If you’re looking to develop your contracting business, the focus is likely on acquiring new clients or gaining more work from those you already have. Of course this is important, but another approach is growth that comes from understanding what drives you towards success.
Rebecca Wrightson’s journey has taken her from consultant to in-house roles and back again, where she currently works as a People & Culture consultant with several technology business clients.
Rebecca prefers to use the term ‘consultant’ rather than ‘contractor’. The term contractor gives the notion of set hours over a period of time. Yet for Rebecca, her relationship with clients is fluid, depending on the needs of the business.
“Being self-driven is very important to me,” says Rebecca. She admits that while her life situation is very different now from how it was back at the start of her career, the freedom of choosing her availability and capacity is essential and the consultant working style fits this goal.
The absolute need to define your ‘why’
Rebecca offers expertise across the people experience space, she refers to it as the employee journey, including talent attraction, recruitment, onboarding, engagement, reward, growth, and off-boarding.
Her work as a consultant is typically fractional, which means joining a business, making a difference, and dipping out again. This agility aligns nicely with her goals of more freedom and flexibility, and helps to define her ‘why’.
Rebecca’s driving force is having freedom and flexibility in her life, making her work as a consultant an ideal fit, allowing her to mould her work around her life, instead of the other way around. The ability to join a business, make a meaningful impact and dip out again, gives her flexibility while still having a strong sense of purpose.
“Be really clear; ask yourself all the questions. Why are you doing this? What’s the driver? Because in this type of work, there are risks and there are rewards … so be clear on what you want, and why you want it. You’ll need that clarity of purpose when things get tough.”
Another way to grow is to work out the industries and types of clients you want to work with, and why you want to work with them and then double down. Rebecca remembers thinking about what types of businesses she wanted to work with, rather than what types of roles she wanted to do.
“My goal was to work with the founders or leaders of entrepreneurial enterprises, so I could work directly with the people that made the decisions and established the business.”
A guide to success
Finding the right people in the right businesses to work with means keeping an open mind, and being able to spot business opportunities in the wild.
“I am a hustler by nature. I am good at spotting situations where I can help; I don’t see it as ‘selling’. It’s me saying, I can help with that, it’s actually something that I do.”
Rather than only questioning whether or not she can bring success to her own business and the client, Rebecca goes one step further. She asks herself whether she’s making an impact; helping people feel confident, communicate competently, lead, and deal with situations.
To be successful Rebecca says there’s also the necessity to move through any ‘crises of confidence’ - an alternative, less evocative term to ‘imposter syndrome’. Rebecca personally experiences crises of confidence all the time. “It really affects me, but I think the key is just how you manage it.”
Support comes in many forms, and one is guidance from colleagues and mentors. “I use mentors for all different things, and they don’t necessarily have to be more experienced than me or more senior. They can just be trusted people that I go to, to test ideas or thinking.”
Combining the right people, businesses, and support is pretty much the secret to success, and to growing a healthy reputation. “The main way I get feedback is that people want me back,” says Rebecca. “And sometimes they don’t and the connection isn’t quite right; that’s OK, hard to take, but OK.”
It doesn’t matter the type of work you do, reputation always counts for something and exemplifies the value of connections. “What is reputation? It’s about people knowing they have received good value from you,” confirms Rebecca.
Build a trusted relationship
For Rebecca, the key to building a business with great clients is being able to instinctively know when there’s a good match between their requirements and the expertise she’s able to provide.
“You need confidence to build and develop a business out of nothing. I find the founders and CEOs I work with incredible, and when they come to me for assistance, it’s a privilege. You need to be strong, and you’ve got to navigate an issue and believe in yourself. Which is something we don’t always have, right? You have to back yourself. So, when they do come to me, it’s a privilege.”
Sometimes this means reassuring a potential client that their specific issue is, in fact, not uncommon and that they’re doing the right thing by talking to her. As a business owner or CEO, it can be difficult to admit they’re unable to deal with a situation.
It’s about building trust – that’s when the real connection happens, says Rebecca. Often people don’t know what they don’t know, so they have to be vulnerable and ask for help.
“If I can get them to be vulnerable in our initial conversations — which is one of my superpowers — then I can carefully take that vulnerability and show how I’m going to help, without judgement, and that we’re going to work together on this.”
It’s not always smooth sailing when the consultant-client match isn’t quite right. One red flag is when a potential client speaks disparagingly about people they employ or deal with. But sometimes the reality is that when you’re starting out you need gigs, admits Rebecca, so it’s about being aware of how the relationship could play out.
The best way to make a difference
Working in the way that’s best for you and your situation is a sure way to deliver success. For Rebecca, the future of work is heading towards an asynchronous nature, where people work to a flexible structure that makes sense for them and their life situations. In the wider scheme of things, this could be one solution to burnout and a further way to develop self-regulation and deal with expanding workloads.
Ultimately, says Rebecca, you’re responsible for your own success.
“Be clear on why you’re doing the work. There’s no way out; you’ve got to deliver. What drives me is that I know I help people. I know I make a difference to people and their work.”
You can find Rebecca at Sidecar Consulting.