Preparing to go it alone

Be realistic about your skills and what you want to achieve thats the advice for HR people disenchanted with the corporate jungle and attracted by freelance life. Stefan Stern reports

Human resources professionals spend most of their time thinking about other peoples careers. But sometimes you have to start looking after number one. Perhaps the finance director is taking a hard look at the HR department and wondering if there arent some cost savings to be made. Or perhaps you have simply had enough of the corporate jungle. Whatever the motivation, breaking free from the organisation to set up on your own is a constant temptation.

Management guru Charles Handy tells the story of the plumber who called on him near lunchtime and said: Youre my third job this morning. The plumber, Handy says, is a kind of role model portfolio worker for us all. We wont just have one job in the future, but several. And setting up as an HR consultant, or freelance, is one way of avoiding office politics to create the portfolio life for yourself.

It is the sort of decision you might take quickly, but that can soon lead to complications. You may be very good at your job, but you have got to be clear who is going to pay you for your work in the future, says Catherine Gilbert, director of corporate services at Drake Beam Morin, the human resources consultancy. It sounds obvious, but the world doesnt owe you a living. The cash flow may dry up sooner than you thought if you havent prepared the way for your new career.

We advise people not to expect to earn very much in their first six months, Gilbert says. If your finances wont take that sort of pressure then you have to think very hard about going it alone.

Knowing who you are, where your skills lie and what sort of work you want to do are crucial to your success as a lone trader. David Stewart, executive director of the newly formed Independent Direction Directors Advisory Service (IDDAS), says that rigorous self-assessment is required.

You need to understand exactly what you want to achieve, he says. Be honest with yourself. The next step is weighing up all the options. Stuck in the corporate rut, you may have little idea about the wealth of opportunities that lie before you.

You dont just have to go for straightforward non-executive roles, Stewart says. You could start your own business, set up a consultancy, become an interim manager or do charity work. The sort of senior executives who approach IDDAS are often ideal candidates for appointments to quangos or local health authorities, for example.

Never underestimate the potential difficulties of working on your own. You may lose touch with the vital networks that can keep you up to date and pass on work to you. Without colleagues you will have to do your own financial planning, your own administration, your own marketing, PR and sales.

But the liberation in working for yourself is tempting. Consider the example of HR specialist Richard Chiumento. After a career in corporate HR Chiumento set up his own consultancy in 1993. Nearly 10 years later his business has a turnover of over 5 million, and boasts a network of 100 HR consultants.

There could be a good market out there for your skills. Why carry on making money for somebody else when you could be doing it for yourself?

What to do before you go freelance

  • Assess entrepreneurial skills

  • Plan for the reality, not the dream

  • Research business opportunities

  • Identify resources needed

  • Select form of ownership and corporate structure

  • Prepare business plan and objectives

  • Determine pricing/fee policies

  • Produce marketing and sales plan

  • Manage finances/cash flow

Source: Drake Beam Morin