Learning to be independent...

Wednesday 20th September 2017

Lucy Eckley shares her experience of becoming an independent consultant, and some of the lessons she has learnt along the way.

Seven years ago I quit my corporate job – the one with the car allowance, annual bonus and company pension – and set up on my own.  It was 2010 and the UK was still reeling from the credit crunch.  Most people thought I was crazy.  Since then, I’ve been working on intermin change and engagement assignments for corporate clients, creating compelling content and providing brand story mentorign for consultants and entrepreneurs.

I am loving the independent life more than ever and have no plans to go back to having a job anytime soon.  But I have learned a few things along the way.

You need a vision … but be prepared to flex how you achieve it

You need to have a clear idea why you’re doing what you’re doing.  For me, it’s all about lifestyle and variety – being able to live the life I want to, to travel and work flexibly, while being fulfilled creatively and professionally.  It’s also being able to share my expertise with as many people as possible and give my all to projects in short bursts.  However, in my experience, you need to be prepared to be flexible as well.

A few years ago, I read a quote by the fabulous Ashley Ambirge who has a fresh and more positive take on the traditional ‘Do one thing everyday that scares you’.  Ash’s version is the less scary ‘Always choose the most interesting option’.  I have tried to follow this advice ever since and it’s opened several new doors for me.  As a result, I’m still achieving my goals and moving towards my ultimate vision but not always in the way I thought I would.  At the same time, I am getting greater insight and ideas into how to evolve my consulting business in a way that best serves me and my clients.

It’s all about the people

People are the single biggest motivator for me.  They are simply why I do what I do.  Personally, so that I can have the quality time to hang out with my husband, friends and family, and the money to travel the world and experience new cultures.  Professionally, it’s about helping people use communication to build a business and a lifestyle they love, and to make sure that people experience honest, open conversations in the workplace.

For me, working as an independent consultant is all about the people, whether it’s working towards a common goal with leadership teams, collaborating with other creatives, delivering content for business owners or mentoring entrepreneurs and fellow comms pros.

You get to know yourself better than ever

There’s nothing like being your own boss to help you really get to know yourself!  I’ve done all the personality tests from MBTI and Strengthsfinder to Wealth Dynamics.  They’ve helped me to explore my strengths (and my weaknesses) and how I can use them in my business to serve my clients. And to find a way of working that enables me to deliver my very best and to invest in tools or outsourced help for the things that are not my natural strengths.

As a Myer Briggs personality type ENFP, I finally understand why I was never 100% happy in the routine of working in one place every single day.  It explains why I love flexibility and being in control of my schedule and why it’s also essential for me to have plenty of interaction with other humans.  Two to three days a week out and about with clients to balance time in my home office is an ideal mix for me.

You know more than you think you do

When I get stuck into a new project, I often find myself surprised by how much experience I can bring to the table.  It shouldn’t be surprising as this autumn I will have notched up 20 years in communications!  Yet sometimes we forget what we’ve seen and done and what’s in our professional back catalogue.

As an independent, that experience grows everyday as you apply it across different businesses, industries and sectors.  I have been struck by how much my expertise crosses from FTSE 100 companies through to start-up solopreneurs.  It’s not about the size of the business but about the communication strategy, the values and the people.

You never stop learning

No matter how much experience you have, you never stop learning.  The benefit of working with different clients is that you can share that learning more widely.  I find that what I learn about business strategy from big corporates can benefit smaller businesses.  Meanwhile, bigger businesses benefit from my entrepreneurial approach that’s focused on speed, agility, results and challenging the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ mentality to get the most from every £.  It’s also why I keep up with the latest trends and tools via social media, am a member of the CIPR and invest in conferences such as CIPR Inside.

You can’t do it all on your own

Since I first decided to create my consultancy, I have invested in coaching, mentoring, and group and online courses.  Each has helped me along the entrepreneurial journey and given me the skills and tools I need to build a business for the 21st century.  What is working for me right now is weekly accountability check-ins with people in my business network.  A big shout-out to my two accountability partners who inspire me and keep me on track every Wednesday – it is thanks to them that this blog post has been published!

I have hugely enjoyed the last seven years and learnt a massive amount along the way.  Have they been a lucky seven years? Maybe but then I also believe you make your own luck.  I’m even more excited about the next seven and beyond.

Are you thinking of taking the plunge and turning independent?  Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen?  You can always go back and get a job!  But, if my experience is anything to go by, you probably won’t want to!

Are you already running your own business? Does my experience resonate with you? What’s the biggest thing that you have learned along the way? I’d love to know. Just leave a comment in the box below.

Lucy Eckley helps business owners and leaders to build their unique brand story, so they can use their personality, passion and purpose to connect with clients and colleagues. To find out more, visit www.buildyourbrandstory.com where this article first appeared.