I recently met with a client who had established a technical consulting business a year ago. The client had gotten some work, but he was frustrated with his inability to land new contracts. He wanted advice on approaches that could lead to new work.
As an independent contractor, you are your own marketing and sales department. That means it is up to you to make the contacts and generate the work that will enable you to expand your business. As in many businesses, it is a combination of calling on the folks you know, networking to establish new contacts, using networks such as LinkedIn, identifying likely clients and, in many cases, making cold calls to businesses that have used or are likely to need independent contractors.
Two keys to success at finding assignments are consistency and dedication. The search for work is a constant part of your independent enterprise, so one attribute for success is developing a passion for finding the next big project.
The best source of new business is previous and current customers. Doing good work for them will keep them coming back, which is why you also need to be a stickler for client satisfaction. Always stand behind your work and try to exceed client expectations.
It's also important to stay in touch with your clients and prospective clients. Check in periodically to ask how things are going and which projects or initiatives may be in the works. Remind them that you're ready to take on a project if the need arises. Your proactive interest will be appreciated, and planting some seeds should pay off - in some cases, immediately.
A useful approach also might include discussing a partnership or cooperative relationship with consultants that provide complimentary services. Expanding your capabilities by having an associate may appeal to business project managers and open a door to landing an assignment.
Also recognize that building your personal brand is important. As a sole operator, your brand is you, so focus on leveraging your special knowledge, style or expertise. But don't lock yourself in too tightly. The most successful independent contractors try to build new skills and leverage existing ones to higher price levels. A caution about adding new skills: Many folks add new skills in an opportunistic way that actually detracts from their overall brand, and it becomes difficult to explain in an elevator speech what you do. Clients will not believe you can do everything.
My experience has been that most of the successful consultants or project specialists are those who are able to provide services to their former employers. That allowed them to develop a portfolio of successful work along with references and with referrals.
Here are several tips provided by my SCORE colleagues:
Prepare a quarterly newsletter and send it to your clients.
Volunteer to give technical presentations.
Consider an ad in the trade association newsletter to announce your services.
A substantial number of websites specialize in matching freelancers with potential clients. Their approaches are as varied as the range of industries they cover. Some work on a bid system where employers post projects and freelancers bid on the work. These sites will likely take a cut of your proceeds.
Then there are job boards, where projects are posted and you respond with a pitch letter and resume directly to the employer. Numerous sites appear if you Google "consulting positions." As with all Internet sites, be careful with the personal information you disclose. If there is a fee to access the listings again, use caution - fraud may be involved.