From corporate to contractor

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I was excited when I got my first consulting contract. We agreed I’d work full time for 1 month with the contract extending to 3 months on month by month basis. Everything went well, but my contract wasn’t extended past the first month due to budget changes.

While I was excited to issue my first invoice, I hit a flat spot. I had no new work lined up. Since I’d been working full-time, there was no time for me to network for my next contract. While trying not to panic, I went back to my networking records so I could pick up where I’d left off.

The trouble was my previous networking had lost momentum. Conversations had gone stale, people had moved on, and the market had shifted. I had to start networking from scratch.

I knew it might take months to find another contract. I’d have to wait until the end of the month to issue an invoice and then wait another month to get paid. The thought of no income coming in for months made me feel vulnerable and scared.

Choosing my hours

While having billable work is critical, so is having time to run my business. I decided not to take on a full-time contract again. I’d only work 4 days a week at the most. This would give me one a day per week to work on my business. I was concerned my availability might make it hard for me to find work.

I interviewed for a full-time fixed term contract around a month after my last contract ended. During the interview, I bravely said I was only available for a maximum of 30 hours per week. I felt nervous and held my breath while my interviewer calmly took notes.

I left the interview resigned to not getting the work because I couldn’t work the hours they needed. A few days later, I interviewed for another contract. They needed me a few days per week. Which meant I didn’t need to have the ‘I only work 4 days a week’ conversation. The interview went well, and I went home to put a proposal together.

The next day I heard back about the contract I didn’t think I’d get. They had decided to accept my availability. And I found myself in the enviable position of being able to choose between two clients.

Staying true to myself and a brave conversation

While struggling to decide between the two offers, I had an epiphany. Strong relationships are the best way get regular work rather. Building a relationship with two clients at once would double my chances of getting regular work in the future and reduce networking downtime. Could this be the answer to the issue of getting work after work?

I was prepared to work hard to keep both clients happy. But they would have to share my time and know I wasn’t exclusive. I wasn’t sure if my potential clients would be happy with this arrangement. Would they think I couldn’t provide the time and attention they needed and deliver results? There was only one way find out, I had to have another brave conversation with both new clients.

Just like the ‘I only work 4 days a week discussion’ I was surprised at how well the ‘you’re not my only client’ discussion went. Both clients said ok and trusted that I would balance the workload and deliver what they needed. And two months in everything is going well.

Getting work vs. building relationships with clients

After my epiphany, I realised my approach to getting work for my business was stuck in my employee past. My focus had always been on getting a job. Once hired, I formed an exclusive relationship with one client. It was set and forget. I had continuous work and continuous pay.

I had bought my employee mindset with me into my business. This is the wrong way to get regular work. I now know my focus needs to be on building strong relationships with at least 3 to 5 clients.

This is a win-win for my clients and my business. My clients will know the value I offer what I deliver. And I will understand their business and can flex in and flex out as needed.

What I’ve learned:

  • You must have time to work on your own business

  • Prospective clients are open to negotiating availability

  • Clients are OK with you working with other clients at the same time (provided there isn’t a conflict of interest)

  • Building long-term relationships with clients is a better way of getting regular work than looking for work

  • I was stuck in a ‘getting work’ mindset that was leftover from being an employee

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