The flexible economy, by Mandy Barker
“Success is not wealth. It is success to startup your own business, earn a living, and make a positive difference for others.” Tony Robinson
Long gone are the days of working for the same organisation for decades at a time. Traditional employment models are rapidly being turned on their head, making way for a more flexible and dynamic workforce. In the UK alone, there are over 2 million freelancers contributing £119bn to the economy each year. As more and more professionals pursue their own ventures, choosing the path of consulting or non-executive directorships, for example, the more important it becomes to raise awareness of the challenges inherent to self-employment. The Consultant Hub.
On Thursday I attended a talk by Tony Robinson, author of Freedom From Bosses Forever (the title sold it!), arranged by Yorkshire in Business, at the University of Coventry. Tony Robinson is founder of Enterprise Rockers and Microbiz matters day. Both organisations were set up as a form of advocacy and support for self employment and small businesses in the UK. Tony spoke about the value of being self employed, micro businesses and their contribution to the UK economy.
He went on to discuss the positives, and also difficulties that small businesses face. It was reassuring to be in a room with people in the same position, doing their bit for the economy a tiny bit at a time. I came away feeling motivated and inspired.
Most UK businesses today are small, and two thirds of them are owned and run by one person. Nearly 90% employ less than 6 people. They are also an important source of employment. Just over 2.5 million UK workers are self employed; one in eight of all workers. We are living in a thriving sustainable economy. There are a million more micro businesses than five years ago, and it is a positive way of managing the country. People are more vested because it is their name on the line, they generally want to make a difference too. Self employment offers people independence, autonomy and flexibility.
Self employment may not be for everybody. The difficulties are that money and time are a constant balance. This is controllable, but you have to be disciplined if you want it to work. Limit your spending, keep your overheads low, and try and be organised with your time. Time is precious and every hour of the working day (and out of hours often) counts when you have a never ending list and many hats to wear. However, the rewards are priceless. You’ve just got to be committed, passionate and motivated.
Since starting Sail I’ve experienced a surge of support from other small businesses, sole traders and organisations. Without the advice and knowledge that I have received so far, I wouldn’t have progressed and learnt what I have. Every small business owner I have had the honour of speaking to and working with is passionate about what they do, and passionate about making a difference. It is a heart warming and contagious outlook. It’s reassuring to know other people are on the same rollercoaster!
I am proud to be a micro business, as I can collaborate, and work directly and closely with clients. ‘All successful businesses have collaborated’ Tony Robinson. Collaborate where you can. Support the industry and buy from independent businesses. It’s a sharing economy.
The benefit of being a small business is you can put a face to the business for your clients. Direct working enables you to invest time to fully understand them, and their needs. Tony spoke about is the benefit of being able to work directly with clients as a micro business, something larger corporations cannot offer. It is more personal. You can really get to know them, and get to the heart of understanding your clients by asking questions and listening closely. Listening is one of your most powerful tools, diagram below by Tony Robinson:
Emotion is the advantage of a micro business. Use this and build trust.
Tony’s ‘secrets to success’:
- Grow organically: it won’t happen over night. Persistence!
- Be authentic: always be genuine to who you are and what you stand for, this is what makes you unique.
- Be transparent: we are only human, sometimes we make mistakes, but always be honest and up front. It’s generally not a matter of life or death! Clients respect honesty.
Since starting Sail, I wanted to share my advice on what I have learnt so far:
- Develop personal relationships. With your clients and other businesses. People are the most valuable source of knowledge, and most people are willing to share their experiences and advice. Learn from everybody, and then one day, return the favour.
- Collaborate over compete. Your competitors are not other micro businesses, they are larger corporations. Support other independent businesses where you can, and collaborate where you can. There are many talented people out there, that when brought together can create excellent and bold results you would not reach working independently.
- Listen. Direct working with clients means you can invest time to fully understand them and their needs. Ask questions and listen. Take constructive criticism, this will make you a better business.
- Be frugal. Know your priorities. Keep your overheads low where you can. Separate your personal account from your business account.
- Be flexible. You never know when a challenge will crop up, or a deadline will change. This is another thing small businesses can offer to clients that larger corporations can’t. Being able to offer flexibility to clients will build trust.
- Network network network. Say hello. Build a support network.
- Stay organised. Keep lists, spreadsheets, a diary and a calendar.
- Keep learning. Read, watch talks, listen to podcasts. It doesn’t always have to be related to your industry, stay interested. You never know what subject could inspire the next idea.
- Don’t give up. Even when it gets merciless. Stay focused and be patient. Hard work will pay off.
- Take breaks. Don’t give up, but alternatively, make sure you have time out. It’s too easy to burn out at the beginning. Know yourself, your needs, and when you need a break.
- Have a clear vision. This will help set you apart. It will help you stay focused. It will show your passion and help your clients understand why you do what you do.
- Most importantly, enjoy the ride! It is unpredictable, but never ever boring. You are in control, and you can make the difference.