Understanding our thinking preferences can be a light bulb moment, providing insight into why we work the way we do, and what our strengths are. This is particularly important for freelancers who move from working in a team environment to working on their own.
It can also provide clues about how to present information in a way that will engage our audience.
I have been influenced by Julie Varney, of the Business Development Company, about one of the tools she uses when working with businesses - Hermann Whole Brain Thinking. This provides insight into our own thinking style and understanding of other people’s different thinking preferences.
The four categories within this system are:
Blue – rational/factual. Likes numbers, facts, data, logic, order. Good at financial and engineering work.
Green – process oriented. Gets things done. Likes to have a plan and get on with it. Not keen on airy fairy stuff. Organised and timely. Likely to have a tidy desk and colour coded filing systems.
Red – feeling oriented. Very connected with other people and emotions. Like to express themselves. Like to know everyone is on board, engaged, in agreement, and connected. Like teaching.
Yellow – experimental. Big picture, innovative, new ideas, like to play and conceptualise. Don’t like structure.
Commonalities: Blue and Yellow favour conceptual thinking and are comfortable with risk, Blue and Green are organised and structured, Green and Red favour less risky options, Red and Yellow favour big picture thinking.
People can have one, two, three or four thinking preferences. Three percent of the population are whole brained (favour all four thinking styles equally), 30% are triple dominant (favour three thinking styles), 60% are double dominant ( favour two thinking styles) and 7% are single dominant.
Julie likes the Hermann Whole Brain model because it is strengths-based. It gives a framework for difficult conversations.
Awareness of the different thinking styles can be useful when communicating with someone – to adapt the way we speak to more closely match their thinking style, ie. whether they talk about vision (yellow), the numbers/research (blue), process (green) or who’s involved (red).
Since listening to Julie's talk, I have become increasingly aware of my predominant strength in the green area - and can see how this plays out in my work life. It helps me to see where it's helpful to partnership with others. I particularly enjoy working with 'blue' people who have indepth knowledge and high levels of skills with data and analysis, helping them to share that information in a way that makes sense to people who can benefit from their detailed knowledge.
I was both scared and excited when I moved into self-employment in April 2014. Here are some of the things I have learnt along the way that may be of interest to you, if you are also considering taking the leap to work as a consultant.
1. Leverage your existing strengths, experience and contacts
Is there some work you could do for a previous employer?
Some kind of retainer, even five hours a week, can be a brilliant option. It takes the pressure off the rest of your time while you’re figuring out what you want to offer and finding out if it’s a goer.
2. Value your time – don’t take on low paid work even when you have no other work
I took on some low paid employment when I was one year into my business, at a time when I didn’t have much work. I quickly came to realise my mistake, when I had no time to invest in developing my business.
I was better off being paid nothing for those hours and spending that time on learning new skills and marketing.
3. Decide on your target market (or markets)
Choose a target market of people who can afford to pay you at a rate that will mean your business (and therefore your life/work balance) is sustainable.
That doesn’t mean you can’t branch out over time into other target markets. However, when you have a reasonable level of ongoing work you’ll have a lot more fun exploring other options.
4. People buy from people they know
A lot of my work comes from existing clients. It's really important to value and prioritise work with existing clients because they already know, like and trust you.
On the other hand it's important not to be overly reliant on one or two big clients. It's worthwhile spending time and effort to actively seek out new clients. The two most effective methods for me so far have been:
A website is essential so that people can find out more about you and your services. I also highly recommend writing regular blogs to attract visitors to your website. However, these strategies are most effective as a complement to personal connections and other networking, rather than as a stand-alone solution for gaining clients.
5. Consider what strategic alliances are possible with people who have different strengths or services
One of the best things to happen in my business in 2016 was meeting up with several people who could potentially have regarded themselves as competitors, but who instead chose to take a collaborative approach.
Collaboration (through referrals, and sharing ideas) works really well with people who either have:
The awesome thing about being self-employed is expressing who you are through how you go about your business. Be on the lookout for the kind of assistance and support that is a good fit for you. There’s a lot to be said for acting on your gut response when considering what’s available.
7. Allow time for catch ups with friends and exercise
I love working at home but when I find myself constantly checking my email, I know I’ve been home alone for too long! I aim to make time for one catch up each week for a walk or a coffee … it’s not always possible, but it does provide a good work-life balance.
