March 21, 2016
When working with a new client or on a new project, it can be easy to assume that everything is clear and that everyone is on the same page in regard to expectations. However, when it becomes apparent that your client's expectations do not align with your own, both the project and your relationship with your client can be put in jeopardy. Below are a few tips for successfully managing client expectations, both proactively and reactively.
Collaborate in the Early Stages
One of the best ways to ensure that your clients maintain realistic and appropriate expectations is to make sure that they both completely understand the terms of the project and feel that those terms are appropriate and fair. To reach this point, sit down with your clients early on in the process to have a conversation to discuss the project and expectations so that you can reach terms that work for both of you. This collaboration will help, first, ensure that your clients have the opportunity to express their needs so that you can make sure they are met, second, clearly communicate your abilities and restrictions so that you don't oversell yourself, and, lastly, ensure that all parties fully understand the expectations.
Clearly Define Scope in Contract
With mutually agreed-upon expectations hammered out, make sure to get everything in writing, with as much detail as possible. All aspects of the expectations of both the client and you as the consultant should be clearly defined in the project scope in your contract. Include deliverables, details about each component and part, timelines, points of contact, etc. In addition to giving you another chance to discuss expectations with your client as you go over your contract together in preparation for signing, this aspect of the contract will also serve as a reference if needed in the future to clear up any misconceptions or confusion.
Focus on Communication
Throughout the entire process of the project, focusing on constant, thorough, and open communication should be key. By making communication a frequent focus, any pain points or frustrations you or your client are feeling regarding project expectations can be discussed quickly and effectively, before they snowball. If your client feels that you aren't meeting expectations, this can quickly become a point of contention that jeopardizes your relationship. First and foremost, make sure that you are meeting your deadlines and expectations, and document progress and completed milestones to demonstrate this to your client. If you are unable to meet a client's expectation that was not clearly defined earlier in the process, be sure to communicate your reasoning; simply saying "no" without an explanation is generally far less effective than helping your client understand your position.
Set Firm Limits
As an independent consultant, going above and beyond for your clients can be the difference in your ability to leave a positive impression and build a reputation for quality, leading to repeat work as well as client referrals. However, there is a difference between going the extra mile and allowing your clients' expectations to cross into the territory of scope creep or unrealistic demands. While making the occasional concession can pay off in the long-term, particularly your most valuable clients, don't allow yourself to get pushed around; if you feel your client's expectations are going off track, schedule time for extended communication and revisit the agreed-upon terms in your contract.
September 17, 2015
Where did the time go? Seems like just yesterday we were popping bubbly and making resolutions – and yet, 2016 is right around the corner. Whether 2015 was your best year ever or one you’d like to forget, it’s never too early to start thinking ahead. Think of it as an early resolution, if you will.
August 2, 2017
Entering into a verbal contract with clients is a common practice among independent professionals. Without the red tape and bureaucracy that can slow down larger businesses, independents enjoy the advantages of being flexible and agile in transactions and deals.
However, while verbal contracts often simplify business, if things go sour they can end up complicating your relationship with your client relationship. So, what’s the best way to protect yourself from a bad situation? Follow these four tips to keep your business both agile and safe.
1. Get it in Writing
Of course, the very best way to protect yourself from issues surrounding verbal contracts is to forgo them completely and use written contracts instead. While this may not be realistic in every situation, it’s often worthwhile to get that all-important client signature. Your contract doesn’t have to be complex—a simple statement of the terms of your agreement that is signed both by you and by your client will suffice.
While most verbal contracts are legally binding, there are a few important details to be aware of. First, both a written and verbal contract must consist of an offer, an acceptance of the offer, and consideration. Consideration means that both sides have to agree to give something up. For example, a client may agree to give up $300 if you agree to give up the time and effort it will take to redesign their website. Second, most states have enacted the Statute of Frauds, which is a law that says certain types of contracts must be written. These include contracts for the sale of land, contracts for the sale of goods valued at $500 or more, and contracts that can’t be completed in less than one year.
At the end of the day, if you find yourself in a court battle, verbal contracts can be difficult to prove. Having a written contract in place removes that risk.
2. Take Notes
If it’s impossible to get a client signature, you’ll still want to record as many details about your verbal contract in writing as possible. Take in-depth notes on your discussion and agreement either during or immediately after your meeting or call. Save any and all files related to your contract, and document all action you take as a result of the contract. By keeping this information, it will be easier to prove that a verbal contract existed if you ever need to support your side in court.
