Insurance You will normally need Professional Indemnity Insurance and Public Indemnity Insurance. Watch out for tenders where the client does uses documentation that does not differentiate betwen one of the big 4 and small sole trader and demands ridiculous public indemnity amounts - chance would be a fine thing that gets you a project where you can do that much damage! Try Hiscox - they are pretty good.
FreeAgent Central A web-based accounting and time tracking package. Track time, invoice, P&L - all the essential stuff for a small outfit. Available through a browser including Safari on the iPad
Taxcalc - a very uesful and simple desktop based persoanl tax programme. HMRC certified and allows you submit online. Breaks my cloud based rule but I have used it for about 15 years and it is good for what -ifs and projections as well.
Personal taxation - if you are taking Dividends from your company then always, always set aside the amount of personal tax you calculate will be due to the taxinspector at the end of the year on those dividends. Nobody wants a humungous tax bill at the end of the year. I pay the taxman a percentage of every dividend I take there and then. And if possible do your self-assessment tax return as close to end of financial year as possible even if you do not submit it - it will let you see what is coming and give you time to make provision
Company Taxation - get good advice! Remember that you need to set aside your corporation tax for the prior year (stick it somewhere safe) and also coninually track your corporation tax liability i-year and ensure any money you take out is after you have made a calculation for tax liabilities.
iPad Ok - so its an Apple but I am now a convert. On basis of 80:20 rule it does most of what you need - and makes you keep it simple anyway. And the ability to back it up to iCloud is essential. Get the 3G one - there are some good data only sim deals. Essential add-ons shown next:, VGA Adaptor You need one of these to allow you to show presentations. Keep it in the briefcase, HDMI Adaptor Increasingly Projectors use this connector so it is useful to have one to hand. Although you might also need a short HDMI cable as well, Spare Power Always have a travelling set of power cables as well as a home set. So you always have the power in the bag and no scrabbling around when you leave home or forgetting the power cables
Laptop or Not? Really your choice. If you need to do heavy duty work on complex documents or spreadsheets while on the move then you are going to need a laptop. There are lots around - but my tip is to always have a look at the Dell factory outlet shop and some of the refurbished equipment suppliers if you want a high spec machine at low cost - especially if you feel like that Macbook Pro 13.3. If you have gone for an iPad I would suggest you might want to stick with a good desktop and then see how you get on.
Speakers Whether you need to annoy the guests in the next door hotel room or play that Youtube or video clip to an audience as part of a presentation a small, powerful speaker makes sense. I use a Minirig - rechargeable battery that lasts an age, robust construction, fills even a large auditorium with clear sound. Connects using a normal jack between iPad or latop and speaker. Not bluetooth or stereo - but who needs more complexity?
A wheely bag OK - choose your own colour/type but its worth finding a good solid wheely that can carry your road warrior kit and the stuff you need for two or three nights away. Go for one that can go as cabin baggage. Keep all the basic road warrior kit in there all the time so you can just roll out of the door. Rucksacks are OK but be aware that if you are sort of person who slings it over one shoulder you will start to suffer back problems pretty quickly: And to keep organised in wheely bag see next:, Eagle Creek Pack-It System I have been using Eagle Creek packing systems for as long as I have been travelling. Keeps it all neat and tidy. And who wants clothes and used socks spilling out when you open your bag in a meeting? Just make sure you get ones that fit in your wheely - and their wheelies are pretty good as well. They have a good protection system for electronics - see the Packit Protech
3 has a good PAYG mobile data plan for your iPad - worth shopping around but not found much better,, Not sure how they do this but this outfit on Amazon sells Three 3 month 3GB microsims at £10.72. I bought 4 to keep my iPad going all year.
