Giving effective advice when you’re on your own

Many self-employed HR consultants have previously been employed in large companies, often with big HR departments around them, or with more senior members of staff, or staff with particular specialities available to seek advice from. Sometimes HR professionals have also had easy, frequent access to lawyers so they can check anything tricky.

All of this provides a safety blanket and can lead to employment law knowledge getting a bit rusty. Combine that with the demands of a full time role and commute, and keeping your knowledge bang up to date can sometimes take a bit of a back seat in terms of priorities.

But when you start your own HR consultancy, you find yourself in a position where you’re expected to be able to give expert employment law advice instantly. You’re working without a net! Have a look at my top tips for managing this new challenge.

Email advice where possible

Clients will ask a lot of queries via email, and this gives you a chance to check your facts where you are a bit unsure, or need a bit more detail to give good advice.

Email also enables you to phrase your advice carefully to ensure the client understands exactly what it means for them, and provides a record of what your advice was, which can be useful in the unlikely event your client disregards it…!

Emails are also a good opportunity to clarify, emphasise or adjust something you’ve said on the phone, and to ensure your client has properly understood the implications, so follow phone advice up with an email where possible.

Don’t be pushed on the phone

If you’re not 100% sure of something, that’s fine. Although clients obviously expect a certain amount of expertise, they also don’t expect you to be a walking encyclopaedia and as long as you are consistently demonstrating credibility and a good knowledge level, the odd rare occasion where you want to double check something isn’t going to be a problem.

Build yourself a network

If you choose to set up your consultancy under the umbrella of a franchise or similar, like face2faceHR partners, you will already have access to a network of colleagues and support from others who have that knowledge and experience, and will be able to seek advice, opinions and ideas in a safe environment.

If you have chosen to go alone, look at other options for this network. Perhaps you have colleagues still in in-house roles who can provide that, or alternatively you could look at building relationships with other HR consultants. Some are reluctant to do this because of local competition, but if you find that to be the case, you could look further afield.

Be careful of your reputation

There are lots of online sources of information, but many of these are accessible to anyone. As a consultant you are likely to be Googled regularly by clients or potential clients, or other contacts, or they may come across you online, so be careful before you ask for advice on a subject on a public forum. Clients seeing you asking what to do about their problem may not form a flattering view of your expertise…

Similarly a few years ago I noticed an HR consultant tweeting about being on hold on the phone to ACAS. It gave the impression that she was not able to give a client a decent answer to an employment law question herself, even with research and didn’t do her public image any good at all, in my eyes at least.

Remember the more you give advice, the better your knowledge will become

If you are constantly giving advice to people, your knowledge will naturally develop and deepen, and you will become more confident at doing it.

Know your limits

If you don’t have a good, broad, up to date knowledge of employment law, you may not be the best person to set yourself up as a consultant on the subject. Seems obvious, but you do see it happening. Apart from being a constant source of stress for you, is it really fair on your clients? If you want to set up your own business, or work freelance, but don’t have a broad knowledge or experience of giving advice in this area, perhaps look at interim work, or consult in a specialist HR area in which you do have good experience, and the broad employment law knowledge isn’t essential.

If you’re interested in talking to us about becoming a partner with face2faceHR, with bags of support, do get in touch.