by Paula on January 3, 2013

When I left my employment to become self employed two years ago I had much support and many positive responses to my blog about being Brave. Then this time last year I wrote a blog entitled “8 things I learned in 2011” summing up my feelings about that first full year of working for myself. I have been asked by a couple of people over the last month if I was planning to do one for 2012. As it’s a great way to personally reflect as well as the opportunity to help others, I have risen to the challenge. As with all my blogs, it’s from the heart. Hope you find it an interesting read.

1. Laying the Foundations

Dropping a senior management income and diving into self employment was a big risk. I’d been warned that few businesses make a profit in their first year and so worked hard to try to buck the statistic. In reality though, although I did make a profit, that first year was much more about laying the foundations. I networked, presented, tweeted, linkedin, advised, coached and worked my way through that year, spreading a trail of happy clients who told their friends, who told theirs. I was able to go from being someone who was not known at all outside of the four walls of an office, to being invited to write, talk and work with some truly fantastic people. Looking back I know that it is from these foundations and efforts that this year I was able to really start working on bigger and longer term projects and bringing in a “real” income.

2. Working partnerships

During my first year I was asked a number of times by people to join ventures with them, promote myself through their business or work as a white label consultant. Don’t underestimate how flattering it is the first time someone asks you this. It is great validation and it’s very easy to say “Yes please!” and jump into something binding or something that is off-track from your own business goals. I learnt that:

  • If something seems like an easy win, you’re probably missing something.
  • All partnerships require hard work and good, open communication.
  • Prepare well up-front, ensure that the arrangement is clearly understood on both sides.
  • Allow break points for evaluation or get out if things aren’t working as one of you hoped.

As it is a collaboration discussed at the end of last year and properly thought through and communicated has lead to a valuable and on-going client relationship with Ovation Finance. Working with Chris Budd and his team has been a key part of my 2012 and we look forward to more opportunities together.

3. The value of Twitter

As one area of my work is providing advice and guidance to clients on social media use, it’s no surprise that I believe in the opportunities it can bring. I’ve always been an advocate of finding the platform(s) that’s right for your business, personality and goals and for me it’s Twitter. I don’t think I realised how much it would bring me personally though. Twitter has provided me with:-

  • A source of valuable clients.
  • The opportunity to meet new contacts in the flesh.
  • Friends – lots of them! The family and I spent many happy hours over the Christmas holidays with local people I’d met on Twitter.
  • Office banter – it’s great to share thoughts, laughs and ask questions of the people around me.
  • Chances to refer great contacts I have to others and then see those referrals working really well.
  • Family activities – my son and I are regular contributors to Paul Groom‘s art collaborations.

If it wasn’t for my business I’d never have been on Twitter and while it’s been fantastic for work contacts it’s an additional bonus that it’s brought so much else to my life too that I could never have expected.

4. Public Sector vs Small Business

I’ve been fortunate this year to have a wide range of clients from entrepreneurs working for themselves, right up to a recent 3 month project with the NHS. The differences are vast but most noticeably it’s not the size of the business but the structure of the communication that is key to success levels in a project. It doesn’t matter how big or small the organisation is, the essential things are:-

  • Structure – Each person understanding their place in the company and knowing that the job they are doing is necessary and worthwhile.
  • Joined up thinking – Not doing things in isolation but ensuring all activity is valuable and fits into the overall plan.
  • Consistency – Decisions being made, communicated clearly and then followed through. Lack of consistency leads to lack of commitment as staff see little point in working on things they think will be discarded before completion.
  • Good management – Staff work best when led by good example, when listened to, when clear on their role, and when they feel that they are valued.

I did an interesting exercise with a client this year on “Feeling valued”. Often to a manager this means their staff want more money but actually it varies from person to person. In some cases it’s as simple as a smiley hello in the morning. Make sure you know what your staff want and need to bring out the best in them. Make sure also that they know what you want and need to bring out the best in you.

