Guides
July 9, 2021

13 Keys to a 6-Figure Independent Consulting Business

"I'm sick of working for someone else."

Sincerely,

Every employee

Tired of working for someone else to accomplish their dreams? Consulting allows you to work for yourself, maximize your value, enjoy a flexible work schedule, work on the projects you actually enjoy and cut out a lot of the B.S. that comes along with being an employee at a company.

While you have expertise in a business function (marketing, strategy, product, engineering, sales, etc.) you may be wondering the best way to pitch yourself, how much you should charge, and how to close clients. That's where we come in: we've run our own 6-figure consulting businesses, and helped thousands of others launch and run theirs. We help you skip the trial and error, avoid the common mistakes, and run your consulting business like a pro. Let's get started.

Step 1: Hone your niche and present yourself well

To be a hirable consultant, you need to know what you offer, communicate your unique value clearly and concisely, and tangibly answer the following questions:

  • How are you different?
  • Why would a company hire you?
  • What solutions can you provide?

This is an area that can really set you apart or make you blend in with the crowd. Presenting yourself as a "jack of all trades" or an "operations expert" gives a potential client very little to work with and, to be honest, you won't stand out.

During my time at Uber, I was in Operations and Launch and let's be honest: nobody outside of Uber knows what "Operations at Uber" means. It sounds fine, but they really have no idea what I'm capable of and clients were lost. So, I learned to pitch myself as a marketplace launch expert. I'd launched UberEATS in Miami, FL, and Milan, Italy, and I'd launched the Uber Freight business as well. So, "I specialize in launching and scaling 2 and 3 sided marketplaces." This not only sounds a hell of a lot better than "I worked in Operations at Uber," but it also makes sense to a potential client. They get what value I'm capable of providing to their business.

You might think of yourself as a "jack of all trades," and maybe you are! But that's not going to help you sign a client. There are millions of people out there, and likely thousands that have a similar expertise. How are you going to set yourself apart?

For me, I leaned hard into my food delivery and freight experience. How many people had owned the full launch of a food delivery marketplace for a billion-dollar company? A few, but not a ton. What is that thing for you?

We recommend taking the three steps below to figure out the best way to present yourself. Most people are going to skip these steps. If you want to set yourself apart, I highly recommend taking 10 minutes and actually doing this exercise.

  1. List your professional accomplishments

Look back at your career to date, and write down the accomplishments that you’re most proud of and enjoyed the most, in this format:

At [Company X], I [tangible verb or phrase] that accomplished [accomplishment or result here] and [additional accomplishment here if applicable].

  1. Identify your tangible concrete skills and superpowers

Start by listing the skills that helped you achieve the accomplishments you listed above. Use this formula.

I’m an expert at [area of expertise] that enables me to [value add to a company or outcome for a company].

  1. Develop this to your winning pitch

Take the lists you made in steps one and two and turn them into your niche. As you talk to potential clients and write proposals, you can use these side-by-side to communicate your value.

(Step 1) “I’m an expert at…” + (Step 2) I accomplished X at Y company and delivered on Z value.

In sum, you're saying "I can add value in the following way" and "I can back that up because of what I've accomplished doing X, Y, and Z."

When you’re talking to a potential client, you now have a clear, concise introduction that highlights your value.

Step 2: Clarify your thoughts

For all the great things consulting provides, it also comes with its share of challenges. If it were easy, everyone would do it. That's why it's important to have clear intentions going in.

What are you looking to get out of your consulting business:

  • Make more money?
  • Experience working across different companies?
  • Get a small equity portfolio?
  • Learn a new skill?

Whatever it is for you, write it down and be clear on why you want to consult. It might be as simple as "I want to work for myself." That's fine. Write it down: “People who vividly describe their goals are 1.2-1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish their goals!”

For example, maybe you decide you want to consult so you can work with companies where you really align with their mission in solving a problem for a group of people you really care about. In that case, when you find those clients, you might be willing to compromise on your rate a bit because it's not completely about the money. However, if you find yourself connected to a big company that doesn't fit into that bucket, you can feel comfortable asking for a lot more because that engagement would be more about paying the bills for you versus aligned with your mission.

