The side hustle always sounds enticing.
Enticing because it’s fun, give us an opportunity to make extra dough on the side while doing new and hopefully cool work. Sound familiar?
I hear this all the time when talking with colleagues. “I’m going to start consulting. You can make some really good money on the side.”
The idea of consulting sounds fun because in our heads it is. Making money on the side doing what we love, of course that’s fun, yet we’re overlooking an important aspect of the ‘side hustle’ which often we don’t figure out until it’s too late.
Working outside of your 8-5 job is in fact a means to make more money. It can also be a means to do other work and expand your skills, but before you you jump in you’ll need to think about one thing:
How am I going to make money doing this?
It happens all the time. We come up with a great idea, get excited and off we go chasing our idea as quickly as possible to bring it to life. Along the way we’re thinking about all the fun aspects of our new idea or venture except the most important – how am I going to make money doing this?
Most people get into consulting (the side hustle, freelancing, moonlighting, gigging – it’s all the same) because we have a particular skill set and someone takes interest in it. For example, if I’m an electrical engineer and I’m really good at PCB (printed circuit board) design I can easily do this work for other people or companies on the side, often times without breaching any of my current employer policies.
We jump into the side hustle with an immediate project. It almost seems easy. The work is just coming to us and all we’ve got to do is uphold our end of the bargain and finish the task to get paid.
Inevitably we begin making the rounds to our other connections, picking up more projects that keep us going for a while. If we’re really lucky, we get busier than we could have imagined and as a result we take the leap into consulting full-time, leaving behind our 8-5 behind. We’re elated, encouraged and empowered all at once.
Until reality sets in – what do we do once we’ve exhausted all our networks and connections and there’s no more work?
Panic sets in and suddenly consulting begins to lose its enticing ways. It’s not fun anymore, this is a real job with a lot more responsibility than the 8-5 I was trying to get away from.
Whether you’re doing the side hustle or you’re full-time in consulting it can be really frustrating, and potentially scary, when all the projects dry up leaving you to scrounge up the next job to stay afloat, while keeping the green backs coming in.
Here in lies the key lesson with consulting and why it’s important we always think about how we’re going to get paid as consultants:
Consultants work themselves out of jobs – it’s a natural part of the process!
“Do this job”, “fix this thing”, “get us up and running here” our clients tell us, then once the work is done so are you as their consultant.
Therefore, one of the most crucial aspects of being a long-term successful consultant, which often times gets overlooked, is how important it is for you to continuously sell yourself. When we are constantly in sales mode our project opportunities flow in more consistently rather than a rollercoaster where the work is plentiful at times (the rollercoaster high of consulting) or work is scarce and you’re eating Top Ramen three times a day (the rollercoaster lower – really low).
For this reason it’s paramount we always keep top of mind ‘How will I make money as a consultant?’. The answer is ‘sales’!
If you’re considering stepping into consulting, freelance or full-time, make sure you consider how you think and feel about doing sales. How do you feel about selling yourself and your capabilities? Reaching out to people you don’t know to sell them on the fact ‘you’re the person for the job’. Going to networking events in the evenings. Pitching people in senior leadership positions. Overcoming objections, etc. This is the foundation for sales.
Sales isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a grind and it’s all about the numbers. The more you do it and the more consistent you are the better off you’ll be in the long run, with opportunities aplenty.
This doesn’t mean we need to forgo getting into consulting. It may just mean we need to slow down our excitement and think more strategically about what we’re about to go into and how we’re going to whether the storm should things get slow for a period of time.
The answers to those two questions will provide valuable insight as to whether or not consulting is the right career path for you.
Key Take Away:
Before you start consulting, regardless if you are freelancing for full-time consulting, you should spent time thinking about these two questions:
1.How am I going to make money doing this?
2.Can I sell myself and do so consistently?
If you’re on the fence about how you feel with your abilities and interest with sales, go do a test run. Go to a networking event and go alone. At this event your sole purpose is to sell yourself. Go prepared with an idea of the ideal person you want to meet – the customer you would do work for. Find those people and start off with your introduction, your elevator pitch. Follow this up with an explanation of your specialty and how you help solve people’s business problems. (if you need more direction here go read the cliff notes version of the book ‘Spin Selling’ by Neil Rackham) While you’re in these conversations at the networking event try getting wildly curious with your questions to better understand the challenges and work the person you’re speaking with has in front of them and how potentially you could be the solution to their problem, aka pain points. Smart sales is less about selling yourself and more about listening and discovering areas you can help people. Note – this takes time to master and won’t happen overnight however while you’re at the event testing out your sales skills you will at least get an idea for how you feel about your interactions and the actual activity of selling. From here you can digest whether this is something you want to do further. Lastly, be realistic. More often than not you aren’t going to land a sale or consulting project off the first discussion with someone. Yes, it does happen from time to time however the more realistic outcome is it will take you anywhere from 5-7 interactions with a person or business before you land an opportunity.
