I have met and talked with a number of free agents and entrepreneurs over the years. Partly through association with colleges like Temple and Drexel University. Partly thanks to the connections forged when working for a start up company a few years ago.
We had conversations about business with Fast Company's network, and on occasion we helped a new business kick things in first or second gear. Those are exciting times, when you think about possibility, resources, and make plans for the future.
Having attended my fair share of events geared towards solopreneurs at various Chambers and organizations, I can say that the topics and information can be quite helpful to professionals getting their own business off the ground.
Getting started is rarely the problem. What becomes apparent fairly soon, I'd say probably within the first 6-8 months, is that one needs to have a plan to sustain the business over the long haul.
I've heard some call it the "feast and famine" cycle. There are bursts of intense activity followed by lulls that may seem to last forever. The main challenge is of course that if this is your business and you are starting it alone, you are doing it all - the marketing and sales, the administrative and financial work, the ideation piece and the execution or delivery part.
You probably decided to start a business because you loved what you did a great deal and wanted to do more of just that. Herein lies the issue - your secret sauce is the sauce itself. You are your own brand - what you sell and deliver are one and the same with you. No more sick days, in many cases vacation days, or days when things slow down - when they do, it is a worry.
How can you scale?
The first step is establishing processes and systems for the parts that are not core to your business that you can partner with other professionals and providers for or find a service to do. For example a virtual assistant for the administrative work - collecting payments, paying invoices, setting your calendar, etc. You can still personalize a great deal even with help. In fact, it will be easier to pay attention to detail once you get support.
The second step is creating products and services for your core product that are repeatable. This will allow you to build consistency and experience into what you deliver, as well as give you the flexibility to customize the delivery. When you know what you offer, it is much easier to know its value, too. Make sure that those products and services are something the market wants and needs and not one-offs. Do your research and be strategic.
The third step is figuring out a realistic pricing structure for your offerings. You are not answering the question: what will the market bear? You are seeking to find your point of value. What are you really good at that the market wants and needs? What do you provide that nobody else does your way? Hint, it is about being more of yourself (the secret sauce), than a copy of someone else.
From here, you will need to decide whether you intend to remain a consultant or build a business. The difference is you. I'm splitting hair here, but a business would not need you to function, a consultancy would.
[Chris Guillebeau has a very informative post on scaling up your business or your life.]