Nick Bell completed an MSC in Occupational Safety and Health in 2012 and is currently studying for his PHD. In September 2014, Nick gave up his well-paid job as a risk consultant in an insurance firm to start his own business. Here he tells us why:
I have a lot of experience in the risk management industry having worked as a Construction Safety Manager at a university for four years and then a further two years as a risk consultant with a global insurance firm. I was in a well-paid and secure job but I felt dissatisfied. I wanted to provide services to clients in my own way without being straight-jacketed into the corporate way of doing things (which often involved offering bland, generic solutions).
I decided to start my own business as a risk consultant, offering design risk management support and health and safety consultancy and training. When I launched the business I started with a completely blank page – I had no clients lined up and this was rather daunting. However the business took off very quickly and within just a week of launching the business I had an opportunity to travel to Milan to work with my first client.
Before I launched the business I approached the Centre for Student Entrepreneurship and received one-to-one support from their Business Start-up Manager. He was really helpful in giving me the opportunity to talk through my plans logically. He also helped by giving me critical things that I needed to think about such as the legal structure of the business. It was also helpful just talking through my ideas and having that reassurance that I was on the right track.
Since then things have gone from strength to strength and I am now working with a range of clients across the UK and Europe, from global organisations to the Mayor of my local town! I am involved in projects such as an urban regeneration project in central London, to a £120m development of an island in the heart of a historic industrial zone in Scotland.
The last 6 months has been a rollercoaster ride and my feet have barely touched the ground! While it has been financially rewarding, I have really enjoyed providing services that are tailored around the needs of my clients. I have had very positive feedback which has reassured me that I am hitting the mark.
One of the best things about being self-employed is that I have the flexibility to choose my working hours. This means that I have been able to fit the business around my studies, as well as the individual needs of my clients.
My studies are also shaping the business. I have had the opportunity to write articles in professional magazines and this has led to further enquiries and opportunities. My track record of 'thought leadership' sets me apart from many other professionals working in my field. As a result I am now looking at expanding the business into helping organisations work more effectively with their employees, harnessing their creativity, energy and abilities to improve organisational performance. This will include areas such as enhancing coaching and transformational leadership skills, exploring the organisation's values and understanding how these shape the employees' working life.
My advice to anyone starting a business is to have clarity as to exactly what the business is at the very beginning. It's much easier to market your business if you have a clear target market and a specific service/product that you're offering. I would also stress the importance of getting your branding right. It really helps to build the company's reputation if you can present yourself as a professional in every aspect of your service and presentation.
I would also say that it's important to know your strengths and your limitations. Get help for the things that you're not so good at and make sure you don't take on anything that you can't see through – it will impact on your reputation in the long run if you do.
I would also say that networking is really important – go to events in your industry/field and get yourself known. A large majority of my business came through LinkedIn. I connected with people that I had worked with throughout my career. Make sure you build and utilise these connections when you're starting out.
Finally I would recommend working on your 'elevator pitch', i.e. being able to explain what your business is clearly and concisely in layman's terms. When you're starting your business you're going to meet lots of people and have lots of opportunities to talk about your business so it's important to get that just right.