Interested in earning additional income? Looking to leave your full-time job to go it on your own? Maybe you just want to take on exciting, new work outside of your 8-5 job!
Join the Square-1 Engineering team for our morning coffee meet-ups to discuss the business of technical consulting, how to become a consultant and do so successfully on your own.
You’ve found yourself in consultant heaven having more clients and projects than you know what to do with. Like a dog chasing the car you’ve managed to catch the car (lot’s of projects to keep you busy) but don’t know what to do with it (how to deliver successfully) now that you have it.
If you have multiple projects, multiple clients and or just more work than you know what to do with consider these steps to improve your day and operating rhythm so you can focus on successfully delivering on your projects while keeping your happy customers:
Communication Protocol – happy customers are informed customers. Customers don’t like to be treated like mushrooms – fed piles of crap while being kept in the dark. Establish a daily or weekly communications agenda which keeps you on track of your client updates and check-in’s. Consider creating a communication checklist via Microsoft Excel to help with consistency. (or see ‘Invest’ for tools to help with this)
Invest – don’t be cheap. Make the investment in a project management tool which will help you stay on track with your projects while giving you a professional interface to use for customer presentations, etc. There are literally dozens of tools you can choose from like Asana, Jira, Microsoft Project, etc. When your work is structured, nice and tidy, your results will reflect it.
Establish Customer Expectations – read this link on how to set customer expectations
Get Organized – everything from your work space to how you spend your time should be constantly reviewed and altered to improve performance. Time management is key to your success, ability to deliver and to obtain more work. Find ways to reduce busy work, unnecessary check ins or onsite visits with clients. Sometimes visits are crucial and needed, but not always. When reviewing your actual project tasks create different to do lists/ project task lists for each client then merge them so you have one list broken down by all of your clients and required activities per day and week. (FYI – most project management tools do this for you while producing Gantt Charts which can be shared with customers – another reason to invest in technology.)
Delegate – Undoubtedly there are aspects of your projects you just don’t like to do yourself. Do you know other people that can help you with some of your work? It pays off to have a small trusted group of allies, other consultants such as yourself, that you can bring in from time to time to help with various parts of the project. This allows you to focus on the work you enjoy most.
Say No – one of the most powerful things any professional can do is to say ‘No’ to things or opportunities which don’t align with their key focus. This goes back to how we choose our time and where we spend it. We can’t be everything to everyone. If a customer makes a request that is outside of your capabilities kindly say ‘No’ then point them in the right direction to a possible solution elsewhere. #gogiver
Key Take Away:
Consider investing in a project management tool to streamline your work while having an organized infrastructure for your consulting business
Review all the projects you have concurrently and make a task and timeline list. Embedded those tasks into your week based on the deliverables then begin working towards fulfillment of those tasks.
As a consultant [freelancer, gig, moonlighter, etc.] we work in the capacity of ‘work for hire’ whereas we go in, do a job and work ourselves out of the picture. Then it’s onto the next job, rinse and repeat. This can be a fun way to make dough while providing that good ole ‘work life balance’ so many people love to preach about.
Where consultants typically run into problems is the work they’re performing on behalf of the client or end user isn’t clearly defined or even in writing. As a result, it’s common for consultants to find themselves in sticky, even legal, situations they don’t know how to navigate.
Keeping your nose out of legal issues or poor project results really comes down to ‘deliverables’, however before we get there it’s important we keep top of mind two maxims which are the cornerstones of a consultants life:
Know what you can do vs what you shouldn’t
(don’t try to be everything to everyone, stay in your lane doing good quality work you’re confident you can deliver)
Remove the he said she said situation
(both consultant and client should sign a Statement-of-Work, SOW, which clearly spells out responsibilities of each party, cost, duties within the project and their respective deadlines, these are referred to as ‘deliverables’, before the project starts)
Establishing deliverables with a client can be tricky. It’s important both parties agree on the expectations of the work to be performed and the consultant can actually deliver the goods. Remember, the SOW is a legal document. If you over commit and under deliver you could find yourself in hot water.