Step 3: Understanding the sales lifecycle

VIDEO

Of course, not every project is the same, but they follow a general format to get and close a client:

  1. Introduction to a potential client
  2. Intro call and scoping conversation
  3. Proposal
  4. Negotiation
  5. Close / sign a contract
  6. Align expectations and get started

Before you start steps 1 and 2 with intro calls and scoping conversations, you want to have a template proposal ready to go so you can quickly follow up. In the rest of this guide, we'll cover all the steps in detail so you're prepared come game time. Let's go!

Step 4: Create a winning proposal

What’s included in your one-page proposal template

  1. Your one-pager will consist of 4 sections:
  2. About You: your experience, accomplishments, and education (if impressive)
  3. Top Priorities for the Company: you will find this out on your intro call
  4. Initial Projects or Deliverables: this is based on their priorities
  5. Logistics of Working Together: hours, compensation, time on-site, etc.,

Section 1: About You

This comes from the niche work you completed in Step 1. Take this information and put it at the top of your proposal. You're explaining where you're an expert and what experiences you have to make you an expert in that domain. This is often one of the hardest parts for consultants, which is a good thing for you: putting in the time to do it will set you apart from the others who don't.

Section 2: Top Priorities for the Company

If you've done your due diligence in digging and listening on your intro call —take notes! — you write a summary of what you've learned in this section of the proposal. If you do this well, the company representative reading your proposal will realize that you've listened well, you understand the problems, and you're a good fit to provide the solutions..

Pro tip: use as many of their words and terminology in this section. They're going to say "oh wow he/she really gets us!"

Section 3: Initial Projects or Deliverables

Outline how you're going to solve the problems you outlined in Section 2. These projects and deliverables should be as tangible as possible. Help the client visualize what you're going to do for them. Try to avoid statements like "provide advice" or "analyze the data." That's not helpful and they're going to struggle to understand the impact you can have.

Section 4: Logistics of Working Together

Outline compensation, if you'll be onsite, how many hours per week or month, etc. Try to get an idea of the budget on the calls so they're not surprised when you send this over. If you didn't get an idea, you can leave the compensation blank and make a note to talk about it on your next call when reviewing the proposal.

Take a look at this proposal template you can use (make a copy!) to make your own proposal template.

Step 5: Imposter Thoughts

We started covering your mindset in Step 2, but we need to revisit. Why? Because feeling like an imposter is common and often holds even the most talented folks back from achieving what they're capable of. The Journal of Behavioral Science noted, “it is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of this imposter phenomenon in their lives."

Maya Angelou, Nobel Laureate and legendary author said, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.

Even the best doubt their abilities. If you're wondering if you "have what it takes," you're not alone. Some of these thoughts may sound like this:

  • I'm not sure if I can find that next client!
  • What if I can't deliver a great project?
  • Am I really worth this rate I'm asking for?

For freelance consultants, this doubt can be amplified by the fact that you're working for yourself and there often isn't a team surrounding you with positive feedback or encouragement. Leaving you to rely on the feedback from your client and positive self-talk.

This is one of the most challenging aspects of working for yourself as a consultant. One of the best ways we've found to counter imposter thoughts is to write down your fears and worst-case scenarios and share them with trusted friends and family members, and maybe a therapist or coach. A lot of times your fears are relatively unfounded, and it's simply in your own head. When you write down these fears, ask yourself if it's something you can handle. Maybe it's that a client rejects you, or laughs at your rate (I've never heard of this actually happening). Can you deal with that? Maybe it hurts your ego a bit, but I bet you can handle it.

Personally, I was scared to fail. I'd always wanted to go out on my own, and quitting Uber was my chance. What if I failed? Would I have to go work for someone else again? That was my worst-case scenario. And I tested this scenario by polishing up my resume before I quit and applied to a few companies. I found my skills and experiences were desirable, and if I failed on my own, I'd be able to get a job working for someone else. While that wasn't the outcome I wanted, I decided I could live with that if I gave my independent career a full chance. And thankfully, I did succeed on my own, and I'll likely never have to work for anyone ever again!

Imposter thoughts aren't a one-time occurrence that goes away. It's likely something you'll deal with periodically throughout your career. Find something that works for you, and stick to it. Know this: it's very common to doubt your own abilities, and you're not alone.

Step 6: Your verbal introduction - first impressions matter

Most calls start with a quick intro on both sides. This first interaction is critical. We've all experienced that person who goes on about themselves for a full 5 minutes in crazy detail. They lost you 4 and a half minutes ago, and you're now checking stock prices on your phone. Don't be that person.