Wifi Check what offer comes in the package with your Broadband provider. I have BT Broadband and it gives me unlimited access through BT Wifi (used to be Openzone) hotspots and affiliated networks. And do yourself a favour - never use a hotel that asks you to pay for wifi - or only use ones that have your provider. Why do they think they can rip you off for something that is a commodity or utility?, Mobile wifi router/hotspot And if they are going to charge you a fortune for several of you to access the internet - then get even. Have one of these in the bag and use it to share a single access point provided by the hotel with several users
Mobile phone hotspots If your phone comes with a data package you can also use it as a wireless hotspot. You can download Android apps that will convert the phone into a hotpsot for your iPad or laptop. iPhones have Personal Hotspot although you may need to get your provider to turn it on for you.
I am not going there - choose your own. Matter of taste and practicality. If you like buttons then its a blackberry (but they are going bust). Touch screens then whatever. But ensure you get one with a good speaker for hands-free voice conferencing. I use an iPhone but was an HTC user - whatever. But ensure you can connect it to your central diary and email systems. But I do suggest you get one which has same power adaptor as your tablet. So if you use an Ipad get an iphone. Also ensure you get a phone with a good camera and video capability - useful in workshops.
Skype Premium Get yourself a dedicated landline phone number which you can access from any device, group conference calling and multi-point video, screen sharing and Skype to Go (international calling number). And the free version with video is a useful tool - again Skype is available for most devices. I use this for keeping in touch with associates and colleagues. Of course it does mean that if you want to use this with clients that they need Skype as well.
Webex Many of you may have used the Webex Enterprise version. Well now there is a small business version which in its basic guise is free (for up to three attendees - VoIP only) and Premium 8 and 25 handles up to 8 and 25 attendees with VoIP and dial-in. But be aware that you only get a UK dial-in number. If you have international clients then you need to add-on a voice package which gives you international dial-in numbers and toll-free numbers which can rack up your costs very quickly. This is not well advertised and I regard as 'sharp practice' by Webex. So if you are working with UK clients only then go for Webex Premium 8 or 25. If you have international clients then seriously consider using GoToMeeting instead. The good thing is that Webex works well with mobile devices (IOS, Android and Blackberry). Good integration with Outlook. You can also convert recordings to wmv using their productivity tools and upload to Vimeo or YouTube.
GoToMeeting An alternative to Webex. Advantages are that the paid package is slightly cheaper than Webex Premium 25 (but does not have a lower volume version) and has both VoIP and a much more comprehensive range of international-dial-in numbers than webex. Be aware that it does not work (yet) on Linux based PCs. Get the free 30 day trial and have a go. Has a good iPad app - and the most recent update allows you to present from your iPad as well so beats webex in this respect.
Twitter Just learning the discipline of getting your message over in 140 characters or less is worth it. There are some good people to follow who can point you to interesting things or who can get you to stop and think. Why don't you try and be one of those people? And anyway you are no one if you do not have a Twitter link on your email signature
LinkedIn Now this is a useful networking tool. Maintain your profile, have something interesting to say and connect with Groups to be part of Communities of Interest. Probably better to have the link to your LinkedIn profile at the bottom of your email signature than your Twitter link. But it is essential you keep it up to date.
Facebook Don't - its not for business use and nobody serious wants to see your holiday snaps or know what level you have reached on World of Warcraft.
Google Got to start somewhere and Google has the best suite of free products for email, calendar and contacts applications. It is all web-based so you can access it from any device and not lose it when your laptop goes down or you lose your iphone. If you have registered a domain name for a website and email then Google can retrieve your email and send it under your own domain name. So you do not have to have the @gmail address. Makes you seem a bit more 'solid'. And of course if you are more familiar with Outlook there is an Outlook connector.
Exchange and Outlook This is the heavy duty corporate type-end. Most web providers such as 1&1 offer an Exchange service. So you can use your familiar Outlook for email, calendar, to do and journalling. It will cost but if that is the environment you are comfortable with then off you go. I use it because I like the functionality of Outlook and am used to it.
Evernote This a great application for note taking that synchronises across multiple platforms. Take pictures, add clippings from browsers, send emails and attachments directly into it. I love it.
