13 things I’ve learned during my first year as a freelance consultant

My first year as a freelance consultant has almost passed. I survived, and I’m pleased with my decision to become part of the gig economy, but I also realise how lucky I’ve been to survive in my first year without any real disruptions. I will remember 2018 as a year when I had a lot of fun – and learned a lot.

Here are some of my key takeaways from my first year as a freelance consultant:

  1. Schedule time when you won’t work, or you’ll work all the time
    Any chance I get, I go swimming during the day when the pool is empty or take a jog when the sun is out. I often end up working at night anyway.
  2. Make sure to define each project in writing before you start
    It’s so much easier to do straight out misconceptions before you’ve delivered a project. If everyone is on the same page, it won’t be a weird thing; if you’re not, you’ll find out early and can correct it.
  3. Never underestimate the difference of a good project manager
    If you’re choosing between two different projects, or between people to work towards, always prioritise the one with project management skills. It will make your life so much easier.
  4. Focus on solving your clients’ real problems (even if they ask you to deliver a short-term solution)
    Sometimes you’ll get asked to address a small isolated issue. Always make sure to understand how that issue fits into a whole and suggest a solution that benefits the client in the long run
  5. If you can communicate: communicate
    No client will ever complain about you updating them too often – as long as you don’t ask for anything from them in return. Make sure to give a quick update by email at least weekly, and preferably as soon as you have new information of relevance.
  6. If you reply to questions quickly, most problems won’t become an issue
    Things move fast in many organisations, especially when your clients are hunting for answers. Misunderstandings create a lot of stress, and if you catch a misconception before it takes off, you’re often able to put the fire out before it spreads. This risk is why I try to communicate with my clients over Slack.
  7. It’s tough to plan a workload on beforehand, deal with it
    Even if I always try to get a steady workload, it’s hard to control. Sometimes you wish you had more to do, at other times you’re beating yourself up asking for that.
  8. Most clients will approach you with smaller concerns, and if you deliver a good job they’ll disclose their real problems
    You never get drafted for the big gig at first. Any experienced client will give you a smaller project to test you – never turn down an initial suggestion from a client who could have other things down their sleeve.
  9. You never know how long time it will take to get a project in place
    Sometimes you get a phone call, and they want you to start tomorrow. Other times, they need a couple of months to get everything in order. Sometimes clients ghost you completely, and then they might turn up again after parental leave.
  10. Few projects finish on time
    They don’t. Not even if they have hard deadlines, like an election.
  11. The day you stop learning new things, you’ll become irrelevant as a consultant
    Most of the time you’re doing work you’ve been doing many times before. But you get those gigs because you know the new stuff, so you need to keep learning the new stuff.
  12. Make sure to have stretch goals
    You’ll never know what’s a realistic sales goal. I’m often settling for much less than I could, and I always need to push myself to find even more exciting projects. Now I’ll go into a year with three budget levels I’ll try to reach: 1. what I need to put food on the table and pay rent, 2. what I would make if I were employed, 3. a big “hell yeah” stretch goal
  13. Trust the freelance god
    You will be extremely worried about the future at times. No sane person takes a steady inflow of clients for granted. Being an independent consultant is hard work. But while you work your ass off, you should also trust the freelance god.

5 smart digital tools for marketers in the gig economy

Some links to the digital tools in this post are affiliate links*

I’m sitting at a busy coffee shop in Stockholm writing this post. Soon I’ll be wrapping up my first year as a small business owner (woop woop!). I love my new life, being part of the gig economy suits me and my skill set very well.

There are a lot of things you don’t know when you start a small business, even if you (like me) have a degree in business. But it’s not running the company that is complicated. It’s putting all the small things together: making sure you market yourself, sell your services, manage projects and communicate with clients, to be able to invoice and get paid finally.

But in 2018, running a one women business can be very simple. I have multiple digital tools assisting me on a daily basis, and I often feel like it’s like having a handful of employees keeping track of all the things I find a bit boring.

Here are five of the tools in my stack:

1. Cushion – To manage my project

Cushion helps me manage planning and managing the projects I work in over time. Do I have enough work or too much? I can keep track of the whole process, from vaguely discussing with a potential client, to sending the invoice. I’m also able to keep good track of my yearly goals, making sure I’ll be able to eat and pay rent all year.

Made by freelancers, Cushion is super simple to work with, and it keeps getting new features. I’ve recently started to track my time directly in the tool, and next year I’m planning to let Cushion keep track of my expenses.

2. Slack – To communicate with clients

Being an independent consultant, I need to be able to get back to clients quickly. E-mail is fine for more structured communication, but often I just need to nudge clients in the right direction during their workdays. Slack is the perfect way to be close by but not actively involved in everything.

Being directly in my client’s Slack channels leverage the work I do for them by making sure it gets implemented. And I can be around most of the time for all my clients at once.

It’s so convenient that usually, the time I spend lurking around in Slack is not something I actively charge my clients for. It just a bonus perk to make sure they get maximum value out of the projects we’re working on.

3. Grammarly – To proofread everything I write

6 or 7 years ago I decided to do most of my external communication in English. This decision is one of the best I’ve ever made. My English wasn’t bad before this, but naturally, it’s improved a lot over time. I can still see my vocabulary improving month by month.

Participating in an international business context demands the skill to communicate fluently in English, and this need will only increase. My English will never get perfect, but I’m planning on getting pretty close.

One of the tools I use on a daily basis, to get feedback on my writing, is Grammarly. I use it both on my laptop and as an Android keyboard on my phone. The number of errors in my daily writing has decreased exponentially over time working with Grammarly.

4. CoSchedule* – To keep track of my marketing

Since I prefer to spend time on working with my clients instead of working on my marketing, I’ve tried to find ways to simplify those efforts. I try to write blog posts and social media updates regularly and make sure to distribute the content where I believe there’s an interest in the knowledge I share.

I use LinkedIn on a daily basis, and I use MailChimp to do weekly newsletters. Additionally, I use Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram a couple of times a week. All these activities are possible to plan, create and publish in CoSchedule’s* content calendar.

They also give me the possibility to automatically share all my evergreen content when their algorithms feel like it’s a good idea to post something. Pretty convenient, and it saves me a lot of time.

5. 1Password – To securely guard my clients’ passwords

1Password might feel like an outsider on the list. But working as an independent digital marketing consultant I have access to a lot of client passwords that I need to keep safe. I could never do that without a password management tool to help me.

In 1Password I can keep all my client’s passwords in different vaults, and when a project is over, I can delete everything with a click.

I often try to get my clients to start working with 1Password themselves; it would significantly improve their security by making sure all their passwords are secure – and different for each service. Also, you can easily add and remove people to make sure your passwords are not on the loose, floating around aimlessly in cyberspace.