A Consultant’s Journey
Diane Hall is a literary consultant and developmental editor, who offers a suite of self-publishing services and support to new writers serious about producing a quality product and entertaining a long-standing career. A published author herself, over the last decade, she’s transformed more than a hundred titles, and was among the first wave of authors to dip their toe into self-publishing.
Diane has been married to Rob for nearly twenty years, and they have two daughters, Caitlin, 16, and Zara, 11. They live in Ackworth, near Pontefract with their excitable border terrier, Scamp. Zara is a budding singer who’s just started stage school and Caitlin is the studious type who likes to hibernate in bed, surrounded by her gadgets.
Do as I say, not as I do….look before you leap
I’m usually the one taking advice rather than giving it, but having gone round the houses in my fledgling business more times than a delivery man whose sat-nav’s on the blink, I feel qualified to tell you what not to do if you’re thinking of jumping corporate ship and starting your own enterprise.
Granted, you may be far more savvy and street-wise than I was five years ago, and there’s little doubt I’d have listened to anyone else at that point, but I still wish I could invent a time-machine, go back, and shake my naïve little head from my shoulders!
Having freelanced alongside my full-time role for a few years prior to my ‘jump’, I found myself in a situation that made clear to me I needed to leave my employers. I’d toyed with going solo full-time for a while and one small, uninteresting incident saw me pack up my office drawer for entrepreneurship. And this, ladies, is what I’ve learned since that day…
- I should have considered our family’s finances
I was earning a little money from freelancing, so surely it wouldn’t take long before I replaced my decent full-time managerial wage? NAÏVE ALERT. What the hell was I thinking? In hindsight, I should have planned my exit, going part-time with my employer, or in another paid job, whilst I built up a bigger base of freelancing clientele before I relied on them for more income. Cutting back only got me so far. And getting paid as regularly as your bills arrive is a myth for the self-employed; unlike your boss, your new clients will pay you when they want to, not when you think you should have it, nor when you absolutely need it.
My advice: plan your finances for your first two years in business – assuming you won’t earn a penny through your new enterprise.
- I should have thought about what I wanted to do
Straight after jumping ship, for some unexplained reason, I didn’t continue to promote myself as a freelance editor and publishing consultant, like I had when I was working. No! I thought this alone wouldn’t bring me a wage, so I set up as a virtual secretary and copywriter. However, there’s only one thing I hate doing more than secretarial work, and that’s writing copy for websites. I could do it, but my teeth would grind if I had a job in. Needless to say, that didn’t last very long. There’s little wonder I couldn’t sell myself – I didn’t really want the work. And funnily enough, very little came my way! Luckily, I’ve now shifted to what it is I do want to do for the rest of my life – it only took me five years to realise.
My advice: find out not just what you can do, but what you’re good at and what floats your boat. It’s hard enough without passion and a love for the work you’ll be doing.
- I should have made sure people wanted what I planned to sell
Carry out market research – as much as you can. I changed from the VA/copywriting to helping small businesses with their marketing. I aimed for the lower end of the market, the solo entrepreneur, simply because I felt he/she would need the most help – after all, they’re spinning so many plates, the more support they could get, the better – right? NAÏVE ALERT. Small business owners did need marketing help, but few had the budget to pay for my support or consultation, despite this bringing a good return on their investment; they just wanted as many free tips as they could get. Pointing my services at bigger companies proved no good either: they had the budget, but they wanted to work with marketing agencies, not little old me working from my kitchen table. I was the piggy in the middle.
My advice: Don’t assume anything – ask your potential customers and target market as many questions about their needs/wants/desires as possible.
4. I should accept: it’s not personal, it’s just business
You know, I actually hate that phrase. People buy from people, so if someone lets me down, I take it as damn well personal. I spent the best part of two years during my entrepreneurial career working on the basis of trust in what I thought was a partnership, and I was subsequently let down. Lesson to self: trust no one. no matter how well you have known them in the past. One of my most costly lessons was with a client I had regarded as a friend.
My advice: Terms of business signed are a must as clients can often be fickle and friends can often make bad clients.
- I should have got out!
I spent the first year of solo-entrepreneurship hiding behind my computer screen and wondering why I wasn’t getting the level of work I wanted. As I pulled up at my first networking event I physically shook, my mouth was dry and I felt sure the people inside would throw me out as an imposter. Of course, this was silly; they were welcoming, interested in finding out more about me, and happy to help. Fast-forward a few years and I consider many in my network to be friends, and I sometimes have to force myself to spend a day at home in front of the computer – because the work will never get done otherwise!
My advice: it’s unnerving to attend networking events and business seminars when you first start out, but hiding from the world is crazy. Don’t rely on the digital world; connect with people offline, as these will be the people who help you the most. Again, people buy from people, something that’s harder if they only know your avatar.
I don’t expect that anyone considering self-employment is, or will be, as naïve and foolhardy as me. That said, I wish I’d given a shred of thought to the points above, they would have saved me a lot of time and worry.
The benefits I get from working for myself mean that I’ve been home for my girls for the last five years, instead of working flat out for more than 60 hours a week. Yes, we’ve had to live meagrely, but I’m always there for doctor/dentist appointments, heart-to-hearts, and our level of fun and enjoyment of life, could it be measured, has rocketed skyward.
Did I go about things in the wrong way? Undoubtedly, yes. Have I made the wrong decision?Hell, no.