Leaving an organisation to go it alone can be an attractive career move – no more office politics and the freedom to focus on the areas of HR you want.
Many HR practitioners who have made the switch have gone on to become successful freelance consultants. But how can you make sure it is a positive move?
Paul Kearns, director of measurement and evaluation specialists PWL, has worked in HR since 1978, and went freelance in 2001. He says the key to success lies in differentiating your proposition.
“You need to think in bigger terms than just offering transactional support,” he says. “I became interested in measurement because I didn’t know anyone in HR who was any good at it.”
Mark Childs, director of Total Reward Solutions and HR consultancy Outset UK, had 20 years of corporate HR experience behind him when he went freelance. Like Kearns, he has carved out his business within a specialist HR area.
“I assessed the market and found there were no medium-sized reward consultants,” he says. “No-one was operating in that space, so I thought I’d try to fill it.”
However, it is not all about what you know – equally important, is who you know.
“I knew I had a network that was second to none, and that people in the business community would give me work,” says Childs. “I was confident that I could set up a business to deliver a high quality service and under-cut competitors.”
If you are leaving a corporate environment, you will also need to consider how well you will cope working by yourself. Nick Isles, director of the Work Foundation, says you need to be confident about coping with long periods working on your own.
“Find out what sort of support networks exist as these can get you out the office and help you achieve your goals,” he says. “Networking groups, especially in sectors such as HR, are increasingly common.”
Networking is something that Kearns has found invaluable. “One of the biggest problems is marketing yourself as a freelancer,” he says. “Spending money on advertising doesn’t always pay dividends, which is why I rely on networking at functions such as Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development group meetings.”
Isles recommends that you line up at least six months’ work before going freelance and work out how many chargeable days you need to survive on your salary.
“Remember you are everything from a sales agent to a marketeer and a delivery agent. If you are not careful, you could be so busy delivering contracts that you forget to line up your next lot of work,” he says.
Most important of all, however, is having confidence in your abilities. “Those people who think they can or think they can’t are probably right,” says Childs. “Self-belief is very important.”
Top tips on going freelance
- Stick to what you are good at
- Specialise in an area of HR where there is market demand
- Have self-belief – don’t take things personally, and be confident with clients
- Line up at least six months’ work before you start
- Be organised and learn to multi-skill
- Network to find new leads