It is a year since I set up on my own with The Nisse Consultancy. After two decades as a financial journalist, and more than a decade in PR, I set out the following parameters for my business:
1: I would not employ anyone – if a job was too big for me, or I didn’t have the expertise, I’d partner with someone I knew;
2: I would only take on projects that are interesting or are for people I like and respect.
Beyond that anything goes.
So how has it been?
Flexibility is bliss
A friend who works for a large advisory firm told me he had become so specialist that no-one understood what he was doing so they all left him alone. He considered this nirvana. I said I had no commute, no office politics, and the flexibility to pop to the gym, go for a cycle ride, go shopping or whatever if I didn’t have urgent work. “You win” he admitted.
Wherever I lay my laptop, that’s my office
Initially a friend offered me a desk at his place in the West End, but for technical reasons it didn’t work out. I considered getting a shared office space, such as WeWork. But was so busy, I never sorted it. So I found myself either working from home, or at various venues around London. Though my wife, who also has an office in our house, complains, and the kids sometimes get in my hair, it has largely worked out well. Most clients like the fact I come to them. The one time I needed a meeting room, a friend lent me his. It was fine, except the WiFi didn’t work. Didn’t feel I could complain.
So many friends…part 1
Until you work on your own, you don’t realise how many people you know who are doing the similar things. The network of experienced folk with complimentary skills is astounding. What’s great is we’re all in the same boat, so we support each other, help where we can and because we know our onions, can get stuck into a project at a moment’s notice if needs be.
So many friends…part 2
Richard Rivlin of Bladonmore gave me some great advice when I started out. “Work will come from the least expected sources.” He was right. Clients I thought were a raging certainty didn’t come through. Left field commissions have. What has almost exclusively been the link is that work has come from personal recommendations. Former colleagues from Barclays, The Independent and, to a great extent, Fishburn Hedges have been the source of roughly 90% of my new business.
I love LinkedIn. It has helped me get back into contact with lots of former colleagues. When I’ve shared articles on it, I have had great responses. It has, indirectly, led to me winning a fair bit of work. I only put business related comments on it. Anything else – to do with Arsenal, cricket, the Labour Party or merely silly comments, stay on Facebook or, occasionally, Twitter.
Dress (down) for success
After 30 odd years in a suit, I had to quickly adjust to the modern dress code of an independent freelance consultant. Some would call it smart casual – but it boils down to a jacket, a relatively funky shirt (think Paul Smith or Ted Baker) and smart jeans or chinos. With a couple of exceptions, there’s nowhere I can’t go in this new era uniform.
Budget for failure
I set myself some financial targets, the key one being enough to keep the family fed and watered. I decided to budget in three-month blocks to avoid getting too stressed at bad months. I had been warned that the summer could be slow, but it has actually been the opposite. With this conservative approach, I have been able to budget effectively. Like all freelancers, visibility of future income can be an issue so I put all my spare cash away for a rainy day. As the guy falling from the 50th floor said: “So far so good”.
Year one has worked out at least as well as I could expect. I have some great clients who keep using me and, reassuringly, have recommended me to their friends. I’ve felt secure enough to turn down work that I didn’t feel comfortable about. I’ve stuck to my guns on how I work, and feel totally vindicated. Who knows what the future holds, but I feel more optimistic than I do about Arsenal’s season.