10 things I wish I had known before starting my independent consulting and coaching career

Since 2014, I have had what I consider to be a successful independent career. It has been a rollercoaster and I wouldn’t change it for any alternative. I’m currently a self-employed OD consultant, executive coach and facilitator, a part-time lecturer, an occasional DJ, a volunteer Street Wizard and a trustee of a small charity. Just now, I’m also launching my new coach supervisor brand, Grow the Coach.

Setting up your own business and all that goes with it can be daunting. I did it six years ago and with Grow the Coach I’m doing it again now. Here are the 10 things I wish someone had told me as I look back over my journey so far…

Who is you target client, what do they need and what can you do for them?

  1. Be VERY clear about the skills and experience you have to offer. How can you best utilise them to solve problems for potential clients in a way that allows you to spend time doing more of the work you most enjoy?
  2. Be EVEN MORE clear about who your ideal client is – if you target everyone, you target no one. You can spend many long days, weeks and even months chasing the wrong clients.
  3. If you can match client needs with your offer, you can decide what this means for how you work: part-time, contract, interim, consultant, etc. It may be several similar roles, or a mix of different roles at the same time. This mix is likely to change over time, so be prepared to be flexible. I was staunchly a “freelance consultant” when I started. I’ve since been an associate for other firms, an employee, part-time interim, won bids with my own brand and sub-contracted work to others, taken on a zero-hours contract, volunteered, offered pro bono professional services and now I’m establishing a self-employed brand with no company. You do what is right for you and your prospective clients.

Working hours and pricing

  1. Start by calculating many hours you are committed to work and how many of these are likely to be paid. Then think about your charging rates. How much income do you need to live? Divide this by the number of paid hours you expect to work and see how the resulting hourly or day rate compares to the market. Another method is to take your headline final annualised full-time equivalent salary and knock two zeros off the end. That’s roughly your starting day rate. £50k translates to £500 per day as an independent; £80k to £800; etc.

Business structure, regulatory and legal implications

  1. Decide on the most appropriate business structure – whether to operate as a limited company or on a self- employed basis – and understand the tax implications, including IR35. Some roles might be on a PAYE basis. I’ve done them all.
  2. Professional indemnity and other insurances may be necessary. I use Hiscox, many other providers are available.

Finding work is a multi-channel approach

  1. Networking – maintain contact with your existing networks and get out there to explore new ones. Get ready to kiss a lot of toads – it really is a numbers game, especially to start with. Also leverage your social media networks: I have secured work through LinkedIn and Twitter just by getting into the right conversations. Then get your elevator pitch ready. I find asking questions is more powerful than pitching your offer. Sort your LinkedIn profile out. Do you need a website? How will you interact with social media channels, for example will you be blogging, tweeting, etc.? The key to networking is to offer something of value even if you can’t see an immediate return. You are building your profile and reputation as someone who can make a difference.
  2. For employed roles, use job boards and for contract work and interim placements only, use recruitment agents. You’ll kiss a lot of toads here too. Agents are not the people to help you find part-time work or genuine consulting work, IMHO. You can also bid for public sector contracts using portals, if you have the energy to submit to the laborious application processes. I’ve bid for several, won one and now given up even looking.
  3. Seek out associate relationships – where larger firms sell work and sub-contract it out to independents. This is still a large part of my business, although after a few years, my own work took over in terms of relative income and the work’s importance to me.

Keep on top of your game

  1. It’s even more important than ever to keep up to date with your discipline, so consider taking more memberships of industry groups and professional practice forums, get a coach, mentor or supervisor, and consider your continuing professional development. Write some articles.

And finally, three more things that are useful to know and remember…

  • You will feel lost, vulnerable and exhilarated … often all at once!
  • Don’t underestimate the amount of time you will spend on admin and unpaid business development.
  • Learn to say “No” if it the work offered is not in your sweet spot. Only when you say “No” does your “Yes” mean something.

It’s a rollercoaster. Get ready for the ride of your life!

Jeremy J Lewis

AoCS Qualified Coaching Supervisor

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