I’ve spent a chunk of the last seven months writing a book, So… You Want to Join the Gig Economy. Now what? Tales From a Freelance Veteran–available in January. As such, I’ve been thinking a lot about what has helped to propel me through the last 10 years of my life as an independent consultant and what someone who is pondering making the leap might want to consider.
First and foremost, you need to have an established expertise. It may seem obvious, but there are many people out there who want to start a side hustle who don’t have an expertise, but try it anyway…
I recently talked with a woman who decided she was going to be a web site designer and marketing solutions provider–never mind the fact that she has zero actual experience as a website designer or a marketer. She invited me to look at her website–which I did.
Here is what I saw:
- A claim that she has been doing this work for the past eight years. (not true)
- The assertion and messaging that there is a “whole team ready to work with you.” (not true)
- A pricing sheet. (which no actual agency would ever put on their site so this just makes her look like an amateur)
- Incoherent design and content. (which is a problematic as she is positioning herself as a design and content expert)
- A portfolio that contains work samples that are rife with errors and technical bugs and are clearly built using a template-based service so have nothing original to offer. (which is problematic because one of her many claims is that she will position your brand uniquely)
Admittedly and not at all veiled in my tone above, I find her claims of expertise highly offensive. Mostly because I know actual website designers and marketing professionals who have spent years honing their craft. And that she feels that it is acceptable to claim an expertise that she has not earned is unethical and insulting.
Fortunately for the actual experts, the market place is smart. Potential clients will quickly determine whether you know what you are doing or, like the “web designer,” are not at all qualified.
The only way to appear legit, is to actually be legit. You need to gain experience and be able to showcase quality work with real clients. I’m not saying that you can’t hang out a shingle doing something that you don’t have much experience in, but if you do that, you should be honest about your lack of experience. Be ready to work for pennies. And, be ready to work very, very hard to find clients.
My best advice? Do pro bono work for a series of non-profits to build your portfolio. Take classes to build your skills. Ask to intern with someone with lots of experience in the field you are looking to break into. In other words… get some experience and develop an expertise.
In the consulting world, people say, you are only as good as your last project. And in my experience, that is 100% accurate.