Freelancing after graduation

phd-entrepreneurshipI submitted my PhD thesis nearly two months ago, and my Viva is in a month (time to start preparing!).

Waiting around has never really been my thing, so I’ve moved on to the next phase of my professional life.

Academia isn’t for me.

After moving around the world a few times in the last couple of years, moving again for a short term teaching/research contract is the last thing on my mind. Edinburgh is too cool.

I decided to work something out for myself instead.

Starting a business after a PhD

Creative Enlightenment is a programme I took part in a few years ago that gave me the confidence that I could ‘make something work’, and that it wasn’t a terribly stupid idea.

No more so than doing a humanities PhD, in any case.

At the beginning of this year, I came across Enterprise Campus, a Scottish organisation promoting postgraduate entrepreneurship, got involved with their workshops, and began to hone my ideas around what exactly I could do, and how to turn it into a viable business.

In May, I entered the Converge Challenge, an entrepreneurial competition, and made it to the first-round. Again, their workshop made me test my ideas on other people and helped me to reconsider my approach.

The next organisation I become involved with was the Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE), who put on skills-based workshops that support Scottish-based entrepreneurs.

By September – around the time I submitted the PhD – I knew what I wanted to do, had a reasonable idea what potential clients valued within that proposition, and knew how to navigate the administrative hassles necessary when starting a business.

Meet WillingWords Ltd.

I registered my business this summer, and used down time during the final editing stage of the PhD to do the admin work prior to actually marketing myself.

Getting out and about, meeting people, and informally introducing my business forced me to think very, very hard about how potential clients – not student entrepreneurs, as earlier this year – reacted to my proposition.

After these conversations, I went away and tweaked the language I used to describe what I can do for my clients. This was basically one-to-one market research, and its value cannot be overestimated!

Soon, through luck and persistence rather than careful planning, I landed some clients. Now, a few months later, I have a few more.

What I do now:

I’m a Content Strategist.

This means I help organisations work out what content to create for their website.

Basically, I help clients plan what to write, help them write it, and then assess what worked and what didn’t.

In more detail: I research who my client’s ideal audience are, where they hang out online, what type of questions they ask about my client’s products/services. I then help my clients create content that addresses these questions in order to demonstrate their expertise and generate leads. I also implement analytics solutions to evaluate how effective this strategy was, and what adjustments could make content more effective.

You can see my biz website here.

Academic to Entrepreneur: A Big Change?

In a word, no.

Surprisingly, the switch from academia to business hasn’t been as big a change as I thought it would be. I still research, I still write, I still explain ideas to people.

Aside from different technical skills – I taught myself new skills with books, MOOCs, and my own side projects – a clear shift from academia is the need to be crystal clear on why your ideas directly help clients grow their business. The business imperative doesn’t worry PhD students.

The biggest change hasn’t been to acquire new knowledge – I can learn new things quite quickly after writing a PhD thesis – it’s that I now need to actively seek people out to discover where I might be able to help them or someone they know.

Networking is a lot of work, there’s no doubt about that.

You certainly don’t get 80,000 words to explain to a client why your ideas are worth investing in.

Ultimately, the transition has been quite smooth (though granted, it’s only 2 months post-PhD; things might still go bad). In hindsight, I did myself a big favour by considering this as a post-PhD option very early. I had years to work out what resources were available to help me, to pinpoint organisations that could help me get started, and to learn the nitty gritty of starting a small business in Edinburgh.

Let’s see where WillingWords goes…

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