Our panel of experts discuss their direct experience of the current key challenges and opportunities for HR consultants, including how to win and maintain contracts in a recession, the importance of figuring out your own proposition and how to keep motivated during quieter periods. They also explore how best to work with clients in turbulent times, including managing overwork and stress.
Our panel of experts include:
- Ian Pettigrew, Kingfisher Coaching
- Kathleen Ann McAdams, Director at Albany HR
Chaired by Katie Jacobs, Senior Stakeholder Lead at CIPD
Katie Jacobs: Afternoon everybody. I will kick us off. I know there are still people coming into the room, but it's 12.00pm, so I'm going to get started. My name is Katie Jacobs, I work for the CIPD and I'd like to welcome you to this session which is something maybe a little bit different to some of our previous webinars, a little bit more focused on supporting you as individuals and your business or personal development as independent, independent consultants during challenging times. So joining me this afternoon to share their stories and offer their advice, I have two brilliant and highly successful independent consultants. I've got Ian Pettigrew, Ian is Director of Kingfisher Coaching, a leadership development consultancy that uses a strengths based approach to working with leaders. Thank you, Ian. And I'm also joined by Kathleen McAdams, Kathleen is Managing Director of Albany HR which offers outsourced HR services to organisations. I'd like to thank you both for joining this session.
Before we get into the topic I'm just going to run through some very quick housekeeping. The session is being recorded, it will be available on demand via the webinar section of the CIPD website and you can access all our previous webinars there as well as find out about upcoming ones. If you want to submit any questions to Ian and Kathleen could I ask you to type them into the Q and A box rather than the chat box as we might not be monitoring the chat box that closely. However, I would encourage you to use that chat box to chat with fellow attendees if you want to and to share your experience. Remember to use all panelists and attendees if you'd like to share with everybody. I know that being an independent sometimes can be, kind of, slightly lonely, kind of, working by yourself. So do feel free if you want to, kind of, share LinkedIn credentials, any kind of extra insights and potentially use this as a bit of a networking opportunity to, kind of, build your network of peers.
I want to remind you that all CIPD members can access individual legal advice, which might be useful for helping you on some of your clients, and that's via our HR Inform helpline which is available to you 24/7 and I want to flag our wellbeing hub and helpline which is available to members in the UK and Ireland and you can use that to access free help and support via telephone or online consultation with therapists, that's provided via Health Assured. So we know that it is pretty tough out there for everybody at the moment so please do ask for help if you need it. And I also just want to reference a few CIPD resources that we've got specifically to help the independent consultant community. We have information on our website about becoming an independent consultant and some, kind of, tips on making that work making, building a successful business, and CIPD members can also access career advice via our career hub. So there's loads and loads of content there to help you in building your business.
So onto the topic. As everyone tuning into this session will be aware. We are continuing to face into some pretty tough economic times, many individuals are struggling with the cost of living crisis and many organisations are having to make some quite tough decisions about their structures, their strategies and their spend. This can make it quite a challenging time to be an independent HR consultant as some organisations are forced to cut their investment in external support, but on the other hand tough times can provide opportunities too, particularly to our profession, as small businesses in particular and individual leaders need expert advice and support in steering them through tough times. During this session we are going to shed some light on what organisations want from independents right now and how consultants can continue to adapt to the rapid change we continue to be living through. We'll also talk about things like the importance of continuing to focus on building a professional network and a personal brand while protecting your mental health and well-being. We're going to talk about how you could remain motivated during quieter periods when the work suddenly runs out for a little bit and we're going to talk about the opposite, how you can cope with stress with those demanding clients and with overwork during particularly turbulent periods.
We're going to hear from Ian first who's going to share his experiences of launching his business during the last global financial crisis and offer advice on how you can sustain yourself. He's going to talk about things like positioning and branding and how you can deal with key challenges as an independent consultant and then Kathleen is going to share a little bit about her story to becoming a successful independent and offer a little bit of insight into the support organisations need right now drawing on her experiences with her many clients, and she's going to offer some insight into how consultants can adapt and support to changing business requirements. Afterwards we'll have a bit of discussion, I'll ask some questions, I'm really happy to feed yours into the discussion as well. I encourage you to get involved throughout but, as I said, feel free to also use the chat to potentially network with each other and share your own experiences and insights. I'm going to be quiet now, I'm going to hand over to Ian who's going to talk a little bit about his experiences. Thanks Ian.
Ian Pettigrew: Oh brilliant, thanks Katie. So what I'm going to do is just share, sort of, openly and honestly my reflections about getting my business started back in 2009 in a bit of a recession, challenging time, and then about keeping it going you know through various stages. So, my background, I spent 20 years working in pharmaceutical, in pharma mostly leading change and digitally enabled change and then along the way discovered I was more interested in people than I was in technology. So I trained as a coach, underwent a bit of a career change and ended up as Change Director for R&D Finance, so leading global transformation. And it was really interesting for me then back in 2008 because I ended up in a situation where I was coaching loads of people getting involved in leadership development but it wasn't my full-time job and I adored about 5% of my job and found the other 95% really frustrating and I'm not good at settling or compromising for anything less than brilliant so I just wanted to get into the situation where I wanted the 5% to be all my job and I tried but couldn't make that happen within my job. Tried a bit of what I now know to be job crafting and so in 2009 I left and set up my own business and it was a shock and I look back at the numbers and I had a really slow first year. I paid myself 20% of what I got paid in my job at AstraZeneca and it was a really, sort of you know, and I was OK with that. Fortunately I'd built a buffer to let me ride that out, but that was a massive shock particularly given that what, given my background, I wasn't going to talk about any of this but given my background and how I grew up, one of my greatest fears is being skint. You know, I grew up as a child having things repossessed all the time and stuff like that. So terrified of being skint. So I then quickly figured some things out and I just wanted to share some of my, my key reflections and, and the things that I wish somebody had told me because I could have got established much more quickly.