Youtube Video of Evernote and GTD If you are a fan of GTD check out this video for how to set up Evernote to the GTD approach
Some people take to this like a duck to water. Others find it the most difficult part of going it alone. But you need to grit your teeth and learn how to sell yourself and what you have to offer.
Coaching skills are incredibly useful - true wisdom is the art of the question and a good contractor sells by coaching the client through the process, using questions, listening and summarisation to help surface the real requirements and build the relationship (The JOHARI Window is a good model). Moving from 'You' to 'We'. And avoid the temptation to start telling the prospective client what to do - if you tell them too much they will do it themselves!
Remember - clients do not want to buy anything. They want a problem solved in the most effective and sustainable way. Your task is to help them define the problem that they need resolved. You can align expectations and deliver to them. Nothing worse than a client who half way through a project realises they wanted something different - or gives you grief because you are not delivering what they now know they need.
A problem that needs resolving has built up over time and is the product of a wide range of interactions, behaviours and processes. The coached discussion needs to surface these and identify how the key elements that 'hold the problem in place' are going to be 'unlocked'.
Sharon Drew Morgan is great on this subject., Her website is here, A good set of resources and description of her methodology is here
Estimating - well worth creating a standard spreadsheet model for estimating. See Excel in basic software skills. You can copy and paste tables and analysis into bids. But check and check again - if they accept your bid and you find that you have got something wrong then you are stuffed.
Understanding what the client needs - which may be slightly different to what they want and how you get to the point of the client understanding what they need. It is an interesting conundrum - if they need your specialist expertise then it is entirely possible that they may not know how to make the best of that expertise and what it could deliver.
Writing professional bid documents - well worth creating some standard modules such as Ts and Cs. Set up a bid document template. Have a bid template for presentations.
Avoiding the temptation to hit the prospective client over the head with the 40 pages of 'ifs and buts' that preface any ITT that is requesting a small bit of work but requires you to behave like you are bidding for a £million contract (if only!). What do we think of an organisation that only gets to what it really wants in section 4 of the ITT?
Create simple Project Initiation Charters or Terms of Reference
Create simple project plans, allocate resources, prioritise and track progress against milestones
Track and allocate time, resources and expenses
Create standard project reports
Driver Diagrams are really useful tools for crystallising a simple project and for visualising progress.
PowerPoint (if that is your chosen presentation and/or report tool), Create Masters, Apply layouts consistently - no 'bodging' on slides, Add text to objects - you would be surprised! - and no it does not involve drawing a text box on top of the object., Embed multimedia
Excel, Understand Fields and Records and how they are used in data capture, Create Tables and understand Table functionality in Excel for data entry, Cell validation using named ranges, Create Name ranges and use in formula, Lookups - bringing data in from other tables, Conditional formatting, Pivot Tables and Pivot Charts
Word, Apply a style set and apply styles consistently, Create a ToC, Use Mail Merge to print and to email, Use Review functionality and document versioning, Add captions to figures, Use sections and section breaks, Create a form, Repeat Table Headers across a page split
Outlook (if this is your chosen client), Create Categories based on your Projects so you can view project tasks and meetings at a glance, Create Task Folders, Create Task Views, Create a task from an email, Assign a category to task, Delegate to someone else and track a task, Create a calendar entry from an email, Schedule meetings and invite attendees - update the invitation and include attachments and agendas rather than emailing separately., Enable and use Journaling - useful for filling in those timesheets, Add an iCal feed (necessary if you are integrating with most collaborative platforms), Create Search Folders
Collaboration there are a wide range of collaborative platforms out there - some are just for document collaboration and others are for team and project collaboration. But the principles are the same and you should familiarise yourself with them by watching the help videos for some of them., Understand the principles and benefits of collaborative 'spaces' - and this is not email and s:drives, Load and collaborate on a document in a shared workspace, Use discussion forums around documents, tasks and projects, Create, allocate and update tasks in a collaborative space
MindJet MindJet is the best known of the MindMapping applications. It is quite pricey but comes with both desktop version and a web version which allows sharing. It has good integration with Outlook for tasks and calendar integration. I have used it for a while but there are better products out there now. See MindView below
MindView This product is better than MindJet for Project Planning and tracking. It lacks a good collaborative version for online sharing but makes up for it in lots of other areas. Its export to Word produces some very professional documents that can be used for bid writing and project estimation. I am ditching MindJet for this product.