The value in being concise and impactful in the first few minutes of the call cannot be understated. To do this effectively, you’ll want to have your intro already in mind so you’re not fumbling over your words.

What makes a good verbal intro

  1. Concise - your intro to yourself should be less than 2 minutes, ideally under 60 seconds.
  2. Impactful - you want the potential client listening to you the entire call, and the best way to do that is to get them interested from the moment they pick up the phone. Your intro should really hit them hard in a way of getting them interested in your experience, and how your experience can help their company.

Intro Call Notes

  • I start almost all calls in control. This isn’t required, but it shows I’m confident and in control of who I am and what I want out of this. What I mean by this is after a little small talk about “how it’s going” or similar, I give the structure of the meeting.
  • I say something like “I know you’re busy, so thanks for taking the time to talk. Why don’t we each give an introduction, and then I’d love to hear more about your business."
  • I tailor my intro to the client. If I’ve done my research, I know my client’s core offering, where they’re at in the stage of the business, and have a guess where I can help them. E.g., I’m not going to discuss my UberEATS launch experience in-depth to a Freight client that needs help scaling

Step 7: Set your rate

As an employee, I used to hate waiting for a raise or seeing if I'd get promoted "this cycle." Once I started consulting, these days were over! I charged for the actual value I'd brought to the company.

This is why setting your rate as a consultant is one of the most exciting exercises. You're no longer having someone tell you how much you're worth, and waiting on someone else to give you a raise or a promotion.

Side Note: With a salary at a company, your starting salary is your anchor for your lifetime at the company. Raises are usually percentage increases from that base, and your salary usually doesn’t increase with the value you bring. You could bring in millions for your company, and only get $10k as a raise or bonus.

Once you become a freelancer, those days are over. As you acquire more experience, skills, and the ability to impact a company, you can charge as much as a client is willing to pay you. If you can offer 40% more, you can charge 40% more. No more waiting for someone to promote you or some arbitrary bonus. You charge what value you bring, period.

Valuing yourself can be tough, but we’re going to break it down to make it much simpler, and then once you get out there, you can iterate as needed.

If you went to a new company right now and got a sweet role, what compensation would you look at and be like “hell yeah!” With that in mind, let’s look at this model.

Don’t forget that number is a gross number - you are going to have other costs as a freelancer, and that does not include taxes. However, we built in a pretty big buffer (40%) to help with this. Make a copy of the model, add your name to the title of the google sheet, and keep it - it’s yours.

Step 8: Where and how to find clients

Finding clients is the name of the game, and there are a number of high priority things you can do to set yourself up for success. There's no silver bullet for having a steady stream of consulting clients — if there were, this would be easy and everyone would do it — however, there are many ways you can make this work for you, especially if you've done the above steps about honing your niche and setting your intention.

Finding clients is about putting yourself out there. You're not going to win them all, but if you keep putting yourself out there, learning and iterating, you will have some success.

  1. Give your network a reason to reach out to you
  2. Leverage trusted contacts who already know your work
  3. Reach out to friendly faces
  4. Cold outreach out to relevant people / companies
  5. Utilize existing contractor platforms
  6. Market yourself on your own websites and social media
  7. Give your network a reason to reach out to you

Let your network them know what you're up to so when there is an opportunity, you can be top of mind. Once I started letting my network know via LinkedIn that I was consulting independently, I got a few folks from my past (some from YEARS ago) reaching out asking if I could help them. You never know who will come back to offer you a $20k project!

To do this well, update your Linkedin with your accomplishments and your offering — if you haven’t done that, go do it now. We'll wait.

Once you've done that, post some thoughts on your area of expertise in a LinkedIn post. Do this every day and you’ll be shocked at how many views you get. Some of these views turn into messages and some turn into potential clients. Besides 30 minutes of your time, what do you have to lose? This isn't a note on LinkedIn that says HEY I'M CONSULTING LOOK AT ME! This is a message sharing your point of view on a topic where you're an expert. While what you know seems common sense to you, it's not to others, and you might get an incredibly positive response. If you don't, no harm no foul, you can either try again or try another method.

  1. Leverage trusted contacts who already know your work

The best way to find easy to convert clients is to utilize people that already know and trust you, especially those that know your work. Think of all the people in your professional network: past jobs, friends from college, that random conference you went to, etc. Research what they’re up to so when you connect and catch up you can ask good questions and have a productive conversation.