And the first one is that you need to be really, really clear on what you do and who your ideal client is. So many people set up and everybody seems to say initially they do people stuff, you know, and they'll do absolutely everything and people say yes to everything but the reality of most situations I know it's true for me, I am really, really good at some things, I know that. I'm OK at a load of other things, there's a load of other things I can, kind of, turn my hand to and then there's a load of other stuff that I'm not actually very good at and I want to focus all my work on the things that I'm brilliant at, not just doing anything that will actually help me pay the mortgage. And nobody is going to tell you what your focus should be, you know, loads of people will have an opinion about it but most of them are probably wrong. So this is something you need to figure out for yourself, you know, what is it you do, what is it you are best at and who are you going to do that for? And actually one of the, what worked for me was developing an ICA, an Ideal Client Avatar. I'd never heard about it at that point, and that was just figuring out, right, these are the people that, you know, I'm best at working with and this is what I do for them. And I actually, and none of the people on this know they were on this, I actually got photos and put them up on my wall of these are the people one day I would like to work with, I want them to approach me to work with them. And then there's also, if people aren't familiar with the concept of The Lean Startup which is from Eric Ries, that's the idea of saying as a business you, you don't really know at the outset what it is that you're best at, you know, you, you need to do some experiments and pivot and figure it out, and that saved me a lot of time when I figured that out.
Second thing is that you need to figure out what marketing means for you and then deliver on the plan. I'm not going to go into detail on that now but if there's any questions about it I'm happy to share, you know, what my entire marketing strategy is. But I also think it's the opposite of what I see most people doing. But it, it, it works for me.
Networking was really important. I, I love people and I'm very sociable so when I left AstraZeneca I thought I had a really strong network and I left, I posted on LinkedIn, you know, here you go I've set up this business and I sort of, you know, sat back thinking, right bring it on, you know, I'm ready to deal with the deluge. And basically I had masses of comments from former colleagues at AZ saying, "congratulations we'll miss you." And then most of my network was other coaches who I'd met on my training and CPD and I didn't really have much of a network outside of that. So network would be my advice, but it comes with a massive caveat, behave, and I'm really conscious, you see this at CIPD events, you see it at other events, as an independent practitioner if you treat every networking event as a real business opportunity to work the room, see who's of use to you, you know, really give your sales pitch, you're not going to get access to those events again. If at speaking gigs you know you turn up and use it as a way of getting people to sign up for your courses, you're not going to get invited again. So do build your network but be really conscious about behaving.
For me I am a master procrastinator, I overuse my strength of learner and I spent most of my first year just learning new stuff. So I actually had to set a lot of structure to help me and, and create projects like I used to have at work, you know, to help really, sort of, keep my, my sanity throughout that first year. And also I'm glad Katie didn't mention this in the, in the introduction because I didn't mention this I hate it if anybody ever refers to me as a freelancer because I, I absolutely just reject that completely. I run a business, it's a two person business, it's a small business but, you know, having a strategy, having a brand, being really intentional about what we do, having finance systems that, you know, create good structure, create a good impression are really important. But also for anybody setting up in difficult times I would say it's a massive positive. If I'd have set up and had an easy first year I think I'd have been really lazy, you know, I, I'd have just learnt how to just get on with it, be lazy and just muddle through. So it brings a lot of positives in terms of getting set up.
Now in terms of sustaining the journey there's quite a few things that I've learnt. I'm naturally prone to overwork and about six or twelve months ago I wrote down a list of everything that I do, and I'm really geeky about my to-do lists, I've got a whole host of things that are about working, learning, serving and thriving. And I wrote down a list of everything I do and I felt tired just looking at it myself, and I'm conscious of that David Allen quote have said to loads of other people, "you can do anything, but you can't do everything." And so it's really important to be intentional about what you say yes to and what you say no to. And I know lots of people have come up with, you know, a word for the year for what their focus is. I've not actually told anybody this before or said it out loud or said it in public, my word of 2023 is no. And, and I'm also reminded I can't remember who said this, but no is a complete sentence. You know, so I, I'm deliberately focusing on things.
You need to set yourself boundaries as well. You know you've got complete, total freedom to do whatever you want but that can work for you or it can work, work against you. But also be aware of when you want to intentionally flex those boundaries. I, I get to work with some amazing clients, most of whom I can't name, sorry I'm just checking my timer, I've got two minutes left, but I had an opportunity with one of these, one of the biggest brands in the world who I, I feel, you know, I still pinch myself that I get to work with them, and I had a request to say we've got our global Vice Presidents of HR all in the UK for two days, can you come and work with them? And I looked at my diary and we were on 10 days holiday in Cornwall. What did I do? I flew from Newquay airport to London, you know, and I took a day out of my holiday to go and work with them because it was an amazing opportunity. And I, I still stick by that decision, and we compensated it for a little, little bit of a weekend away. So boundaries are really important, you know, but you own your decisions about, about what you do.
