Five years ago this month I finally summoned up courage to call my boss and tell her I was going to leave the company’s employment and go it alone. After 13 years I had decided that I did have what it takes to be successful managing my own affairs and creating my own opportunities as a consultant.
She was extremely collaborative and supportive, and we even agreed a plan whereby I would continue to work with them on one client where I had played a principal role. This work alone would constitute 60% of the annual revenue I had calculated I would need to survive my first year in the Big Wide World. What you might call a “soft landing”. I was delighted with my luck.
A couple of days later Lehman Brothers did their thing, the financial world imploded, and the rest is history. Being the optimist I am, I didn’t recognise the threat this might present to my cosy little revenue plan, and I bumbled along naively serving out my notice with my employer. The financial crisis was affecting tax payers and investors of course, but it had no immediate impact on me.
Or so I thought. Then it happened. I remember it in gory detail. It was freezing cold night in December, and I had 2 weeks of employment to work before going self employed. I was sitting in the car at 11 pm waiting to collect my son from work (he was a carless chef, one of the most inconvenient combinations known to fatherhood). I checked my Blackberry. My heart stopped.
In quick succession there were two emails from the client with whom I was supposed to be doing all this work in my new freelance capacity. In both of them the Leadership programmes that I was working on were cancelled indefinitely owing to a corporate ban on travel for training. In the space of two minutes my exit strategy was blown away.
I learnt a lot in the next few days, not just about myself but about the pros and cons of self employment, and what to do when it doesn’t go to plan. Here are a few of the big ones:
- It never goes to plan. Have a plan, but plan for it not to work out. (Often it works out far better than you planned, by the way).
- Respond quickly. When the plan gets wrecked, do something about it straight away. I jumped right onto it, spoke to two key people who were driving things and negotiated a flexible alternative (which in one case allowed me to deliver elements of the programme from home instead of in the USA).
- Don’t take no for an answer. When it doesn’t go to plan, test things and be creative in looking for alternative approaches.
- Don’t panic. It achieves nothing.
- Don’t give up. I never told my wife about what had happened until after it had been resolved and I was well under way. I saw no point in two people stressing over something that I could handle myself if I kept my nerve.
But also maybe it was the best possible start. I came through it, and I think I learnt that if you keep your cool, things tend to work themselves out. I am sure it made me stronger mentally, and was therefore a positive experience.
Don’t get me wrong: I still get “wobbles” and moments of self doubt. But at the back of my mind I know that if I could come through that, I can probably come through anything. It’s a lesson learnt the hard way – the story of my life really!
© Jürgen Fälchle – Fotolia.com