Turning a specialist or professional skill into a business service

Many executives are fortunate enough to be able to take a salary cut in their fifty plus years and the prospect of working from home and offering a specialist service as an independent consultant or freelance professional really appeals. Others want to develop a high fee earning consultancy or freelance professional business.

These are the most asked about businesses in our experience. This is why BAB Limited wrote the best selling manual and support service “The Essential Guide to Earning a Living From Independent Consultancy” and why we also run the one day workshop, “So you Want to be An Independent Consultant or Free-lance Professional?” in many major locations around the UK.

Our top tip is that however much or little you need to earn from independent consultancy or being a freelance professional, you must set it up as serious business with a well defined ‘offer’ that you must always keep up to date and you must concentrate a significant percentage of your available time on marketing and selling your service.

Becoming a Board Director

If you are, or have operated, at board level, then you may be in demand with your particular expertise as a non executive board director. Typically working 4-6 days a month on your board responsibilities, assisting on strategy and mentoring executive directors, you may expect to receive £12,000 or more. Government Agencies, trusts, charities and other non profit organisations also seek non executive directors. It is more likely that you will find board appointments either in companies within sectors you fully understand, or with companies in related sectors that require your specialist knowledge as well as your board effectiveness. Like interim management, there are a number of the large executive recruitment agencies and some professional institutes that provide board appointment services.

Then, if you want an alternative to the Ernst and Young and Institute of Directors’ sites to which you can link to from the Independent Director, or all the other big names in Executive and Non executive Board recruitment, you could try one of the numerous subscription services for which you pay a fee to help you get a position. I have no experience of using them and I’m very wary of recommending one, so let me know if you’ve been helped by any. A relatively new one that started in 2003 is called the Non Exec Register and its website intrigues me. It costs £50 a year plus a £50 initial registration, so please understand that I don’t know if it works.

A brand new business idea

You may be gripped by the entrepreneurial spirit (even though I’ve co-run my own business for eighteen years I just can’t help thinking of new ways to build a mega-business). It is likely though that you’ll need some other key people to help you test your idea and start successfully. These people may be friends or relatives, professional advisers, bankers, potential partners, future key suppliers, future key customers or potential distributors.

You will almost certainly require investment money to help you turn your idea into a successful business. If it is likely to be a business requiring investment and staff and looking to grow over the first few years, then you’ll find there is a lot of government and private sector support available to you. In many ways the government’s Small Business Service, which delivers its services through Business Links around England, was set up for you (in Scotland it is Scottish Enterprise and in northern Ireland InvestNorthern Ireland and in Wales the Business Connect Network can help).

So start off by going to www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/home. Many of the banks are equally useful, for example clearlybusiness.com. Then, if you want to look for business angels or venture capitalist matching organisations that will help finance your venture, subject to a great plan, pick up all the information you’ll need to put together before approaching business angels and venture capitalists.

If you need self-employed Sales Agents to sell your products or services on a commission-only basis, then talk to AgentBase – the UK Sales Agent Register on 0800 018 3034, or visit agentbase.co.uk.

Considering taking on a Franchise

Every month on one trip from London I buy one or both of the main franchise magazines from WHSmith on the station. I admit to a bias and I primarily look at those franchises that are members of the British Franchise Association because I reckon, why spend £15k to £200k on buying a format business to operate if you’re unsure whether the format is really proven in practice?

You’ll find that the number of recruitment, training, accountancy, business-to-business services, print and reprographics, business coaching, ICT, courier and other franchises more suitable for executives continually increases, but if you’ve got good sales and management skills, then many of the franchises serving the public, rather than businesses, are still worth a look. The British Franchise Association website can give you a lot of information about the benefits of franchising and what to look out for.

Then, if you want to start searching for a franchise to set up or even get a resale of an existing franchise, go to betheboss.co.uk

Sales Commission / Bonus independent businesses

I think there are four main types, of which the biggest, in terms of people involved, is direct selling. Direct selling includes network, referral and multi-level marketing and I really enjoyed my time as Chief Executive in the mid eighties of one of the leaders in this field – Amway UK. Whether it is household, personal ( e.g. cosmetics, skin care, jewellery), clothes, nutrition, fitness and lifestyle products or services (e.g. utilities and telecom) that you sell, you will normally only increase your earnings to a full time business income when you also recruit and build a network of other distributors, when you support and for when you receive bonuses from their sales to customers. Of course, many golden entrepreneurs like to have a portfolio of ways to build their independent income and joining a direct selling company can be an ideal part of the portfolio. You can find links to all the Direct Selling Association member companies and understand the safeguards and regulations in place to protect you at www.dsa.org.uk.

When it comes to looking at direct selling businesses, I’m also a sucker for reading every page of Making Money magazine. They have a website too, www.makingmoney.co.uk, which includes every kind of opportunity in direct selling and in franchising. Well worth a look.

You may also wish to become a dealer or distributorship with premises to hold and supply stock from for a UK manufacturer or distributor. A friend of mine built a highly successful business with office furniture dealerships and another colleague with fork lift trucks. These often require quite a large financial commitment, but if you are a sole dealership the manufacturer will assist you. Searching for dealership opportunities in industry sectors in which you’re interested is usually speeded up by a call to the appropriate trade association to find out which companies offer dealer or distributorship.

Clearly another big area is the highly regulated providing of financial services on a commission only basis. An ex member of our BAB team left us, in his late fifties, to go it alone in the financial services sector, after what appeared to be a really difficult training period (and the training never stops) he is now making a good income. You may like to take a look at this. I think a really good initial way of finding out about being an Independent Financial Adviser is to go to one of the web sites that explains why one should take advice from an IFA such as Pension Sorter