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Providing leadership for the life sciences industry

Making the leap into self-employment? Don’t be an interim lemming

Deciding to work for yourself is a big leap of faith and varies considerably from the well-trodden path of employment. 

So, it pays to plan first, leap second. Doesn’t it?

Interim Management is simply a way to describe how a skilled or executive level individual presents their skills to their chosen market. People start interim work for many reasons – they may be seeking a working relationship that reflects what’s important to them, a better work-life balance, variety across a diverse client base, or a way to maximise earning potential.

And the market agrees – with the rise and rise of the flexible worker, the growing number of interim executives, and the approach of the gig economy, workers are becoming increasingly empowered to work where, when and how they wish. 

So why do many who seek to travel this path set off with little or no knowledge of what’s involved?

Leaping first, planning second? 

I am frequently talking to professionals who have jumped in at the deep end and decided to set up to provide interim services. Is there anything wrong with that? 

The short answer is no. But it greatly depends on the person and their method of presenting their skills to a new audience. Taking an approach to solution selling that goes “ready, fire, then aim in flight,” works well for people who can genuinely multi-task and adjust on the fly. Self-confidence is high and the expectation is that work will follow activity. 

Given enough time, it often does. This is solution selling where the initial conversation with the market has a flexible approach built in. It requires an active listening approach, searching for that opportunity to apply skills to, or at the very least to sow seeds for the future.

Ready, aim, fire!

So, what about those of us who need to pre-plan to maximise our results (that’s most of us by the way)? 

This is where I am often surprised when talking to recently established interims. Many people who start in the same way – by walking off into the unknown, armed with enthusiasm to provide a service – find themselves in a difficult situation a few months later, wondering why they’ve been struggling to secure work. The difference in success can be for very subtle reasons, and it’s a discussion I would encourage all new interims to have. In effect, write yourself a business case.

Selling 

Do you really want to sell yourself, every day of the week, year after year? For many, that answer is not really. In a typical permanent job hunt, you will be actively selling yourself for a few months and then that gene is switched off for the next three to five years. 

It’s also true that selling comes more naturally to some of us than others; some people are energised by it, whereas others are drained. Which type are you?  If you are the latter, how will you ensure that it doesn’t impact you six months into setting up, when you’re tired, feeling the burn and in need of a rest.

But what are you selling?

It’s that classic elevator moment when asked, “what do you do”? It’s not enough to simply state your associated job title and expect the recipient to have that eureka moment and hire you on the spot. It pays dividends to consider where your sweet spot is, and how it applies to the market you are targeting. 

The more you specialise, the easier it is to paint a picture of the value you add; however, specialise too far and it may narrow your market opportunity. But that could be offset by opening up the geography to acquire a level of repeat work.

It’s all about striking a balance.

What if your skills are more generalised? Leadership is a highly sought-after trait, but a very generalised statement of skill. Likewise, so is business development. So, if your core go-to market message is one of business development, how do you differentiate that statement enough to create a personal brand or focus around your offering?

It takes time, and the more you plan up front, the more you can tailor your message and importantly objection handle where needed.

Flexibility

Flexibility swings both ways remember. Starting your business model off by stating that you will only work 3 days a week implies you will be turning down that first client who needs full time commitment and has no interest in compromise. What will you do here – stick to your guns and lose a client, or take the plunge but lose out on your preferred operating model? 

Would you agree if it was only for 3 months? What if the need to extend arrives and you simply can’t do full time any more, but the client will not or cannot compromise? In other words, the market needs are not always as black or white or as you might expect, so plan for these scenarios and give yourself some guidelines to shape your decision making.

No rest for the wicked

Clients seeking an interim solution have a desire to bring in expertise, fast. There is no place for ‘maybes’ here – it’s can you and will you, and if the answer is yes, how quickly can you accommodate their requirements and how soon will the client start to see results?

Take time out of your schedule to think carefully about your product. Who is your key audience, and how will you show them evidence of your skills and availability? What’s your expenses or business development budget and how often will you be on the road selling yourself? What events will you attend and importantly, how will you keep your CPD file current across the years ahead? How will you build an understanding of your rate card, and benchmark this to ensure you are not under or over pricing for your time? 

So, our advice here is, if in doubt, think about the 5 P’s: prior planning prevents poor performance. The right preparation can create a softer landing for the leap into self-employment. With the correct groundwork in place, you will be in a stronger position to start enjoying the benefits of interim work sooner, working where, when and how you wish. 

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