By dinner tonight, you can honestly say you are employed. Start outlining your marketing program or phone a contact or two and you’re in business!

This doesn’t mean you will have any clients by 5 p.m. Nor will you have any income … yet. Still, marketing is intrinsic to consulting / freelancing. It’s real work for better (yes, you have a job!) or worse (it takes effort that may not pay off immediately!).

  1. Create a continuous work history and eliminate periods of unemployment.

If you continue to look for a corporate job, you need a traditional resume. And a resume is reviewed with suspicion if it doesn’t clearly present an uninterrupted work history.

Forming your own solo professional practice fills in the current employment gap to show career continuity. Instead of listing a variety of temp assignments, freelance gigs, part-time jobs and volunteer activities as separate jobs, give them a single heading. Then bullet your achievements below.

  1. Explore and expand career interests.

It’s incredible but true: People will pay you to do things as an independent that they would never find you qualified to do as an employee.

This, sadly, is counterintuitive. The large company has executives, supervisors and coworkers, assembled in scads of meetings and extensive review chains, to train and oversee workers. Whenever you have a question, there’s someone nearby to ask. You also have access to professional subscriptions, seminars, expensive equipment and lots of other stuff paid for by someone else.

Corporate job postings tend to be highly rigid and demanding, requesting individuals with five years of experience doing the exact same work as the position being filled.

On the other hand, the prospects you phone will propose freelance /consulting opportunities substantially different from anything you have ever done in the past. You will be presented with assignments for which your qualifications are moderate, even questionable. You’ll offer your services to design thingamabobs, and they’ll ask if you can design thingamajigs. Even if you are honest and say, “Thingamabob design is my greater strength, but I’d be interested in working under your guidance on the thingamajig,” they may well give you the opportunity.

Or you can identify in advance an area into which you would like to expand. I’ve tried spin-off specialties by detailing how my qualifications in one area relate to my new target assignment.

Guess the most important characteristic of corporate employers is a fear of commitment. They’d rather allow freelancers and consultants to try new specialties than hire full-timers for the same type of career switch. That may be because even though the temp assignment may last for months, it doesn’t last forever. Their decision isn’t irrevocable. As if they aren’t ready to dump loyal employees in a heartbeat.

Originally posted 4-28-09

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