Be Your Own Boss: Succeeding as a Consultant

On April 5, aspiring fashionistas from all over New York gathered to hear the wise words of professionals. We heard from three freelancers on what it’s like to be your own boss and make it in the fashion industry as a consultant.

FindSpark Be Your Own BossPhotos by Erica Genese

Be an Expert

When you’re working as a freelancer, you need to be a total expert in your field. Anne Chertoff, president of Anne Chertoff Media, says becoming an expert is key to succeeding as a consultant. She started her company to consult as a wedding editor. Once she was able to establish herself as someone who was truly knowledgeable, brands started hiring her to create content.

“Be an expert and never stop learning,” says Laurie Espino, freelance digital content strategist and producer. “You want to be known in your sphere for a particular thing. You’ll be the first one people think of when they need that.” In order to reach this level, Laurie says you have to analyze your skills; what do you do best? What do you want to be known for? Once you’ve figured that out, you have to market yourself accordingly.

Don’t Limit Yourself

Networking is necessary in any industry. However, Laurie says as a freelancer it’s particularly important to expand your network beyond your industry. “I like to network with people outside of fashion. There’s a huge pool of fashion writers, but there’s not a huge pool that can also write about hotels,” she says. While you want to be an expert at what you do, you don’t want to limit yourself. Learn how to transfer your skills to a variety of areas.

Anne adds that networking goes beyond attending conferences and mixers. “Think outside the box: people in your classes, friends of parents, professors,” she says. All of these people have the ability to grow your network. Keep track of everyone through LinkedIn; you can even add a note to your connections (which they can’t see) on how you know them, so you won’t lose track of anyone.

Make Strong Connections

Catherine Meyer, freelance handbag and accessory designer for Tory Burch, says that taking your professional relationships offline will make a major difference to your career. “Meet up with people, get in front of them. You learn more in five minutes on the phone than in long email conversations,” she says. Make connections, then take them to the next level by asking people to meet for coffee or chat on the phone.

Laurie agrees that these informational interviews are really helpful. “Make coffee dates, and keep them,” she says. There’s no point in reaching out to someone if you won’t follow through. “Brunch could turn into your next potential client,” she adds. “It’s better to have five really good connections who can speak to your work, than fifty who probably used your card to throw out their gum.” Get to know people on a personal level, face to face, so you can make a stronger connection. 

Know Your Worth

When Anne started out as a freelancer, she took jobs just for the money. “I was spending hours of my time on things that weren’t paying well,” she says. At a certain point, she had to put her foot down about her rate and the kinds of clients she would be willing to take. “If someone can’t pay my rate, I can refer them to someone else,” she says.

Don’t sell yourself short. Reach out to people in your industry, or look on websites like Glassdoor, to figure out how much you should be charging. “Know what you can afford to make and what you need to live,” says Anne. Knowing what your time is worth is key to becoming a successful consultant. Don’t be afraid to turn people down if they can’t meet your requirements.

Have an Online Presence 

According to Anne, people will always be looking for you online. “Don’t be afraid to Google yourself and see what’s out there,” she says. Create a portfolio of your work; there are plenty of tools, like WordPress and Squarespace, that make this process easy.

Catherine says you need to make it as simple as possible for people to contact you. She says to link everything together; have your Twitter, Pinterest, and everything else linked on your website, and links to your website on all your social media accounts. “Make it easy to get in touch with you. People will not go out of their way,” she says. If someone is thinking about hiring you but can’t figure out how to get a message to you, they’re going to move on to the next person on their list.

Even after you’ve caught your big break, you have to keep pushing to get your name out there. Catherine had her award-winning handbag featured in InStyle, but that didn’t mean she could sit back and relax. “I needed to keep promoting myself. Be out there – no one is looking for you. You have to go find them,” she says.

Know the Rules

If you’re freelancing on the side, you need to be careful. According to Anne, if your freelance work is close to what you do for your full-time job, you can get fired. “Find out your company policies so you don’t get in trouble,” she says. It’s better to find out upfront than to try to get away with it and end up losing your job. Your boss could be totally fine with it, but in this case, it’s better to ask permission.

Catherine adds that contracts are really important for freelance work. “They set the tone for the rest of your working relationship,” she says. “The process takes some time, but it will help you learn how to work with someone, so it’s a great place to start.” Get all the details worked out before you start, so you’ll know things like when you’ll get paid and what exactly is expected of you.

These ladies prove that you can freelance and be a total success. Follow their advice to become a killer consultant! Do you have any freelancing experience? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!

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