3. Find a Witness
When legal cases involving verbal contracts occur, another method often used to prove that the contract existed is to provide a witness to the conversation. If more than one reliable person is willing to swear that a contract was agreed to, the case becomes more than a he-said, she-said situation.
4. Confirm with an Email
Another effective way of proving that a verbal contract is enforced is to follow up with your client immediately after your conversation via email. Restate the terms of your agreement in detail, referring to your phone call or meeting as their source. Let your client know that you are simply confirming the details with them, and that you would appreciate it if they would reply to ensure you both understood the agreement correctly. An email exchange of this sort would provide ample proof of an existing verbal contract.
By taking a few precautionary steps every time you enter into a verbal contract, you can protect yourself from potential difficulties down the road. If you have further questions about verbal contracts, is advisable to consult with an attorney for information pertaining to your specific circumstances.
The 2017 MBO Partners State of Independence In America paints a positive picture of the independent workforce continuing to grow and mature. Independents, a 41 million strong cohort who now represent about 31 percent of the private U.S. workforce, are distributed across every demographic, age, gender, skill and income group.
“The State of Independence report, the only of its kind with seven years of trending data, shows definitively that independent work is the way of the future,” said Gene Zaino, CEO of MBO Partners. “Even against a strong economy, independents, particularly in skilled labor markets, choose this path over traditional employment. Sixty-five percent of all Independents say that independent work was their choice entirely, and this number will continue to rise as organizations compete in a war for top talent in highly competitive fields such as engineering and computer science.”
In the 2017 study, three key trends emerged, each of which mirrors a significant trend in the overall economy.
First, a strong job market means that independents are increasingly able to compete in the War for Talent on their own terms. This strong job market means independents seeking clients have an easier time than ever finding work as jobs open and companies experience a talent shortage. In 2017, for the sixth year in a row, the number of high-earning independents rose. Now, 3.2 million Full-Time Independents make more than $100,000 annually, up 4.9 percent from 2016. This population now represents nearly one in five Full Time Independents.
Second, while full time independent work is broadly appealing, it’s not for everyone. A portion of the independent workforce has always been characterized as “reluctant”—people who work independently but would prefer a traditional job yet can’t find one that is better than their independent work option. In 2017, thanks to the strong jobs market, the proportion of Reluctant Independents fell to 24 percent, the lowest in all seven years of the study.
Third, more Americans are turning to part-time or occasional independent work to supplement their income. Fueled in part by the growth of the widening array of online platforms, the number of people working as Occasional Independents (those working irregularly or sporadically as independents but at least once per month) soared 23 percent to 12.9 million, up from 10.5 million in 2016.
“While we continue to see differences in attitudes between the different groups of independent workers, the population generally reports that independent work—and the independent lifestyle—is a satisfying way of building income and obtaining greater freedom, control and purpose,” said Zaino. “The very structure of work in America is evolving, and the demand for skilled independents will only increase as companies look to become more agile and flexible in the future.”
This year’s study underscores that independence will remain a viable and desired option for workers in the years to come.
To learn more: Download MBO Partners State of Independence In America 2017
May 26, 2016
American businesses are always looking for the best talent, especially when it comes to the needs and demands of a special project. More and more often, they turn to independent contractors. Today, enterprises are determined to find the best, and geography is no barrier. This has opened the door to teleworking, telecommuting, and virtual collaboration.
Technological innovation has helped to lead this charge: the evolution of “Anytime, Anywhere” technology has opened the door for many independent professionals to be top tier collaborators and coordinators without the need for a single in-person interaction. While nothing compares to the value of “pressing the flesh,” the best consultants create the next best experience in their virtual collaboration tactics.
Soft Phone: The World is Your Desk
Are you a talker, or does your area of expertise involve a lot of discussions over the phone? Softphone has become the go-to mechanism for all voice communication for the independent professional. Essentially, a softphone is a software program that allows one to make telephone calls using their computer, tablet, or cellular device, rather than using a traditional, line-in-the-wall phone. Today’s technology allows working professionals to make telephone calls without a phone!
Essentially, all one needs is a headset or USB phone, and your portable workstation can become a portable power station. One can toggle standard phone controls, in addition to availability status, auto-responses and messages, as well as online text messaging. Two industry standards in this space, which include levels of use one can try for free, include Skype and Google Voice. Google Voice enables users to create their own telephone number for all of their phone numbers/extensions – this way business conversations stay in one place, with that place not being your personal home or cellular phone.
