My advice to new independent workers

My advice to new independent workers [PMP #249]

2022 is the 7th year of running my consulting business and my processes and approach to making money online has certainly evolved over the years. If you’re a new or aspiring freelancer, coach or consultant then I’d love to help you save some time by sharing some of the advice I wish I’d heard early on (rather than having to figure it out on my own later).

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Niche down (seriously!)

This is probably advice you’ve heard before but seriously, this is really important!

When I first started starting dabbling in consulting, I tried to market myself as a ‘Productivity Consultant’ which I later found to be far too broad. When your service or offering is too broad like this, not only is it hard to stand out and get discovered but you may not be able to charge as much compared to what you could earn specialising in something more specific.

Later on, I decided to niche down and help people with one specific productivity tool; Asana. There are hundreds (probably thousands) of tools out there that help people with productivity. But by becoming the go-to expert in one tool in particular it makes it a lot easier to stand out and get clients. Rather than being a small fish in an entire ocean, I think it’s better to be the biggest fish in a small pond.

Rather than being a Graphic Designer, perhaps you could focus on a specific industry or type of design like logos, restaurant menus or car decals. Instead of being a personal trainer, maybe you could focus on helping new mums to get back their dream body. This is how specific you should aim to be.

Market yourself by delivering value

Once I decided to specialise in helping small to medium sized businesses with Asana (and later on, I started to do the same with Pipedrive) it became a lot easier to find my target clients. Rather than trying to help a larger group of people with a wide range of problems, now you can focus on helping a specific group of people with a specific problem.

Hands down I’ve found the best way to find and get clients is to go to where they are online and be as helpful as you can. I do this by being active in community forums, making videos for YouTube and making my self easy to find on Google. The way I see it, someone with a problem with Asana who’s looking to learn more will go to one of these places to find an answer. So that’s where I want to be.

In my experience, the more value you provide and the more helpful you can be, the better. Leads then start approaching you and they’re already warmed to the idea of working with you as they feel like they know who you are and trust your abilities. Trust me when I say this makes selling your services a lot easier!

Set up good systems early on

When you’re just starting your business, it’s easy to take a laissez-faire approach to your tools and systems. Because you’re not doing a high volume of work in the beginning, it’s easy to postpone setting up good systems and tools until you’re doing more volume.

This is the case for a lot of clients who approach me for help. They’ve grown quickly and now they need help setting up better tools and systems because now they’re stuck as their current systems (or lack there of) are holding them back.

Find yourself a good sales CRM (here’s my Pipedrive affiliate link). Set up a work management tool like Asana (affiliate link). Get a proper accounting tool like Xero or Quickbooks. Work out how you’re going to bill clients and collect payments. Use a tool like TextExpander for email templates. Decide where you’re going to store documents (e.g. Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive). And get rid of the personal Gmail address in favour of a company domain and proper email hosting. Nothing screams rookie like an address.

Invest in automation

Again, in the early days it’s easy to put off automation as something to worry about later as it’s often faster to just do things yourself. But I would argue that you’ll grow quicker and be able to handle more work if you focus on automation early on.

Get into the mindset of asking yourself: “How would I handle 10x more work than I am right now?”. How would you streamline client outreach, dealing with new inquiries, quoting, legal documentation, billing, payments, client onboarding? Automation will not only help you to save time in all these areas but you’ll actually create a much smoother experience for the client which they’ll really appreciate.

Tools like Zapier are amazing at helping you to automate the mundane and manual parts of your business. I recommend starting by learning the basics.

Start with DFY and migrate to DWY or DIY as you learn and grow

When you start your business, the easiest way to get clients is to offer a ‘done for you’ (DFY) service. This is where you are the one doing the work and delivering the service. Offering DFY services is a great way to get your first few clients and learn about their pain points and to develop a high-value offering that solves a problem.

Now it’s not possible for every type of business but something to think about is how to slowly transition to a ‘done with you’ (DWY) or ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) model. These services are typically harder to sell as they require more work on the part of the client but they’re more scaleable on your end. If you're a solo freelancer or consultant, offering DWY or DIY products is the only way to remove yourself as the bottleneck so you can scale your business.

This is how my business evolved. In the beginning, I did a lot of hourly calls and projects where I was the one doing most of the heavy lifting (DFY). Now I sell programs which are a bit of a hybrid of these different models. Clients can join group calls (DWY) and watch online training (DIY). We also offer private consulting sessions allowing us to provide personal assistance and training when needed (DFY).

As your business grows, you can still offer DFY services but this may become your highest ticket offer. You can then offer DWY or DIY services to clients with smaller budgets.

Thoughts, questions, feedback? Leave me a comment below!