Joe Kennedy — who proudly proclaims he’s been a 1099er for decades — is the founder of QB-LA Quickbooks Los Angeles, which offers accounting, finance and business planning services to small businesses in southern California. With an MBA in Marketing from Penn State University, Kennedy discovered early in his career that the entrepreneurial path in the gig economy was for him.
Kennedy, like many independent consultants, acknowledges he gets much of his business through his website and referrals. And in a previous article in this site, he wrote about how freelancers can pitch themselves to companies looking for permanent employees. But Kennedy shares several other smart strategies for making new clients and gracefully navigating the more awkward aspects of indie life.
What were crucial steps in establishing and growing your independent business?
Two things — finding a business model that is in demand and scalable and then settling on the right marketing mix to grow that model.
Part of your model is using other freelancers. How do you work with them?
To fulfill the needs of our accounting clients, we need bookkeepers to make entries and balance the books. Usually this is remote; the contract bookkeeper is working from home and connecting to the client accounting system to make entries.
More on this subject: When Should a Consultant Hire Subcontractors?
What promotion strategies should other solos consider?
It’s often surprising to me that others do not simply speak up and say what they do. Just politely state your expertise as often as possible, and then assume if others are interested they will ask you more.
No need to push or sell yourself — just make others aware. It’s a numbers game and as you make increasing numbers aware, the numbers will soon work in your favor.
More on this subject: 3 Innovative Ways to Market Your Consulting Business
Do you have any tips for solos who have social anxieties?
People skills are still the most important, from managing your staff to mixing it up and charming new clients. The more time spent in social areas, the more comfortable you will be. Always remember they may be different but not better than you.
How do you keep yourself focused? Do you have any special rituals or habits?
I mix it up. Focus and work on one area, then when my mind starts to fatigue, switch to something different. For example, I do a lot of emails, writing and computer entries in the morning, and then switch to phone calls or meetings to refresh and keep as alert and productive as possible.
Most entrepreneurs must be prepared to have a different schedule every day, and go in the direction of the best opportunity.
How do you keep relationships active with past clients?
I simply send a semi-customized, short and polite note every 3-6 months. If the client has a need, they will get back to you and suddenly everyone is best friends again.
Can you share a decision you’ve made in your career that others might gain insight from?
Separating business from emotion. I have noticed over many decades that the most successful business people are able to stand back and look at adverse situations, problems and conflicts and make decisions based upon reason and logic — and with no emotion.
What mistake have you made that other independents might learn from?
Being shy when it comes time to being paid. A client who balks about writing you a check is a concern. Many clients will indeed take your services and not pay. Ever. So be on the alert for this and don’t extend your terms.
How should freelancers approach raising their rates?
It’s difficult to gain new business when most clients are focused on who has the cheapest rates. Personal contact can often make the difference here. Do something to separate yourself from the rest.
More on this topic: Getting the Freelance Rate You Deserve
How do you compete without simply lowering prices?
Ask [the potential client] “how can I get at least a part of your business?” Learn what’s really going on and grow it from there. In accounting, for example, we often start with basic bookkeeping and then move to general accounting, payroll and cash-forecasting.
More on this topic: Network Less and Make More With Current Clients
Being a 1099 has clearly served you well. What observations do have about the gig economy?
Embrace the gig economy — it’s only going to get bigger. As client demands and needs change rapidly, contractors with varying skills and expertise — not employees — are needed to help growing businesses reach the next milestone.
Shari Shallard has worked in publishing for more than 15 years. She’s been a writer and editor for online and print media in industries including technical apparel, education and travel. Shari also once loved to relax and read novels, but now she has three kids.