Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Make This Your Leap Year...

They say that January is the busiest time for solicitors to be instructed on divorce proceedings. But people aren't just quitting relationships with their partners at this time of year; they're also quitting relationships with their employers. A new year is a good time to make that decision about ditching your job to go it alone. I took that Leap in 2000. It seemed appropriate making a landmark change in such a landmark year. A good time to start something new.

I felt like a pioneer then, changing my working life so radically. Now, eight years later everyone’s doing it. The world is full of the self-employed: workers running businesses from spare rooms, attics and sheds. When you first announce you are setting up on your own, friends think that you've taken the easy option, to sit in coffee shops all day and read the paper. Or if you work at home, they think you spend all day on the sofa watching daytime telly. But taking it easy is the last thing on your mind. Because the first thing you work out when you go it alone is: how am I going to generate some revenues? How am I going to pay the bills with no such thing as a pay cheque anymore? And that's very focusing (and bloody scary). How do I turn my ideas, or my meetings this week into invoices? And inevitably they'll be many espressos drunk in coffee shops but no daytime telly being watched (unless it's, ahem, for ‘research’). So there's no option to take it easy.

Getting the money. That’s the important bit and also the tough bit. A client asked me how I go about generating more business. There's no proven process, no simple solution. It can take an age to nurture relationships from meeting to invoice. The Creative Economy is full of clusters of creative talent, people doing it by themselves. Directors, Talent Agents, Designers, Writers. Go in any coffee shop and you'll see us all, laptops fired up, talking, meeting. And whatever the business development process, we're all trying our hands at a bit of magic. Focused on the challenge of turning an idea into an invoice.

The good thing about working for someone else is that you can bask in the collective glory of the company, its achievements and the brand, regardless of your own contributions. Do your own thing, and that's turned on its head. It's about 'Brand You'. Who you are, what you do, what you offer. It's like quitting a band to go solo, can you pull it off without having all the other band members behind you? So you need to wrap up your craft, your ideas, your intellectual capital into a compelling product or service.

Launching a new business is a bit like having a baby. Conceiving it can be fun, delivery is hard work, and once started its bloody hard work with plenty of sleepless nights. And as for what name you’re going to call it, now that will really keep you up all night.

The upsides of working for yourself are that you can do stuff in an instant, there are no rules. Carving out your own role is great with all that flexibility, autonomy and independence. But out of the comfort of a 'proper job' there's stuff I still miss about the camaraderie and spirit of working as part of a big team. Because it can get lonely at times and now it’s you – who on earth is going to make the tea?

But you have what we all strive for in life: you have a CHOICE. To choose how and when you work, to choose what you do and what you don't do. And that's priceless.

I met an old colleague for a drink last month. He was deliberating whether to take the leap or stay in the job where he'd been offered a new role and an attractive salary package. It's easy to get bogged down in the decision making process, weighing up business plans and market evaluations; seeking advice from friends and mentors. So you need to use that much under-rated business tool: Instinct.

So I said to this guy; "What does your heart say?"

"That it's time for a change" he replied in a beat.

And with that, he leapt.

This piece was written for The Hospital Club online newsletter

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