Choose your context

1. Skills

A myth I encountered over the last year uttered by some is that people expect freelance consultants to possess years of skills. Again, freelancers are not superhuman. What the people making this claim fail to see is that reality is so mulit-facetted, that the question is not whether you have XYZ skills, but whether there is a willingness to pay in the market for skills you currently possess. I have met people — with programming skills — who started out directly after university, others who only did it after more than a decade of professional experience and many who did it some time in between.

The one thing you need to manage to do is to sieze win-win setups within your reach (think existing network & location). And as the data market continues to grow both in breadth and depth, the number of opportunities to position yourself somewhere along the spectrum with your personal value proposition is ever increasing. Due to this trend, selling in the market does not not equate to trying to convince people or companies to buy something they don’t really need. Still, you should be very clear about what you bring to the table and what is needed to complete a project.

2. Your Personal Value Proposition

Think about your relative strengths before you start approaching potential customers and project partners. How would you sum up what you can bring to a project in one sentence? Clarity on this will not only help you to make sure a project will be a success for both sides but — more importantly — help you understand and plan which skills you want to strengthen in order to stay relevant in an ever changing world.

My personal value proposition is that I’m a “swiss army knife” for data analysis and engineering. I have a business background and taught myself programming. My relative strengths are that I can operate with minimal overhead on the entire analysis — engineering spectrum, communicate well with both a CEO or a CTO using terminology familiar to them without losing meaning — which regularly leads to much improved clarity on both sides.

Whether you have a generalist, T-shaped or specialist skillset, there are a couple of basic factors which from my experience are a solid foundation for delivering value.

Try to be very aware of the context you’re working in, both with regards to the desired outcome for the business, as well as technical specifications.

Try to reduce cognitive load required to understand context, processes and technical concepts as much as possible by asking stakeholders relevant questions.

Know the tools of your domain. There is no need to be an expert in all of them but the choice of tools will greatly influence outcome of your work. Applying a tool to a problem it was not designed to solve is the obvious mistake, but it can be equally bad to chose something which stakeholders don’t feel comfortable with. The same applies to a tool which works well for now but will need to be replaced six months down the line due to a change in requirements or data volume.

Instead of doing everything on your own and produce suboptimal outcomes, you will create much more value if you complement your knowledge of the nature of a project with a tool expert whom you can refer.

Most of the issues in the last paragraphs might sound vague to you now. They are relevant only in the context of a specific project. The noteable exception being that your network will be a big part of your personal value proposition. I will share thoughts on the role of your location and network in the last post of this series.

This is part 3 of 4 posts on the topic.

Part 1: Context, Market & Formalities

Part 2: Principles & Personality

Part 4: coming up