And I'd also say, sort of, cash flow we could talk about later can be a challenge at times. But final point is not all clients are created equal, you know, and I do a regular client audit, and this probably sounds terrible but twice a year I do a client cull and I will drop clients and decide that I don't want to work with them on an ongoing basis. Because when you look at your clients you'll often look and you'll have some clients that feel easy to work for, you love working with them, they love you, they'll recommend you to tons of people and it feels easy. And then you look at some others and maybe they're slow to pay or they're a pain to work with or for some reason you're not the right fit. And I would say, you know, don't, you don't have to work all the time to do everything for everybody, really focus.
Final comment, I feel really fortunate to do what I do. I don't say lucky, I say fortunate because I'm, I'm really intentional and I work hard at it so it's not all down to luck, and it isn't always easy but I feel like I've got the best job in the world. You know, I love what I do, I'm getting paid to do my hobby and I'm doing something that I deeply care about and whenever we have discussions about, you know, retirement in the future my little face drops because I'm sort of thinking what you mean one day I've got the stop doing this? So there's a load of stuff you can do, I think I've basically just shared the load of mistakes that I've made. I've made them so you don't have to. But when you do this right it can, it can be absolutely the best job in the world.
KJ: Thanks Ian. And to make you feel better, my dad has his own business and I don't think he's ever going to retire, so not sure how my mum feels about that but you probably don't have to. I'd like to apologise because apparently there is something wrong with the chat function and after me going on about everybody use a chat function not able to right now. Please do put your questions in. Got a couple that come in during Ian's, I say, presentation, there were no slides, Ian's sharing his journey which we'll come to, but I'd like to hand David to Kathleen who's going to speak the five to ten minutes about her journey and offer some insight into what organisations want right now.
Kathleen McAdams: Brilliant. Thanks a lot Katie. So I'm Kathleen McAdams, I ran an HR consultancy called Albany HR, we're based in Edinburgh but we're across the UK, although a lot of them are in Scotland. We have got a mixture of retained clients that we work with all the time and then, and, and typically that's businesses that don't have their own HR function, although a couple of them do but they're small. And then about 75% of our clients, they're clients that come to us for HR project support, so that might be because they haven't got the internal capacity to do projects which were not business as usual or it might be because they need more specialist support than they've actually got within their business. We actually work across the employee life cycle, I'm a strong generalist, I would say, by background. I've worked in public, private charity, not for profit businesses and so I guess that's absolute testament to the fact that HR is a very transferable skill and it's not sector specific. So when I, when I go into schools and, and universities to chat I'm, I think that's always a fantastic thing to say because it's also taken me around the world as well. What else do I want to tell you?
Yeah, so although I'm very generalist by background I've spent a bit of time in organisational development and also in employee relations and also reward and, a bit like Ian, I'm very, very interested in learning and I think that's a really important thing when you're running your own business. I think we're, we've, we've seen that over the last couple of years a lot of what we were doing for clients was pay and reward related, which was fine but it was actually, like, becoming a bit samey and so I'm very pleased that over the last year we're seeing a lot more variety in what clients are looking for, we're doing a lot more on culture and values, well-being, L&D strategy and plans, employee engagement, restructures as well and a bit of, I'm going to say job design, I know job crafting is the, the, the word on everybody's lips right now but I, I don't think job crafting works for every personally. So that's, so we're, we're having a great time right now actually and we're, we're, we're incredibly busy which is fab. It was the sixth birthday of Albany HR yesterday, so I was about, thank you Ian, I was about 25 years working in organisations in HR after having a career for the first five years after university actually in food and beverage management in a luxury hotel before getting into HR and, and I was a sole trader for about three months before, before I set up Albany as a limited company and, and I would say actually I accidentally became an independent consultant. I, it was something that I had thought about for about 10 years before actually doing it and, but then it was my accident rather than design when a role that I was in stopped, which I didn't like because the business was in trouble, and someone offered me a bit of consultancy work while I was still looking for a, a role. And, and if I'm perfectly honest for about the first four years I've been on my own I still had my eye on the permanent job market thinking if the right role came up that I would perhaps move back into, to employment. But it was actually during Covid that I had a good think about what I wanted out of life as lots of people did and I was able to take a few months off, I had to take a few months off actually to deal with homeschooling and also I was trying to do an ILM that I was doing, a qualification in executive coaching and mentoring and finding it impossible while I was working flat out, particularly at the start of Covid, for one organisation. And, and I decided that actually, no, I was going to totally go for it and, and I was going to stay independent and I put a plan in place at that point to actually grow the business and I benefited from support, from, there's a government finance agency actually in Scotland called Business Gateway, I think you get a similar level of support in some ways from the Chambers of Commerce in England and, and through that I was able to do a bit of thinking, a bit of visioning, a bit of what do I actually want of, out of life not just about what do I want out of work. And I, I think actually it probably helped that was 50 as well so there was a bit of what do I want to achieve by the time I'm retiring and when do I want to retire?
