I left my salaried job at Transport for London in February 2017 to work as a contract project manager. I was lucky to have friends who were contractors who while supportive and had confidence in me where also quick to point out that a contractor had more responsibility and needed to be more multi-skilled than a permanent employee.
In the year that has gone by, I suppose I look at running my own business I bit like becoming a parent; it’s something you instinctively know is different from anything else in your life but until you’re in the thick of it, you don’t truly realise the intensity of the experience.
In the time that has gone by, I’ve already learned a number of lessons – and, I should say, am still learning and I just wanted to share them on this and the following post:
Plan your marketing before taking the plunge – I learned this the hard way. I moved out of permanent employment as soon as I gained my first contract. However, when that contract finished – there was nothing for me and no prospective work. After all, no-one knew who I was, so I had to start marketing myself and let people know I existed. To be honest though, I’ve always seen anything other than a scattergun approach to marketing as something of a black art. You don’t need to be an expert on the subject but you have to know at least something. A great book I found was ‘Marketing plans in a week’ by Ros Jay and John Sealey (ISBN 978-1-473-60959-4). It’s easy to read, short enough not to be intimidating but detailed enough to ensure you ask the right questions like ‘who are my competitors?’, ‘what differentiates my product from theirs?’ and ‘how am I going to build a marketing plan?’
Unless there’s a clear reason not to, set up as a Limited Company – avoid the sole trader route. If you’re a sole trader and are ever sued, all assets including your personal assets e.g. house, car, personal bank account are up for grabs. In the case of a Limited Company, it’s the company assets that are at risk and not yours (except in special circumstances, such as fraud). Also bear in mind that depending on the industry you want to work in, clients won’t take you seriously if you’re a sole trader.
Operating a Limited Company sounds daunting if you don’t know much about it but there’s less hassle than you think. For example, it only takes ten minutes to set up a company and it can all be done online.
Get a good accountant – I’m lucky to have a great accountant based in Dorking, down the road from where I live. They’re a great source of advice as well as keeping you on the straight and narrow. They’ll also explain in more detail about the merits of sole trader versus limited company and a good accountant is a great help to deal with questions you may have at the beginning, but also the questions that arise from time to time.
This was first of two posts on ‘Lessons learned from going solo’ – to talk more about Tony’s experiences in going into business or your own project management needs, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org