So, you’ve decided to launch a career as a corporate communications consultant? It’s a big move. First off, congrats! While it can be an incredibly rewarding job, consulting will also require you to cultivate some specialized skills, abilities and habits.
As someone who worked in corporate communications for many years, started a business as a solo consultant, and now connects corporate clients with qualified and vetted solo communicators for contract engagements, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to thrive in this space.
Here are my top 10 tips on how to achieve solo consulting success. These tidbits come from what I’ve learned from other solos, clients, former colleagues, leaders, mentors – and insights gained from my own darn mistakes.
1. Learn from the village of indies. As you go out on your own, I recommend chatting with at least 10 other experienced independent consultants. Try to talk to solos at different stages. For instance, connect with someone who’s been doing it for a year or less, another person with 3-5 years on their own, as well as someone who has consulted for a decade or more. This will give you an array of valuable perspectives to consider and words of wisdom sure to rattle around in your head (in a good way).
2. Think longer-term. If you want to build a lasting solo business, have at least a three-year plan. Stay committed to sticking it out for a while. It’s likely that it will take time to realize the fruits of your labor. The seeds you plant in year one may blossom in year three.
3. Understand that it’s all about client service. If you’ve only worked in a corporate environment and have never worked in sales, client relations, or a creative agency, there will be an adjustment period. Constantly look for ways to add value and delight your clients. Be proactive, think several steps ahead and generally become an indispensable problem-solver for them. Provide them with your best advice, always in the spirit of benefiting their organization.
4. Speak your client’s language. Think carefully about the main tech platforms you use to support your business. (As an example, I largely work with Microsoft 365 online because the majority of my corporate communications clients are on Microsoft 365.) This approach makes things seamless and easy for clients.
5. Build your brand. It can be very beneficial to conduct a simple personal brand exercise where friends and trusted members of your professional network share (honest) answers to a few questions about how they perceive you and your brand. When you’re a solo, your personal brand is the center of your reputation. Know your brand, own your brand, and cultivate that brand so that it becomes a distinguishing asset of your business.
6. Let your content marinate. As professional communicators, we do a lot of writing. And as solo consultants, we often do a lot of that writing in isolation. We might not have a colleague in the cubicle or office next to us to give us feedback on a key external communications piece or to proofread a proposal. In my view, time is the best editor. It can give us perspective. Before sending any critical piece of content to clients, give it 24 hours. Edit diligently and then sleep on it. I promise that your work will be that much stronger.
7. Find your “safe” people. It’s important to find a few people you can confide in with confidence who understand the solo consulting world. Find connections who offer you a safe and trusted place to brainstorm or ask for advice. When you do find your safe people, hold them close and be generous when they reach out.
8. Find your focus. Do you want to be a corporate communications generalist or go niche? Do you want to specialize in change management communications? Mergers and acquisitions? Crisis comms? Knowing what you truly want to focus on can help you more effectively build your brand. It’s fine to experiment for a while. Look for the moments where your work gives you the greatest energy. I get a surge of energy when I’m matching amazing solo talent with a perfectly suited consulting opportunity and thrilling my clients and consultants in the process. It took me a while to find my niche. But once I committed to it and owned it, I saw positive changes in the business and in me.
9. Know your value. Talking money is a delicate matter. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Just proceed with care. Ask as many people as you can in the solo market about rate ranges for communications consulting. Ask contacts who work at agencies about the rates they charge. You want to make sure you are charging a rate that can sustain you. Moreover, don't damage the rest of your solo colleagues by drastically undercharging for your services. Know your worth and don't crumble when a client asks you to trim your rate to a point that’s going to hurt you. Sometimes you just haven't found the right clients yet.
10. Be self-motivated and self-reliant. It’s literally up to nobody else but YOU to get the work done that is necessary to succeed as a consultant. For some, this idea feels freeing. For others, it can be intimidating. Don’t freak out though – it’s really about consistency. Your own success comes through daily practice. Be confident, stay hungry, and kick butt!
About Evo Communications
Evo Communications knows that strategic communications has the power to drive business results. That’s why we help you fill your temporary communications roles with highly qualified professionals who can onboard themselves and get to work right away!
We are a certified woman-owned virtual agency of independent corporate communicators. We work alone, in pairs or in curated teams to meet the specific needs of our clients. With foundations in Fortune 500 companies, we leverage our collective strengths to meet your needs, acting as a seamless extension of your team.
From supporting your entire corporate communications function, focusing on one specific area of need, and adding temporary bandwidth to your team, the Evo team is motivated to offer innovative solutions that drive results.