This month, I’ll reach the milestone of 26 years as a self-employed communications consultant.  When I made the leap into solo practice, I was not only leaving the safety of the corporate world for the uncertainty of consulting, but I was also switching careers, from systems analyst to communicator.

Looking back, I think I’ve learned a few things worth sharing.

  1. The nuns in school were right: Poor grammar and spelling make you look less intelligent or just plain careless. (Gosh, I hope there are no typos in this piece.)
  2. Be sure to establish goals, and strategies for attaining them, before setting your sights on tactics.
  3. As technology advances, organizations need even more help to tell their stories – or “create content” in today’s parlance.
  4. You never know when you’ll cross paths with a person again; always be gracious.
  5. Keep learning. Especially during the last decade, the pace of change has been exploding, and you must keep up to remain relevant and helpful to your clients.
  6. You need a sounding board. Seek out a mastermind group or advisory committee for advice.
  7. Time off is essential. Step away from the keyboard and silence the smartphone.
  8. You need to be accessible, but not 24/7. If a client wants you to be available evenings and weekends, be sure you’re comfortable with this arrangement before taking on the assignment.
  9. You will make plenty of mistakes. As long as you learn from them, it’s OK.
  10. Hire an accountant. Why spend time figuring out arcane tax laws?
  11. Learn to say no. If you don’t, you’ll inevitably burn out.
  12. There’s no need to put down your competition. Let your fans speak positvely about you.
  13. You will experience highs and lows; they’re part of the independent territory. On some days, you’ll question your own sanity.
  14. Take the call when the headhunter phones; have lunch with the agency person who wants to recruit you. It’s always useful to find out what’s happening on the agency and corporate side.
  15. Find a niche. Your area of specialization may change, but you must have one. Gone are the days when you could flourish as a generalist.
  16. Encourage your clients to set up online payments via wire transfer or other means; don’t rely on snail mail if you don’t have to.
  17. Try to bill according to value, not hours.
  18. Remember to put aside money for income tax and other levies, such as our beloved Harmonized Sales Tax in Canada. And be sure to set up your own retirement account since you don’t have a company pension.
  19. Take the time to talk to students and newcomers to your field.
  20. Develop skills as a public speaker, to increase your visibility.
  21. Network, network, network – with the right tribe. You may find a tribe online or in person or both.
  22. Some of the trappings of business are still necessary for independents: business cards, a decent computer, and a phone line not answered by a three-year old. Fortunately, the noisy fax machine and expensive letterhead are obsolete. (I still have several rolls of fax paper and 500+ sheets of fancy stationery in my office closet.)
  23. Donate your expertise to a charity. They’ll appreciate your efforts and you’ll feel great about contributing.
  24. Join a professional association and attend their meetings and conferences. I’m grateful for my membership in the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the Halton-Peel Communications Association (HPCA).
  25. Seek out the positive in everything; it’s there.
  26. Keep looking ahead for your next adventure.