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Starting out as a freelance consultant can be a daunting task. Without a clear understanding of your customer or how to manage projects and expectations, and without a solid support structure in place, you’ll find the road is a rocky one. With the help of experienced freelance consultants that have jumped through the hoops for you, we’ve put together the Insider’s Guide To Freelance Consulting and outlined the framework you’ll need to successfully launch your business. Learn how to avoid the most common mistakes and overcome obstacles other freelancers face with regard to people, pricing and projects – you’re not in this alone!
By Evona W. Niewiadomska - Tuesday, 08 January 2013

We sat down with Jill Cartwright, Executive Director at Brixy and Founder of Go Gaga to discuss launching a freelance consulting business and asked her to answer the many burning questions freelancers have when starting out. After spending five years immersed in building the Go Gaga business into a global brand, Jill embarked on a consulting career as a means of transitioning to her next career. In the process she made countless mistakes in pricing, structuring projects and scope creep.  She’s hoping to spare you that same fate.

Positioning Your Business And identifying Your Target Customer

One of the biggest mistakes freelance consultants make is starting out as a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.  While intuition may tell you that you’ll risk missing out on potential business leads by specializing in a niche market, that’s not always the case. Don’t be afraid to take the path of least resistance and specialize, especially in the beginning. It will help to clarify your message and pitch, and will help you build a strong portfolio.

Craft a rocket pitch that tells people what they care about the most - what you do, who you do it for and how. If the person on the receiving end is not your target customer, you can be sure they’ll know who to refer you to. Start by filling in the blanks: “I connect/help ___ with ___ via ___ in order to ____.”

How to Find Your Customers & Convince Them They Need You 

Now that you’ve identified who your customers are, the next step is to go out and find them. There are several types of people you can approach, not all of them being decision makers but people who can help you climb up the ladder and lead you to your next client.

Hiring manager

How to find them: Through other freelancers working with the same client, industry networking events and Meetups, LinkedIn, business conferences and coworking spaces. 

How to position yourself: You can be a short-term utility player that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance or the hassles of formal hiring. You can also help the client define what skills they really need in the role as they look to place someone on a more permanent basis. 

Employee within the company (you want to work with)

How to find them: A bar, your social circle, LinkedIn, general networking events, alumni network.

How to position yourself: You can lighten their work load and start projects they’ve had on the back burner.  You’ll also make them look like a resourceful, proactive and problem-solving genius in their manager’s eyes.

Investor/Advisor: They intimately know the strengths, weaknesses and needs of their portfolio companies and can put you in front of the appropriate decision makers quickly. They can also make highly-valued recommendations that you work with the team.

How to find them: Company website, investment sites, newspaper articles and other PR, networking events focused on funding and angel boot camps.

How to position yourself: You’re the subject matter expert that can protect their investment by filling the gap in their team’s experience in a nonthreatening way.

Use these avenues to always keep your client pipeline full.  While each and every prospect is important, avoid putting all your eggs into one basket and make sure you’re never too dependent on 1-2 clients.  This will help you stay motivated and confident as you talk to potential clients who may not be the right fit for you or vice versa. 

Evaluating Potential Clients

Always remember that you’re choosing your clients just as much as they’re choosing you – that’s the beauty of freelancing.  Ask questions to find out whether or not a potential client and their company’s culture is the right fit for you.  If possible, meet at the company office to get a feel for their vibe and ask to speak to some of the employees in the company in order to understand whom you’ll be working with. 

Here are some questions to get you started:

-       What’s the decision making process in regard to …?

-       Who are the people involved in this project?

-       What is your creative review process?

-       How many iterations are typically involved in this type of project?

-       When do you review your budget?

 Next page: How to Price Projects & How to Avoid Project Pitfalls

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