So, so I've got a bit of a, a 15 year plan that I'm a couple of years into on, on how to do that. The business has grown over the last couple of years, there's four of us now. Initially, what I had to do initially to get myself out of just being completely on my own was to think about what can I outsource? So initially I outsourced our PA type stuff and open finance and the, the PA bit is still outsourced but we've now got someone who does finance for us part-time on an employed basis. And the idea is that well I've got my plan, I grow the business by another couple of consultants in the next financial year. We're very busy, as I say, I think we find that clients, at the moment they're struggling with performance management, conflict, line manager capability and obviously recruitment and retention. But, but those are things that I think that as HR professionals we've really got a lot of value to add and I, I think perhaps the organisations, I think during Covid, and I still find now they're more willing to listen and understand that they don't necessarily have that internal capability and human resource management or staff support or whatever we call it, it's not all just common sense, there actually as some science there too. In terms of advice I think building your own resilience is really important. And, and over the last year I've done that through getting coaching for myself that I've really, really found that a massive benefit. Some days I, I've gone to the coach and I've said I don't know, I haven't got a thing I need to discuss with you today, I haven't had time to think about it, I'm actually just incredibly busy. But, but having somebody who says, well why are you, why are you very busy and what has gone well and what's not gone so well over the last month, actually I think has helped me understand that self-care is massively important in terms of being resilient and in terms of running a business.
And then, but I think we all know that self-care is important but, but it's one thing to know it's important and it's another thing to put it into action, and I think what, what, what I have made a conscious effort to do it, and I actually think it's massively benefited me but also the rest of the team, is that I'm actually doing that proactively. So, I am going to the gym because I happen to really like that and I am making time for family and friends and I am prioritising them while still being really busy and, and, and that sort of proactive self-care in instead of the self-medication, which I might have been doing with an of wine or two, has actually had a massive benefit for me and the team. I think the coaching has also helped me to be less emotional, not less empathetic but, but less up and down and that has definitely benefited the, the team. I think the resilience piece and the taking a step back and the self-care has also made sure that we've got a better pipeline of business because I'm not throwing myself 110% into one thing for three months and not coming up for a year and then you find out that you actually don't have that pipeline. We're a lot more stable now I think which is more enjoyable.
I completely echo what you said, Ian, about networking. For me, networking, you don't just do it for business you also do it for support and you also do it for, for ideas. I think as a consultant you should look at what support is available to you, create your own peer, peer networks if you don't have one. When I was first an independent consultant I actually had a bit more think about who else do I know that is either in an independent consultant now or people who are in standalone HR positions that I'd maybe worked with in other organisations and we actually made our own wee network that had six or seven people in it and met every couple of months and that was a benefit to all of us just in that, in that, that sharing. I think it's really important to keep yourself up to date with good and best practice. I personally rely a lot on CIPD research but also I find increasingly, and this is really important, I think when you're in business for yourself, is also to look at academic research as well.
And then just another quick, a couple of quick tips, I would say do yourself a business plan, even, and I, and I'm, I'm, I want to grow organically so I'm not interested in getting funding although that might be a good avenue for, for lots of people. But I think doing a business plan is a great way of working out what it is you want, you, you want to do and also how you're actually going to make that happen. It also makes sure, as far as it can, that you're financially stable and also sustainable. And I would also say doing a marketing content plan, because being consistent in your, your outputs whether that's LinkedIn, whether it's blogs for your website, whether it's Twitter, Instagram, however you, TikTok, however you do it, I think in terms of making sure that you're always at the forefront of potential clients' minds, or even your peers minds when they're thinking about, you know, who do I know that can do such and such? If you're, if you, if you think about that consistency and how you market yourself I think that's a good thing. And just the last thought, Ian, I slightly disagree because I actually do feel lucky but I always work on the basis that chance favours the prepared mind. So there's a bit about, I suppose, creating your own luck, you, and be the best that you do, be the best that you can be, yeah, be the best that you can do. That's me.
KJ: Thank you, Kathleen. I, yes, so I work for myself for two days that I work, don't work for CIPD, so I've been taking lots of tips into, into my head, although I'm like Ian I 100% don't think of myself as a freelancer and no, I'm not running a business, I'm just, just managing myself. Really great that we've got the chat open, I can see people connecting, sharing LinkedIn profiles, that's really, really great to see. Also, I can see some of the branches that have their own independence groups sharing the names of those. So that's a really, really great opportunity for people to connect locally. I think Kathleen and Ian have both spoken about the importance of networking both from a, kind of a, BD perspective but also as Kathleen, kind of, said so eloquently, from that kind of self-care and also, you know, you don't really tend to get the best ideas sat looking at a screen, I think. So we've got some really great questions coming through from the audience. So I'm going to dive straight into those. So we've got a question particularly about marketing strategy. So Ian you particularly mentioned that you were happy to kind of go through yours in a bit of detail but the question specifically is around if we've got limited time and resource how do you cut through the noise given there are a lot of people offering very similar services out there and the market that you are trying to serve is full of people that are a) super busy and b) highly over marketed to from the kind of HR professionals, HR leaders that I work with, you know, they're getting a lot of noise. So I'll come to you first Ian and then, and then Kathleen for some thoughts on marketing.