LiveProject from Kadonk Great viewer and dashboard tool for MS project files MPP. And some good iPad apps
SmartSheet If you want a tool that is web-based and you want to collaborate on with a team then this is worth a look - not free however.
Wrike The more I see of this the more I like it. Currently in my short-list for project collaboration tools.
Podio Well featured but probably more complex than small organisations really need.
Trello - now this is an interesting, neat little task management app/tool which allows you to collaborate with colleagues on any number of projects. It is quick to masterand much less of a learning curve to use.
Eventbrite - free for non charged events and will take a percentage of charged events If you are organising events and need a system for inviting, registering and ticketing then try this. Its free until you start charging for tickets and then it takes a handling fee. Used increasingly by public sector as well. And spot the registration desk features - why pay a lot of money to an event organiser when you can do most of it for free.
PollEverywhere - free in basic mode for a limited number of attendees. with upgrade options for just a month for big events This is a cracker. If you want to conduct polling during a workshop or event or have a private 'twitter' style micro blog running during the event to gather feedback and comments then this internet based offer, accessible using mobile phones (standard rate SMS), and through smartphone and tablet browsers is well worth a look. Good free version you can upgrade for a just a month if you are running a bigger event. You do need a good internet connection.
Securely mark your kit
Track your kit. You can now get software that resides on your laptop, phone or tablet that allows you to find and track it if it gets stolen or lost. Be aware that on IoS devices there is no way to stop the thief turning off the power and thus disabling the tracking. this is a major drawback - just hope the thief is thick. On IoS (iPhone and iPad) remember to enable 'Find my iPhone' and always have a passcode lock. I use PreyProject on all my devices. It allows you to track Windows, IoS and Android devices from a single dashboard. Supports locking, tracking, uses onboard camera to take picture of user and also access all windows the user has open.
Dropbox This is a pretty ubiquitous tool that runs on almost all mobile devices and laptops. Install it on your laptop or PC, set up the file structures within it and then just save your work there just like any other file. It then synchronises to the Cloud and across any other devices you set up. You can also send photos and videos direct from your iPhone to Dropbox- great if you are running a workshop and want to get all your content into one place quickly.
Windows SkyDrive Another file and folder synchronisation tool that runs across multiple devices and stores files in the Cloud as well. Has a good iPad and iPhone app.
GoogleDrive Another file and folder synchronisation tool that works across multiple devices
Carbonite I use a version to back up my PC hard drive so if it fails or there is fire or theft I can restore the whole lot to a replacement
Take time to talk to people who have made the jump.
Do you want to fly 'solo' or would you prefer to find a group of like minded associates?
Involve your family in the discussions. Be realistic about how you will handle the peaks and troughs.
Be clear about what you feel you have to offer and if necessary be ruthless in polishing it up in your last few months in the job.
What sort of person are you? Where do you get your energy? What are your personality strengths and weakness? Where are you going to get feedback? Who is going to hold the mirror up to? How are you going to stay current?
I can provide you with a personal insight profile and a face to face or web-based coached debrief session using the PRISM personal profiling tool.
Time to get a complete family financial health check. Sit down and do a complete review of your personal and family finances.
Undertake a complete zero based budget exercise - start again and use it as an opportunity to identify opportunities for cost savings at the same time.
What do you need to earn? Have you got a minimum of a 6 month emergency buffer for the down times or if you or a family member become ill?
What is your ideal work profile over a year? Do you want to be able to take those 3 months off to write the book or travel?
What is your target number of invoiced days over the year? Model the impact of different day rates and different numbers of days invoiced to give yourself an idea of the different scenarios.