Nation of Collaboration
Independents collaborating virtually often need to work with multiple contributors, many of whom could be based in different time zones and with various aspects of a single project. A number of tools and platforms have been developed to assist– many include the opportunity to chat, upload particular documents/items, establish calendars and deadlines, and assist in project management overall. A few examples are below:
Slack is a platform that allows team members to group themselves into a number of discussion channels, thus only involving the “invested” parties in a discussion. Multiple channels can be created for multiple projects (or types of projects), and multimedia items can be attached in the discussion themselves. Discussions groups can also be created around a particular topic (e.g., Best Practices) – essentially, everyone has a transparent view of all that’s going on. Private channels and direct messages are also options within the platform. The base level is free, but the paid version may be preferred for many enterprise engagements, so be sure to file the appropriate deductions or make sure your client is covering the cost(s).
Basecamp claims to have written “the book on remote working,” and have been an established virtually collaboration tool since 1999. The platform includes interactive “To-Do” lists that can both outline and assign tasks tied to a particular project. Similar to Slack, it allows the uploading of files/documents, in addition to user comments and notes. Additionally, it includes a message board for topical discussions, and a “Campfire” option, which allows users to chat with a group in real time for quick feedback.
The Campfire option can also serve as a “meeting space,” and virtual meetings is a topic we plan to discuss on our blog as a follow-up in the near future!
“Social” Business Collaboration
Other collaborative tools have taken a more “social” approach. For example, SalesForce’s Chatter application allows from project collaboration, similar to the offerings above, but presented in a Facebook-like layout. Very similar to the function of a Facebook group, individuals can share posts and content, while others on the project can “like,” comment, and share items.
Playing in to the interests and needs of millennial independents, the trend to “socialization” of collaborative tools appears to be a growing, attractive item in virtual collaboration discourse.
Whether you’re at home, on the road, or somewhere undisclosed (for our associates with government clients), harnessing virtual collaboration technology will leave you plugged-in and in touch with your network of clients and business partners.
January 19, 2017
As an independent contractor, you do it all—from running errands and scheduling meetings to engaging with new clients and attending networking events. All of these responsibilities can overshadow your work-life balance.
To avoid burnout, stay on top of your workload and keep your clients happy, consider teaming up with another independent contractor. Working with an IC is a great way to help grow your business and share the burden of larger projects.
Here are four instances where partnerships can be helpful.
Assistance With a Large Project
Yes, taking on a big project can be a great way to build client rapport and add experience to your resume, but you don’t want to risk overextending yourself.
Bringing a partner onboard can help you make sure that you have an ‘extra set of hands’ to meet critical deadlines. A partner can offer a second set of eyes, check your work, and may bring a new perspective or fresh ideas. With this additional support, you can continue dedicating time to your ongoing projects, and feel comfortable taking on more work.
Managing an Extensive Workload
Maintaining a steady workload is key if you’re independently employed, so turning down a project can be difficult—even if your schedule is already full. Rather than saying no, outsource some of your work to an independent contractor in your field. A helping hand can alleviate pressure so you don’t fall behind on your work, or risk delaying client deliverables. If you’re unsure how to charge for a project that you found, but can’t work on yourself, consider taking a percentage-based “finder’s fee” if you’re outsourcing a project to a trusted colleague.
Try an IC Admin
Bringing on a personal assistant is another way to ease your workload. An assistant—ideally an independent professional like yourself— can help run errands like mailing, getting lunch, screening calls, and scheduling meetings to give you time to focus on the most important part of your job—the work. Many young professionals would be excited to have the opportunity to learn from an experienced, successful IC, and once you build report and trust an assistant can even attend conferences and events to take notes and market your services. You can even consider a virtual assistant if you don’t need someone in your office daily.
Supplementing Your Skillset
While you probably have a particular area of focus in your field, pulling in another contractor can be helpful when you need specific expertise on a project or topic that isn’t your forte. For example, you may be an organizational change management guru, but not completely equipped for the internal training your client needs once your consulting analysis wraps up. In this instance, partner with an IC who has a background in training to help fill this gap.
Maintaining positive client relationships is essential to your business, so don’t put yourself in a situation where you feel overworked, lose track of tasks, or miss deadlines. Teaming up with another contractor is not only a great way to network, but it’s also an opportunity to welcome a new perspective, put yourself in a learning situation, and build friendship.
