One of the scariest things about leaving corporate life to set up your own business is the sense that you’re ‘going it alone’.
And it’s easy to convince yourself that you need to do everything – something I believe distracts women from pursuing what can be an incredibly rewarding career path. Even the title ‘self-employed’ is off-putting as it indicates every element of the business must be conducted by just one person, but relying solely on yourself is an incredibly limiting, time-consuming and stressful thing to do.
Right now I’m celebrating my 10th year of working for myself and while some of the success I have enjoyed is absolutely based on having the freedom to develop my talents without corporate constraints, there are a huge amount of people who have been involved in helping this ‘one-woman business’ to sustain itself for so long. People who I think could be viewed as belonging to five critical networks:
1. The old firm
Even if you want to set fire to every last item on your desk, don’t burn or disregard the positive relationships that you built up during your corporate career. While you may put the company to one side in your mind, leaving an organisation can positively change the dynamic that you have with your former colleagues. One thing that was a huge surprise to me was the amount of people at my old company who were genuinely interested in what life was like ‘on the outside’ and were keen to offer me a helping hand, introductions and recommendations. It’s many of these connections that I have to thank for the first contracts and projects that got my business off the ground.
2. The business network
Setting up on your own requires quite a mindset-shift. From having spent the best part of 20 years with a payroll department sorting out my relationship with HMRC, paid holidays, healthcare and ready-made customer lists there were a myriad of new things to learn, do and worry about. I strongly recommend spending some time looking for a business networking group. Whether you want women-only, industry-specific, business masterminds or something a little less formal, there will be a group for you. Join for the support, opportunity to learn and ability to help others. Believe me, your friends or your other half will want to support you but if they’re not self-employed too they will struggle to help you navigate some of the nuances nearly as effectively as a business network can.
3. The industry network
Now this doesn’t to be a formal networking group – it might just be the people and organisations you follow on LinkedIn, but think carefully about the sector that suits you best. Just because you’ve left a tech or law corporate it doesn’t mean you can’t operate in that world anymore. You’ll have far more insight and knowledge than you realise which is of value to others. Plus, being an independent voice who understands how larger organisations / the wider sector works makes you a great combination of a safe pair of hands + fresh thinking.
4. The giving network
One of the greatest pleasures when you’re running your own business is to be able to help others – but this doesn’t mean letting people take advantage of you and asking you to do stuff for free. Instead, be intentional about who you want to help and what you’d like to offer. Aligning closely to one organisation where your values match brings benefits to both parties.
5. The ‘letting off steam’ network
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in work when you work for yourself. The fear that if you’re not working, you’re not earning is powerful so make sure that you don’t neglect the people around you who make you feel good about yourself. The ones you can count on to buoy you up if you’re feeling run down and can help you rationalise unfound fears. The ones you’d do the same for in return. Sometimes spending time on strictly non-work activity with some really close friends can give you the energy you need to tackle whatever the business throws at you.
About the author
Toni Kent is an experienced writer and performer who is trusted by large corporate IT organisations to represent their business leaders and brands through a mixture of ghost writing, coaching and motivational speaking.
With twenty years of experience in technology and as an advocate for women supporting women, Toni is frequently booked by Women in Business networks and organisations that want to promote gender parity. With lived experience of how work transforms the life prospects of women from disadvantaged backgrounds, she is proud to be the official event compere for Smart Works Reading – an organisation that helps women return to the workplace via free interview coaching and work-appropriate clothing.
Toni is also a columnist for Berkshire Life and has written three books of humorous reflections on what it means to be a woman: Reasons to be Cheerful Parts One and Two and I Need a Wife. Her books are all available via Amazon.
You can follow Toni on Twitter and LinkedIn at @tonijkent
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