One of the greatest benefits of working independently is working for yourself. But as your own boss, you need to make sure you’re garnering a pipeline of projects that are a good fit for your expertise and availability in the same way a great manager would help you do if you were working in-house.
Do you love your work, but wish you could put your project pipeline management on autopilot? Here are seven ways to make project selection and managing your pipeline a cinch.
7 tips to manage your project pipeline
1. Set your availability
Don’t sell time that you don’t have. Without being tethered to a 40-hour workweek, you get to define what ‘full time’ means to you. Setting your availability is a critical first step, because if you don’t set it for yourself, someone else will! Consider the following questions to determine your availability, and update your availability in the BTG talent app to reflect your preferences and priorities:
- Do you plan to have set working hours each day?
- Approximately how many hours per week would be ideal for you to work?
- Do you prefer to work mostly asynchronously?
- Are you open to working with a client in a different time zone than yours?
- Are you looking for long-term or short-term projects?
2. Define your niche
Defining a niche not only often earns you more, but also helps you build a business that’s aligned with your interests and values. If you’re struggling to select just one area on which to focus, consider where your passion, knowledge and profit overlap. This is where your perfect niche will emerge:
- Passion: What do you love to do? What industries or type of work are you passionate about?
- Knowledge: What is your area of expertise? In which skills do you excel? What comes easily to you?
- Profit: Which of your skills are most valuable, or have been most lucrative? Is there a skill you have that’s experiencing an uptick in demand?
3. Choose channels in which to market your services
Now that you’ve set your availability and selected an area of focus, make sure you have a process in place to market your services. There are an array of channels that will help you generate leads consistently:
- Online platforms: Online platforms like Business Talent Group can be great places to establish and market your independent practice. When you join the BTG community of independent consultants, you can view and apply for a wide range of opportunities within the BTG Talent Portal. Beyond access to great clients, BTG also provides resources, incentives, and discounts to support independent consultants.
- Social media channels: Think through where your potential clients are and meet them there. Are they on LinkedIn? Schedule daily posts on LinkedIn that position you as a thought leader. Are they on Twitter? Enhance your Twitter presence by including a professional headshot, title, and cover image on your profile.
- Podcasts, webinars, and events: Listening to an industry podcast or webinar or participating in a virtual event which your target clients attend could open the door to new opportunities, especially if you follow up with people who were featured afterward.
4. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ more often than you say ‘yes’
Imagine this scenario: It’s October, and you are below the financial goals you set for yourself for the year. You are offered and accept a project that will last 6-12 months. While it pays a rate below your typical day rate and isn’t exactly your favorite type of work, it will get you to the earnings goal you set for yourself. A few weeks after accepting this opportunity, you’re offered a different opportunity that offers a day rate higher than your own – and is a perfect fit for your niche.
This scenario would put you in an uncomfortable and challenging situation in which you’d need to choose between disappointing a new client you just started working with or turning down a new one you’d love to support. All independent consultants are essentially small business owners, and as an individual, you only have so much capacity. As the owner of your business, don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to good opportunities in order to make room for great ones.
5. Stay two steps ahead
When you’re immersed full time in an exciting project, it’s easy to lose sight of the next quarter. Even when you’re busy, make note of the following three key elements of successful pipeline management and begin soliciting new clients in a manner that is aligned with this data:
- Acceptance rate: How many opportunities do you typically apply for before you accept one? For instance, you may find that for every 10 opportunities you apply to, you land one high-level engagement that you accept, which is a 10% acceptance rate.
- Lead time: How much time typically passes between when you first apply to an opportunity and when you accept one?
- Quiet periods: Are there times during the year in which you are not busy at all? Does your work tend to slow down or stop entirely over the holidays?
6. Be organized
Your business needs a control panel. From collaboration tools to time-tracking software and productivity apps, leveraging technology to stay organized will help you ‘wow’ your clients while keeping one eye focused on your own success and road ahead. Try:
- Using Asana to keep tabs on all of your tasks and track milestones, both for your clients and for your own business.
- Using Google Calendar to schedule your work time and your personal time. Create recurring reminders to check your quarterly income or follow up with a client who mentioned they wanted to begin a project with you in the back half of the year.
- Use Calendly to make it easy for clients to schedule meetings with you.
- Use Trello to stay on top of multiple workflows and collaborate with other professionals.
Because habits can take time to form, give a tool a try for 15 or 30 days, and if you find it doesn’t add value, switch to another.
7. Nurture your leads
Don’t schedule yourself so tightly that you don’t have time to nurture your leads. Leave time for pipeline management, and set clear and realistic goals for yourself. Get creative:
- Know when your clients’ birthdays (and children’s birthday) are, and reach out with a personal note on those dates.
- Schedule a reminder to connect with an old colleague or friend every Friday.
- Take a few hours at the beginning of each year to create and schedule 2-4 emails throughout the year with holiday greetings, offers or tips.
Ensuring you have a pipeline management process in place can alleviate a lot of stress, freeing up space for you to focus on what many of us set out to do in the first place: work on projects you love.
Sheri is a strategic communications leader with more than 15 years of experience writing content for some of the world's leading brands. She is the founder of a Certified B Corporation that's committed to helping companies achieve their mission by leveraging content as a force for good. She is also a runner, aspiring sommelier, traveler, and mom—usually all at once.