With many people losing their jobs or in furlough limbo due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s tough to know what’s around the corner.
For some, it may be an opportunity to go it alone in business, using expertise, experience and contacts garnered over the years. Job fears could even be the push they need to finally follow their dreams.
The number one piece of advice for anyone setting up alone is usually to have a business plan, but just as important is having your own personal plan of how to get ahead and capitalise on your skills, knowledge and network.
Entrepreneur Zoë Allen says jumped in head first last year without a spreadsheet or pitch document when she set up her own art consultancy business, leaving behind the safety of a full-time job.
Bossin’ it: Zoë Allen from London says becoming her own boss was scary – but she wants to help others make the leap
Zoë, 34, from London, started Artistic Statements Ltd in February 2019 and says she hasn’t looked back. The business capitalised on skills she had built up as an employee and she used her expertise and network of contacts to get established.
She said: ‘It felt utterly terrifying at first. I have a mortgage to pay, but those around me seemed to show absolutely zero doubt in what I was embarking on, so I did it.
‘If you’ve been furloughed and have time to think about future possibilities, or maybe you’ve recently been made redundant, now may be the time to consider starting out on your own.’
This week has seen Zoë commission artists on two installations in Belgravia and Mayfair to thank the NHS and key workers.
She spent seven years as director of an art and design agency in Shoreditch but yearned for the challenge that comes building her own business.
She says the ability to choose projects close to her heart and bring exciting opportunities to artists and creatives was the key driving force in her decision to set up alone.
She adds: ‘I dreamed of having my own business for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been fiercely independent, though I am incredibly grateful for the experience I gained from businesses I’ve worked in since graduating.
‘It really helped shape me into the type of businesswoman I am today.’
Vibrant: She commissions a range of colourful artist projects, including one this week – pictured, South Molton Street, London
Zoë says she needed no major cash investment and with little to no overheads, that made things a little easier to get started.
That will not be true for everyone and depending on your profession, job status and what yiu want to do, it is important to weigh up your options before taking the plunge.
Here are Zoë’s top tips for going solo and leveraging your existing experience:
1. Define your superpower
Now is the time to clarify your unique selling points – or USPs. This is actually really helpful even if you’re still in employment.
Too often we’re trying to be multi-tasking perfectionists. Appraisals, probation periods, HR training days and key performance indicators.
Love your work
Zoë specialises in public art commissions.
This ranges from digital art works, murals, immersive displays, temporary architectural structures, interactive installations and ‘any space that provides an exciting opportunity for an artist or designer to showcase their talents.’
Her client base is predominately made up of property developers and landlords.
She credits the artists she works with as being ‘the reason I love getting up every morning.’
The installation that has gone up this week are flags across Mayfair, displayed on Mount Street, North Audley, Duke Street and South Molton.
Belgravia’s flags adorn Elizabeth Street, Motcomb Street, Pimlico Road and Eccleston Street.
The flags will remain across the iconic streets for two months.
We can be guilty of focusing too much emotional energy on the skills we lack, instead of honing the skills we already have.
A natural skill, perfected, is a superpower.
Work on your strengths and be the best that you can be.
Remember, going it alone means you can hire people for the skills you don’t have.
This frees your time to focus on exactly what you excel in.
2. The elevator pitch
Be explicitly clear what you do, and how you do it.
If you can’t summarise something in one sentence, it is probably too complicated.
Provide clarity on what you’re offering to people and they’ll be able to repeat your services to others.
Remember networking doesn’t always happen just when you’re in the room.
3. Jump in head first
You’re never going to feel 100 per cent comfortable, but that is truly where the magic happens.
Start making calls, reach out to people and take small steps every single day, jump in without over-thinking.
Don’t wait for the website to be built, get out there and tell people what you’re doing.
Be a sponge for all the advice you’re going to receive, and remember you don’t have to take on board everything.
You can work things out as you go along. Business is about learning, it’s a steep learning curve but you’re not meant to know it all in one day. Back yourself.
4. Support network
Don’t underestimate how many people will be happy to help you.
Ask for an introduction to a contact, professional or informal advice, or simply a second opinion.
It’s flattering for the person being asked that you respect their opinion.
So many have been in this position and remember the challenges of starting out, and if they haven’t they hugely respect you for doing it.
Just make sure you try to make it a small or easy request, and try to return the favour or acknowledge the gesture.
It can be as simple as taking them out for a (socially distanced) coffee/beer/ice-cream) just keep to your word.
If they’re really busy, send them an email with an interesting and relevant article they might be interested in ‘ I saw this and thought of you’.
People like to be thought of, especially during Covid times. Leads me nicely to my next point…
Flying the flag: Zoë says she hasn’t looked back since going it alone. Pictured, Motcomb Street
5. ASV: Always. Stay. Visible.
The 2020 Covid-19 version of ‘always be closing’. This applies to social media and business platforms like Twitter and Linkedin.
This has never been as imperative as it is now, we’re not able to be visible in the real world until offices, networking events…and let’s face it, the pubs are open again.
Staying visible and heard is crucial to people and potential clients knowing who you are and remembering what you can offer them when the opportunity arises.
Be obsessive about staying up to date with current news in your genre. Be a thought leader.
Share the most interesting articles, start interesting debates and ask interesting questions to your community; with all of the interaction you’ll be having with people, you’re going to get noticed.
Plus the platforms themselves increase your visibility by the more you interact – find one that works, for me it’s LinkedIn – it could be Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – and build build build.