August 16, 2017
As an independent professional, it can be easy to get caught up in the cycle of finding a client, completing a project, getting paid, and then repeating the process. While constantly being on the lookout for new projects and new clients comes with the territory of being an independent, if you find yourself starting from scratch each time, the process may quickly begin to feel unsustainable.
Finding ways to create a stable base of monthly income can help give you more freedom in your work, minimize the stress of living with a fluctuating monthly income, and give you the time to find the projects and clients you truly want to work with. Here are four additional revenue streams to explore.
1. Expand Your Offerings
Take a look at your current service offerings compared to the skills you know you have. Are there any additional, smaller services you may be able to provide that you can upsell clients on? For example, if you specialize in social media strategy, could you add on the option to create social media content or run ad campaigns? If you specialize in website design, are there other design services you may be able to offer?
2. Vary Your Income Sources
Aside from your base service offerings, what other valuable assets can you provide to vary your sources of income? Consider creating and selling online products such as training courses on specific topics, e-books related to your expertise, or a subscription service to exclusive content or a monthly newsletter. These supplementary products not only help to boost your credibility, but they can also help to generate additional monthly cash flow.
3. Create Recurring Services
Offering recurring services is a simple way to generate more reliable income each month. A monthly retainer is one type of recurring service. With a retainer, clients pay a set amount each month in exchange for utilizing your services as needed—perhaps for a set number of hours—rather than signing a contract for one specific project. Similar to a retainer, you may also consider offering monthly maintenance packages. For example, if you’re a website developer, a monthly package could include backups, security audits, site updates, and general support. Monthly and package offerings diversify the type of services you offer and can help you build a strong business relationship with a specific client.
4. Plan Ahead
When discussing a new project idea with a client, think ahead to what additional services they may need once you’ve completed their initial ask. In addition to designing a client’s website, for example, perhaps you also talk about including monthly website support once the project is complete. Or, in addition to reviewing your client’s content marketing strategy, talk to them about providing a monthly or semi-annual strategy review. By thinking ahead and anticipating your client’s future needs you can build trust by showing them the value your services while keeping your pipeline full. While clients may not initially be interested in including an additional monthly service, if you’re able to prove your worth by successfully completing your current project, you’re certain to be top of mind in the future.
April 4, 2017
One of the benefits of being an independent professional is having the flexibility to follow your passion and choose the type of work you do. However, project frequency can ebb and flow, and it can sometimes be difficult to establish a steady stream of work.
Luckily, there are many ways to keep your pipeline full such as leveraging online marketplaces, reaching out to your network, and giving your personal brand a boost. Here are three best practices for keeping your independent business busy.
Find Marketplaces that Fit your Skillset
Online marketplaces** are increasingly prevalent and popular places to find short-term work as an independent professional. These platforms match job opportunities with freelancers. Typically, you’ll fill out a standard profile and then apply to positions that best fit your skill set.
When utilizing online marketplaces, start by doing some research to find specific sites that align with your industry. Some networks are geared more towards IT professionals, while others focus more on management consulting. While online marketplaces offer numerous opportunities, it may be difficult to establish meaningful or ongoing client relationships with one-off projects.
Company-specific marketplaces are another option that may provide longer-term engagements. Integrated direct sourcing exchanges like MBO Connect™ help all different types of independent professionals grow their project pipeline by matching their skills, availability, and rate with contract opportunities.
Many major organizations are furthering the trend of flexible employment by using independent professionals to staff projects. These companies are developing external-facing solutions to engage independent talent.
For example, the Talent Exchange is one such professionally focused marketplace.
To discover other company-specific marketplaces, reach out to former employers or clients to see if their organization has a talent marketplace you can join.
Reach Out to Your Network
Networking can be a great way to find work during a dry spell. Reach out to friends and colleagues to see if they have any recommendations of others to network with. If you have a positive, ongoing relationship with a former client, see if they have any upcoming projects, or if they know of someone who may be in need of your services.
Partnering with other consultants is another way to secure work. Colleagues often need assistance on a large project, or on a certain part of a project that they don’t have expertise in. Working with another independent consultant is a great way to build your network and meet clients who are not currently in your roster.
Prepare Your Credentials
No matter what kind of marketplace you use to find work, you’ll likely fill out some sort of profile, resume wizard, or pass on information about your services to a lead. Preparing your credentials ahead of time will help you smoothly move through these processes.
