By Gill Hunt managing director Skillfair
Ripples caused by the world’s banking disasters are reaching businesses outside of The City. The papers are now reporting daily on redundancies across all sectors, throughout the UK. What will you do when the company you work for announces it will be laying people off? Will you beaver on hoping to cling on to your job, urgently propagate your CV or meekly join the increasing unemployed masses? There is another option – to leave the employed world, and go it alone.
The forced situation of redundancy can actually create an opportunity to pursue your dream. A recent survey we ran amongst our 8000 members – including marketers, designers, management consultants and researchers - revealed that over one quarter became self-employed following redundancy. What they value most about their status is the freedom to combine the fulfilment of personal goals with earning a living.
The thought of going it alone can be daunting and scary – particularly if you have dependents but consulting is actually a relatively risk-free way of starting your own business. The overheads are low and you don’t need to buy stock or rent premises. Similarly, the current economic situation should not necessarily frighten you off becoming an independent, our members say there are busier now than ever – perhaps because of the value for money they offer to clients.
They also claimed to have achieved improved work-life balance since working as independent consultants. They cited better management of caring responsibilities, a pleasing escape from bureaucracy, flexible working and less commuting as key benefits. So, if you are ready to make the leap, the following points should guide you through the basics of setting up on your own.
Hone your offering
Think about your life and experiences so far and try to identify what you’re good at, what you enjoy and which aspects of your work were well received by your colleagues. Use a verb to describe what you want to do rather than an area of expertise – do you facilitate, manage, review, organise, research, build, coach or something else?
Once you’ve worked out the key activity you can look at the skills areas and industries where you have experience and put together a simple explanation of what you do. For example, “I devise and implement patient communications programmes on behalf of healthcare organisations” is a clear and simple statement.
For any new business to succeed there has to be a market, and you will need to address this market effectively. By defining a clear target you can avoid wasting time talking to companies who are a poor fit with your skills and experience. Likewise, if you don’t know what clients want you may undersell yourself or waste money targeting companies that have no need of your services. A few phone calls to former business contacts should help confirm that your offering is valuable. With luck you might even find your first client in the process.
Drum up business
According to our survey, the most successful sources of new clients are referrals and networking. Here are some pointers for getting those business leads in.
Keep in touch with former colleagues and clients - maintain the relationships you already have with them. Ask them if they know anyone who might be interested in your services and get an introduction if you can.
Contact other consultants in your area of expertise through networks such as Skillfair and professional institutions like the Chartered Institute of Marketing – they will be talking to the kinds of clients you want to reach and most will find themselves looking for extra help from time to time.
Network intelligently with people and businesses in your target market - it is important to make sure you network with the right people. If your targets are large corporate businesses then you are unlikely to meet a prospective client at a local breakfast meeting – but if your targets are micro-businesses then you probably will.
Use online avenues for business - the internet has transformed many aspects of business and it is both easier and harder to contact people because of it. As with face to face networking you need to be selective and choose your online networks carefully. Make the effort to meet interesting people face to face to build a genuine business relationship.
Independent consultants make a significant contribution to the organisations they service and to the economy. We estimate there are more than one million consultants or knowledge-based sole proprietor businesses in the UK. Redundancy could be the nudge you need to get up and go it alone, so why not start working on your plan B now!
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