Don't look at this like a sales call - this is a catch-up call to see what's going on in their lives and to ask about their company and their challenges. Maybe there's naturally an opportunity for you to help. Maybe there's not, and they refer you to a friend who might have a need. This is just opening the door to see if anything is there.

When you reach out via email / text / LinkedIn, give them a quick update on what's going on with you, and ask if they’re open to a short phone call to catch up. The more personalized you can make these messages, the better.

  1. Leverage your Personal Network

This includes not only your family and friends but also your parents’ friends, your sister’s colleagues, people from high school you barely keep in touch with, college dorm buddies, etc. Don’t feel guilty reaching out to people you aren’t super close to – nobody is going to give you good money for a service or product they don’t need. Follow the same advice as before: give them a quick update, ask to jump a call with them, talk about their business, and see if they have a need for your offering.

  1. Reach out to people / companies you don’t know

This one requires some more research. As you think about your niche, look for companies that would really benefit from you. Then look for events that happened that may trigger a specific need for some quick, high-value help: a recent fundraiser for example. The FIRST thing a company does after a big fundraise is hire talent. They have aggressive goals and they're flush with cash: perfect for you to find a high-paying gig with them.

For me, I looked for food delivery, freight / logistics companies, and ridesharing start-ups. Do some research and send out some friendly notes on Linkedin, or via email if you can find their email. I’ve also had success reaching out via a company’s website or getting in touch with a recruiter. Generally, I’ve found LinkedIn is the best avenue for outreach. Make sure you personalize your note as much as possible. As you likely know, people get hit up on LinkedIn right, left, and center. Stand out by doing your research, and make a personal connection to them where you can. As a helpful tip, you can send a note along with a connection invite so you don’t need to pay for Inmails.

  1. Utilize project-based platforms

There are now many platforms that help connect contractors to those in need of a service. There’s Upwork, Fiverr, Sparehire (now Graphite), Catalant, TopTal, Business Talent Group, and many more (just Google search). The service you offer will depend on which platform is best for you to try out. Upwork is generally more for commoditized offerings (e.g., logo design) and can be a bit of a race to the bottom because it's hard to differentiate yourself. That being said, a lot of people do find success there. For me, I got a $20k project on Catalant, which turned into a 3 month retainer after we finished the project. One important note about this project: their budget was $5k, and I told them the value I'd bring would be significantly more, and the $5k didn't make sense to value my time. They told me to send them a proposal anyway, and there was no push-back with the price I offered.

The platforms can be hit or miss depending on your skillset and how you market yourself, but especially if you have a brand name on your resume, you might have some luck with these, and at a minimum, they’re worth exploring. I'd go in with low expectations and realize you may need to apply to 10-15 projects before you actually get one. Whatever you do, don't compromise on your rate below your value!

  1. Market yourself on your own

Marketing yourself online today is one of the most valuable things you can do. While it takes some additional work, the content you leave online is always there, meaning people can find you day or night without any extra work on your part. You could start a basic blog, write on Medium, or simply write posts on LinkedIn.

The important part is to make this content as rich and valuable as possible, giving you legitimacy when people read it.

Step 9: Turn a friendly call into a project

Once you’re on a call, whether it's a friend, past manager, or random contact you connected with via LinkedIn, ask a lot of great questions. You have two jobs on an intro call:

  1. Validate yourself
  2. Ask a lot of great questions

Often by doing #2 well, you accomplish a lot of #1. Let me give an example. If I'm an expert in scaling businesses without adding lots of headcount, I can ask smart questions along this line of business strategy / expertise. Since I'm an expert on this topic, I'm going to eventually ask questions that they haven't thought through, or don't know the answer to. This is validating me as an expert, and potentially showing a weakness in their business. If the business is having trouble in this area, they might need my help.

To validate yourself well, you need to have your niche down, communicate it well in your concise introduction, and then ask great questions (Step 1). Your first job with your questions is to understand the business and understand their challenges. Ask them what keeps them up at night. Ask them about their goals over the next 6-12 months. Get a sense of where they're at! In the perfect world, their biggest challenges align with your area of expertise. This alignment is a home run for you and enables you to get an extremely high rate because they NEED you.

