Anna Sebastian went from a decade in operations to becoming a consultant. If you’re thinking of making the step, here’s how…
I never really planned to set up my own business, I was happy working in-house with the safety and security of knowing when my next pay check was. So, when in January 2022 I left my salaried job, I started to think that maybe, I could do something on my own.
I weighed up my skill set and experience and realised that, instead of working in hospitality venues – which I’d done for 10-plus years – I could work alongside them. I could help them to grow and develop their businesses and create a strategy that drew on the areas I enjoy: the creative process, recruitment, menu development and commercial partnerships.
If you’re thinking about making similar steps, you will have your own skill sets, experience and interests to draw on. Once you have worked out where you want to work – my sector is luxury hospitality – then you just have to get started. I began by reaching out to businesses that I thought might want to work with me. Which is how I got my first client.
When I first started out, I honestly didn’t know what I was doing, I had no back-up, no real savings or knowledge on how to set up on my own. But more than a year on, after a lot of mistakes and a lot of learning, it has worked.
When you don’t know when your first pay cheque is coming, the quicker you learn the ropes, the better. Here are my top five tips for going solo as a bar industry consultant.
It might sound obvious, but you need to know what self-employment entails. So read the government advice on working for yourself – it really is helpful. You’ll operate as self-employed initially to just get going, and to do that you need to tell HMRC that you pay tax through Self Assessment. This means you’ll need to file a tax return every year.
It’s only recommended setting up as a limited company once you reach the threshold of £85K. This is when you need to register for VAT. You can trade under your own name, or you can choose another name for your business. You do not need to register your name but must include your name and business name (if you have one) on official paperwork, for example invoices and letters.
Money might be short when you start, but if there is one thing to invest in, it is a good accountant as they will be your saving grace when it comes to paperwork, expenses and tax returns, as well as advising you on your company’s finances. This is important especially if you are looking to buy a house and they need financial records.
It’s important to save money every month, as you need this for your tax return plus keep some back ‘just in case’. I promise you, it will give you that security you need. If organisation is not your strength, then put systems in place to make sure you are invoicing on time. Just as much as it drives us mad when companies are late paying, it equally drives them mad when we are late invoicing. There are so many apps, or simply set a reminder on your calendar and have that on repeat.
Expenses. Within reason, everything is expendable, meaning that you get 20% VAT back as long as it is business relatable. For example, if you work from home, a percentage of your wifi can be expensed. There are different rules for being selfemployed and owning a limited company, so make sure you read up on this.
Contracts and pay
If you are issuing contracts, invest in getting contract templates made. Do not download them from the internet – they will likely not be fit for use, nor binding. If you are receiving contracts, read, read and read again. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for amendments if you do not agree on a point. This is part of the negotiation period to make sure both parties are happy.
A lot of people ask: “How much should I charge?” Well, you need to know your market and know your worth. Ask people what they charge – some will tell you, some won’t, but you will begin to get an idea. What are they asking you to do, how long will it take? Are they asking for social media posts in addition to your work? All of this has a value. Being fair is important but it is much easier to negotiate when you set the bar high. No company is going to tell you that you are charging too little. Also, be flexible: day rates are great for short pieces of work, but for a six-month project, you need to work out a rate that is more long term – and realistic.
Knowing an opportunity
Be strategic, take the time to map out who you want to work with and what you can bring to them. Write down your dream clients, people you want to collaborate with and the things and areas you want to make a difference to. Writing it down helps as the brain has a process called “value-tagging”, which imprints important things on to your subconscious and filters out unnecessary information.
So, when you start to get offers of work, don’t say yes to everything. Take a little bit of time to analyse each project and see if it is right for you and your personal brand. Your business will reflect who you are and the work you do. In the short term, it’s easy to go after the money, but you need a strategy to win in the long term.
Regardless of the work you choose to do, never stop building your network and making connections. The relationships you make may end up being your next client. But always – and this is important when you work for yourself – keep some time for yourself.
Things have changed and you must too. People will see you differently from your days in operations when you were “one of the team”. However much they might like you, you might not get invited to the Christmas party, to an industry event, and you might not be the first name brands think of when they organise a trip. The key is not to take it personally, you are a business owner now. And as a business owner, you are also a brand owner. So get used to summarising your brand – essentially what you do. It’s an elevator pitch, so keep it to 20 seconds and say it with confidence.
Be prepared for wins and losses – and don’t take it personally. Just like relationships, some clients are short stories and others are long term. So learn to move on and leave room for new clients.
Going it alone isn’t for everyone, but it could be for you. If you get it right, who knows where it can take you. To me, the positives have been endless.