10 years (1)

And so, unexpectedly, Mark Leaver Consulting is 10. At the very beginning a neighbour, a highly clubbable international consultant, described the key to self-employment as to “keep moving the cliff”. I thought rather a bleak view at the time…

What it does is overstate the key disadvantage – that of certainty – and ignores the major advantages of a change in work profile and lifestyle which delivers huge possibilities and opportunities and flexibility and stimulation.

A couple of recent conversations prompted me to think about what I’d learned, the techniques for sustained consultancy. Some generalisations below (admittedly slightly contradictory in places):

10 lessons (apart from “keep moving the cliff”)

Value your relationships – Work comes from commissions, invites, conversations, recommendations not generally cold tenders or applications. Stay in touch with people, cultivate your connections.

Never disappear – When very busy, but also particularly when not, it can be easy to disappear – don’t. Be seen, go to launches and openings and meet ups, you have to engineer serendipity, put yourself in the way of opportunity.

Find your anchors – If everything is fluid then it can be beneficial to find some points of consistency. If you can nurture an ongoing base level contract then do, it can underpin your income. Similarly find a place to work where you can drop in to a “social” environment or hotdesk.

Value your freedom – There is a huge upside in the ability to define your own work model and time management, you only have to justify your actions to yourself (enjoy your ability to bunk off once in a while). And in defiance of logic I have found it can feel “safer” to have multiple clients rather than one employer.

Hide your stress – There is an inherent level of stress, from lack of future visibility of work to fluctuating cashflows. It’s just part of the territory, it comes and goes – and people are not generally sympathetic.

Be available, but be sensible – Always be available, but balance that against unnecessary travelling, meetings are often how people fill time so use other tools. Always be on top of things, especially if you are working across multiple time zones, but remember you have to switch off sometimes – you will forget this lesson often.

Be professional – Sounds obvious but turn up, be on time, be prepared, know the detail, know why you are there / what you are contributing – you are your own brand. I ignored this once in 2012 and I’m still irritated with myself.

Stretch – Say no to things that are boring and yes to things that are scary. Part of the joy is being able to embrace new challenges, and in developing new skills and profile open new avenues of work – the ability to change and evolve and choose is the point.

Generate your own platform – A job comes with a clever title and validated platform to build profile from. But as a consultant you need to define your own coherent and credible area of expertise – simply understandable to others, and defined enough to afford a position of thought leadership

Identify the win moments – You are often in a position of providing external advice (for an invoice) with no ongoing stake in the beginning or end of a project. It’s important to recognise the moments, even just for your own benefit, where input generated positive impact. Even better, find side projects where you are invested in development from concept to completion.

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