on the net without a net

I have spent the past 20 years figuring out what changes the internet era might bring. During the last 12 years I’ve run a web-powered business. What have I learned as a freelancer on the Net? First of all I am lucky that blogging gave me an international reputation, and that I started early enough. But all the benefits from blogging have been indirect. It is impossible to proactively increase sales through this model. Word of mouth travels at its own speed and in unknown directions. All things come in time: usually a long time.

I have found that business value keeps shifting. I used to get paid well to help companies select new learning technologies. I have not done that type of work for over five years. I have also seen organizations move away from using external consultants. I think the entire consulting model is ripe for disruptive change. When LinkedIn advertises ex-McKinsey consultants available for $60 per hour, you know that it’s an obsolete business model.

What worked yesterday will not work tomorrow. After several of my major clients decided they no longer wanted to hire consultants, I temporarily lost a primary source of my revenue. Luckily I was testing out my online workshops. These happened to pick up just as consulting work was decreasing.

Whether you work for yourself or are part of a small business, you need to have new products and services tested and ready to go. This is what I call perpetual beta: experimenting in order to create emergent practices. It may sound trite, but the change cycle seems to be getting faster. It’s the effect of what Jay Cross referred to as Internet time. Our interconnected economy is forcing us to be more innovative because replication is just too easy. The competition can copy most of what you are doing as soon as you do it. It doesn’t matter if the competition is not as good as you if they can get more attention than you.

I am going to start working on my next book, which will be different from my perpetual beta series. My objective is to take what I have learned these past twenty years and create a guide for freelancers, consultants, and other creative workers. Some things already in progress are:

  • How to negotiate a contract.
  • How to establish fees.
  • How to manage client expectations.
  • How to find a community of practice.
  • How to build a trusted knowledge network.

All of these will be based on first or second-hand experience, learning from my colleagues as well. I will post the ‘half-baked ideas’ here and then use them to create a finished narrative for the published work.

6 Responses to “on the net without a net”

  1. Kevin Bruny

    Harold, valuable insights and I look forward to reading your book. Having been on the inside of an organization for my entire career, one should be ready to diversify and your book content would be most helpful.

  2. Christy Tucker

    I’m not sure if I see as much of a shift away from using consultants as you do. I wonder if part of what you’re seeing is that your own career is simply at a more advanced stage than mine (and many of us in the field). I see an overall shift in the workplace away from permanent employees and to more project-based work, and that means there’s still a place for consultants. I am still getting work helping companies choose learning technologies, including traditional LMSs. I suspect that since your work is “on the edge” that your clients may also be on that leading edge of trends too. Most of us probably aren’t that far out on the curve.

    That said, I agree about the need to diversify your income and be ready to constantly reinvent yourself. Just because I’m not seeing the same trends as you right now doesn’t mean I won’t see it a few years down the road. I’m looking forward to seeing your insights and reading your book.

    • Harold Jarche

      Good points, Christy. I’m seeing a decline in consultants, but not in contractors or part-time workers. It’s the higher-end consulting that seems to be decreasing, especially the “help us solve a problem we do not understand” type of work. That’s where I work, so that’s what I’m seeing. Of course everyone’s mileage will vary 😉

  3. Christy Tucker

    Harold, that differentiation makes sense. I’m often in the space where “our employees don’t understand this process” and formal training is a viable solution. I’m not dealing with the same kind of complex problems as you are most of the time. I can see how the consulting market at the high end would be shifting in ways that the middle of the field isn’t.

    • Harold Jarche

      It will be interesting (in all senses) to see how this plays out. Once again, freelancers will have to skate to where the puck just might be going (and in many cases get it wrong).


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