IP: OK. I'm glad you asked for thoughts Katie rather than advice because I, I don't think I could give advice in this area. But what's worked for me? I got this really wrong in my first year and then one of my big aha moments was totally changing the way that I viewed it and I figured out that for me marketing was about helping people who've got a need for what I do to find me and, and, and that that was what marketing meant for me. And I'm really, really, like, I've not in, what, 14 years I've not made a cold call or a cold approach or tried to sell what we do to anybody, you know, the, the work continues to find us. And the kind of, the, the marketing approach that really transformed things for me was an approach called Duct Tape Marketing by a guy called John Jantsch and there's a couple of books and a podcast and I think the way they implement it is a bit dated but the fundamental philosophy is really powerful and it's saying for people who are the right fit, who've got a need for what you do they need to know who you are, they need to like you in terms of knowing what you stand for, they need to trust you, you need to have credibility, back to a few points that Kathleen's just made about learning and, and evidence. Then maybe they need to dip their toe in the water and try you, then hopefully they work with you and then hopefully they will repeat and continue to work with you but also recommend you to others. And actually even though I'm, I'm turning work down left right and centre and I'm at, I'm at capacity and continue to be and have been for the last few years, I'm really fortunate. Probably I don't win new clients very often from a direct approach, it's working with big institutional clients who keep on coming back and then recommendation. I'm just working with a new client this week who's another one of those pinch me moments and that's come from one of my best clients recommending me. So my marketing strategy is a little bit on the upfront stuff but then mostly it's about trying to do great work and just put myself in a position that the clients will recommend me. I also occasionally do audits which are horrendous but I, you know, I'm really conscious about what I want to be known for. So occasionally I'll look at my social media and pose the question, if somebody looked at my social media what would they know me for? And just before this call I deliberately looked at my Instagram which is a business Instagram and if you look at that what you'd know me for is pubs, dogs, cycling, food and more pubs. So I'm missing the trick there a little bit, but you know, sometimes just look critically at that. But the main focus is do great work would be the main focus of my marketing strategy because when you do it with the right people it leads to other stuff.
KM: Thank you. Kathleen, anything to add?
KA: Yeah so, so I, well I think I said already in, in terms of like having that marketing content plan and then being visible, and your marketing content plan doesn't have to have hundreds of things on it. But I, I, I would do that so that you're thinking about which are the most, which are the networking events that I might get most value from? And that's both from again that, that support as well as the business development perspective. So, so there's a bit there about being visible and I think when I'm talking about being visible I, I would also say LinkedIn you don't have to spend ages on LinkedIn, LinkedIn you can post on, you know, you can set your stuff up if you want to use something like Hootsuite so that you, you don't have to be actually on it personally every day although sometimes I'm told Hootsuite is not liked very much by the LinkedIn algorithm. But LinkedIn also has a facility now where you can actually schedule posts, so you could be scheduling something first thing in the morning and it comes out later on in the day and, and also I would make sure that you're aware of best times to post on LinkedIn or any other social media for that matter which is easily found on a Google search so that whatever you are actually doing you're getting the best bang for your buck. The other thing I would say is help people, I'm always looking for opportunities to actually add value to my contact because it's another way of getting them to remember you and it does mean you have to invest a bit of time in that but, but I, I really do find that that that helps. If you're, if you're in forums, if you're in groups, if you've got something to add, if you've got something that you think might be helpful, I would, I would definitely do that. And I, and I think as well if you do a business plan or a marketing plan it'll help you focus on where do you think your clients are going to come from and I initially thought my clients are going to be small business owners and so I need to focus on BNI which turned out to be a disaster but I'm, I am finding that the, the Chamber of Commerce is good for me. But, but because 75% of my business is HR project it's actually mainly HR people that give me business. So making sure that I stay in contact with HR people I've worked in the past, keeping in touch with my clients, trying to add value for my clients by, you know, if I see something I think is something I know that would be useful for them it doesn't take a minute to drop a quick email or, or to share a piece of research or to share something that you've seen. So I think, I think sharing, offering help, offering help, giving advice where you can, I think that's a great way of, of keeping yourself visible.
KJ: And it sounds like from both of you, because I know one of the questions I've come to you with it as well Ian, was around the kind of the resource and time that you have to put into it. But it sounds like it's, kind of, especially that paying it forward stuff, it just becomes part of the rhythm of how you work.
KJ: So Ian, what did you want to add?
IP: Yeah it was just to add one thing as well. Just reflecting that try and find something that feels authentic to you. That, there's a load of ways of doing marketing and I know, you know, one of my early plans for a marketing strategy was to, like, be all about, you know, me, me, me, me, me, let me introduce you to me, let me reintroduce you to me. And actually I, I really don't like being the centre of attention. Happy to talk all day and love speaking at events and stuff but I don't like it being about me. So if my marketing plan is all about promoting me it feels icky to me, and I'm going to find excuses not to do it whereas finding something that's about, talking about how brilliant my clients are I'm happy with. So for instance, you know, your strengths might lie in, in person or speaking or, you know, you do you, I'd say find a way to do marketing that is authentic to you and feels comfortable.