It’s also ideal if these people are happy to hear about your business progress, want to discuss new ideas, and believe in your future success. Catching up with other self-employed people will make you feel more normal, especially if you (like me) have been an employee for most of your working life.
If you suffer from neck, shoulder or wrist strain at work, it could be well worth your while to try a standing desk. I've used one for nearly two years now, and am a complete convert.
I first suffered from Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) more than 20 years ago, as a journalist. Our Hamilton weekly newspaper was setting up a new paper in Tauranga. We worked out of a hotel room, where I wrote stories hunched over a laptop on a bedroom cabinet.
Back in the Hamilton office I noticed numbness in my thumbs, but persisted with typing until I couldn't ignore it anymore. That led to a long period of physiotherapy, exercises, arnica and gradual return to work.
I learnt my lesson and have never had such a bad experience of OOS - or repetitive strain injury (RSI) as it was known then. That initial injury means I am still prone to the occasional bouts of it.
When I began working from home, undertaking my first urgent piece of work, I started feeling pain in my neck, shoulders and wrists.
My solution was putting my laptop on top of a small kitchen table and three file boxes - with my ergonomic mouse at a similar height. Immediately my shoulders loosened - and I haven't suffered from OOS again.
If you think a standing desk might be something that would work for you but don't want to invest in an expensive new desk before you're sure it's right for you - you may like to try putting a laptop on file boxes on a table first.
I have now treated myself to an electronic standing desk, which can be adjusted to become a sitting desk when needed. Highly recommended!
If you (like me) are a small, office-based business owner you have a whole lot less to worry about, when meeting the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
We're still included as PCBUs (persons conducting a business or undertaking) but if you're not a high risk sector or industry:
You still have a primary duty to manage risks. This is set out in section 30 of the Act. This means eliminating risks to health and safety as far as is reasonably practicable and minimising any other risks.
If you are a sole trader working in a home office, the chances are your health and safety risks are similar to mine. As a sole trader working in a home office the potential risks are:
1. Suffering from OOS as a result of keyboard typing.
2. Ill health impacting on ability to earn income.
3. Loss of power or internet access for half a day or more, impacting on ability to work from home.
4. Loss of computer files due to computer malfunction.
5. Loss of access to home office due to flood or fire.
6. Loss or breach of client confidentiality.
It will be particularly valuable to have a health and safety plan in place if you carry out services for other businesses, including councils and central government. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 legislation, all businesses in New Zealand must ensure they are working with safe operators. If you don't have a plan or policy in place, you may risk not being selected as a contractor.
Section 36 of the Act sets out in more detail what a business owner needs to do, including providing any information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out as part of your business activity.
If you employ people, you also have two related duties to engage with workers and enable them to participate in improving health and safety. You must:
The Worksafe website is an excellent source of information about the implications of the Health and Safety Act for different industries. The website also includes general information for businesses here.
You may also be interested in checking out the ACC website. ACC offers a 10% Workplace Safety Discount (WSD) for small businesses (fewer than 10 employees) who put health and safety systems in their workplaces. You can find out more here.
Sometimes it's easy to choose a business name - it just comes to you, and is a good fit for your business from the start. At other times, business owners face a long hard slog of trying on many different names until they find one that fits, and is flexible enough to grow as their business expands.
A great resource when thinking about different names is the website http://www.business.govt.nz/onecheck. You can type in any name and find out instantly if it is available as a company name, domain name (for your email and website address) and as a trademark.
There are some useful tips on picking a business name at the back of Inbound Marketing, by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah (published by Wiley, 2014). These are suggestions rather than absolute rules, but they do provide a useful checklist when weighing up a range of options. Ideally a business name should:
- hint at what you do
- be easy to remember
- be easy to say
- be easy to spell
- start with a letter early in the alphabet
- avoid hyphens and dots
- be available as a Facebook page and Twitter handle
- be short
- not include punctuation
- include your main keyword
- start with a capital letter
- not be named after you, unless you are a sole trader and intend to stay that way
- not include an acronym
- have a story behind it, of why you picked that name
- look fine when all the letters are run together in a domain name
- be timeless rather than trendy.