You’ve taken the leap. You’ve launched your consulting career and are working your first contract. Excellent! You can practically feel the freedom surging through you like a spring wind through your hair. The checks are coming in and they’re exhilarating… you definitely weren’t making this much as a W-2! You’re on your way to big things, and the millions of independent consultants, contractors, and freelancers who have preceded you – including myself – applaud your entrepreneurialism and go-it-alone spirit.
But when that first contract starts winding down, reality sets in. That river of money you’re making is about to dry up. Sure you knew it was coming. You knew this contract wouldn’t last forever. But what seemed to be way off in some hazy future is now just weeks – or even days – away. You’ve suddenly come face to face with the horrifying possibility that your income is simply going to disappear. You start to worry. You start to scramble. You start to sweat.
Yes, the challenge of securing your second contract can seem daunting. But there are many steps you can take to position yourself for a potent pipeline. As director of enrollments at MBO Partners, I spend a lot of time talking with consultants who worry about how they can acquire their next contract. This checklist may be just what you need to set yourself up for future contract opportunities.
While it’s natural to worry, it’s better to plan out your options. What are your core marketable skills? How can you connect with those who need and value those skills? Use tools like LinkedIn to connect with others in your expertise area. And this part’s critical: let your network know you are open to future consulting opportunities. Your network of professional contacts is your number one channel for new work. Don’t be shy – past colleagues are often happy to send work your way.
I’m going to highlight what may seem to be a no-brainer. In worrying about your future contract, don’t neglect your biggest opportunity – word of mouth about your current one! If you deliver flawless work to your client and exceed their expectations, they’re often be willing to recommend your services to other companies and hiring managers. Become essential. Leads will follow.
Create a mailing list of contacts to whom you feel comfortable announcing that you will be available. You can manage this list as an address book in your email package, a spreadsheet, or through online tools such as Constant Contact. Send this off about a month before your contract is about to end so you give opportunities time to mature. The note could be something as simple as:
Hi [insert name],
As you may know, I am now offering my [Offering] skills as an independent consultant. My current project at [Client] is wrapping up and I will be available to work other contracts beginning in about one month. If you have any contract opportunities that you feel might fit with my skills and experience, I would greatly appreciate the chance to work with you.
When you’re about a month out from finishing your contract, talk with your current client about opportunities for additional work. Present a proposal or plan that identifies areas where you think you could help. Don’t just ask if they have it, create the need for them! If you can create a solid business case, they may be anxious to do repeat business.
Remember, you’re a professional now. Even if the scope of work or something outside the control of you or the client changed the contract, find a way to turn it around and create an opportunity. Even if this opportunity isn’t for you, maybe it’s something you can refer to one of your peers or business partners. Good deeds do come back your way – it’s consulting karma!
And finally, if possible, prepare of list of tasks that still need to be done, even when you are completed with your deliverables. Bringing your client’s attention to these details in an organized way may lead to future work for you.
Following these pointers should ease the path to finding your next contract. But if you remember one thing, make it this: your best source for new work lies in your natural market; that is, your close contacts and colleagues. Don’t hesitate to make them aware that you are available. Good luck, and here’s to a great one!