KJ: And then I guess it feels like less of a, a chore as well, that's something that you have to do. I've got a question about if, can you have two different kinds of arms or do you need different business models if you're working with individuals versus working with businesses? So who wants to take that first?
IP: Am I OK to go with that Kathleen for a second?
KM: Yeah, sure.
IP: So I think, so I, I do work with some individuals, not generally, not if I'm approached down to the blue and I think the first thing to do is draw a distinction between what you market and what you're prepared to say yes to. So we very much, you know, we, we do about 40% of our work with the NHS and we typically work with loads of, of, of large multinationals. But then sometimes from a program I'll get somebody that says, can you work with my partner or this person or that person? And it, it's, you know, a recommendation from a client and even though we never set ourselves up to, to work in that space when it's somebody we know, you know, we will do the work. The only difference, that, the difference practically it makes to us, many independent practitioners will work from home, you know, and your office might be your kitchen table, if you're going to do in person work with individuals then you're not going to be going to a client base necessarily. So you might want office space, so as well as having, I'm at home today but I have an office but I also subscribe to a co-working space with, where I can book offices around the country so I'll make use of that. And then the second thing is in our finance systems we do have an option to pay by credit or debit card deliberately. And so when we work with private clients as well as working through the sort of purchase order space or bank transfer we've got an option to just click on a link. So yeah, it doesn't, doesn't have to be the focus of your business, you can still accept it but just think about premises and payment.
KJ: Yeah, Kathleen?
KM: Yeah, just a couple of things spring to mind. I, I think the, the first thing is that I, I think when I was setting up the business then I got some advice on actually, you know, what it is you're, you're setting yourself out to do and, and, and I have done coaching in the past and I had a bit of a, an argument with myself about whether or not to set the business up as being HR and coaching and whether I should mention coaching in the name and, and I do very little coaching at the moment and I think that's because I haven't got coaching in the name but also clients know us for, for delivering HR instead of delivering coaching. So I, I kind of think if I probably wanted to focus on the coaching more I think I probably would consider setting that up as a separate business and, and actually marketing it separately I think, just so that people knew, you know, whatever it was called Albany Coaching for doing coaching whereas Albany HR is known for, for doing HR. And just the, the other point to note I think in terms of working with individuals rather than dealing with businesses, if you take it outside of coaching and actually into HR advice there are, there's actually insurances that you have to have in place. You need to be registered with the FCA if you're going to be advising people, for instance, on-going to tribunals etc. So and, and I, and I say that very broadly because I don't know all of the details but I know that, that, I looked into it a wee while ago and, and you do need to be registered for the FCA and there's a fee involved. And so I decided that I actually wasn't going to go into that and I was deliberately just going to support businesses because I felt that was going to be a distraction. So, yeah.
KJ: Really, really helpful. Thank you both. I'm going to come to you again Kathleen on this one and then to Ian --
KJ: So how do you feel about growing, so you've got, you mentioned you have, you work with other people, I think you said there are, well there's six of you.
KJ: How do you, kind of, find those people who kind of share the values close to, kind of, and how you want to work and how do you, kind of, let go of control as your business grows and others represent Albany HR?
KM: So yeah, so they're really interesting and there's things that I think about a lot. So, so in terms of finding people I think you need to be quite clear on what's important to you and while I didn't set out to develop a set of values for myself I did, when I was looking at redoing the website about three years ago, I, when I was doing it with the designer we talked quite a lot about, you know, what's, what's your brand, what's the brand of the organisation, what’s really important to you? I did come up for with a list of, of kind of things that were really important to me in terms of the way I interact with clients and the service that I deliver and, and being friendly and approachable and all the things that everybody says. But, but the two things I think which are really, really key for me is delivering something which is high quality. That's so important to me and, and you have to bring, you have to bring honesty and integrity into that, so, and you do bring your own values. So if a client asks me to do something which I find is not aligned with my own values I think initially I might have said yes and then would have, like, tried to do it as best as I could, but I probably wouldn't have been completely happy about it and so maybe not doing my best, best work. So but trying to do my best work so then a bit in conflict with myself. So I, I think what I, when I was looking for people to work with me, I, I deliberately went out and said these are the things that are important to me, this is the way I run the business, this is the way, you know, the kind behaviours that I would like to see, and, and the other thing, sorry, that's really important to me is that lifelong learning and the chance favours and the prepared mind. Being very knowledgeable I set out to recruit people who were MCIPD because I wanted that seal of approval from my clients and I also wanted the, I also wanted to know that the people that were working for me were going to be people that were knowledgeable, experienced and I suppose had the backing of, of the CIPD and would, having to, would have to be doing CPD in order to, to maintain that. Yeah, so that's, that, so I deliberately looked for a certain kind of person. And in terms of the, sort of like, the letting go piece. If I'm really honest the, the, the, the people that work for me just now, it, it's taken wee while for us to get a place where we're all on the same page and there was a bit of trial and error and there was a bit of us having to get to know each other and there was a bit of developing trust but I think we're now in a really good place, although I would think with new people it took about a year. And I was speaking to my coach yesterday and saying, "I need new people but I can't afford for it to take a year." I need new people to, to start. So I'm, I'm thinking just now about, you know, how exactly do we say our stall out? How do, how do we find the right people for the organisation? What do we do when we bring them into the organisation to get them up speed with the way we work much more quickly? But I kind of think we, we've got a much better idea and I can use the team that I've got on that thinking, about, not just about how do we find the right people, but what exactly do we want these people to be like? What do we want what kind of values do we want these people to have? What do we want their skills and experience to be? So I think, I think we'll be a lot more, I'll be a lot more informed going out to market this time on the kind of person that I'm looking for because I'm very clear now on what I want for my clients.
