After my previous articles, in which I attempted to share my views on various aspects of an aircraft lease transition project, I have received a few emails from people asking me on how to become an independent aviation consultant and whether I think the life of a freelancer would be for them. The second question I intend to leave for a separate article, but here I would like to give you 9 simple (but not easy!) steps to become a professional aviation representative.
Step 1 – Gain Experience
I may be stating the obvious, but … you need experience if you want to start your own venture and offer your services to customers. A consultant often works alone, and even if you were to become part of a team, no one will want to lead you by the hand. You must know your stuff, and by that I mean good, sound working knowledge.
In most cases, your experience will either come from being a licensed (or unlicensed, in some cases) aircraft engineer who then, ideally, would have moved up in the corporate structure to a shift leader or, even better, a project manager for heavy checks. Or, in many cases, you will gain the necessary experience by working in a CAMO (an airworthiness management department) of an airline. The specific tasks will differ from person to person, but the broader your perspective will be, the better. As a consultant you should have both technical experience with the physical aircraft, as well as a very good understanding of aircraft records and the legislation which governs airworthiness.
Step 2- Learn and Study. Study and Learn.
Most of us learn by doing. A university degree in aeronautical engineering is a great thing to have, but it will probably not teach you the knowledge you would require as an independent aviation consultant. So, back to point 1 of this article – people mostly learn by gaining experience, at least to a certain point.
Studying is something you need to do on your own. Legislation changes. Aircraft types change. Customer requirements vary from year to year. The geopolitical situation in the world is unstable. You need to study to both help your customers and help yourself find the customers and foresee what they may expect next.
Step 3 – Build Your Network
I will post this article also on LinkedIn, where probably every Reader is familiar with the concept of having his or her own network. Nevertheless, this can’t be stressed enough – whatever work you do, you always work for people. You will only get paid is someone actually needs the services you have to offer. Therefore, the more people you know and the more people you can approach, the more likely it is that someone will decide to start working with you, even if you are completely new to the market.
The great thing about networking, especially in our digital age, is that you can start at any moment (hint: the best moment is right now!). Feel free to start building your network while still in high school or university, or during a summer internship. Be open, talk to people, send them emails. Of course, not in the sense of being a stalker. But reach out and people will gladly talk to you, answer your questions and accept you into their networks.
A connection on LinkedIn (and even more so an actual, personal connection) may benefit you many years down the road in ways you would have never anticipated while it was originally made.
Step 4 – Learn to be Self-Employed
I think this is pretty important. If you’re thinking of becoming and independent aviation consultant, you are most likely either employed by someone (and you want to change careers) or you are unemployed for whatever reason. In both cases, you need to learn to be self-employed.
The topic of how to move from being an employee to going on your own calls for a separate article (like “Freelancing in a Niche Business – The Ultimate Guide”), or perhaps even a short book. But I think the greatest problems freelancers face is the fact that they are not used to set their own goals and act to achieve them. Throughout school and all our employment years, we always have someone to tell us what we are supposed to be doing. Either your teacher or your boss have always taken upon themselves the responsibility to “hire” you to do specific tasks in a specific time period. But now you’re on your own and it’s up to you whether you will watch one more episode of the “Game of Thrones” or start working on your small business.
Whatever your difficulty in becoming a freelance aviation consultant may be, I can assure that you will face it. In many cases, it will not be just one difficulty but an entire herd of difficulties, drawbacks and failures. Learn to be self-employed.
Step 5 – Create Your Own Digital Personal Brand
I have devoted a separate article “Is Digital Personal Branding a Must” to explain why I believe a digital presence is crucial in today’s world and there is really no way around it. If you don’t exist online – this is also a special type of digital presence, which in most cases means “I don’t want to talk to anyone about anything, ever”. You display an image of yourself, whether you want to or not.
Digital personal branding is only a small part of the overall personal branding process. Nevertheless, it is important and the results can be magnificent (or terrifying, if don’t get it right).
The basic tools for a digital image of yourself are all social media platforms, although I would not recommend using all of them at once, especially if you’re just starting. LinkedIn is my personal favorite when it comes to building a network of aviation professionals, both potential customers and like-minded aviation consultants. A clear and concise profile and the ability to publish on Pulse provide a fantastic platform to sharing your experience with the world and inviting people to actually reach out to you, before you reach out to them.
As professional as LinkedIn is, it is certainly not the only platform available and usable. I have noticed that, very unfortunately, aviation somehow seems to lag behind in modern Internet technologies. Nevertheless, it is becoming more and more common to see aviation companies and professionals on Facebook and Instagram. Especially the latter has, in my opinion, a huge potential for professional communication, even though on the surface it may appear as only a photography sharing platform. Twitter sums up the list of most common social media channels and it’s magnificence lies in the fact, that you can send a message to anyone – just by using their Twitter handle.
An important thing to remember is that you want all social media channels to be precise and show you as a human expert – so this may a good moment to get rid of those beer drinking pictures from Facebook.
Step 6 – Team Up With Others
If you take away only thing from this article, let it be this – try to team up with another aviation consultant. Preferably one who is already more experienced. He or she will not be able to give you work, but it may happen that they will need someone to help in a project in which they are involved. This way, you can go on your first (or second, or third…) project without the risk of being the only one on site.
Once you travel with a more experienced aviation consultant, you will have a great opportunity to learn and gain invaluable experience, which you can later use to set off on your own. Also, while you’re at a project, you are most likely to meet several other aviation professionals from other teams, working on other stuff. Network with them (yes, networking happens in real life just as much as it happens online).
Step 7 – Shape Your Personal Brand
But didn’t I just write a few paragraphs on digital personal branding? … Please don’t confuse digital branding with actually being a brand. It is you. Your name, your actions and your attitudes define you as a brand to which people (customers) will flock. Or stay away from.
Whoever you meet, whatever situation you find yourself in always remember that you are working on your brand name. Your professionalism, politeness, knowledge, appearance, etc. will all have an influence on how people see you and portray you to others.
So, whenever you can – shape your personal brand and make it shine like a diamond. Or at least a topaz.
Step 8 – Get Out There
I already mentioned that networking does not only happen on LinkedIn (some younger people may forget that from time to time). Get out there. Find conferences with free access passes (there are many, especially if you register early). Go there, talk to people. Send some invites over LinkedIn before you go – most of the aviation professionals in your network will be there, and (just like you) will look for opportunities to meet with others.
If you have people in your network who you actually know, send them an email from time to time or take them out for a coffee if they live nearby. You need to get out to be notices, recommended and eventually employed.
Step 9 – Be Creative
Don’t we hear it now everywhere? Creativity and innovation … maybe there’s some truth in the call for both of them? Try your best to be creative (but not silly) with the way you approach people. You can make a CV which really stands out from the crowd, create a personal web site that will make people want to come back just to look at it again. Use social media to your advantage in ways of which no one has ever thought before.
People like myself can attempt to give you some basic advise, but in many cases you will achieve your greatest success once you find new ways to get things done. This can be either as an aviation consultant or a house cook. Try to think outside the box. The aviation sector seems great for that, because somehow modern technologies don’t seem to be adapted by aviation companies as quickly as in some other branches. So here is your chance. Good luck!