It seems fitting to begin with a story. I’m a writer who believes in leaving no story untold, so here’s a recent chapter of my own: how I came to start up an independent communication consultancy.
In April 2012, the multinational group I was working for announced its decision to close divisional headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. This was not entirely unexpected – we’d experienced some setbacks in the pipeline and, like many pharmaceutical companies, needed to streamline operations.
Change is never easy. The announcement that over 1,000 jobs would leave the beautiful glass tower we occupied in Geneva shattered quite a few illusions. News on that scale leaves no one unmoved. Being one for silver linings, however, I began almost immediately to think about my own plan B.
Attending a social media workshop at the university a few days later, I found myself uttering the words that had begun to crystallize in my mind: “I currently work for a major biopharmaceutical company but am preparing to launch a business as a freelance copywriter and communication consultant.”
At the break, one of the other participants came up to me and commented: “So, you’re leaving the corporate world?”
“Leaving the corporate world.” That gave me pause. It sounded so harsh and final, as if I were permanently exiling myself from a known world. “Well, yes, although I still hope to stay in touch with it through my future clients,” I smiled. But her question was well-timed in that it made me ask myself a few tough questions.
What had I to gain? And more importantly, to lose? Would I be able to translate the learnings of recent years into saleable expertise?
When I finally left the company the following spring, it was with the conviction that I was making the right move.
This is not my first attempt at flying solo. I’ve been self-employed a few times at different stages of my career, so I knew full well what I was getting into. It takes a strong sense of independence (check), self-confidence and discipline (check and, most of the time, check). You also need to be sure there’s a market for your offer (check).
Having worked in corporate communication, I knew first hand that there is indeed a market for my services. People are pulled in too many directions on the job to be able to continually deliver excellent work all on their own. While agencies abound who can support those needs, good writers are few and far between.
Thankfully, I did not leave the corporate world empty-handed.
The closure enabled me to start my new business in the best possible conditions. My employer offered a fair leaving package for those who did not wish to relocate to Germany, along with training and other support. I signed up for an ‘Entrepreneur Partnership Program’, a hands-on course that offered practical advice in refining your concept, identifying your USP (unique selling proposition), developing a business plan and learning the administrative ins and outs of self-employment in Switzerland.
I also took away a great network of former colleagues, some of whom would become my first clients. Others have helped lead me to fertile ground for new business. Still others have become good friends. I am most grateful for all of their support.
Finally, I came away with a hugely rich experience in terms of both personal and professional development.
Being part of a corporate communication team gave me valuable training and increased my people skills, while teaching me a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses. Working in a matrix organization at the international level added a whole new dimension of understanding. Those skills are highly translatable to my new clients.
Writing all new content for the company website boosted my knowledge of the biopharmaceutical business while allowing me to hone my copywriting skills to the digital environment. And I helped rebrand the business and build a set of key messages and stories around the employees who defined its essence. All of which made the news that our site in Geneva would close – the heart and soul of the company – a bittersweet pill to swallow.
So that was my final takeaway: there are limits to everything, a beginning and an end to every story. And you can’t always control what happens to things you create. The important thing is not so much how it ends, but where you go from there.