Why Is Building a Business So Hard as an Independent Executive?

How independent executives James and Denise developed their businesses

James has had a successful career as an independent executive. He has spent most of the past fifteen years primarily in an operational role working with a couple of companies in the consumer goods industry. His degree and early career were in computer science and IT. As a COO, he has typically been responsible for IT as well as overall operations. His last two positions were eliminated when the companies were purchased. After going through it the second time, he decided to make a change. James took his collective experience and went to work independently as an executive. He updated his LinkedIn page, came up with a company name, had business cards printed, and started letting people know he was available for work on an interim, part-time, or consulting basis. He could help middle-market companies identify and implement breakthrough growth opportunities, taking them to the next level of performance.

James began by attending networking functions, meeting potential referral partners for coffee here and there, and signing up with every website he could find that worked with interim executives, management consultants, or advisors.

After about four months, James became frustrated. He had met with a grand total of four potential clients and had done one small assessment for a company. A few months later, he met with a few more potential clients and was working with one client three days a month while also helping a few startups get to the point of funding. Unfortunately, the startups weren’t in a position to pay James yet. James had heard about the flexibility being independent gave you, he just wished his schedule wasn’t this flexible.

The next two years were a bit of a struggle, but James did gain some traction. He was able to keep busy about two days a week for at least nine months of the year and making about one-half of what he had in his last corporate job. That wasn’t too bad since he was only working 30 percent of the time. Still, he had thought at this point he would be working more and making at least the same as he had when he was full time, with the flexibility of only working three to four days a week. What was he missing?

Denise had a similar career to James’s. She worked with a number of companies in an executive role for the last fifteen years and had her last couple of positions eliminated, either due to acquisition or company relocation. With children still at home, she made the decision not to relocate them. Instead, she decided to create a career that gave her more control and the availability to be with her family as needed. Denise decided to be an independent executive. Denise did a lot of the same things James did to build her business, but with a few differences. Two years later, Denise is turning down business because she either doesn’t have the availability or she isn’t excited about the engagement.

With such similar backgrounds and situations, why is Denise in the position of turning business away while James is still doing everything he can to keep busy at least half the time? This is the million-dollar question.

We talk to thousands of independent executives every year. The number one question we are asked is, “How can I get more visibility to grow my business?” We have watched some executives struggle, and we have seen others who are in such high demand that they are able to name their price and clients will pay it. We do know, however, that money is not always the number one driving force for independent executives. The driving force and interpretation of “success” vary greatly, from keeping a full schedule of clients, receiving a higher than usual hourly rate to creating immense value for clients. In each of these cases, increased income is typically the result. However you interpret success, we will share with you some of the top secrets of successful independent executives and how they got there.

In our book, How I Fired My Boss and Made More Money, we will share stories, examples, and insights from our experiences. It is not a set of formulas, but a collection of experiences, guidelines, and stories anyone can leverage and apply to his or her unique situation.

Whether an executive is considering a move to being independent or has been independent for more decades than they care to admit, learning never ends. As much as some may enjoy learning from their own experiences, it is always helpful when you can learn from someone else’s as well.

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