Why did you decide to start working as a freelancer?
I had been working at Nokia for 13 years, in a lot of different areas (research, technical marketing, project lead, sales), so I already felt it might be time to move on. Then the signs of their coming collapse started showing so I figured that was as good a time as any! But, even if they hadn’t collapsed, I would probably have moved on anyways in the end – I was done with corporate life and wanted to spread my wings.
What’s the best part of being a consultant?
Being my own boss and being in charge of my destiny. The full responsibility for success is entirely on my shoulders which is both frightening and liberating. I know this won’t appeal to everyone, but if you want that kind of life, then freelance is pretty much the only way.
I also love being in control of my own time. I decide when to work and when to rest. So if there is work to do I‘m working and if there isn’t I’m vacationing. How many jobs offer something like that?
What’s the worst?
It was a big surprise to realize how much the “big machinery” of companies do. If I wanted to do marketing, I had to write. If I wanted the office clean, I had to pick up a broom. And sure, you kn
ow you need to do all of these things yourself, but there is so much that you don’t think about that also has to be done, and so much to learn. Especially bookkeeping, auditing, and taxes had a steep learning curve. But it became pretty straightforward in the end, and there are freelancers available for help.
It started as a way to get income while working on my not-yet-self-supporting dream. I looked at what services I could sell immediately, and then basically outsourced the selling and marketing to specialists. They found the jobs, made the calls, interacted with the customer, and did all the paperwork. They saved me time and generated an income – a no-brainer for me!
They also solved a big unexpected problem: name recognition. You get very different reactions saying Hi it’s Aarne from Nokia, and Hi it’s Aarne I’m a freelance. The brand matters – it’s what opens the door. And since Ework has such a strong brand, all doors open for them, and they get me assignments, I never would have gotten on my own.
Tips for aspiring consultants?
The biggest thing I’d say is to mind your cash flow! This was a big problem for me in the beginning. You have to remember that many companies won't pay you until 90 days after the invoice date. So you can work all of September but not get paid until December! You have to have a plan for the first couple of months. This is why I keep using Ework, because they pay immediately and then deal with the invoicing themselves.
You also have to have thick skin and remember that it takes time to find your first engagement. You’ll go out there with your polished CV feeling like a hotshot – and get rejected time and time again. Never forget that many consultants are competing for the business.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
Make sure that you always have clear project briefs – unclear project briefs are one of the most dangerous things for a consultant. You have to make sure that both you and the company have realistic and aligned expectations.
Oh, and don’t forget to have fun!