Going it Alone: 6 Tips for Prospering as an Independent Communications Consultant
By Laura Porter, Independent Writer and Communications Strategist
“I’ve got a great gig for you, only you’ll need to create your own LLC.”
When a recruiter said those words to me in March 2015, I hesitated. Start my own business? I’d been a communications government contractor for years letting others dictate my job location, work, and role. Did I want to become my own boss?
Working for a federal consulting firm was a comfortable situation for me as I always considered myself risk averse. Then the last project I was on ended and there were no other assignments on which to place me.
Everything involves some level of risk, so why not give it a try, I thought to myself. My first major client lasted over two years. However, it turns out relying on one client is not a good long-term approach for building a sustainable career. Today, I consistently support two to three clients at any one time.
How does a communications professional successfully create and build their own business? I’m going to share with you what I learned after four years and how you too can thrive as an independent consultant.
Understand Who Your Clients Are and What They Need
While a good communications professional should be able to support clients regardless of the topic, having experience and first-hand knowledge of the fields that your potential clients work in gives you an edge.
The significant experience I had previously working with multiple IT departments unquestionably helped me secure new technology clients. They loved the fact that they didn’t have to explain terms like DevOps or AI, to me and that I could jump in quickly.
If you are looking to break into a new field, read up on that industry and identify opportunities for them to better communicate with stakeholders. They’ll be impressed, and it’s more likely you’ll be hired.
Know What You Want to Do and What You Don’t
Previously, I was sometimes placed in positions that made me feel like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Communications is a broad term and when you are relying on others to place you in a role, it may not be something you really enjoy.
It’s important to figure out what you really enjoy doing (and do well) and self-identify opportunities where you can use your skills to shine. For me, I love to write blogs, newsletters, and case studies. I’ve now become a go-to-person for content creation.
Reach Out to Your Network Even When You’re Not Looking for Work
It may feel awkward reaching out to someone you haven’t connected with in 10+ years only to ask them for work. If you make a habit out of grabbing coffee with contacts or reaching out to check in with them from time to time via email or LinkedIn, you’ll have better luck when you do need a favor.
These touchpoints help you remain fresh in their minds if an opportunity comes up where you’d be a great fit. I recently completed a wonderful six-month stint with two former colleagues who I last worked with 10 years ago.
Staying connected with them over the years made them remember to reach out to me when they had the chance to bring me on to a project.
Embrace Life-Long Learning
Communications tools from five years ago are already obsolete and the use of social media for brand, company, and personal promotion continually evolves. To remain a successful communications consultant, stay up on the newest trends, understand where communication and engagement is headed, and broaden your knowledge of the latest industry tools and technology.
You should also consider listening to podcasts like Inside PR, follow communications experts like Shel Holz (Internal Communication) Jon Winoker (Writing), and/or Pam Hughes (Marketing) on Twitter, or read books like Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story. It’s easy to stay ahead of the curve if you are willing to put in the effort.
Becoming your own boss can be especially tempting for working parents. When I first took the plunge, I had visions of greeting my daughter after school in my yoga pants with cookies and milk and cultivating a new hobby.
While there are days when I can greet my daughter and wear my yoga pants to an actual yoga class, sometimes I work longer hours than I did in an office. It’s important to stay flexible to meet your clients’ demands.
The freedom of being your own boss comes with a few strings, but much less than working for someone else.
Don’t Panic When Things Slow Down
Sometimes a sure thing, isn’t so certain. Clients who initially promise a contract extension may reconsider due to financial constraints or changing priorities. Work might ebb or flow based on the season.
To account for potential downswings, consider taking on extra work during other phases. Extend your network through business events, ask your contacts to connect you to their network, and browse online job boards.
I secured one of my largest clients by blindly applying for a part-time copywriter job online for a company based in Richmond, VA. The client wasn’t necessarily looking to make the position a remote one, but was swayed by my experience, writing samples, and interview.
If you want to join me and the other 16.5 million others who make up the growing gig economy, do your homework, reach out to your peers, and enjoy the ride!
About the Author
Laura Porter is an independent writer and communications strategist with 16+ years of experience working with government and private sector clients. Ms. Porter conducts activities as diverse as blog writing, case study creation, change management, technical and non-technical writing, web and video content creation, and implementing internal and external client communications campaigns. She enjoys working collaboratively with clients to advance their organization’s mission and get their key messages seen and heard by their target audiences. She currently lives in Arlington, VA with her husband, daughter, and Boston Terrier, Pugsley.