Xanthe Vaughan Williams
Setting up your own business
Xanthe co-founded PR agency Fourth Day when the youngest of her four children was two years old and the oldest was eight, so she has first-hand experience of combining parenthood and entrepreneurship.12 years on, with two children still living at home, she continues to work a four day week running the company’s London office.
It sounds as though you have lots of choices! You clearly have many skills so why not start by identifying the top 5 things that matter most to you. How important is money? What is it about being your own boss that you enjoy most?
Also think about what you don’t want to do. At the moment you’re feeling stressed because of the lack of flexibility so you might want to eliminate any of the options, such as virtual assistant, that would require you to be available at fixed times.
Working initially as a freelancer could be a good way to start before launching yourself into anything that requires a large investment of time and/or money. Have a look at www.freelancer.co.uk, which manages a wide range of services – it might give you more ideas.
Overall, my recommendation would be to avoid starting your own business until you’re sure that you have found something you love doing. Being your own boss is great but a growing business is also hugely demanding so make sure you’re completely committed to whatever you decide to do. Take your time, don’t rush in, and I’m sure you’ll make the right decision.
If you are going to start gently, working on your own and continuing to work part time, the best option may well be for you to set up as a sole trader rather than registering a limited company. To help you decide, there is a very helpful government site to help you chose the right structure for you: https://www.gov.uk/business-legal-structures.
Other things to take into account when you start out as a small business are:
Credit control. I’m not sure exactly what form your business will take, but if you are having to spend money on materials, make sure that you are keeping a tight control on payments form customers. Cash flow is still one of the most common reasons for the failure of small businesses and it’s surprising how some of the nicest people turn out to be the ones who pay late or even fail to pay at all.
Publicity. Your website will be your shop window so spend time (and maybe some money) getting it right. It doesn’t have to be complicated, unless you are selling online, but it needs to be clear and attractive and to encourage people to contact you! Social media will help, so link your site to a Facebook page and ask your friends to ‘like’ it.
Contracts. If you’re entering into long term relationships with anyone – suppliers, partners, employees, customers - always set down the essentials of your agreement in writing. You don’t necessarily need a lawyer, just a clear document that states what you’ve agreed. It’s not about taking people to court (which is awful and should be avoided if at all possible,) but having things in writing can really help avoid misunderstandings. It will probably seem unnecessary when you’re at the exciting “setting up” stage but if things go wrong, an agreement you can both refer to will avoid arguing about who promised what.
I’m sure you’ll quickly find that running a business is a lot less complicated than you may think. There’s no doubt that it’s hard work, but it can be incredibly rewarding and I wish you lots of luck!
It’s really common among women to feel that if we’ve passed our mid-thirties that we’re mumsy and middle-aged – and we notoriously under-sell ourselves. But it sounds as though you’ve got loads going for you. Freelancing is tough – I’m really impressed that you’ve managed to keep going with the constant hustling for work that comes with it, while raising a family.
How to raise your profile more now? Maybe start by taking a look at how you’re presenting yourself to the outside world. Do you have a website? If so, what image is it giving out? Are you presenting yourself as someone that you’d like to work with if you were looking on from the outside? If you have a blog on your site, could you be offering advice on your specialist subjects? (and if you don’t have a specialist subject, choose one!) These things all help to reinforce the fact that you are an expert in your field and they will also help search engines to find you. And if you have time, really get to grips with social media and make sure that you are posting lots of comments with links back to your site. All this will help people to know that you’re there.
And finally, if you’re feeling un-confident, I recommend looking into the Everywoman network https://www.everywoman.com/ - they provide lots of help and tips on how to push your career forward, tailored specifically for women.
Good luck - I’m sure you’ll do it!
I think you’ll probably need to talk to an accountant about which option is best for your specific situation in terms of tax.
It’s not difficult to set up as either, though – and the government provides a quite an informative outline of the key differences in legal status between operating as a sole trader or a limited business.
You don’t mention what your other experience is, but it’s essential that you understand enough about the recruitment business before you attempt to set up in competition with people who will have been working in the sector for years!
I’d suggest that you do work in a recruitment agency, even if it’s only for a few months, to try and learn some of the tricks of the trade. It may be that you will come up with a completely different way of charging and operating that will make you unique in the market – but in that case, you will be in a position to be clear about what makes you different.
Money spent on research is seldom wasted, so take your time and look around at your new competitors – it’ll be worth it!