I always knew I was a team player and a leader. Working by myself, for myself, made me discover how you don't need a permanent team assigned to you by a boss to feel like you belong. Your entire work environment is what you make of it.
From the very beginning, while looking for request for proposals (RFPs) that could start my consulting work and highlight my skill set, I kept reminding myself that if I was going to work for myself, as a Culture and Capacity Building consultant of all things, I would need to approach “working” differently altogether.
And after 6 months working for myself, I've learned some things I want to share you.
Lesson #1 - Drop the Lone Wolf Act, Fast
In my first month of registering myself as social enterprise, I dm’d, emailed, called up everyone I could think of working in consulting to let them know that I was diving into the pool as well. With open arms, wells of resources, and their time, these women responded and made me feel welcomed to do the work needed in our communities with respect to DEI, HR, communications, culture and capacity building. I honestly felt more supported and held that I did in over a year.
Start by getting a temporary LinkedIn Business membership (it’s not cheap, around 40$/month) and add connections with the job title you’re interested in working with, you can search by location, interest, etc. Connect with them and write up a template InMail or DM introducing yourself, your interests and what you want to do as a consultant, and request a meeting to discuss collaboration. For a more wallet-friendly approach, join some freelancer groups on Facebook and connect with the people there, post about your needs and share your resources, too. Many users have been self-employed for a long time and have a wealth of knowledge to share with newbies!
Offer your services as a collaborator to an established consulting firm that can send projects your way. I was very fortunate to have friends, that I made when I was working in the community sector, invite me into their teams at Social Impact Consulting and collaborate on large & small scale projects. I was also invited to apply to the COCo Affiliates team, along with dozens of freelance facilitators and consultants in Montreal and Canada working at the grassroots level, ensuring another steady source of contracts and collaborative teammates.
Lesson #2 - Choose your clients intentionally
I wrote down a vision of the community I wanted to contribute towards with my services, I always kept in mind who will likely be the audience impacted by the work I would do with my clients. This really helped me narrow down the pool of people and companies looking for external consultants, which helped me focus my time and energy on pursuing clients I really wanted to work with and write up stronger service proposals I actually believed in. Remembering that the companies and organizations are made up of people, individuals, who will be the ones you work with to create possible change, is also essential to choosing your clients.
Instead of spending your whole time scoping the company website, here are some places where you can find more insights on future/potential clients:
Annual Reports: check if their programming and activities match their mission and vision, who is funding them? what to their financial statements look like?
LinkedIn Profiles of staff, execs, and board members : what are they posting? who are they following? what are they reposting? what’s their communications style?
Intake Meetings : ask them to go over the RFP and reword their expectations and needs clearly, are they realistic? do they have the resources to match their demands?
Lesson #3 - Invest (your time) in financial tools
You’re a boss babe now, you need the tools to track your financials. No, you can’t just do it later, and it won’t magically get done either. Sorry.
Financial tools don’t have to cost you a fortune either, there are plenty of free ones that do the trick. The key is to get a program that builds invoices for you and has reporting features. DO NOT create your invoices on Canva, trust me, it’s cute and all, but it does not work out in the long run. I found out about the free tool, Wave, in a Facebook freelancer group and never looked back. It is insanely easy to use, and the features are all incredibly helpful. I use it to track all my invoices and expenses, it provides charts and monthly/quarterly/yearly reports that makes it easier for me to plan my spendings and sales. The major one-time cost associated with this was my time - setting everything up for the different services I offered for invoices and the vendors’ information for tracking bills. Once the settings are in place, generating invoices and bills take minutes; I dedicate 30minutes to 1 hour at the beginning of every month to send out the invoices and record the expenses of that month.
Lesson #4 - Stay on top of your registration paperwork
DO NOT SKIP THIS!
Revenu Quebec’s My Business Account online portal is easy enough to create, and manage, especially if you create a sole proprietorship business and have a QST and GST number registered to your business. The customer service people are also very delightful and the actual helping part takes very little time - unfortunately, the waiting time to get connected to a human is long, I waited 1.5 hours for someone to pick up and it really helped.
Getting an NEQ, although not mandatory for sole proprietor business, does open up doors to funding opportunities available locally, for example up to 15k from PME Montreal, which is useful if you ever want to move into a new office or something.
I started a filing cabinet with all my business documents printed and filed as well as all my receipts and invoices printed and filed. Sometimes getting through government jargon is difficult, and it requires a lot of effort to read, re-read, and understand exactly what each action really means and leads to. But again, your network of self-employed consultants and other freelancers who have navigated this before can help you get through this!
Lesson #5 - Organize your contracts and streamline your workload
I love organizing my workload SO MUCH, I made it into a service 🙂 : Task and Time Management Mentoring & Training. Making sure all your completed, on-going, and soon to start contracts are all labeled and organized in (at least) one space is crucial to keep track of the different deliverables. Also, nothing says seamless and efficient like TEMPLATES. Of everything.
I love using Notion. Notion does. It. All. From creating databases with all my contracts with their labels and notes, to my social media content planner, to storing all my contacts and resource links, and all my templates. When I am working on a project alone, I do every step of the project through Notion, so that all the different aspects of my projects are in one place if ever I need to reference something for another project. Notion is also a team platform so everything is easily shareable. Oh, and it’s free ;)
Lesson #6 - Be gentle with your imposter syndrome
Can I actually make this into an employment for myself? Would people trust what I have to bring to the table enough to pay me for it? Would I be able to deliver on my promises and proposals? These were all questions that were flooding my mind as I just kept writing my LinkedIn articles and listening to my podcasts all those months ago.
I learned that these questions are healthy as long as I used them to fuel my motivation, instead of letting them consume me into inaction. I have these questions even now when I write up SWOT reports for clients, when I send over a service work plan to a collaborator. Is this good enough? Well, it will have to be, and trust that if it wasn’t, your peers would bring you edits and support to strengthen your product.
You don’t need to arm yourself against the questions from your imposter syndrome, it’s a part of you. Let the questions be a guide to re-check your work, learn from your mistakes in the process, and allow yourself to answer : Yes, this is good enough. Yes, my services are worth the price. Yes, I can deliver what I promise. You can listen to your inner imposter syndrome, but make sure to listen to your inner cheerleader, too.
And, that's a wrap!
Voilà, the 6 main lessons I learned, and kept learning, throughout my 6 first months of working for myself. There are so many other tricks and tools I picked up on the way, but they are all essentially offshoots of the main 6 lessons written out in the article. I am excited to see where these lessons take me in the next 6 months and what I will have to share after my first year doing this work. I hope this helps you contemplate your next moves!