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Whether you’re a lawyer, accountant, marketer, sales executive or another type of business professional, using your education, training and expertise to earn a living can be extremely rewarding. However, to become a pro at what you do, you’ve probably spent a great deal of time and money developing your craft. You’ve also likely paid your dues as a full-time employee somewhere, working in-house or as part of a larger firm or agency. And if that’s where you are today, you’ve no doubt contemplated breaking free from the machine and setting out on your own.
Maybe you’re happy where things are at professionally, and you don’t want a change. That’s perfectly okay. But if you’re thinking about jumping ship and heading out on your own, you’re not alone. According to Statista, “It is projected that in 2027, 86.5 million people will be freelancing in the US and will make up 50.9 percent of the total US workforce.”
The rise of the independent professional
The reason why so many business professionals are deciding to quit the 9-to-5 and set out on their own is complex and varied. But some of the most widely cited reasons are a desire for more flexibility, independence and growth potential. For the most part, becoming an independent service provider enables professionals to have a bigger say in where they work, how they work and when they work. Independent pros also get to choose whether potential projects are a good fit or not. They can also learn new skills whenever and however they want.
But one of the biggest upsides to becoming an independent professional is that of income potential. As a salaried employee, unless you have a great bonus structure, your agreed-to salary is what you get. It doesn’t matter if you work 40 hours or 80, or if the company makes $1 million or $100 million. Better performance might equal better job security. However, it rarely means more money.
Employees aren’t the only ones who think freelancing is a good idea, though. A recent Upwork survey found that as a result of the pandemic, 53% of businesses say that remote work has increased their willingness to use gig professionals. And 71% of hiring managers said they plan to sustain or increase their use of freelancers. As such, it looks as though the coming supply of independent professionals will be met with growing demand.
The point of all this is that there is no better time than the present to chart your course as an independent professional services pro. And to help get you started, here are the first three steps you should take:
Step 1: Start networking and building your brand
The best time to begin your journey as an independent professional is while you still have an income. Join professional groups, attend business meetings and conferences, and work to get your name out there. Let people know you’re an expert in your field by writing thought leadership articles, speaking at events or being a guest on podcasts. At the very least, leverage LinkedIn to post your thoughts and ideas. And once you get some traction, join networks such as the Entrepreneur Leadership Network.
You have to change your mindset and start thinking of yourself as a brand. Make it clear to others who you are and aren’t. Don’t inflate your qualifications, but don’t undersell them either. Determine where you fit within the industry and the niche area of your expertise. Then remain visible to your target audience. Express your brand across all communications mediums — social media accounts, personal website, blogs, news articles, etc.
Step 2: Get your technology in order
You need to invest in technology early. As your practice grows, technology will play a key role in managing and scaling that growth by streamlining workflows and improving your business processes. And with the right platform, you can easily manage time-consuming processes like billing, client communication, team collaboration, scheduling and marketing. With more time in your day to focus on seamless and professional service delivery, scaling your business will become much easier.
Digital all-in-one platforms also make it easier to monetize your services in new ways. For example, let’s say you’re going to become an executive coach or consultant. With the right platform, you can go beyond just offering live sessions with clients. You can also productize your services by creating pre-recorded sessions and courses, or you can broaden your live work by hosting classes, bootcamps, group sessions and more.
Step 3: Be prepared to work harder than ever
As you set out on your own, the dream of a higher salary, more variety, flexibility and freedom is sure to be the wind that carries you forward. After all, these are some of the primary reasons people choose to become independent professionals. But with dreams, it’s also good to stay grounded in reality. And the biggest reality you’ll likely face is the fact that you’re going to be working harder than you’ve ever worked before.
That’s why it is so important to make a conscious effort to choose a field and specialty you absolutely love. You’ll be living it and breathing it, day in and day out, for years to come (hopefully). It will all be worth it, though. You’ll be doing what you love.
As you build your practice by investing in your brand, making good use of technology and working hard, you’ll be making an investment that pays dividends for years to come. The freedom, variety, income and sense of greater purpose you dreamed of will be there. And it all begins with step number one.