By Ruth Cornish, co-founder and director of HRi
As an HR professional, going it alone and starting your own consultancy, will undoubtedly be one of the hardest things you will have to do in your career. In this article, we will talk about some of the key things that can go wrong when starting an HR consultancy practice, working as an independent HR professional and provide some helpful tips on how to avoid these issues, so that you will be able to succeed in your new venture.
1. Create a business plan: The key to starting up successfully is researching the market and putting together a robust business plan. Only then can you know what you stand for, what your ethos is, what types of clients you want to work with and perhaps most importantly where you want to take the business longer term. In this plan it’s important to consider those strategic decisions, but also some more tactical points too, such as the structure of your practice and how you set it up, how you are governing yourself and how you are handling data and information. Our HRi Standards are also a great resource too to get you thinking about the right things.
2. It’s not all about you: When you meet a new prospect, it can be tempting to create a pitch deck or proposal and tell them all about you can do for them. This is a big mistake and far too salesy. Make sure you listen to what they need and focus your slides on what the customer requires. Make your proposition bespoke to what they need.
3. Cut out the jargon: Do not confuse your clients by using jargon. This will confuse your clients and will likely put people off. Where possible speak in plain English unless you are dealing directly with HR professionals. Make things simple for your client and show your deep expertise from the offset, rather than trying to baffle them with industry terms.
4. Be flexible: A one size fits all approach isn’t going to appeal to clients. One of the benefits of working with an external HR Consultant is flexibility and innovation, rather than simply offering a one size fits all approach. Make sure you capitalise on this flexibility and raise your profile around this as a key USP accordingly.
5. Know what you stand for: You’re not going to carve out your name or reputation by being everything to everyone. When doing your business plan, think about what makes you different? The clearer you are in your own mind on this, the more likely you are to find that dream client and build a more stable brand long term.
6. Do your due diligence: Always take care to ensure you know as much as possible about the potential client before you jump on board. Ideally you would also perform a full HR audit so you can shine a torch in every area of their business before you quote for a retained service. Be very clear about your scope of services and understand what you are agreeing to do.
7. Make your offering simple: The biggest decision you will make is whether to charge by the hour as you immediately limit your capacity unless you take on associates or staff. Also take time to consider what you are worth? If you charge a higher rate, clients will expect more of you. Can you deliver this? Make sure you create packages with a clear pricing strategy that you can commit to and deliver on longer term. If in doubt speak to other industry professionals or seek advice.
8. Build your own personal brand: Marketing is often a new area for HR Consultants and seen as the great unknown. Be clear what you are selling and what you stand for. Know when to seek the advice of a professional, such as a PR Consultant, copy writer or marketer. Remember you are great at what you do and bringing someone on (even if outsourced to a freelancer) will ensure you can continue to do your job whilst they can do what they’re good at; getting your name out there.
9. Seek advice where you need it: If you’re not sure on something, the key is to seek advice. This doesn’t make you vulnerable, rather, knowing your limits and where to seek help is very wise. Seek out advice from old colleagues, industry bodies, and by joining relevant networking groups. At HRi we run regular events and a helpdesk supported by our legal and accountancy partners to help our HR Consultant and standalone members.
10.Show pride, passion and professionalism. Make sure you work on your business as well as in it. Loving your clients, anticipating their needs, and solving problems they don’t know they have (and doing this with energy and drive) is all part of running a successful business. Your love for what you do will be contagious, so make sure it shines through.