Rick Williams - 'Thinking of becoming self-employed? Thoughts of a disabled consultant.'
“I’m the Managing Director of "Freeney Williams Ltd., one of Europe’s leading consultancies in the field of disability.
I’m a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, an Associate of the Business Disability Forum and Chair of Age UK Brighton and Hove; oh yes and I’m totally blind. My main work is around supporting organisations in how they address all aspects of their relationships with disabled people as employees, customers and service users – in other words being ‘Disability Confident’.
I’ve worked in this field since 2001 and previously I was a Health and Safety Executive for 30 years. I started my career as an audio typist in 1971 and concluded it as the Regional Development Manager for the London and South East Region. During my time in the HSE I became a specialist in HR, training and organisational development.
For me, my work is all about changing attitudes and, through that, changing behaviour. That’s challenging, but without a change of attitude I don’t see anything much will be different or self-sustaining. Supporting organisations and people to remove barriers that disabled people face helps develop inclusiveness and it becomes business as usual!
I’ve pursued these mantras throughout my work since leaving the HSE and I hope they have been influential in changing the way many organisations address the issues of disability. I think learning is not necessarily about sitting in a training room and there needs to be a broad range of approaches to address the issues. An effective strategy requires a holistic approach across an organisation and to achieve attitude change you need to use a broad range of persuaders and influencers.
Becoming self-employed was a bit scary and the first thing I had to do is think about what I could do that people would pay for! I finally came up with an idea – it was simple: go tell organisations about how they should improve the way they employ disabled people or serve them as customers. What a good idea. Well, was it? I talked to a number of people about this to see whether they thought it would work. In particular I remember talking to Susan Scott-Parker, who was the CEO of the then Employers' Forum on Disability and now the Business Disability Forum. She said, and I quote, ‘So you want to set up a business which means you need to talk to people who won’t want to talk to you about this subject, tell them things they don’t want to hear about what they need to do differently and you expect them to pay you?’ She went on to say ‘I’ve got to tell you it doesn’t sound like a great business model’.
Actually, Susan went on to be very influential and supportive over the years and I’m not sure I could have achieved as much without her advice, guidance and expertise – all of which she gave willingly
The one thing that is important is to be flexible in what you do and think about wider opportunities. Whilst my initial work was directly related to disability and organisations, over time it has broadened and deepened and from time to time I do something completely different. For example, the majority of my time at the moment is taken up by the Click-Away Pound Survey – check out the rest of this site to find out all about it. This wasn’t even in my sub-conscious when I started working for myself! It just sort of emerged.
Based on that, can I shed any light for those of you who are thinking of going down this road? Well, maybe, and I would start with a number of questions to ask yourself and they wouldn’t be about your personal disability:
- What is my idea?
- What is it I’m selling?
- Will anyone pay for it?
- How do I tell them about it and get them to buy it?
- What is the competition like and what makes me unique?
- How much money is it likely to make and is it enough?
- Who can help me?
- Will I enjoy it?
On top of that there are other questions around the practicalities regarding the effects of any disability. Giving advice here is difficult because of the wide variety of options to deal with them. Of key importance is getting adequate advice and resources. Despite what is often said I found Access to Work very helpful, although I did have to push a bit. I got what I asked for and help in working out what was needed! Others with similar disabilities are also worth talking to and it is amazing how much generous help and support is about.
The key thing I found was getting the basic idea sorted and it became my first priority. I remember it took me several months and a lot of pain to write my first business plan. My business mentor more or less threw out the first effort and made me start again and be more realistic – something I have now done to others! The plan I finally got past my mentor proved very useful in helping me think through what I needed to do, how I was going to do it and so on. Without a good business plan no-one will take you seriously when starting up.
- Get a business adviser who knows what they are talking about and who you get on with;
- Consider finding a disabled mentor to help you through the issues about your own disability and the adjustments which might help you;
- Develop a realistic business plan but be prepared to be flexible;
- In developing your plan talk to people to pick their brains; find out if they think it would work, would they part with their cash and the like;
- Stick at it and do the things you don’t like doing as well as those you do;
- Remember it is pointless having a great product no-one wants to buy or even worse they don’t know about!
And finally... enjoy yourself!”
© Rick Williams, 2016