The idea of independent work can have a magnetic pull. If you’re considering working as an independent project manager, you’re likely dreaming about the flexibility, control, and increased income you hope might result.
All those things can indeed come to fruition, but independent work isn’t romantic or rosy. As I’ve developed my business and grown into my role as CEO, I’ve learned both the upsides and downsides of consultant work. It’s not easy. As the old saying goes, great freedom comes with great responsibility, and nowhere does that bear out quite like independent work. However, strategy, grit, and practicality will get you far when you’re seeking to build your own economy.
Appetite for Independent Workers is Strong
Businesses are realizing the benefits of independent workers. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s accelerated throughout the pandemic and beyond. It’s typically in a company’s best interest to use a staff of full-time talent to some extent, but as the talent pool continues to drain, part-time workers can be an asset.
In 2022, 36% or 57.3 million workers in the US find themselves in the gig economy, or the independent labor market. The gig economy itself is expanding three times faster than the whole of the US workforce. Clearly, something is appealing to both businesses and workers.
Terms like contractor, freelancer, and consultant are often used to describe independent workers, and businesses are looking to diversify their talent portfolio with these flexible hires. Freelancers can be a secret weapon for strategic work or for supplementing a team’s capabilities. Consultants can act as mentors for hire, nurturing less experienced employees to prepare them for bigger responsibilities. Independent contractors can have large networks, and can help organizations spread the word about their work. Part-time workers can act as cultural catalysts, bringing in an innovative mindset or a particular set of values to help make important cultural shifts. Finally, temporary workers can help companies grow through a time of growth or unexpected transition.
Should You Pursue Independent Project Management?
It’s evident that businesses can benefit from independent workers. But what’s in it for the workers themselves? Why would you want to be an independent project manager? It’s an appealing scenario for several reasons.
First, working in the “economy of me,” presents a great deal of control, and this can be advantageous. For many of us, control over where, when, how, and who we work for is incredibly tantalizing.
However, there’s also quite a bit that will be outside of your control if you choose to pursue independent work. In many cases you can’t control the work itself; business is often feast or famine. In addition, securing a steady pipeline of ongoing work necessitates a particular skill set.
It’s important to ask yourself some thoughtful questions before you make a leap. Do you have a strong enough portfolio to demonstrate your ability to earn the dollar amounts you’ll be charging? Do you have an experience and depth of knowledge to make your work stand out? Is your process repeatable (can be it productized) to maximize your time and profit? Do you have a strong network to get your new business rolling? And lastly – do you have a rainy day fund? Selling is difficult, and beginning your own business can require some lean months.
What Pieces Need to Fall Into Place Before You Begin?
Once you determine you’re ready to build your business, you’ll need to narrow down some key points. Important questions to consider include:
- Who’s your ideal client?
- What scope of work will you provide?
- Will you provide packaged deliverables or hourly based services?
- What can you charge based on your skills, experience, and market constraints?
- How will you market yourself?
- How will you structure your business (1099, W2, corporation)?
- Do you need to consider any limitations in your state?
Pitfalls Are Many: What to Do and What to Avoid
Excitement can run high when you’re building your own economy, so it’s important to proceed with clarity and care. Consider common pitfalls that beset many who want to work for themselves.
Time your transition: balance the “side hustle” with the “all-in” approach. Both can work, but in many cases, it can be best to give the endeavor all of your time and attention by jumping in with both feet.
Understand that you’ll have to balance working in the business vs. working on the business. If you’re using your time to work on short term contracts, are you being diligent to make sure you’ll have something else when that contract ends? It’s a tough balance; you’re busy making all the money while you consider how you’ll keep making all the money.
Balance the advice you seek. Family and friends can have a much different vantage point vs. colleagues and pros. Filter information accordingly, and know when it’s time to listen to whom.
Don’t neglect ongoing professional development. In order to grow your business, you’re required to stay at the top of your game. It will be your responsibility (and your dime) to determine the appropriate conferences to attend and associations to join.
If you wait until every piece is perfect, you’ll never begin. Ensure that you have as much in place as possible, then begin moving. Failing fast is the best way to determine what’s not going to work, so you can pivot into something that does. Make sure you get an opportunity to experiment, take your best imperfect option, then learn.
Tiffany Rosik, founder and chief executive officer of TGR Management Consulting, advises Fortune 1000 companies on aligning business and technology initiatives to achieve growth. Tiffany goes beyond project best practices by coaching Project Team Leaders on team dynamics and techniques to establish a self-sustaining model that creates a consistent experience and produces results. Connect or follow Tiffany Rosik on LinkedIn.