Going it alone

first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. Haveyou ever thought of setting up on your own as an occupational healthconsultant? While this style of working will not suit everyone, the benefits ofbeing your own boss can be yours through determination and by adopting aprofessional approach, by  CynthiaAtwell Running my own consultancy was something I had always wanted to do. However,due to personal circumstances it was not possible until I resigned as Head ofOH Nursing with BUPA Occupational Health in July 1999. At that time I did not know what my next move would be. I took three monthsout to take stock of my life, decide what I wanted to do and, most importantly,spend time with my family and friends. Travelling to London from Staffordshireevery day for seven years had not left much time for anything other than work. This article, based on personal experience, provides information andpresents ideas for those who aspire to work as an independent consultant. According to the DfEE’s Labour Market Trends for 19971, 99 per cent of UKbusinesses are small and medium-sized enterprises – SMEs, employing fewer than50 people, with nine out of 10 firms employing fewer than five people. TheHSC’s Occupational Health Advisory Committee’s 1999 report2 also discusses thechanging patterns of employment and the effects this has on the provision ofoccupational health to the working population. Reports such as these have had a significant impact on the number of privateoccupational health services and independent occupational health consultants.The trend towards smaller businesses, short-term and part-time contracts, andhomeworking, has made the provision of occupational health services moredifficult. Therefore, to increase the opportunities for people to have betteraccess to services, there has been a massive growth in freelance consultants. Opportunities for occupational health consultants have never been greater,as companies look for more flexible and accessible services. However, workingindependently does have its problems and challenges. The main challenges are: – Deciding on what services you can provide, how and to whom – Setting up the business – should you be self-employed or form a limitedcompany? – Deciding on pricing – how much to charge – Obtaining work – promoting yourself, what services should you offer, howshould you advertise? – Obtaining the skills to manage your own business, such as basicaccounting, dealing with tax and VAT, understanding data protection issues – Deciding what office equipment will you need, including computer hardwareand software systems and their costs – The practical aspects – managing letter and report writing, invoicing,setting up and managing records and filing systems – Developing links for access to other advice and support, such asoccupational medicine, hygiene and safety. It is also vital to monitor yourstandards – auditing and peer review must be included To address some of these challenges I made contact with the Training andEnterprise Council in my local area. The TEC provides information, support andtraining for setting up in business. Most of its services are free and itprovides ongoing support for up to a year which I found invaluable. I did afive-day course, which covered the basics of setting up in business, including:– Calculating a survival budget – Assessing the market and forecasting the first year’s sales – Tax, VAT, insurance, record keeping and accounting – Cashflow planning A business plan At the end of the five days attendees were expected to produce a businessplan for our proposed ventures. While business planning is something I had beeninvolved with in many of my previous jobs, doing it for yourself is verydifferent. The business plan is a fundamental document for any business. It helps tocrystallise and focus ideas, set objectives and to monitor performance. It is avital tool when dealing with the bank if you need to secure financial backingor overdraft facilities. Whether you decide to be self-employed as a sole trader or trade as alimited company must be your own decision and depends on what you are planningto do. This also applies to whether or not you register for VAT, which iscontrolled by turnover. The present limit for VAT is up to £51,000 turnover ayear, after which it is a legal requirement to register. I decided to registeras a matter of course, having obtained advice from the local enterprisecouncil. This has advantages when buying supplies, and most of the companies Ideal with expect their suppliers to be VAT registered. I set up as a sole trader as I did not intend to develop the business to thepoint where I had to start employing others. However, had I been startingearlier in my career, I would probably have set up as a limited company. Calculating tax and national insurance contributions was another aspect ofbusiness covered on the course. Although an accountant will do this for you itis always wise to know how it is done so that you can check and feel incontrol. Having good office equipment is important – a computer is essential,together with the right software to help manage the business. There are a number of good software packages available, which will produceinvoices, automatically transfer the details to your business money account andultimately produce information for the VAT return and financial year-endinformation, at the press of a button. My original business plan objectives and services I intended to provide havechanged greatly over the past three years. Although I did carry out someadvertising and circulated information leaflets to various organisations, mostof the work I have obtained has been by word of mouth. Therefore I would notadvise anyone to spend a lot on advertising. It is also important to targetadvertising to specific businesses. Professional challenges One of the issues I was concerned about was working alone as apart from myfirst post in occupational health, I had always worked in a team and latterlyhad been leading interdisciplinary teams. However, to overcome this I havemaintained contact with many of