How to become an Internal Communications Consultant?

I’ve been often  asked during breaks at my trainings or in private messages about tips on how to become an Internal Communications Consultant or a freelancer. I haven’t thought this topic may be interested for you, but if such questions appeared, I‘m going to share with you my story. After almost 5 years of being my own boss (I started officially in 2015), I have many thoughts about these years.  

I didn’t want to have my own business!
If someone tried to persuade me to start my own business 6+ years ago, I would have protested strongly. I couldn’t imagine it that time. My full time job was a good and safe option for me. Moreover, I was always involved in interesting tasks and projects at all my jobs and I had a constant feeling I was developing myself. This idea of starting my own company was advised to me while working at the PR agency. When I told my friends what I was responsible for there (I did almost everything, not only running projects but also the management of the team working for such clients as VW, IKEA, EURO 2012 or Bridgestone, I was strongly involved in preparing the PR offers for our new clients, then negotiating contracts with them and the management of the office), my friends asked why I wouldn’t open my own agency if I knew how to deal with it.  

This idea grew in my mind for some time. And when it was finally created and I was to start my business, everything fell apart! Instead of opening my agency along with other very experienced person, I ended up with one person company. So as you see my beginning wasn’t the one I expected and planned to be. Definitely! Today, after years I think it was as it should be  and my situation is good now.

What should you have when you start your business?
The experience and the knowledge in the internal communication are a must. I’ve been  working in the communication field since 2002 – first I worked as a journalist, then in the PR and the IC. I had an opportunity to become familiar with the IC in the corporation, but what was the most valuable was my work for the PR agency where I l managed many different projects. Before joining the PR force, I worked as a  journalist for two biggest TV stations in my country (TVP and TVN in Poland) and for two radio stations in my city which gave me very interesting experience in communications.

Another essential element you need to have is an idea for your business. It should be well-considered and written down (no, not thoughts in your head only – when you write your ideas down you see more and have opportunity to analyse them – do it!). It is worth checking the internet to get to know your competitors and their steps. You may look for inspirations abroad as well. But I warn you against a simple copy-paste move of someone’s ideas for business. It may work but only for a moment. If you don’t have your own concept for your business and its development, your enthusiasm and ideas may end just after the start. Moreover, you can’t copy someone’s experience and knowledge.

Having a vision of your company and you in it is very important. While running your business you may chase the ideas of your competitors. But it’s worth keeping in mind the goal you chose at the beginning not to let yourself for easy changes, following or imitating others. For example, it was never my aim to create an IC agency with a team. And I’m always surprised when people ask me about it. And they usually can’t understand that the situation I currently have at my company is a perfect solution for me and it fits me perfectly. I don’t have a need to hire people or to open branches of my company. It’s not my goal now. Maybe it’ll change one day as it was with my thoughts against having my own business.

Another very important issue is called money. What amount of savings will be the best to have when you start your business? It’s very personal and everyone has to consider it for themselves. I think it’s good to have savings for minimum 6 months without any income from your business or with low incomes from it or maybe even for one year if you can afford to collect it. I had my savings for few months only. But it was very helpful for me to have worked part time for my previous employer (I asked my boss for switching from a full time job to a part time one for some time). It gave me time to develop my business. But almost one year before that move I worked full time and additionally afterhours I worked on my website, the blog and acquiring the first clients – it was very hard to combine those 2 jobs.     

How to find your first clients?
First, you should tell your family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues about your business and its offer. In my case it worked well, although many people didn’t understand the idea of the IC. I also tried to look for my first clients on my own. Due to my work in the PR agency I knew how to prepare an offer, how to talk with clients and ask about their expectations.  

It’s crucial to take care of your image (you need to have an idea for it) and to promote your business. A professional website, a Facebook fan page (if it’s popular in your country; it’s in Poland where I live) and a profile on LinkedIn are helpful and useful. And what’s more important, they must live! And don’t tell me you don’t have ideas or time. It means you don’t have ideas and time for your business. As far as I’m concerned my internal communication blog, my website and my blog’s social media are like my additional client. It’s very time and energy consuming but rewarding.  

My first big client appeared three months after my official start (‘official’ means the date I registered my company – in July 2015; my blog was available earlier with regular posts published there). It was Volkswagen (they have three HQs for their Polish businesses in my city – a few manufacturing factories, the selling company and the shared service unit). Nowadays I think it was a miracle. But later I had more such miracles as well – e.g. my cooperation with Lidl or with the London-based well-known IC agency – Gatehouse, to help them run their international project one part which concerned my country.  

Is it profitable?
It’s a very individual issue. Everyone has their own professional expectations and financial needs. The start is usually difficult, so it’s worth having some savings. But after weeks or months you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel and after years your situation will start to stabilise. I think this moment arrived after three years of very hard work in my business. There are weeks now when I feel overloaded and the ones when I can take a rest. I spend this time  preparing content for my blog in advance and looking for new ideas for the development of my company.    

How to find motivation for your work?  
I’ve often heard this question and must admit it always makes me smile. How to find motivation to wake up in the morning when you have your business? We have different reasons why we work. I love what I do, the internal communication is my passion, I love writing my blog because of my journalistic background. Furthermore, if I had the contracts with my clients waiting for results of our cooperation, I couldn’t imagine not waking up in the morning and not starting to do my job.   

Who shouldn’t think about becoming the independent consultant?
If you are going to be the IC, HR or PR consultant and you expect to have a 9/5 work at the beginning, you may be disappointed. I haven’t met any entrepreneur who works less than at a full time job in the first years of running their businesses. Maybe after years when your position in the filed you operate is stable, you may afford a better work organization and work less.

In my option this kind of work isn’t also for people who have problems with self-motivation, with working alone and from a home office. Also for those who wish to have quick results. Developing any business needs some time, a lot of patience (I’m still learning it), your huge engagement and determination.  

Is it worth being the independent IC consultant?
I don’t want to end this post cheerlessly. After almost 5 years of running my own IC business, I must honestly admit it was totally worth it! I cooperate with amazing people, meet constantly new IC professionals and get the feeling I’m developing myself. Moreover, successes taste different when you run your own business. Unfortunately, failures as well, but we have to keep in minds while running our businesses that they are a part of life.  

Good luck with your business journey. If you have any questions concerning my adventure as the independent IC consultant, I’m available on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

This blog post is also available in Polish here: Jak zostać konsultantem komunikacji wewnętrznej?


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