Fewer than 5% of independents run their company as a business. For most freelancers, their company is simply an “invoicing-mechanism”, a vehicle to provide services to clients and (hopefully) get paid.
As a result, the business often lurches from feast to famine, where months of overwhelm are followed by months of insecurity. Generating new business is a constant hassle and in time this drains the energy of the professional.
Even established professionals are now discovering the need to be ahead of their clients. If they cannot have impact in a first meeting, there are others who can. Therefore, being ahead of the client is now essential, not just desirable. The questions below have therefore been refined to reflect the challenges of today’s economy.
How many of the following 15 statements are true for you?
1. I have a quarterly strategic plan, against which I manage the business. (As opposed to ticking a To-Do list, reacting to the Inbox or just responding to opportunities as I go along)
2. My diary is organised so that each work-week contains three time-zones: delivery to clients, business-development and admin. (As opposed to trying to do everything all the time)
3. There is a weekly “keep-in-touch” system that constantly demonstrates insight and replenishes the pipeline. (As opposed to random calls, disappearing into client projects, or waiting for the right moment)
4. I take specific measures to develop services, stay ahead of my clients and differentiate the business from other providers. I have crafted 2-5 readymade insights that really make people think. (As opposed to viewpoints / ideas / solutions)
5. I have tested these insights with key people to make sure they really qualify as insights. (As opposed to being seduced by my own story or wisdom)
6. There is a proven marketing- and sales-process that brings quality clients, and is constantly being refined. (As opposed to waiting, hoping, magic-wand-thinking or relying on someone else)
7. When I am in front of a prospective client, I take them through a structured dialogue that adds value to their thinking and reframes their needs. (As opposed to being interviewed by them)
8. I am able to get from a first- to a second- meeting (As opposed to offering to write a proposal, and/or never hearing from them again)
9. When confronted with hesitant clients, I have developed techniques to “get them off the fence” (As opposed to waiting, following-up, or being passive)
10. Whether paid or unpaid, there is a support team to whom support-tasks can be delegated (As opposed to doing everything myself)
11. There is a regime of monthly financial control, and adequate financial reserves to withstand six-months of downtime. (As opposed to constant worry, hope or daily panic about cash-flow)
12. Fees: I enjoy above-average remuneration, coupled with clear-cut reasons why my clients are willing to pay these rates (As opposed to “my many years of experience”)
13. I am close to top colleagues, who inspire me to raise my game (As opposed to being stuck in a comfort-zone, bored, isolated, unknown or only learning from others who are also struggling)
14. My own business-planning and behaviour is challenged monthly (at least), just as it would be at board-level in a large company. (As opposed to being seduced by my own story, or stuck in a rut)
15. Despite all the effort, I enjoy my work and I look forward to coming back from holiday. (As opposed to having-no-holiday, dread, boredom or dreaming about retirement)
If you can honestly tick all of the above statements, then you have achieved a level of sustainable success to be proud of. Well done. You are already a leader in your field: not just leading your peers but your clients as well.
If you can tick most of the above (10+); then you may wish to challenge yourself a bit more: particularly between Q4-Q9. Why delay resolution of the remaining issues? Every year is precious, and there is a huge difference between scoring 10 and scoring 15. In short, life at 15 is a lot easier than at 8.
If you scored less and are still reading this with an open mind, then you have courage. Many independents find a reason to avoid confronting the reality of their situation, or they procrastinate and delay over doing something about it. Or they look for a “magic-wand”: a tactic or person that one sunny day will solve all their problems.
The role of a Non-Exec Director
In working as a Non-Exec Director in an independent business, I go beyond the usual coaching relationship to take an active part in running the business together with the independent professional.
We meet quarterly in London or in Brussels, and work to a weekly plan encompassing all aspect of the enterprise: market-positioning, client-management, infrastructure, communication, website, marketing, resourcing, service-development and of course finances.
As founder of the European Forum for Independent Professionals, a speaker and writer with several national associations across Europe, and having coached 550 freelancers over the past 12 years, I remain passionate about the vital role played by independents in stimulating economic recovery. At the same time, many are lost in the daily grind of chasing that next assignment or that outstanding payment. In practice, it takes more than vision and enthusiasm to be successful.
Quarterly half-day meetings in London or Brussels: you are welcome to bring associates, spouse, assistant or anyone else actively involved in the business. You are responsible for your travel and accommodation, though I’m happy to make recommendations to nearly hotels and B&Bs.
Fees From May 1st 2016: One year (£5.5K, 7K Eur). Sorry, no discounts, deferred-payments or barters!
Information: To be effective, we need to talk openly about financial matters: such as reserves, debts, fees and anything else that impinges on the business. Occasionally, this may also be true of personal matters: particularly things that affect the professional’s time and energy. Please note that this service does not constitute a counselling or therapy relationship.
Scheduling: At the end of each session, we will schedule our next session. These sessions can be by phone, skype or face-to-face: you decide. There are no time- or session- quotas in this relationship. You will always a mobile no. on which I can be reached, even when I’m travelling.
Chemistry-Session: If you are happy with these points, you are welcome to schedule a one-hour (Skype) session with no obligation. To prepare for this, I suggest you review the statements in blue at the top of this page, and if possible email me your responses (firstname.lastname@example.org). This means our time together will be more effective, and we can get off to a strong start.
If you are still reading this far, and you see the relevance to your plans, I look forward to working together. Please email email@example.com to schedule a Skype. My Skype id: john.niland