KJ: Brilliant. Ian I know you've only got one other person, but anything to add on either of those?
IP: Absolutely, well it gives a different perspective. So, so for the first three years Kingfisher Coaching was just me and then I got to the stage where I was flat out and I was forgetting to invoice clients and had like complex visa applications to do for work in the Middle East and all sorts of stuff and then nearly missing a VAT submission deadline and was really struggling and just thought right, and I want to do what I'm best at and I want to recruit somebody else. And talking about that at home, my wife, we met at AstraZeneca and we worked together and she ran a PMO, a Project Management Office and she's one of the most organised and disciplined people I know. So she left AstraZeneca and has become the co-director of the business, and I don't tend to talk about that because I don't want it to be like a husband and wife business in terms of perception, that's not how it started. But it, it works brilliantly, she's the business manager and I get to do what I'm best at. Now on quite a few occasions I've had really exciting opportunities where I've thought about growing the business and it's made me reflect long and hard and I've nearly got distracted by some business opportunities one of which I withdrew from because of ethics concerns because being able to sleep at night and look at myself in the mirror is worth a lot of money to me. When I thought about growing the business there was a bit of ego involved, a kind of like, oh I could have an office and I could have this many people. And Kathleen, I definitely don't mean for you, I mean, questioning myself as one of the motivations. The second thing I thought about is money, but actually I don't need the business to grow, I don't need to make more money than I make. That's not a driver for me. Checking my privilege as I make that statement. But the third reason why I legitimately, for me, did think about growing the business was for impact because I really want to make a, a dint on this world. And actually what I, through doing some long hard thinking, I don't want to, in any way get distracted, I love the work that I do and I don't want to get torn away from that in any way. So actually the, what I'm doing now to try and make increasing impact is some work about packaging work and then academically I'm just finishing off my Master's with a pilot project which will be the, it's the first pilot project in my PhD and that, that's my way of scaling up impact. So I've, I've taken a different decision to Kathleen that it's two people and we have absolutely no plans to, to change that.
KJ: And hopefully, given it's your wife, you have a shared value system and well that is great.
IP: Well it's got us through 20 odd years so far, so yeah.
KJ: Brilliant. Thank you so much for those two different perspectives and we've got question about has, has the cost of living crisis had an impact on your business? So I guess either your own business and/or the clients that you work with as well, Kathleen?
KM: So I think, so it's, well, so clients' businesses, yes, and, and I think that's where I'm seeing, that we're dealing with more conflict, whether that's disciplinaries or grievances or, oh just people, like, not getting on together and, and line managers not managing people properly or not having the skills to deal with people properly because people, they feel that the people are not behaving and they're not equipped to deal with it. And I don't think it's that people are not behaving, I think people are under a lot of stress and strain in their personal lives due to the cost of living crisis and, and that's having an impact. I'd say all of my clients have asked me at some point over the last year, what can we do? And so I've done a lot of looking around at what other organisations do, you know, what's the advice that's available, looking at what organisations that have, have done and, you know, trying to pass that on where it's, where it's worked. Making sure that I am up to date with that so that I'm able to, to give that advice and support. So I think that's, that's one thing. I think also clients, they're not just dealing with rising staff costs because, as I say, we've done quite a lot of pay and benefits benchmarking stuff, they're also dealing with the fact that their other costs are really going up at the same time, particularly, you know, utilities, rent, they're a big deal for clients. So I think that some of the advice we're giving is, you need to be talking to your employees not just about all the things you would normally talk to them about and, you know, the goals of the organisation, you need to actually be telling them how the organisation is doing and if you haven't up until now be, you know, more transparent or as transparent as you can be about the, the state of the finances that the organisation has, really to get people on board with you and hopefully working with you rather than against you because I think sometimes then you see if you don't try and work with employees and keep them you just find people going off sick because they think they're not being treated properly, presenteeism, all those bad things that that impact on, on productivity. So, I suppose I've found that I've been talking to clients about have a think about how you actually run this organisation and, and I had one organisation, I've got one organisation that I, that I find a bit challenging to work with, but I like working with them because they're very purpose led and, and, they've asked me for a well-being strategy and I was just, I was actually thinking this morning when I was in a conversation about well-being that they don't need a, they don't need a well-being strategy which is about, you know, mental health and physical health and financial well-being, they need a well-being strategy which is all of that but also has job design in it and so essentially their, their well-being strategy should be that people strategy because I think now, though they're, they're so integral that, that how people feel about their work and how they're actually doing within work and how they're doing outside of work we need to look at all of that in the round. So, yeah --
KM: So that's some of the ways, yeah, and sorry, and it has it affected my business. It's made us really busy so that's nice but I, I suppose I have felt that I needed to increase salaries perhaps more than I might have thought, that I wanted to increase salaries and, and I do have employees where I think I know a lot of smaller HR consultancies will actually just work with associates but, but I, but I wanted to, I deliberately made a decision to take on employees so I, I had constant people that work with me and that I could be 100% sure were going to operate in line with my values and were going to get the training and development that I thought they need. So yeah, so it's impacted on me from the perspective of, yeah, increasing my salary costs.
