Tom Critchlow

The Strategic Independent

Theory & Practice for Independent Consultants

I’ve been an independent consultant for almost 6 years and have learned some things. But most importantly I’ve found that being independent requires a level of introspection and self-reflection that few talk about.

So I'm writing a book - serialized free online - about the art and science of independent consulting. Due out end of 2020.

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1. Becoming Independent

What does it mean to be a "strategic independent"? How do you create a narrative arc for yourself that allows you to step out into the unknown of independent work?

How to do better work for more money, whether you're a designer, writer or strategist.
Narrative Institutions (in draft)
How to manage your identity during the transition to independent

2. Finding Work

The number one problem most independent consultants face is finding clients. The default mode of searching for "productized services" however is usually wrong. Instead we need to increase our presence across the networks we're surrounded by.

Small-b Blogging (1,539 words)
Network topology and the ghost of the digg homepage
Strange Attraction (3,004 words)
How to generate leads for an independent consulting practice.
Weak Ties & Strong Intros (in draft)
aka "Strange Attraction pt 2" we'll look at how to help source warm intros from people you don't know
Speak, Consultant (in draft)
Examining the unreasonable effectiveness of "voice" (podcasts, conferences etc) on generating consulting leads.

3. Bridging the Gap

Navigating the gap between potential client and confirmed project can be tricky. Getting caught up in SOWs, or structuring projects that don’t set you up for success. We explore ways to bridge the gap from potential client to successful engagement.

Workshops as Portals (2,766 words)
And how to create clarity in consulting work
The Anguish of Talking about Money (in draft)
Why do I want to throw up every time I send an invoice?

4. Effective Strategy Work

We explore what makes work "strategic" and how to balance strategy & stewardship to create long-term retained work.

"Ideas without details and details without ideas are both risky."
A model for retained strategy consulting.
"Amateurs talk about strategy. Professionals talk about logistics."
Challenging the notion of "top-down" strategy

5. Ways of Seeing

The soft skills of understanding a client's culture and understanding your point of contact's blind spots and broken mental models unlocks great potential for the consultant to create new mental models and help clients see in new ways.

Why (their) culture eats (your) strategy for breakfast
Ways of Seeing (3,838 words)
How to recognize and understand culture inside a client's organization
And the power of making simple, true frameworks with clients

6. Yes! And...

Thinking on your feet & being able to spar with clients is a crucial consulting skill. This series takes inspiration from the book Impro by Keith Johnstone to examine consulting through the lens of improv theatre.

How to think on your feet without bullshitting.
If you walk in the door with a problems-focused mindset ready to criticize the client you’ll get rejected by the organization like a bad virus.
Generating & Co-Creating Strategy in the Theatre of Work
How to get things done inside organizations by understanding power potholes and status switching
Contrary Consultants & Human Capacity (in draft)
How to be comfortably weird as a consultant

7. Kairos & Chronos

A crucial mistake many consultants make is to act like an employee. Instead consultants should seek to play games employees can't play. Notably time management and just-in-time work open up possibilities.

Kairos consulting part 1 - The Consultant Out of Time (in draft)
Mastering kairos time to deliver just-in-time consulting
Kairos consulting part 2 - The Jigsaw of Independence (in draft)
Balancing time management and energy management as an independent

8. The Inner Life of Consultants

Being independent comes with the burden of managing your own identity and your own career. How do you create narrative structures and self-reflection to avoid going crazy.

I, Consultant (2,700 words)
The struggle to define who you are as an independent and the promise of charging more for your work
Compound Narrative (in draft)
How to create a narrative arc through your career as an independent