“Mom, what date is next Tuesday?” My son asked me the other day when he was busy texting in my study. What I really wanted to say to him was: “SERIOUSLY? You have a smartphone in your hand. LOOK IT UP yourself.” What I actually said to him was: “It will be June, 16th, babe.” “Oh, got it…” He continued texting. Oh, wait. June 16th was almost here already?! Suddenly, I experienced a wave of a peculiar sensation coming to me.
June 16th marks the first anniversary of my becoming an independent consultant. As of this date I have been on my own for a year, a whole year. Being independent is not as scary as I thought it would be. I am still alive, have a couple of projects and not completely out of money. I took a moment to reflect on the year and wrote down what I have learned.
1. Take it one step at a time
Accept the fact that I need a lot of help and I no longer have the supporting infrastructure that a corporation provides. As an independent I find myself doing multiple roles: a receptionist, an IT support, a bookkeeper, a saleswoman and more. Embrace these roles and/or outsource them to create your layers of support. That leads to my second lesson.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
This is incredibly hard for me. I don’t like to bug or bother people and try hard to respect others’ time and space. A great mentor once told me:
“You are not bugging them. You are politely asking for their expertise and help. It’s up to them to say yes or no. There are a lot of people who are willing to lend a hand. If you don’t ask, you don’t know.”
She is right! My 2nd lesson leads to my third point.
3. Yes, you need mentors
A mentor doesn’t mean someone high up or super rich or with great connections.
A mentor is someone who has a great deal of experience and is willing to guide you or brainstorm with you when you face challenges or at a crossroad.
It took me a long time to find my first mentor, Todd. It happened serendipitously. He sat next to me at a conference and we just started chatting. He started several companies and has been on his own for a long time. Now, we meet once a month. We talk about everything business-related. He was the one that forced me to constantly ask myself the question of why I am unique (what is my differentiation and positioning?). My second mentor turned out to be in my own backyard.
She is a very good friend and a great saleswoman. We have been friends for years. It had never occurred to me to ask her to be my mentor. Dugh! “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” She taught me something about sales.
4. You need to sell and nurture, there is no other way
She told me to create a list of 50 people that I want to talk to or get businesses from. Write them down in a simple excel file and track what I have been doing with them over a period of time. Did I send them e-mails and requests to meet? Did I send them interesting third-party reports, which may help their jobs? Also, did I reach out, when I am in their area? She constantly asks me what I do to reach out and share suggestions on how to be present without being annoying. You can wait for the business to come. But you have to be out there. The next lesson goes hand-in-hand with sales.
5. Don’t take rejection personally
While I reach out to my 50-person list or send follow-up e-mails to potential leads, there is typically no-reply or answer. I just can’t take it personally. Continue to think of ways to be helpful to them. Sharing useful content with them is certainly one option. When I am in their cities, I make an effort to reach out. Again, they can say no. That’s totally OK! I am out there hustling. When you are out there, you are bound to get hurt. “If it doesn’t kill you, it will surely make you stronger. True!”
6. You need to exercise
The best way to get over any rejection is through regular exercise. Binge watching popular sitcoms may also help (laugh) but I’ve found doing yoga helps me deal with rejections and failures effectively. After 90-minutes of stretching, nothing really bothers me anymore. I pick myself up and do whatever I need to do to keep going. Exercise!
7. Work and leisure are intertwined
When you are on your own, you really don’t separate work with leisure. When I was vacationing in Kyoto, I was working on presentations for upcoming events at nights in the hotel. That doesn’t mean that I am “working” all the time (Ok, most of the time). It just forces me to be present at what I do. When I am having fun, I make an effort not to think about work and vice versa.
When my to-do list runs long, I have to tell myself: “I am not a doctor. Nothing I do is life-and-death so that I need to make a decision right away.”
Although, if you have the last minute or urgent RFP or RFQ, then you just do when you need to do to get it done.
8. You need to prioritize your time
I didn’t truly understand the meaning of “time is money” until I become independent. I need to consciously prioritize my time and determine how to spend my time so that I focus on maximizing the value of my time and converting that into future potential revenue. Sometimes I have to scale back on nice-to-do activities and focus on the must-dos. The best way to differentiate nice-to-have vs. must-to-have comes from the next lesson.
9. Write a business plan and revise as you go
Writing a business plan and vision of where you want to be in one year and five years from now is essential. The truth is that I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.
Writing things down forces me to articulate my thoughts.
In the past one year, my business plan has changed several times as I gather more information by talking to different people and evaluating my own strengths and skills. The business vision is the same, but the objective, strategy, product offerings; even target audiences have been modified as I walk the path.
10. Trial-and-error and more trial-and-error
When my strategy changes, my tactics change. At the same time, I am trying out new tools (new project management tools, new accounting software, new syndication tools, and various measurement tools), new promotional tactics, and even new measurements and metrics. One independent consultant told me that I need to set up a CRM tool. I took that to heart. I made an effort to select a Saas-based CRM tool, Nimble, to track leads and deals. That’s how I created my 50 person list.
I signed up for various SaaS tools for small businesses and ended up abandoning a lot of them. Evernote, Dropbox, and Gmail are essential. I make sure that I have a marketing automation tool (MailChimp), content search (Buzzsumo), content syndication (Hootsuite), CRM (Nimble) and lead-gen extension tools such as vCita and SumoMe. I also use cloud-based accounting software, Xero, which allows me to create invoices and track receipts on-the-go. Podio, project management and collaboration tool, is also great! You will need various productive tools to make you productive. Don’t skimp on tools! Invest in tools that work for you.
11. Track your finances
With income being reduced substantially, I make sure that I stay on top of my personal and professional finances. When I worked in the corporate world, I would take a taxi from the airport to the hotel. Now I am on my own, I take Super Shuttle or Public Transportation. I pack my own snacks and am cognizant of how much money I spend when I am on the road. I applied for a line of credit with my bank in case I need to tap into additional funds. I try not to borrow money unless it’s absolutely necessary. I am also aware that you need to invest in order to grow.
“The best way to minimize stress is to proactively manage your finances.”
“Mom, can I have your car on 6/16?” After extensive texting, he finally looked at me. “Sure, I am in Boston that week. You can have my car for three days.” I said. “Cool, that’s awesome.” He cheered! That’s another lesson I learned in the past year. Both sons got their drivers’ licenses. Suddenly, I need to “learn” to share my car. My lesson on that: “Buy them a used car…” (…eventually. I haven’t actually gotten to that yet. Need to prioritize, after all.) More lessons to learn and the saga continues.