Future planning

The journey of a consultant in year 1 of trading

Geoff Keeling shares his thoughts and self evaluation having just completed his first year working as a leadership, teams and sales development consultant at www.geoffkeeling.com

In a conversation with Nicky Macfarlane, his co-founder of The Sussex Collaborative, Geoff captures his key experiences as a brief guide for people thinking of starting out on their own.

What was your motivation for setting out on this journey?

I had always wanted to run my own business but I was very fortunate to always had great jobs, working with amazing people in cool businesses, there was never a good time to step away until recently.

Why is having purpose so important when first starting out?

Before you start trading be clear on why you are setting up as a consultant. These are the questions I went through prior to launch.

  • What is your purpose?
  • What will success look like for you?
  • What do you need to do to get there?
  • Who can help you?
  • How much do you need to earn after all your deductions to operate profitably?
  • What are the risks to you and others if the business isn’t successful?
  • Are you comfortable with this?

What has been your highlight over the past 12 months?

Without doubt the highlights have been every time I secured a piece of business new or repeat, it is hugely rewarding and it’s always interesting working with different people and businesses 

How did you go about the process of client acquisition?

To date the majority of my work has come through my network. I have found that people you think are likely sources of work don’t always materialise for a variety of reasons, and individuals who you haven’t spoken to in years, reach out and unexpectedly offer you interesting opportunities. 

The questions to ask yourself early on in your journey are:

  • Where is your work going to come from?
  • How are you going to market yourself?
  • How will you keep your sales funnel topped up  
  • How will you manage to provide the same levels of service quality to current and future clients?

To further improve the success rate of my sales pitch. I have spoken to a number of people in my network from across different industries and roles; they have all been generous with their time and advice.  The take-aways from these conversations have been invaluable, however the two comments that I lean on must frequently are ‘Don’t burn bridges’ and ‘If your enquiry to conversion rate is above 50% you are doing well’

What is your approach to managing client relationships?

I am always appreciative of enquiries and do my upmost to quickly build a trust based relationship with my potential client.

I try to work in a professional and supportive manner at all times, it’s not just about the work, it’s also about getting paid on time. The more work you do in the early stages of the negotiation to build trust and goodwill, the easier the payment stage comes at the end. 

Try to be creative in how you operate, have you got people in your network who need what you do and do they have skills or content that you require? i.e. can you do a cashless exchange of services? 

What has been the greatest challenge?

Definitely Finance, it’s been a big change in moving away from a monthly salary to not really knowing how much money you have made, until all of the books have been reconciled and your TAX, NI and VAT bills have been paid 

What advice would you give someone new to owning a business about managing your Finance

Ask people who you trust in your network to recommend a good accountant; if you can meet with them before you start trading that helps.  Explain your business and what you are trying to achieve, listen carefully to and act on their advice particularly around TAX and VAT. 

Always run your business lean, it’s your and HMRC’s money, use it wisely, you may be crazy busy and the money is flowing in but nothing is guaranteed with trading and when things do tail off, you will need a cash reserve that you can tap into to keep the business operating until the market comes back.

How have you found managing your own performance?

Your successes and your mistakes; own them both equally. Working for yourself you are pretty much only as good as your last job, so ensure you give every project and every client your full attention. 

Don’t stop learning and researching to ensure that you stay sharp and relevant. When you get something wrong, learn from it quickly and move on. 

12 months in, have you any regrets taking the plunge and setting out on your own?

None at all, I love a challenge and I enjoy change and this has been both in abundance!

If you were starting a consultancy today is there anything you would do differently?

Not really no, I’m really pleased with how the first year has gone, I am always learning and trying to improve and I don’t tend to look back very much, there is plenty to deal with going forwards! 

Any final thoughts to share with anyone setting up?

Enjoy the experience, it’s hard work and can be unpredictable but if you are fortunate like me you will get to work with loads of talented and very likeable people on interesting and challenging projects.  

For more information about Geoff’s consultancy services, visit his website www.geoffkeeling.com Geoff is also the co-founder of The Sussex Collaborative more details of which can be found here.