To this point, making the leap to independence, either as an individual, or by starting your own organization, should have been a lot of fun. You’ve told your story, specifying what it is you provide to add value, and crafting your history and the reason people should consider you for a particular job or opportunity. You’ve also put together the pieces of your storefront, which the outside world – your clients and colleagues – will use to get that first glimpse into what you provide, make an initial decision if they want to work with you or learn more, and then ultimately contact you in some way.
The final piece you need to put together in order to transact and complete business on day one is your administration. In my experience, this is an area most people either avoid altogether or simply consider an insuperable obstacle to becoming independent or starting their own organization. Most of us are in this business to help others, to be in the field and to interact directly at the community level. This is especially true for those of us who have technical expertise to provide to others or an innovative product or service we believe will add value. The thought of performing administrative tasks can put a dark cloud into an otherwise sunny day.
The good news, I’m here to tell you, is there are many ways to minimize, and sometimes completely remove your administrative burden, so you can concentrate all of your time and energy on delivering technical value. Because this training is about the pieces you need to make the leap, I won’t go into detail here – they are available elsewhere at Aidpreneur. But let me put on the table right now that administrative tasks can be outsourced to remove them altogether, or as another option, you can schedule your administrative tasks so they take up a minimal amount of time once a month, or once a quarter.
There are a number of ways to slice and dice administrative necessities. I prefer to divide them into three buckets: financial, legal and technological.
Administrative Need #1: Financial
In order to transact business on day one, you need to have the ability to get paid, and pay your expenses. The easiest way to satisfy this need in a way that will be acceptable to the broadest spectrum of clients is to open a standard banking account. I recommend that you open a unique bank account that is specific to, and only used for, your business. Even if you are an individual, independent consultant, this allows you to keep your business and personal finances separate.
A second piece of your financial administration that you should have in place on day one is your bookkeeping system. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet in which you keep track of the money you spend and the money you receive, or as complex as a proprietary bookkeeping system, such as QuickBooks, that allows for classifying transactions, invoicing and more complex reporting.
If you are starting an organization that will have employees, a third element you need to have in place on day one is your payroll system. This is essential to making sure your employees get paid and that you are compliant with reporting requirements and tax withholdings.
The two other aspects of financial administration I recommend you consider when making the leap are accounting and storage: first, because, as an independent consultant or new organization, you’ll likely find that your finances are fairly straightforward, doing your bookkeeping in-house is a very reasonable expectation. However, it’s still a very good idea to have an accountant (and in many countries it’s a requirement) review your books on an annual, or biannual basis, and prepare your tax returns. Second, I recommend that you have a policy for how you archive financial paperwork – including receipts, invoices and statements – so you’re consistent from day one. I recommend making sure everything is stored digitally so you have easy access to the records.
Administrative Need #2: Legal
Let me start with this: I do not believe you need to retain legal counsel when you’re considering making the leap. Unless you have some unique requirement, such as intellectual property protection, there’s no need to have a legal representative on staff or regularly interacting with your practice. That said, as one key piece of your legal administrative tasks, I do believe it’s essential that you identify a lawyer or a law firm that, should the need arise, you can contact for counsel and other action.
The second aspect of legal administration is making sure your company is legally registered. The process for registering a company, a charity or other form of organization depends on where you’re based in the world. In some places, registering your company is a 15-minute process online, whereas in other places, there is a months-long process that involves a significant amount of paperwork.
If you are operating as an individual consultant, many times there are options that allow you to forgo legal registration and simply operate as a sole proprietor. Regardless, it’s a good idea to make sure you are registered as a legal business. This not only improves your legitimacy in the eyes of your clients, but also may offer some forms of liability protection and may be a requirement for some clients when you are applying for work.
A third aspect to consider as a part of your legal administration relates to human resources. If you will be hiring employees, there will inevitably be legal requirements about the types of documentation you need to obtain from each of your employees, rules and procedures for how you can interact with those employees, and more. I maintain that with employees, simple is always better, but you should check to make sure that you have your ducks in rows for reporting requirements for government bodies.
Administrative Need #3: Technology
No matter what your expertise, technology plays some role in your ability to operate as a professional or organization. It may be as simple as your need for a mobile phone and email, and it may be as complex as project management software or unique, application- or service-specific tools.
As with everything here at Aidpreneur, I recommend you keep your technology as simple as possible. If you’re an independent consultant, arming yourself with a quality computer, good office software and mobile phone will allow you to accomplish 95 percent or more of the requirements asked of you by your clients. Similarly, if you’re starting an organization, you should only provide access to the essential technology your employees will need in order to be productive and fulfill their roles within your company.
Technology offers the promise of improved information sharing, rapid and instantaneous communication and greater transparency. Technologies such as Skype, Google Drive, Dropbox and others are wonderful online applications millions of people rely upon everyday. However, the more technology you have available for yourself, and for those you work with, the greater the potential complexity and the greater the administrative burden your place on yourself. Keep your technology simple and specific when you’re first starting out and only add new tools and resources when you’ve specifically determined they will add significant value to your work or for your clients.
Make The Leap Today!
Looking over all the things I’ve talked about regarding your story, your storefront and your administration, it’s easy to get intimidated or overwhelmed. There seem to be so many moving parts that it’s easy to get paralyzed and take the decision not to make the leap to independence or starting a new organization. This stuff is important, for sure. However, I want to end this training on a note of optimism and inspiration. I took the chance and made the leap to become an independent professional 10 years ago and I’ve never looked back. There are hundreds of thousands of independent professionals in the development and aid business today who are not only surviving but thriving.
Rather than being paralyzed, use this toolkit, and the resources that are available at Aidpreneur.com, as a way to energize yourself to make the leap. You certainly do not have to have everything perfect before you can push go. The most important thing is to take action. I, and the others here at Aidpreneur, are ready to support you in this endeavor so make sure you contact us if you ever have any questions or just need that extra little push to get you going.
Thanks again for watching this training, I hope you’ll make use of the tools and resources associated with it, and of course as always, contact me any time at training@Aidpreneur.com.