By Kay Heald
I recently celebrated 13 years in business and this milestone prompted me to reflect on the highs and lows of being my own boss and operating as an independent HR Consultant. It has been a great journey, but shaped by mistakes, challenges and learning points, particularly when starting out. Here’s what I have learnt so far:
Confession 1: I tried to do too much myself
When I started my business, I made the rookie mistake of thinking I had to do everything myself, even when I wasn’t the best person for the task. This included wasting a lot of time and energy attempting to undertake accounting and design tasks, as well as trying to be an expert in all aspects of HR.
Learning Point: It is not a weakness to recognize the value of commissioning other people and businesses to help you. Finding the right graphic designer to help me establish my logo and a quality website designer to develop my online profile has been invaluable. I also really enjoy collaborating with other HR professionals who have particular specialisms or areas of expertise that complement my skill set.
Confession 2: I played it safe
I made the mistake of relying too heavily on a single client in the early days, rather than going outside my comfort zone and taking the time to meet and network with a wider mix of people and businesses.
Learning Point: Networking is very important to new businesses, but it takes patience and perseverance to find the right groups for you and your services and to build a strong base of business contacts.
Confession 3: I found it hard to say ‘no’
My desire to win work, do a great job and try and please everyone led me to not only spread myself too thin, but start work with a client that was not fully aligned with my professional ethics.
Learning Point: Don’t take on more work than you can deliver and be honest about what you will and will not provide. As an independent HR consultant, your ethics and reputation are extremely important. I eventually plucked up the courage to part ways with the aforementioned client and knew it was the right thing to do.
Confession 4: I priced myself too low
I made a well-known start-up mistake and set my fees very low, even though friends and colleagues had advised me against it.
Learning Point: It takes courage to lose early business based on price, but it is important to recognise the value of your CIPD qualifications, training, skills, knowledge, experience and professionalism when pricing jobs.
Confession 5: I underestimated the importance of cash flow
When trying to establish a reputation for quality work and build my business, I focused my time on sales and servicing, but had a nasty ‘wake-up’ call when one of my clients defaulted on their payment and another insisted on applying a 60 day payment term.
Learning Point: Establish a clear payment plan at the start of each project, work to signed agreements and implement an effective credit control strategy to ensure your cash flow stays healthy.
Confession 6: I didn’t maximise my CIPD membership
By spending the majority of my time pursuing new business leads and trying to win new clients, I forgot not only how useful the CIPD was in keeping my industry knowledge up-to-date, but the value of accessing ready-made support networks through local branch events and, in more recent years, their active online community groups.
Learning Point: Use resources that are easily accessible and available to you. Check out member information and materials from the CIPD and other reliable sources such as ACAS, attend CIPD branch meetings, not just for information, but valuable support and encouragement, plus consider subscribing to useful support services such as HR-Inform.
Confession 7: I avoided using social media
My slight excuse was that I started my business in the early days before the widespread application of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn!
Learning Point: Social media can be a useful tool in an HR Consultant’s marketing mix, if used strategically and creatively. Once I realised that social media could help me communicate more effectively with a wider audience, I experimented with blog writing, videos and infographics and haven’t looked back.
Confession 8: I hated speaking in public
I was fine talking with clients and business contacts one-to-one or in small groups, but when I set up on my own, I found it very difficult to stand up and sell my services to a crowded room.
Learning Point: Public speaking is just like any other skill that can be learnt and honed through practice. I joined a local public speaking club which made a huge difference to my confidence levels and has enabled me to actually enjoy speaking to larger audiences.
I can genuinely say that I love what I do and the flexibility of being my own boss far outweighs some of those early setbacks and challenges. I have shaped the direction of my business, its values, its image and reputation and have really enjoyed working with clients, specialists and fellow HR practitioners. I learn so much from everyone I work with every day and look forward to future collaborations and developments.
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Thank you for sharing these lessons with us. I set up as a HR Freelancer a couple of years ago and have, without exception, made all of these mistakes. It is reassuring to know that I'm not alone and helpful that you provided solutions. Good luck in your endeavours.
I hope you are enjoying the journey, Ruth? Best of luck too
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