my medical, hygiene and nursing colleagues –something that is vital in accessing support and advice when needed. Setting professional standards The need to have written professional standards is paramount to practiceanywhere and even more so as an independent practitioner. Customers need to knowwhat you can provide, how you will provide it and what the professionalparameters are. When negotiating for work a contract of prices and service levels isnormally agreed, but just as important is the need to draw up an agreement onthe professional standards that will apply. As a minimum these standards shouldinclude reference to the Nursing and Midwifery Council Code of ProfessionalConduct; confidentiality; data protection and access to medical records;medical reports; and sickness absence management. This approach will mean there should be no surprises and will stop customersmaking requests that could be unethical or breach confidentiality. However,this cannot be guaranteed. Insurance and professional indemnity No OH nurse should be working without professional indemnity insurance. WhenOH nurses are employed, employers have vicarious liability for their actions,however self-employment is a different matter, so cover is vital. You should consider the need for public liability insurance and seek advicefrom your insurers. There are differing views on the need for consultants tohave public liability insurance and much will depend on the type of work youintend to carry out and the possibility of harm to the person or damage toproperty, when carrying out those services. Organisational cultures Working independently means that you could be working with many differentorganisations, both in the public and private sector. SMEs are the main targetsas most of the large multinational companies either have an in-house service orare serviced by the larger, private occupational health providers. However, there are also opportunities available in some large companies,which are looking for local provision and do not want to deal with the majorproviders. These companies will usually have their own general policies andprocedures, controlled at head office, but want local needs to be the priorityand there is room for innovation here. This variety means that you have to adapt on a daily basis to changingcultures. Some of the businesses I deal with have a very casual approach tobusiness and they expect me to be the same, and this can be a challenge if youare more used to a formal approach. Conclusion The advantages of working as a freelance consultant far outweigh thedisadvantages. Some people see being a consultant as the last resort, when you cannot doanything else. It is quite the opposite. You must be a self-starter, set high professionalstandards and work to them, be self-disciplined; have good procedures; apositive manner and the ability to deal with all types of customers. You can do it by adopting the right positive attitude towards hard work, anacceptance that things will not always go the way you have planned and theright personality to cope with disappointments. My only regret is that I did not work for myself earlier in my career,although on reflection the time might not have been right before. I would now find it very difficult to be an employee. I would hate losingthe degree of control I now have and the thought of, once again, being placedunder pressure and stress by someone else is unthinkable. The main secret of success is to set yourself up in a professional way andmake sure you have good computer systems. Ensure you have a good supportnetwork of professional colleagues – without this there would have been timeswhen I would have given up. After that all you need is the sheer determinationto succeed. References 1.DfEE (1998) Labour market trends for 1997 and the DTI Statistical PressRelease P/98/5972. HSC (1999) OHAC Report and Recommendations on improving access tooccupational health support, Good health is good business and Our healthiernation. London: HSC. – The Enterprise Agency/ Business Advice Service – contact your local branch– Business Link tel: 0345 202122. – The Enterprise Zone (backed by UK Government) www.enterprisezone.org.uk – Federation of Small Businesses website www.fsb.org.uk Feedback It would be good to hear how other freelance consultants have managed.Perhaps we can start a discussion through Occupational Health, e-mail theeditor on: [email protected]  or write to: Occupational Health, 3rd Floor,Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5AS Cynthia Atwell is an independent occupational health consultant Benefits to the client – Independent advice – no hidden agenda, able to focus on customers’ needs– No pressure from a bigger organisation to sell otherservices, that are not necessarily needed– Development of specific services to meet the needs of thecompany – Easier access, direct contact with the service providerwithout having to go through others– Personal service with direct access to the consultant– Can be more cost-effective – fewer overheads– Flexibility of service. Many companies want to call foradvice and/or request a visit at varying times, they do not always want routinevisits. This can usually be easier to manage with an independent consultantPros and cons of working freelancePros– Providing the services you want to provide and the freedom todo that– Working the hours and days you want to work – although thiscan also be a disadvantage as the paperwork can mean working at weekends tokeep things under control– Setting and controlling your own professional standards– More opportunity to develop good relationships with customers– Having control of your own workload– Being able to be more innovative in service delivery– Being able to be more ‘accountable’, making your own decisionsCons– Working in isolation, without the immediate support of thewider organisation and team– Keeping up with paperwork, particularly invoicing and VATreturns Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Going it aloneOn 1 Sep 2002 in Personnel Todaylast_img

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