It’s one year since I established Jex Business Services Ltd. and took the leap into the unknown of self-employment and a portfolio career. I had a few ideas about what I might do, no idea whether it would work out but a determination to “give it a go”! Here is my review of the past year, working title “Starting a Business in the Middle of a Global Pandemic”.
My initial ideas for services that I could possibly offer were: a) Consulting in the field that I have worked in for most of my career, oilfield chemicals, b) Consulting / advisory work for local SMEs close to my home in Sheffield, c) Interim Management assignments and d) Non-Executive Directorships. So how’s it going?
Consulting worked out more or less as planned. I have a couple of regular clients, and hope to add another one very soon. I have other pieces of short term consulting and advisory work from time to time. Most of the work has been related to oilfield chemicals, although coincidentally some of the clients are also locally based. However, in general there has not been a significant demand for consulting services from local SMEs outside of my field of direct expertise. I am volunteering as an Enterprise Adviser for the Sheffield City Region, and hope that this will help to improve my local business network.
Interim management assignments have proved more elusive. It seems to be a field where experience and a track record are required to get hired, raising obvious “chicken and egg” questions about how you ever get interim experience if you can’t get hired, due to the lack of interim experience! However, interim roles are normally full-time, full-on roles, often addressing a struggling business in need of restructuring. Once my consulting activity started to take off, it was clear I would not be in a position to take on interim assignments so I have put this on the back burner. It may be something I can come back to one day, but not for now.
I have put significant effort into seeking Non-Executive Directorships. To gain some experience I have volunteered as a NED and Trustee for an Academy Trust in my home town, which I have found very interesting and rewarding. It has also afforded me access to significant training opportunities about financial and legal responsibilities for NEDs / Trustees. I also undertook the In Touch “Passport to NED Success” training, which was very valuable and I have continued to network with my classmates. Despite the effort, I unfortunately have little to show for it. One interview and a pile of rejections so far…. It does appear that companies hiring NEDs mainly need two things – 1) financial experience (meaning qualified accountants, ex. CFOs / Finance Directors, etc.) and 2) experience and contacts directly in the industry in which the organisation operates. I will aim to focus my efforts in the second area, so if anyone needs a NED with a background in chemicals / oil industry, I am for hire….!
Finally, something which was not on my radar a year ago, but a chance conversation led me to link up with an organisation specialising in Executive Search and Recruitment for the chemical industry. This has become an additional part of my portfolio, and although it’s still early days I am greatly enjoying this work – it’s gives me an opportunity to talk to people in the industry, and to help companies source talent and build great organisations. I wasn’t part of “Plan A”, but it is certainly a very welcome “Plan B”!
For anyone thinking of taking the leap into self-employment, in whatever shape or form, my advise is:
1) Do it! Try to build up the necessary financial cushion to tide you through the initial period when work might be slow, but don’t let that stop you. Take the leap. What’s the worst that could happen? Not everything I planned worked out, and there were some unexpected twists, but I am enjoying what I do and making a good living.
2) Make a plan. It will help to give you some direction at the outset, but don’t worry if things don’t go exactly according to plan. See what works, and do more of it. If something doesn’t work, drop it and move on.
3) Network. Many of the opportunities and clients that have come my way in the last year have been the result of networking in many different forms and forums. You can also find professional help, advice and support which may otherwise be expensive.
4) Be flexible – follow opportunities as they arise, don’t worry if they weren’t part of “Plan A”, you never know where it might lead.
If you are thinking of taking a similar “leap” I’d be happy to talk and share my experience and advice.