Regardless, learn as much as you can about their business and challenges. Learn what their specific goals are, and what's preventing them from getting there. If they have a specific goal in mind and you can help them get there, you're in good shape. Takes notes, and learn as much as possible. If you decide there's an opportunity to help them out, you'll need these notes to write a kick-ass proposal. If you decide there's not a great match between their challenges and your area of expertise, ask if they can make an intro or two to someone in their network that might have some business challenges aligned with your expertise. When done well, these calls will lead to either a project or warm introductions to good leads.

Step 10: Scope out a killer project

If you've done well on your intro call, you know:

  1. Their business and the challenges they're currently facing
  2. If there could be a fit based on your experience and expertise
  3. Enough information about their challenges so you can scope out a project

Often, this will take a few calls to get through 1, 2, and 3 listed above, so keep that in mind as you navigate these conversations.

As you have these conversations, you're letting them talk a lot (which is great because who doesn't love talking about themselves) and you're learning a lot. As you learn more about them, you're looking for one key thing: Do they need you more than you need them?

If their challenges align with your area of expertise, they might be really excited to work with you. This is exactly what you want! Now you can get more granular. What kind of engagement might be a good fit? Your options look like the following:

Advisory arrangement

These are usually when you're helping out a founder or the exec team ad-hoc for a few hours per month. These deals are often struck at the super early stage of a company's life (but not always) and are often equity-based. Often, a founder will have an idea for how much equity they're giving to advisors. If they don't and you need some guidance, check out this article from Carta, and specifically the chart under "How much equity do advisors get?"

Other types of agreements

Generally, when we talk about consulting for a company, we're thinking of an agreement for 5-30 hours per week where you're performing a specific function, whether it's execution or strategy-based. These can look like hourly agreements, monthly retainers, and project-based agreements. We'll briefly run through each below.

Hourly Agreements

You agree to an hourly rate with your client, you keep track of your hours, and you bill them based on how many hours you work. In sum, we don't like this and it's our least favorite method of contracting. Here's why:

Charging hourly has almost all cons.

  • Your incentives are misaligned with your client. You want to work more to get paid more, and they're worried about giving you too much work, worried about racking up their own bill
  • You have to keep a timesheet, and that's not fun for anyone
  • You don't know reliably how much you'll get paid, and they don't know how much they'll be outlaying each month
  • You're likely to get in the mindset of “oh I can get the nicer TV, and just work two extra hours
  • You're inclined to take longer to do things than the task requires, which isn’t good for you or your client
  • Unless it's a last resort, we don't recommend this arrangement

Project-based

Just as it sounds, this is where you scope out a project with the client, and execute on that project for a fixed fee. This could be “build a deck that outlines our brand strategy including our user personas, our voice, our fonts and colors, a portfolio of pictures and video, and a strategy to get this brand out there.

For this type of project, you are going to align with your client on the steps to take to complete a successful project. Then, you internally are going to estimate a conservative (don’t sell yourself short) number of hours for each step, and use your hourly rate to come up with an estimate for the project. If it’s a really big project, you can discount it slightly (more on this in a later step about negotiation).

What we like about project-based work A lot of clients like this because it’s goal-oriented. Once you solve X problem for them, they pay you and that specific engagement has completed. Of course there can be multiple projects within a bigger project.

What we don't like about project-based work More often than not, projects do not go according to schedule. They get bigger or change, other stakeholders get involved, you get multiple iterations of feedback, etc. When these things happen, you need to be very on top of the scope, the timeline, and where things are moving away from expectations. To do this well, you need to have constant check-ins with your client as you navigate the timeline and scope, and it can lead to a lot of pressure on you, and some uncomfortable conversations with your client

Monthly retainers

This is our preferred method of contracting with a company.

Why we like it

  • You know exactly how much you'll get paid each month
  • You're incentivized to get the job done as efficiently as possible (while getting the same payment)
  • No timesheets or uncomfortable conversations about "is the project on track"
  • If the scope of the project increases or your client is moving slowly, that won’t affect you - you continue to get paid and will work with that client for longer
  • Extensions are often easy without additional negotiations → you just agree to extend the retainer

Things to watch out for

  • You need to keep your client up to date on what you’re working on so they don’t feel like they have this cost that just keeps recurring without impact - make sure you’re driving impact, and showcasing your work regularly
  • You're going to agree to a general number of hours or scope, and that's how you'll decide how much to charge. If the work goes more than 10-20% outside of the scope, you'll want to talk to your client about reducing the scope or paying you more

Step 11: Negotiate a great rate

One of the biggest benefits of consulting independently is getting the full value of the impact you’ll make on a company. You’re not waiting for a manager to promote you or pushing hard all year for hopes of a big bonus that may or may not come. To get a great rate, you need to know your value and negotiate well.

