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From corporate life to self-employed – 15 lessons learnt in 2016 (which might help you).

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by Startacus Admin

corporate life to self employment

Previously published on LinkedIn, this excellent article from Ralph Charlton - now owner of Charlton Communications, highlights his journey from 'corporate world' to becoming self employed and 15 subsequent lessons he learnt along the way....


"A little over a year ago I left corporate life and decided to go it alone - from running a FTSE 100 corporate communications department to building my own communications and PR business


Life has changed a lot – mostly for the better, but it’s not all freedom, excitement and fulfillment. There’s also plenty of worry, insecurity and unpredictability. On the whole I love it but here are 15 few things I have learnt, or honest advice I can offer, which might be helpful to others making a similar change in their life in 2017. This isn’t a condemnation of corporate life or a eulogy to self-employment it’s just what I would like to have known a year ago…….

Take your clothes off and look in the mirror. 

Well metaphorically speaking anyway. Being self-employed forces you to be honest with yourself. What you are good at, what are you not? It strips away all the rubbish and you can feel exposed. Focus on what you are good at (see point 2) and build from there. You'll get even better at it and along the way you will learn more than you ever imagined.

Planning your business idea

Planning is key. 

Stay focused yet be open minded and prepared to tweak the plan. You’ll soon realize that some of your ideas take you down blind alleys – some lead to nothing, some will surprise you. Every one will teach you something. Oh, and do the numbers. Yep even PR people have to do this. Bite the bullet, or get help. I turned to my brother in-law who is an accountant by training and now runs SophieAllport.com. We spent two days in a pub thrashing out my plan and he held my nose to the spreadsheets - as well as a few beers in the evening. Cheers Jem.

Ignore geographic boundaries. 

Technology and networks make these redundant. I live near Newcastle (north east England), where I have clients yet I have others in London, Stockholm and Auckland and am currently talking to a prospective client in Chicago. You can be a self-employed multi-national.

You always have a boss. 

You might be self-employed but you always have somebody to report to – whether it be bank manager or your partner; in my case my wife. Don’t underestimate the pressure being self-employed has on your family - and it is not just about no longer having the monthly salary, bonus, pension etc. Make time for them, be open with them, take them through your plan - realize they are living this with you.

Human networks are the best networks. 

I've always invested time in building relationships. I enjoy it and it is essential to what I do. This year that investment has paid back tenfold. People are willing to help, advise, support – and give you the occasional kick in the pants when needed. So budget for a lot of coffee and use your network – ask for introductions, say thanks, repay the favor if you can. 

It is lonely. 

I, like many comms people, am a people person. I thrive off interaction with others, the buzz of working with great people, sharing ideas, helping each other solve problems, ranting with somebody when something is driving you mad. But when it's just you this is hard. Find a solution. In my case I work from clients' offices, I have a hot desk in a friend's office (thanks Stu Mills and UseYourLocal) and I make sure I don’t work from home all the time (see point 7). Going to work is as important and being at work.

Tips on becoming self employed

Find your favourite café chain. 

You will spend a lot of time there. Good wifi. Healthy food. Staff who don’t mind you sitting there for hours spending very little (see point 8), clean loos/restrooms (yep, that is very important). Thanks Pret A Manger.

You are spending your own money. 

Whilst I was disciplined about budgets when I worked in corporate life it is a whole different ball game when you realize it is your money you are spending. Costs become very real. There are no "hidden pots" to dip into. Plan your spend and focus on the important stuff.

Selling is very, very hard. 

I have a new-found respect for salespeople. Building a rapport, understanding the business challenge and developing a solution is one thing but commercializing it and closing the deal is way harder. I've learnt the hard way and made loads of mistakes. I've talked through the sale, offered a discount before the prospect has even questioned the price (doh!) and much more. Go on a sales training course. If you've got friends in sales ask them to help you. Stick to your guns when you've made an offer. Hold your nerve and your tongue when the negotiations go silent.

Everything takes longer than you think. 

For example sales cycles - especially when the service is relationship based - are long. Conversations that seem positive may take months or years to come to fruition (I am hoping to sign two clients in January 2017 who I started talking to in January 2016). Factor this into your planning. 

Invest free time with clients. 

Understand the issues your prospective client might face before they can appoint you - it might be budget, the need to close deals at their end, convincing a skeptical stakeholder group about the need to invest in your area. Invest the time with the client to help resolve these and your loyalty (given free) will be paid back in the long term.

becoming self employed

It’s a roller coaster. 

You will experience many highs and even more lows. Develop a thick skin and try to keep a steady mental state - don’t get too excited too quickly when you’ve got a great lead because it may well not turn into anything. Likewise be open minded about going to the meeting you think might be a waste of time – they are often the best ones. You need to kiss a lot of frogs.

Keep your skills up.

In the corporate world there are lots of people around you who can cover for you or help but suddenly it is just you. So focus on your strengths and invest in the skills you know you need to improve. In my case I am always concerned about keeping up to date with digital, so I am enrolled on an advanced digital PR training course.

Tips on becoming self employed

Stay fit. 

Physically and mentally. Keeps you focused and fresh. My running shoes are the first thing in my suitcase. I hold meetings with myself whilst I tread the streets.

Never say never. 

Whilst there is much to love about self-employment it isn’t all rosy. Will I ever go back to “employed” life? Well, there's always the "offer you can't refuse" and one thing I’ve learnt is to never say never…..I’ll let you know this time next year."



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Published on: 8th January 2017

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