Tax - this can creep up behind you and catch you out badly if you do not plan ahead. If you are taking dividends out of your company then this will incur income tax. You need to make provision for this or you will have nasty shock when you do your tax return. Every time I take out a dividend I pay at least 20% of it direct to HMRC - as there is no interest on deposits it is not really worth putting the money aside in a deposit account. and it reduces the jolt at end of year.
Are you prepared to mix interim appointments and consulting? If so what is the mix?
There are some useful guides and calculators here
Keep in touch with your networks and keep them 'warm'. Perhaps send out a 'newsletter' once a year. Write a White Paper, undertake some sector research and publish it.
Use LinkedIn and forums to keep in touch - start discussions in key groups, ask questions, be an active participant.
Take time to go and have a coffee or lunch with contacts who can tell you what is happening in the sector?
Model from the basis of what you need to earn over a range of chargeable days
Check what restrictions might apply for potential clients - in the public sector there are day rates above which they have to pass it all the way back up the line.
Consider different rates for national and local public sector work and for private sector work
How are you going to discount for larger contracts?
What are the current market rates - what are you paying contractors in your current organisation?
How would you respond to a request for a fixed price contract or a risk-share?
What does the target sector think about consultants? Here is the NAO report
What are the skills and capabilities I have to offer? What is the evidence that underpins them? Why would a prospective client want to choose you?
Take time to polish up your CV - focus on your achievements not just the positions you held.
What is your ideal client?
What is the client that you would not touch with a bargepole?
At one end of the spectrum you have a trusted network which you can call on as required and hope it is reciprocated.
At the other end of the spectrum you might establish a formal panel of 'accredited' associates that you can call on. This would be underpinned by some form of formal 'Associate' agreement that lay out the terms and conditions of the relationship.
Do you actually get on with them? Chemistry is important. Nothing worse for a client than getting the bad vibes of a poor relationship between contractors working on a project.
Do they have the right skills, track record and evidence for those skills? Your credibility rests on the quality of the Associates you bring to the project.
Personality type - worth thinking about. There is a risk that you end up with a lot of creatives and extroverts but no completer finishers. You are going to need people who have the discipline to see a project through from interesting stuff to the nitty gritty. Try and ensure you have at least one sharp elbowed project manager type on your panel/network.
What is the minimum personal organisational skill set you require in addition to the client facing skills? I can promise you that having to rewrite reports and presentations because your Associates do not know how to use PowerPoint or Word properly is very frustrating. And to see an associate do a presentation to a client using poorly prepared slides because they do not understand how to use Slide Masters and Layouts is nerve racking.
Are they willing or able to use the project and collaboration tools that you use for running the assignment if you are leading it? Running an assignment to deliver on time and in budget requires really good personal and group disciplines. Good 'back-office' systems can greatly improve visibility, productivity and reporting. Not using the project collaboration system being used to run the assignment is not an option. This is a deal breaker for me. Time is money. Happy to provide training but if you cannot cope with modern on-line cloud based collaboration tools then time to learn.
Whose company are you bidding under? - The name on the top of the contract with the Client and on the top of the back to back agreements with the Associate Team
VAT registration - this gets interesting when some of your Associates are not VAT registered and some are. Get advice from your accountant. But as a rule only a VAT registered company should lead the bid - as only they can charge VAT.
Who is the client liaison lead and responsible for QA and reporting?
Who is assigned as project manager?
Who does the bid writing and how is this paid for - usually a percentage of a successful contract award.
What is the deal for bringing in work? A Finders Fee is a normal arrangement. Again may be a percentage of the contract value.
Who is going to lead the bidding process?
What happens when the Client says they do not want one of the team?
How are you going to handle time and expenses tracking, billing and payments for Associates?
Who provides any project systems - collaboration platform, Web conferencing etc and how is this paid for?
How are disputes resolved?
Professional Indemnity Insurance - associates must have this for themselves. Public Liability Insurance - company fronting the bid needs this.