I was recently invited to sit on a panel at one of Sydney’s leading business schools to share my thoughts on how I had set up my successful consultancy practise. I was struck by the wide variety of people in the room. They ranged from twenty something students to folk in their 50s and 60s. Many had obviously dropped in after work. It seems that many of us are very interested in exploring better ways to make a dollar. For most that means doing our own thing as consultants, contractors, coaches, experts, entrepreneurs and influencers of all colours.
Time to jump?
Why are so many of us looking for a better way to make a living and a life? The drivers are many. Perhaps it’s as a response to the decline in corporate job security, or a redundancy. Maybe it’s people who are simply fed-up with corporate bullshit or who have a long-held desire to hang out their own shingle in the new world of work. I see these people everywhere. Frequently they approach me at corporate workshops for a quiet chat about the best way to ‘transition’.
A popular approach is to embark on a blended or portfolio career, where one full time role is replaced by several smaller projects. This can be an exciting and satisfying evolution. A chance to spread risk and feed undernourished areas of interest.
My own story - 7 years on
I’ve been playing this game now for 7 years when I left my last corporate leadership role. I have built a very successful business around my areas of expertise and interest and now split my time between 3 key areas as a mentor, advisor, speaker and facilitator;
1. Helping Leaders, teams and individuals to build their Influence
2. Mentoring CEOs and their teams to transform
3. Working pro-bono with community groups I care about such as LIVIN
Importantly, I also intentionally allocate time to looking after my family and myself. Being around for my wife and kids. The physical challenge of being part of a competitive surfboat rowing crew. The social benefits of playing (and drinking) with the local rugby team. These are all important elements in creating the balance that we all need to show up consistently well in work and life. The inability for many to achieve this within a typical corporate role is one of the biggest factors in people looking for Plan B.
So, with 7 years as my own crash test dummy, here are a few ideas that may be helpful if you too are thinking about taking the leap.
1. Start early
It takes a long time to establish yourself. However long you think it will take, double it. It took me two years to really work out who I was and to shift my thinking out of the old corporate mould. If you are in an organisational role, you can do a lot to prepare the path ahead whilst you still enjoy a predictable salary. Start creating content and publishing it into LinkedIn (more on this later). Attend networking events in the areas you are interested in well ahead of D-Day. Seek out people who are a few years into the journey and ask them for advice.
2. Beware the bullshitters
Don’t for a second underestimate how hard this transition will be. That’s not meant to be negative or scary, but I have worked with a lot of people going through this ‘journey’. Beware of get-rich-quick scammers spouting stories of overnight success. It’s easy to think that everyone else is doing better than you and this can erode the fragile confidence of the first year or two. ‘Out of the box’ success does happen, but it’s rare. And when you do hear of someone who actually launched a new coaching business and made $500k in the first year, you’ll probably find that they were in a similar business before and had an extensive database to market their new offering to. For most people it’s about patiently making connections and building a list. You have to understand who you serve, what problems you solve and then build your tribe. Doable? Yes. A quick win? Probably not.
3. Act like a startup
In the tall ship sailing days, when the seas were rough, it was impossible to light the stoves. The sailors had to exist on hardtack – essentially long-life biscuits. OK, you probably don’t need to go that far, but you do need to wean yourself off corporate spending habits. However much you may think your employer has pulled back on allowances, flights and perks in the last few years, what you enjoy as a corporate is heaven compared to the world of Brand YOU. Taxis, flights, meals, stationery, laptops – even your desk, chair and lamp will be paid for by YOU. As is your Super! Oh and you don’t get a regular salary check of course, so it’s likely you’ll spend the first few months at least dipping into your savings. So make sure you have some! Think hipster minimalism rather than fancy hotel opulence. Don’t worry, you’ll get back to your 5 star finery in time if that floats your boat, but probably not for a few years.
4. Unleash your Inner Creator
This requires a critical shift in both mindset and activity. When we work in organisations or study for Masters degrees in coaching and the like, we get very good at implementing other people’s tools and ideas. This is great discipline, but it can also institutionalise our thinking. You’ve probably seen the Shawshank Redemption movie where the old cons are so used to their confinement that they are unable to function when finally released back into the world. We can get like that.
As independents the shackles are off. The key to standing out is to build your INFLUENCE. To do that, you can and must CREATE. Not only is it the best way to add value and build a point of difference in a crowded market, it’s fundamental to your personal growth and earning potential.
It all starts with giving yourself permission. You’ll probably be fighting the inner voice of ‘not good enough’, but that will pass. The simplest way to start is to write a short blog like this and publish it into your LinkedIn profile. Begin this today – whether you are days or years away from your jumping off point. (Even if you are, like many, a very happy corporate, you should still be creating content – great for you career profile and getting that next promotion. See Time to Future-proof your career
). The habit of creating will over time help you to find your voice and to evolve the clarity and confidence in your message. By the time you have a tribe to sell to, you’ll be in great shape.
(For more on this, check out Why Blogging is an essential weapon for Activating Brand You
5. Be prepared for the mental shift to NONAME.COM
Consciously or not, most of us are very attached to the status and sense of identity that comes with being ‘Jo Schmo’, ‘Impressive Sounding Job Title’ of ‘BIGCO’. Within both our organisations and social groups, this is important. Who we are, what we have achieved (and probably what we earn) are readily understood. There is a great comfort in knowing our unspoken (but well-understood) place in the prevailing hierarchy.
Fast forward to Solopreneur land. You are now Jo/Jane Smith from Noname Consultancy. You’re at Brand Ground Zero. No one has heard of you. This can be a real challenge. If you’ve relied for years on the brand identity of the well-known companies you’ve worked for, suddenly standing on your own can make you feel small, insignificant and vulnerable. You’ll also find that many contacts who love you for what you can do for them today will disappear. Be ready for that. Over time you’ll build the network of great people who will support you in your new world. Just don’t expect too many of your existing corporate contacts to step up beyond their own self-interest. Sad, but true.
There are many more things we could explore. I recommend investing in a mentor to help you through the process. I help over 30 people every year do exactly that, so I am biased. But, whether it’s me or not, this is an essential. The transition can be challenging. It’s easy to get stuck in periods of doubt and inactivity during which you earn little or nothing. When you ‘do the math’ of living off your savings for months versus the cost of a good mentor and system to help you set the right course, keep moving forward and – perhaps most importantly - avoiding costly mistakes, it’s a no brainer.
As someone now safely on the other side of the transition to a successful BRAND ME career, I look back across the chasm and encourage you to jump. The upsides far outweigh the negatives if you plan well, follow some of my suggestions here and, of course, work hard.
Need a Push?
To find out more about the 9 things you need to DO, BE and BUILD to position yourself for success both as an employee or post-corporate, check out my free 1 hour BUILDING YOUR INFLUENCE
If you need a push, just drop me a line.