 5. Know your goals and stay on course!

As you go forward in your business, new opportunities, ideas and people come along and unless you are clear about your business goals, it’s very easy to look up and find that you have gone astray. For me, being self employed has one main goal – to be able to work part time. As a manager or project manager part time jobs aren’t available. As a freelance manager / consultant they are. This means I am very careful not to take work that encroaches on the time that I want with my family. There were a number of times this last year when I could have said yes to work that would have taken me away from home (location wise) or required full time hours for a few months but on each occasion I evaluated and said No. I was lucky that there were ways to work round these barriers and the work still came my way or was able to be passed on. The bottom line for me though is that if I sacrifice the precious time with my son, I may as well be employed rather than freelance. Make sure you are meeting your own goals and if not, were you right to re-evaluate or do you need to re-assess where you find yourself?

6. Quality not Quantity

I had started to realise by the end of last year that my pattern of working was not sustainable for me. I had lots of fantastic clients coming through the door but all for short term pieces of work. This allowed me to work with a lot of great businesses but due to the size of the client there was little work beyond the one or two sessions together. I recognised that this was not the way forward for me in the longer term so I needed to find bigger clients and take on larger pieces of work. I also personally don’t favour the sales and marketing so being able to gain and work with larger clients means less of it and more working with clients which I love. Consequently this year I have had a lot less clients but a lot bigger projects and this ability to get really involved in a client’s business is a much better fit for my goals, skills and working enjoyment.

Looking ahead

And so to the first quarter of 2013. Ongoing work with the Ovation Finance team and their clients, a meeting with the NHS to talk about project implementation, a trip to London to explore new management training opportunities, a couple of repeat clients booked in for social media strategy sessions, a new client requiring support to launch a new business venture and a plan to get my PRINCE2 Project Management qualification. Now if I could just shake off this bronchitis, I’d leap up and say “ONWARDS AND UPWARDS”

Happy New Year to you all and thanks for reading my blogs through 2012.



AMANDA JOHNSON January 6, 2013 at 7:44 am

Hi, I have just found your blog after reading a couple of your tweets to someone. Just wanted to say I really enjoyed the article and your point 2 was particularly relevant to me as a new business start up (just left military after 22 years). Someone recently rang and offered me a partnership that had lots of Pros for them and very few Cons but for me lots of Cons and very few Pros. It took a lot of courage for me to say “Thanks but No Thank you” – 12 months time then it may have been great but at this stage, it would have been the wrong move. Your article has just reassured me that it was the right decision for me and my business, so thank you.

Paula January 8, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Dear Amanda

Thank you so much for reading this and taking the time to comment. It means a lot that by sharing my experiences I have been able to help you think through a decision to a result that’s right for you. I know that I also value other people’s experiences and being self employed comes with so many challenges it’s nice to know that we can help each other.

Good luck with your new business and do keep in touch.


Hudson Accountants January 4, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Glad to hear that it is still going well.

Point 5 particularly strikes a chord as people are easily distracted by the opportunity for riches that are not in keeping with their primary motivation. As a result they can lose interest, don’t perform as well and end up running hard just to stand still

Paula January 4, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Thanks Della. Yes, the distractions are fast and furious at times in business and it’s necessary to be clear about why you do what you do, in order that you have something to check new opportunities against. It can be hard to say no but better to say no to the wrong things to ensure that you have the time and energy for the right things. Have a great 2013.

Kevin Leighton January 3, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Hi Paula, so much good stuff here it’s difficult to comment in any great depth without writing a blog of my own. It’s a timely blog in so far as I’m currently trying to work out the way forward for my photography social media presence during 2013 and a reminder to choose the right medium rather than your favourite medium is a good one. Many thanks.

Paula January 4, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Thanks Kevin. It’s always a bonus if the “right medium” and your “favourite medium” are the same when it comes to social media. Worth remembering though that the right one is the one that allows you to reach the people you want to reach with the message you want to give. Always start with the who are they and what do I want from them / have to offer them. Remember too that you are likely to get better results out of something you enjoy as people respond well to that. Have a plan. Happy to talk it through with you sometime if it helps. Happy 2013.

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