The negotiation mindset

Negotiating can be scary, intimidating, and not fun. Let's change that mindset. Negotiating is all about getting to know the person on the other side, and coming to a joint solution that works for both of you. If you can think about it this way, it becomes easier, and can actually be fun.

I was very nervous the first time I negotiated a consulting deal and had no idea what I was doing, but now I love this part and actually look forward to it! And the good news: by the time you’re at this part with a client, the hardest part is over**.** You’ve already shown your value, and the client wants to work with you.

It’s natural to be nervous when asking for money. You likely haven’t done it much in your life and there are always fears around “worth” and rejection. Think about it this way - the worst they can say is “no.” In fact, if you don’t get a “no” at some point in the negotiation, you did something wrong. Why? Well, you left money on the table. With that mindset, let’s get you a good offer.

Negotiations are all about learning information

The more information you have, the more leverage you have, and the more strategic you can be as you look to navigate closing the deal.

You get information by asking questions, and by mirroring, and labeling to get them to keep talking.

  1. Mirror - mimic the last 1-3 words of the end of their sentence. They’ll likely explain further.
  2. Example: If they say, “our marketing department is really holding on by a thread.” You could respond “holding on by a thread?” And they’ll go, “yeah well, we lost XYZ person and…” See this above where I did it to myself with “ask great questions.”
  3. Label - label what they’re saying by starting with “it seems like...” and they’ll likely elaborate if you’re right or if you’re slightly off, and you can hone in on what’s really going on.
  4. Example:
  5. Client: “We had to fire our head of marketing because he wasn’t getting the job done and now we’re struggling to calculate CAC”
  6. You: “Got it. It seems like you’re frustrated with tracking around your current marketing efforts”
  7. By doing this, your client is almost guaranteed to elaborate on their issue, which helps you dive further into their challenges, and thus where you can help them. Take great notes here, and try to write down as many of their words as possible. Using their words in your proposal will help them resonate strongly with them and your proposal.

The more you learn, the easier it will be to close the deal. You’ll learn who the decision maker is, what’s preventing them from making a deal, how tight their cash position is, etc. Keep asking questions curiously to learn.

Step 12: Deal with client push-back and close the deal

There are only so many reasons why you’ll struggle to close a client. Those reasons mostly fall into the below 6 buckets.

  1. Their need in your area of expertise isn’t big enough (or doesn’t exist at all)
  2. You didn’t do a good enough job convincing them you’re the right person for the job
  3. You’re not talking to the right stakeholder
  4. They don’t have enough cash to hire you
  5. They have some excuse: they want a full-time person, “we’ll be in touch with you,” “we don’t know where you fit,” or similar
  6. They’ve never hired a freelance before

Their need in your area of expertise isn’t big enough (or doesn’t exist at all)

As we’ve talked about, during your intro calls, you’re asking them a lot of good questions around your area of expertise. You’re digging for more and seeing how they respond. This will give you a great indication of how much they’ve thought about this, how big their need is, and how much value you’ll be able to add to them. If there’s not an immediate response from them on where you’re an expert, it’s likely their area of need in your expertise isn’t big enough to get a high-paying, high value gig!

You didn’t do a good enough job convincing them you’re the right person for the job

For any company to spend good money on someone, they want to be as sure as possible that you’re going to get the job done and do it well. The best way to do this is to validate your experience well by sharing examples of where you've accomplished a similar task for another company. Share a case study of the impact you made on another company. You can also share references to people with who you've worked in the past.

You’re not talking to the right stakeholder

I’ve been through countless negotiations, only to end up starting over with someone else. Make sure the person you’re talking to has the authority and ability to hire you. More often than not, the people that do have that decision making power will want to talk to you and make sure you’re a good fit for the job so their money is well spent. Talking to anyone but that person is simply a waste of your time. You can ask the person you’re talking to directly this question, and see what they say. If they say it’s someone else, ask if you can connect to that person.

