If you’ve taken the leap and launched your independent career, congratulations! You’re on your way to big things, and millions of independent contractors, consultants, and freelancers are right there with you.
But when your first contract or project starts winding down, reality sets in. You knew this contract wouldn’t last forever, but what seemed to be way off in the distant future is now just weeks away—and so is your steady income. You start to worry. You start to scramble. You start to stress.
While the challenge of securing your second contract can seem daunting, there are many steps you can take to position yourself for a strong project pipeline. Follow these five steps to take to do to set yourself up for future contract opportunities.
1. Consider Your Options and Plan Ahead
While it’s natural to worry, it’s better to plan out your options. List out your core marketable skills. Then ask, how can you connect with the people or businesses who need and value those skills? Use tools like LinkedIn to reach out to others in your area of expertise. Remember, your network of professional contacts is your number one channel for new work. And this part is crucial: be sure to let your network know you are open to future consulting opportunities. Don’t be shy—past colleagues are often more than happy to send work your way.
In worrying about your future contract, don’t neglect your biggest opportunity: word of mouth about your current one! While this may sound like a no-brainer, it can be easy to overlook. If you deliver flawless work to your client and exceed their expectations, they’re often willing to recommend your services to other companies or hiring managers. Become essential. Leads will follow.
2. Keep Potential Clients Informed
Maintain a list of contacts who you feel comfortable reaching out to about your availability. You can manage this list in an address book in your email service, a spreadsheet, or through online tools such as Constant Contact. Reach out to this list of contacts about a month before your contract is about to end to give potential opportunities time to mature. This note could be as 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 on other contracts beginning in about one month. If you have any contract opportunities you feel might fit with my skills and experience, I would greatly appreciate the chance to work with you.
3. Use Your Network
When you’re about a month out from finishing your contract, start talking with your client about opportunities for additional work. Present a proposal or plan that identifies areas where you think you could help. Rather than putting the work on their shoulders, do the research and create a need for them! If you can create a solid business case, they may be open to repeat business.
If there isn’t interest in additional work among current clients, consider expanding your efforts to a larger network. Joining a program like MBO Advantage is a great way to get help finding new work. As an Advantage member, you’ll gain access to invite-only networking and event opportunities.
4. Build Your Own Opportunities
Remember, you’re a professional now. If you run into difficulties or if your scope of work changes on your current contract, find a way to turn it around and create an opportunity. Even if this particular project didn’t turn out to be exactly right 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!
5. Always Be Proactive
And finally, if possible, prepare a list of tasks that still need to be done, even when you have completed your deliverables. Bringing your client’s attention back around to these details in a way that showcases your organizational and planning skills may lead to future work for you.
Following these five pointers should ease the path to finding your next contract. If you remember one thing, make it this: your best source for new work lies in your natural market: your close contacts and colleagues. Don’t hesitate to make them aware that you’re available. Good luck; here’s to a great one!