A resume is a useful sales tool for your business, and can help set you apart from your competition. A resume showcases your top work, skills, and experience in a simple, easy-to-read format.
In addition to a resume, your LinkedIn profile is often the first thing a potential client will look at, so ensure it is up-to-date. LinkedIn can be particularly useful to promote your pas successes. If you don’t already have client testimonials on your profile, reach out to past clients and ask for a recommendation.
Lastly, take an overall look at your personal marketing efforts. If you have a professional website, make sure it is updated to show off your latest projects. If you regularly blog, ensure you share these content efforts across social media platforms. Building a strong personal brand will help boost your professional credibility and assist with your outreach efforts.
The Best Marketplaces for Independent Consulting Jobs
** POSTED BY BEN SHANBROM | JUL 25, 2017 |
July 4, 2017
From freedom, flexibility, and control, to pursuing your passion, and working from anywhere, there are plenty to of perks to being an independent contractor. Here are 10 reasons to fall in love with self-employment.
1. Be Your Own Boss
When you’re an independent contractor, you have the flexibility to make your own hours and create the work-life balance you’ve dreamed of and deserve. Independents testify that their career choices stem from a desire to have greater freedom, flexibility, control, and purpose.
Finding the right balance can be a journey of self-discovery, but it’s an effort you’ll thank yourself in the end.
2. Make More Money
Did you know that nearly half of the independent workforce (47%) reported making more money working on their own than they would in a traditional job? According to our State of Independence report, 3 million of the 16.9 million full-time independents earned more than $100,000—up nearly 50% from 2 million in 2011.
3. Pursue the Projects
That Ignite Your Passion75% of independents agree that doing something you love is more important than making money. When you break down the reasons, it’s a no-brainer: more passion means more productivity. When you feel a personal connection to your work, it’s natural to put in more hours in a day. As one article puts it, our working careers will consume most of our lives, so we might as well do something we enjoy.
As an independent, you’re in it to do the work you love and that likely doesn’t include dealing with the needs of a back office. Our experts can help eliminate clutter so you can focus on the things that keep your passion aflame.
4. The Power to Say “No”
On the other hand, if a potential project doesn’t seem fulfilling, you have the power to walk away if your heart isn’t in it. Those kinds of discussions, both with yourself and with potential clients, aren’t always easy, but it’s important to know that you’re able to say: “it’s not you, it’s me.”
Did you just cringe at that awful break-up quote? Here are some things to avoid saying to a client to maintain a positive relationship.
5. Learn New Skills
The freedom to work where you want also provides the freedom to learn. Different projects you take on can require different responsibilities and skillsets. Keeping skills and knowledge current through personal pursuits or through diverse work experience can give independent contractors a competitive advantage when starting new work relationships.
6. Tax Deductions
Running your own business can be costly, but it also entitles you to some special perks. From office supplies to professional memberships and subscriptions, there are a myriad of expenses you may be able to write off as a member of the independent workforce.
7. A Commute That Saves Time, Money, and Anxiety
Did you know that the average American worker spends over 40 hours a year stuck in traffic on the way to the office? Another study shows workers spend nearly $2,600 annually on their daily commute, and U.S. highway congestion alone costs $160 billion a year. Time is money, and that’s a pretty penny!
Less time spent on the road means more time to spend on your clients, and more time to dedicate to your personal well-being.
8. Control Over Your Own Ideas
The freedom of creativity is a powerful thing. As a self-employed professional, your ideas are yours alone, and without having to run anything past a manager or team, your only criticism will come from someone already invested in your ideas, your clients! When you’re your own boss, no idea is ignored.
If you’re ready to share your ideas with the world, it’s time to consider building the right public thought leadership.
9. Work Anywhere
In the words of Buckaroo Banzai, “No matter where you go, you are there.” As an independent consultant, you have the power and technology to run your business from anywhere. Whether you’re California dreamin’, or are heading down South, between cloud-based services, mobile offices, and constantly evolving technology, home truly is where the heart is.
MBO’s self-employed resources can help to keep you on the move, whether you’re changing jobs or just changing addresses.
10. Meet New People
The independent lifestyle provides a unique opportunity to meet people you may have never crossed paths with in a typical work environment. After all, the key to a successful start as an independent business is networking—whether it’s via LinkedIn and social media, joining professional organizations, or attending special events, you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to marketing yourself and getting leads.
I dedicate my life to science, technology, music and to bringing people together. And I do it my way.