They don’t have enough cash to hire you

If you’re optimizing for cash, and the company has no cash to spare, you don’t want to waste all your time collecting info about the client only to learn they’re paying you in equity. It’s okay to ask fairly early on what their cash position is like if they have a budget dedicated to this project, or just straight up if they’re able to pay in cash to help solve this problem. They’re usually pretty straight forward, as they don’t want to waste their time either. There are creative solutions here, so don’t be deterred if they say they’re in a tough cash position. If you can communicate your ROI clearly enough, they may be able to find the cash. Worst case, if you really like the client and believe in their business, you could come up with a revenue share or performance-based model. Or maybe, you’re open to a cash/equity split, and you can start building out a small equity portfolio. Who knows, maybe one of those companies will hit one day and you’ll get a nice check in 10 years.

They have some excuse: they want a full-time person, “we’ll be in touch with you,” “we don’t know where you fit,” etc.

Something is off here if you hear an excuse like this. They don't have the conviction to pull the trigger and are using an excuse to get out of it. The real reason they aren't ready to hire you isn't known, so you need to get to the bottom of it. Ask clarifying questions. Be curious. Ask open-ended questions that are likely to get you more information that will inform next steps. If you're not learning much and maybe they're just hesitating, find a way to get started with a paid trial or small agreement. Once you show your value, you have even more leverage and can negotiate a bigger scoped project. Language like, “why don’t we start on a 30 or 60 day trial to see how this goes for 8-10 hours per week, and we can always scope up or down as we see fit.” It never fails, and at a minimum, you’ll learn about their intention to hire you.

They’ve never hired a consultant before

You're there to add value to their company - it doesn't matter what kind of capacity it's in. Remind them of the impact you can make on their company - that's what should matter most. Further, tell them that you end up being cheaper in the long run because they're not paying you benefits or committing to you for years. In the end, the impact on the company matters most and if they've lost sight of that, your best bet is to remind them how much you can help solve their challenges.

Step 13: Align expectations + set yourself up for success

Set clear expectations

While closing the client is the hardest part, you want to make sure you’re set up for success once you begin the engagement. This is where a contract comes in handy - you’re very specifically communicating with your client what they can expect from you, so you go into the engagement aligned.

In my experience, if you’ve done a good and detailed job with the proposal, the contract is really just a formality. Often, you’ll copy and paste the information from the proposal into the contract, and other than maybe a few more details, you’ll be aligned on what the client can expect from you.

Sometimes you might want to clarify a few more things with your client, such as what type of communication they should expect from you, what items you’ll need to succeed, and which teams you’ll be working with. The more detailed you can be in your contract, you’ll be better set up for success and aligned with your client.

Get it down on paper to cover yourself

Other than setting expectations, the contract is meant to cover both you and the client should something go wrong. Make sure you read through and understand what you’re agreeing to!

What to watch out for:

  1. Payment terms - make sure you’re getting paid when you want to be, and have strict terms for how long it takes them to pay you. Clients can take a long time to pay, and you want to make sure they’re on top of this for you. We recommend asking for payment upfront - most times they’ll have no problem with it!
  2. Working with other clients / competition - most contracts have limitations on other companies you can work with while you’re engaged with a company. Take a close look at what that aspect of the contract says. We recommend not having any competitive clients, so it’s okay to agree to that, but be careful if it says anything past that. If it says that you can’t work with anyone else at all in the industry, you may want to push back.
  3. Solicitation - this means you won’t take anyone from the company and poach them away. This is fair to agree to, but it shouldn’t span too much longer than the length of the agreement. Keep an eye out for anything that says a number of years after the agreement. You never know where your work will lead you and who you’ll want to work alongside.

Make it easy on your client

Once you’re ready to go, send over the contract via Docusign or Hellosign (I actually like Hellosign better). Make it easy on them so all they have to do is review and sign - don’t send a PDF.

Get feedback from your client

While you are a consultant, you need the same kind of check-ins and feedback that you’d have if you were full-time. Find a way to connect with your main stakeholder at least once a week. For me, that was in the form of a 1v1 check-in for 30 minutes. We could discuss the projects, but even more so was important to check-in with how things were going, share any relevant feedback, and see if we were on track with the project.

Get qualitative and quantitative feedback every 3-4 weeks

Often, people aren’t great at giving feedback. So, I send out a form every few weeks to get some actual feedback. The form requires you to put a number 0-10 on how well it’s going, and offer both positive and constructive feedback. All the fields are “required” as well, so your client is forced to give you feedback.

The better you perform for your client, the more likely they are to refer you to their friends who also lead companies. This sets up a great opportunity to grow your business through referrals, with little to no work on your end!

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