Successful freelancing and consulting take many shapes and forms. Alexandre Krstic, training consultant and master trainer, shares his experience of how using a salary hosting company can help you combine the best of being your own boss and running a company.
How did you become a consultant and why?
On paper, my jump from corporate life to becoming my own boss follows a well-known pattern. I have been an international training consultant, master trainer and owner of my own company for over 15 years, but I started in the IT and business field working for an Apple reseller and then Dell, in marketing, technical sales, operations and training. This lasted about 20 years and then, when I was confronted with the 2008 crisis, I felt I had the confidence and experience to jump into setting up my own business, initially working with my father. Together we set up a “sàrl”, or limited liability company, Shakok, to provide training and consulting services as well as computer animations. Nowadays, Shakok mainly provides an administrative/fiscal home for my training consultation business, Alexandre Training, leaving the other parts of the business dormant for the moment. [Ed: Alexandre has twin teenaged sons now, so, who knows, we may look forward to a new iteration of his company in the near future!]
What changes have you noticed in the workplace and how have you had to adapt to them?
I find work is more or less the same: we still have managers, targets, performance reviews etc., but the pace has become much faster. Decisions have to be made immediately and for the short-term, making work less predictable. At the same time, industry is having to cope with supply-chain issues. The result is that companies and employees have to be more creative and resilient to survive in these conditions. On top of this we now have multiple generations in the workplace – X, Y, Z and soon, Alphas, each with their own mindsets and values. The younger generations need constant stimulation and consider work-life balance, doing something valuable that motivates them much more important that money and career, the mainstays of the older generation of workers. When I devise training courses and materials the trick is to find out what drives all my participants.
Providing team-building sessions, creating training content and delivery, consulting to the world’s top companies and working with partners must all fill your days up. So how do you manage all the backroom details, the admin, the accounts, the invoicing, the tax, pension contributions and everything else that you need to attend to when you go solo?
Here is where my consulting experience gets very interesting. Initially, when I set up my company, I found that invoicing my clients and doing the accounts as well as making my tax contributions was not an issue. On the negative side, I found that social security premiums such as the accident insurance, LAA, and loss of salary insurance, APG, were high due to the high-risk status of being the sole employee of my own company, whilst the benefits were rather low. I was lucky enough to meet Gina Empson, CEO of The Business Harbour (TBH), who, together with her team, came up with the ideal solution. Usually, TBH, as the salary hosting company, would invoice my end-customer and then pay me as the contractor, minus my social charges, end of story. In my own case, Gina’s team found the optimal approach: The Business Harbour makes me available to my clients. Shakok invoices the different clients for the work I deliver and collects their money. TBH then invoices Shakok for the service fees, deals with all the pension contributions, social taxes and then pays me, Alexandre, a salary as employee of The Business Harbour.
What other advantages are there to using TBH?
TBH has provided me with the best working model I can think of. Having a working contract has resulted in better social security rates as I am part of TBH’s employee pool, as well as better pension plan conditions because it is being managed by TBH and, of course, they take care of the admin work, saving me a lot of time. All this is a huge advantage for me. TBH was a life-saver during COVID: I was struggling to keep work coming in and my income was taking a hit. All it took was an email to TBH and I was ultimately able to receive some help from the Swiss Federal Government’s scheme to compensate those businesses that could not fully operate due to the pandemic (Réduction de l’horaire de travail (RHT)). I can’t praise TBH and the team enough for the way they made this difficult period as smooth as possible for me.
What advice do you have for someone considering going freelance?
The first bit of advice is to ask yourself the question: “what is the difference that makes the difference” in what you are offering. In other words, what is your USP, unique selling point. There are many freelancers out there, some competing in your field: you have to be able to stand out.
Then I would say that you need to market yourself really effectively. I was lucky enough to start my business 15 years ago when word of mouth and personal recommendations were key. If I had to start out now, I would have to use social media marketing much more.
Finally, you need to be able to take a risk. Your cash-flow may be erratic at the beginning, and you could be risking your own money. You also need to think about the long term: how long are you willing to work independently for? This may well affect your chances of getting back to regular employment if you wanted to in the future.
Having a “business partner” like TBH is a real bonus in juggling the decisions you have to take when making the leap to becoming a freelancer or consultant. My particular working arrangement proves that they have the expertise to come up with working solutions to suit the way you want to work!
Interview by Antonina Marenco