From PAYE to Consultancy

Many of the individuals I come across at networking and business functions are ‘independent consultants’ who have successfully moved from the world of PAYE to self-employed status. Whilst I don’t know how well they are doing financially or business wise they all seem to be enjoying themselves enormously.

Obviously I can’t know the exact reasons why they have taken this step into the consultancy world, but leaving the PAYE full time world and becoming an independent consultant is now a popular move. Although it has in the past been something that retired or recently redundant senior managers did to use their experience to keep earning, it is now spanning all age ranges and managerial levels. Some have also moved into new digital areas, bringing their passion into a completely new sector for them.

But how do you start?

For some it is easy and straightforward as their previous employer has asked them to go back as a Consultant for a while or a major client has asked them to go work on a project, but for everyone else they have to go find the work. For some this can be a daunting proposition, particularly if you are not used to selling and business development, and the fact that the freelance market can be highly competitive and quite crowded.

The best and easiest way to find opportunities initially is by networking across your contacts from your previous workplace and business and asking them for their recommendations. Once you have won some work and got a track record you could then start to monitor the industry sites and journals that list opportunities in your sector, register with any job sites that list opportunities and network around your sector.

Self-motivation, discipline and good networking are all key to becoming a successful consultant and if you are not good at any of these then there is a plethora of on-line resources (much of it free) that can help you get started and get better. As with any consultancy business ironing out the peaks and troughs is the hard part – when you are doing a project you can’t go look for another project particularly if it is a full-on, full-time piece of consultancy! Over time you will hopefully be able to get work from regular clients.

You will also need to learn to do all those things that small business owners do every day from managing finance and cash-flow, invoicing, administration & paperwork through to preparing marketing campaigns, researching, networking and planning. Some of these can of course be outsourced!

Time spent at the beginning on researching your target market and honing in on niche sectors where you can use your expertise and add value will be well spent, enabling you to choose your target market, which may be businesses or individuals or a mix of the two.

In terms of the fees you charge be realistic and don’t go in too high – or too low – to start with. If you have used consultants yourself in the past you may have an idea of what to charge; trawling through the websites of ‘competitors’ for their fee structure may also help as will asking business people you know who use consultants.

Never forget though that it takes time to build a business so try not to have unrealistic expectations in the early days; you and your business need to become known and established.

Is self-employment for me? - download the pdf