KJ: Thank you for sharing. I'm going to move on because I want to just address a couple of questions that are still open. So Ian, I've got few people asking in the chat about looking for, and Kathleen maybe you can feed in a recommendation as well, recommendation for any coaching qualifications because a lot of them are ending up doing quite a lot of coaching organically but are not formally qualified. So what would you recommend Ian, any good sources of that?
IP: Yeah, so I, I'm really pleased people are asking the question because I'd say if you are, particularly if you're going to get people to pay you to coach you should be qualified and you should be having supervision. And immediately if you've got those two things you've set yourself apart. Personally I'd say look at ILM, look at companies like Barefoot Coaching as well who do good work. And also look, there's a number of universities that do, such as Sheffield Hallam and UEL who do MSc in Coaching or Coaching Psychology. So I'd, I'd say consider a number of options and maybe just ask around, you know, what, what people have done themselves.
KM: Yeah I think I would, I would agree with you Ian. ILM's the qualification I've got, I've got Level 7 which is postgraduate level, however my view of that is that if I'd understood better what was involved in the Level 7 I'd probably have done the Level 5, because the, the Level 7's executive coaching and mentoring the Level 5 is anybody in a leadership position and I, and I think probably the Level 5 would've been more than sufficient albeit the Level 7 was interesting. I, I think doing the qualification takes your coaching up a level. I thought I was a good coach before I did it and I don't think I was, I don't think I was a bad coach but I think I'm a better coach and I think I've got a suite of tools at my disposal now which I think is very beneficial to client. And I think, yeah, obviously the supervision piece, and, and I think during the qualification makes you think about, it makes you think about your own skills and it makes you very conscious I think of the ethics involved in coaching and the, the, the effect that you can have on an individual positively or negatively if you're, if you're not doing it properly. So yeah, so I think that would be, but I agree and I, I mean and Scotland I did mine through the Edinburgh Coaching Academy but quite a few of the universities, again Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh Business School, Napier University up here all do coaching qualifications.
IP: And also, maybe also look at what you want to do in terms of accreditation with Association for Coaching or EMCC or ICF and look at what qualifications they accept as accreditation for the level that you're shooting for as well rather than that be a bit of a, afterthought --
KM: Yeah, I think that's a good point.
IP: Making thinking about that in advance.
KM: Because, because I'm a member of The Association of Coaching, I did look at the International Coaching Federation, so I think there is a bit about the market that you want to operate in and also the different organisation need a different number of coaching hours for the different levels of membership as well so that's worth thinking about
KJ: Brilliant. Thank you. So I've got one more question I'm going to ask. We've got five minutes. So somebody's asked, they have an opportunity to take some, on some independent consultancy for a referral by an old colleague. Should I, do they need to set themselves up with the company before taking on the work or can they explore something else, like doing a zeros hours contract with the company, can you do it as a sole trader? What advice would you give?
KM: Well, so I would say you could do any of those to, to be honest. I mean depending on, on the length of the contract and whether or not you're going to be working for anybody else at the same time I would have a wee bit of a look at IR35 to see what liabilities there might be there. Obviously if you're employed by the organisation on a zero contract or a fixed term contract that's easy because you'll be doing Pay As You Earn. You will possibly make more money out of it if you do it as a sole trader and there's not very much cost involved in actually setting yourself up as a limited company but I wouldn't bother setting yourself up as a limited company unless you were going to do it on an ongoing basis because you have to get involved then with filing accounts with companies house etc. So, if you're dipping your toe in the water, I'd be tempted to either to do it as a, you know, either on an employed basis or do it as a sole trader. Because you don't actually have to do anything to be a sole trader, all that's going to happen is you'll have to do a self-assessment.
IP: Can I, yeah, can I just add to that, sort of two things, I totally agree with Kathleen, part of it is looking to the future and thinking about, you know, what, what is it you, you're aiming to be? So for instance we set up as a limited company and VAT registered from day one. A lot of the organisations we work with won't work with sole traders, you know, it, it, it's, it needs to be a limited company to work with them. So it depends on one factor is what you want to do in the future, second thing I'd say speak to an accountant, you know, maybe just so you understand the ramifications of each of these because as Kathleen said there's different implications.
KJ: Brilliant. I'm going to wrap it up there. I had a big list of questions in case nobody asked any questions but I didn't have to ask any of them because we got some really great questions. So I'd like to thank Ian and Kathleen for sharing their advice and their insights so honestly and candidly, it's really, really great to hear your stories. Thanks everybody for watching. Thank you those who asked questions. Thanks for connecting with each other in the chat. This webinar's going to be available on demand later should you wish to watch it again. And my colleagues just flashing up the final slides just to remind you of the member benefits that we have available for you that are available for you as independents. So, things I implied earlier like the well-being helpline, the employment law helpline, and the careers advice all on there for you. Well that's it from us. Thanks very much for watching and we will see you soon.
(end of recording)
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