Starting a business during a pandemic

Alice Solaiman

Copy | Content | Strategy

The good, the bad and everything in between…

When I left the security of my full-time job at the end of February, I had a clear plan for what would happen next. What I hadn’t bargained for, was a global pandemic that would turn almost everything upside down.

In search of the elusive ‘balance’, I’d weighed up the pros and cons of a freelance life for a long time. But the birth of my daughter in 2018 clarified my intent, and I resolved to make it work.

Fast forward to March this year, and my plans were somewhat up in the air. How could I possibly sell my services when the world was in crisis? Would my network, let alone anyone else, want to work with me? Especially when organisations were (and still are) facing an uncertain future.

While there is much we don’t know about what lies ahead, with remote working a reality for many organisations, communication has become a default priority.

In some cases, organisations are looking for external expertise because they don’t have the internal capacity to keep up with the demand for words.

‘Business as usual’ might be a thing of the past, but I’ve found that the same principles of selling, marketing and writing remain crucial:

  • It pays to be clear about the services you offer. In the long run, it can be counterproductive to take on a job just for the sake of it, and it can help to avoid getting caught out when talking to potential clients.
  • Likewise, be clear about who you want to work with. My background is working for large corporates in the legal, and professional services industry, so it made sense to shortlist some ‘ideal’ clients within that pool as a starting point to focus on.
  • No-one will magically know how you can help them unless you put yourself out there. It can seem overwhelming with so many different channels, so I asked for advice and now focus on just 2. Over time I hope this ‘quality over quantity’ approach will garner the results I’m looking for – and for now, it involves a realistic level of time and energy to maintain
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your network or people you admire within your field. A no-brainer, right? But I felt surprisingly nervous about reaching out. Needless to say, it’s entirely worth doing
  • Know your worth, and set your prices accordingly. Few people I know like talking about money, but pro-bono projects aside, why risk doing work if a client isn’t prepared or able to pay for it?
  • Set up some basic systems and processes so that you are not caught out by admin or adding to your stress levels by misplacing files
  • If you’re in a position to do so, hire an accountant to make sure you’re keeping on top of the financial side of things. This was one of the things I was most anxious about when thinking about leaving my permanently employed life. Yes, it costs, but it also takes away an element of worry, frees up a significant amount of time, and a good accountant can provide valuable insight throughout the life of your business (I have already implemented some ways of working suggested by mine)
  • Pitch, pitch and pitch again. I suspect this is always true to a certain extent, but even more so during times of uncertainty. There are opportunities out there, but not always immediately.  As I get to grips with exactly how and when to make approaches and get more comfortable ‘selling’ – more often than not, it’s a case of trial and error

It’s still early days, and I’m learning on the job: I’ve had some fantastic experiences with clients and some less so.

But in these strange times, I’ve never been more grateful for the flexibility this career shift has afforded me, and I’ve also never worked harder to get jobs out the door for my clients.

COVID-19 may have added an extra layer of complexity to the start of my business journey, but I’d be willing to bet it won’t be what defines it in the long term.

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