If you’re a consultant and are establishing deliverables on a project with a client make you keep the following in mind:
1. Can you deliver what the client expects and are those expectations realistic?
2. Challenge the customers’ expectations – does the customer understand what they want and does it match up with what they’re asking?
3. Communicate ahead of time – if you need help, are missing info or are at risk of missing a deadline, don’t wait till the very last minute to communicate. At the first point in which the issue arises inform your client of the situation and in the same conversation come prepared to offer a solution. Communication is key to successful project completion.
4. Focus on performing at a high level while delivering early, this will position you to be awarded more business in the future from said client
Key Take Away:
Get all work agreed upon in writing via an SOW and ensure you can actually deliver the goods. Communicate in the moment and often while focusing on delivering ahead of schedule with a high level of quality output.
Run a gap analysis on your existing projects to see if there are areas you may be at risk. Once you’ve identified those areas of risk on your current projects, come up with a viable solution to address it and proactively communicate with your client the situation and next steps. Ask for their buy in, then move forward.
Perhaps you’ve already noticed. Things are changing all around us and it’s happening at lightening speed.
The workplace, as many of us know it, is going through a facelift. A facelift commonly referred to as ‘the gig economy’. It is estimated that 35% of the US workforce in 2017 is now comprised of Gig’s.
Gig’s and gig users have something in common…
work doesn’t always need to be 9-5, M-F…
And many of us have been slow to adapt to this change in our workforce.
What is the Gig Economy anyways?
It’s an alternative work approach in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.
This doesn’t sound new, so what’s the deal?
While using temporary labor may not be a new thing, what is very new is the amount of work that is now being facilitated through Gig’s on short-term engagement. (AKA freelance, independent contractors, contingent workers, temporary workers, etc.)
Gig freelancing is taking a much wider foothold in our economy. Today it’s common to find all sorts of work being packaged and facilitated through Gigs whereas before these jobs were considered only as fully employed roles. Management roles, engineering, software, events, cooking, the music industry, professional coaching and even academics are a few examples of work which is now being performed largely by the current day Gig worker. It could also mean you and I having a separate part-time job which we use to bring in extra income on the side. (AKA moonlighting)
For example, there are companies and people who do nothing but provide short term support for other companies which have a need for an interim CEO. There are just as many options for companies who want additional support in doing their product design but don’t want to hire a full time employee because it’s work that is intermittent. These are examples of where Gigs come into play.
They serve a role for a period of time on behalf of a separate organization. Once they’re done they’re off to finding their next opportunity, often times they may have multiple jobs/ projects going on at the same time.
Why are companies and people alike moving in this direction?
As our economy and technology continues to evolve we become less and less reliant on doing business face to face. For those of us who grew up in business when you were expected to be in the office for no other reason than ‘face-time’ you should be happy to know that many companies are moving away from this model. Why? We’re learning, slowly but surely, that ‘face-time’ isn’t productive. Employees can be just as productive from home, at a coffee shop or at the local water hole (not that I recommend that) rather than being shackled to their four foot cubicle for nine hours a day.
Productivity soars thanks to the usage of Gigs because it offers people the ability to do work and do so on their own accord. We often hear people who are Gig’s say they “like working this way because it’s more creative, allows for a better work/ life balance and gives them the ability to choose the work they want to do.” The benefit to the employer utilizing a Gig approach is they can reduce their overhead on costly brick and mortar facilities (estimated at $12k per employee per year) while having work completed by true experts in the field. Employers are also able to onboard new talent and off-board unneeded skills without the burden of employment taxes and paperwork.
Why it is important for me to be aware of ‘The Gig Life’?
The reason you should care about what is going on in the Gig Economy is because very soon we will all need to adjust to this new work style in order to remain competitive.
Now I’ve got your attention!
It’s time we gave some good introspective thought on how we do things at the workplace and whether or not that is the right way to do it. Perhaps your business, your department or your team could benefit from using Gigs to handle freelance work. Maybe in doing so you’ll be able to facilitate a wider volume of business which means more customers, more money and more margaritas on the beach in Acapulco. Maybe your employees are tired of seeing your face on the daily and could use a little R&R while working from home.
Either way, it’s time we all jump on the wagon because whether we like it or not the Gig Economy is here to stay and it promises to only grow as time goes on.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.