As an increasing number of older workers are re-entering the workforce or postponing retirement, they’re looking for options that aren’t the typical regular full-time job. One of those is the gig economy, otherwise known as freelancing or consulting.
But just because we have a lot of skills and experience, it doesn’t mean we have what it takes to be a successful consultant. Many organizations hire a freelancer to do a very specific task and expect they’ll benefit from the freelancer’s expertise in that area. Companies expect to save time and money by leveraging an individual’s talents for job-based work rather than having many different skill sets on the payroll.
According to Tim Reiter, senior staffing consultant with Unum, here are three things organizations look for in a freelancer:
1. Honesty about skills and abilities. “If a client is looking for experience in something and you don’t have it, but meet the rest of the criteria, be honest about that,” Reiter says. “You can still be a viable candidate. Be prepared to articulate to the client how you can still accomplish the goals of the task using your other skills.”
2. References and a portfolio. In most cases and depending on the position, you should have some sort of electronic (or paper) archive of past work a potential client can reference. “Having business references from past engagements is very helpful too,” Reiter added.
3. Ability to elicit the true requirements and goals of the engagement. Use your expertise to ask questions about the work to be sure that what the client is truly looking for is what they describe. If you don’t have much experience in this area, Reiter suggests looking into ways to develop the skill by taking a course or networking with people who do have the experience.
Once you get the engagement, here are a few more things to keep in mind.
4. Invest in good communication tools. Every client will have their own preferred methods of communication. They will expect the freelancers and consultants they work with to be able to use their communication tools, such as email and Skype. If you don’t know how to use today’s technology, start getting up to date.
5. Be helpful but manage against scope creep. Sometimes projects will require extra steps and work. It just happens. Most clients know this, and they’ll work with freelancers to redefine the scope of work. But if it doesn’t happen, be prepared to initiate the conversation. The last thing both you and the client want is unexplained scope creep.
6. Remember at some point, the freelancer’s job will end. Consulting projects take a couple of forms: They might be small but ongoing, or they can be intense and short-term. Bottom line, at some point, the consulting project will be over, and you should be prepared to wrap up deliverables. How you leave a project can leave the client with a positive impression (which is good for the next project).
Freelancing can be a very rewarding work option. But it’s not the same as regular full-time work. It’s up to you to educate yourself and manage projects wisely.