The beginner's guide to guerrilla warfare in the business jungle

There can be few employees who haven't fantasised at some time about being their own boss. Rachelle Thackray looks at sales guru Geoff Burch's manual on going it alone
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The Independent Online
Everyone wants to do their own thing. But there's a world of difference between deciding you'd really rather like to throw pots for a living, for example, and actually generating a decent salary as a ceramics dealer.

Alternative business guru Geoff Burch walked out of a top corporate job 20 years ago without, he claims, looking back. After setting up on his own as a sales coach, he garnered custom from clients such as Lloyds, Barclays, Prudential and BT, which has led to a life of what he now calls "jobless employment".

"Self-employment is secure employment," says Geoff, who has just published a book on the subject, Go It Alone. "Whatever has led you to decide to do your own thing - whether you were pushed or whether you jumped - you are now free. This freedom is not only fun ... it is the vital component that makes the self-employed succeed against their employed competition. I am not necessarily talking about the sort of 'I want to be free, man' hippy-type freedom, but a type of business freedom which allows you to be frighteningly efficient."

He likens the self-employed mentality to that of a guerrilla. "The average squaddie, when separated from his platoon, is soon a victim of the jungle. One of the keys to this fellow's survival is a bit of jungle training, and the belief that he is free to make decision. From the Vietcong to the Mucha Haden, the ultimate victor has been the guerrilla. This can work in business. Travel light, live off the land and strike from the shadows."

Burch, whose idiosyncratic style makes reading his book seem like chatting to a forthright but friendly pal, recounts a low point in his self-employed career. "Every month was a battle ... and then I met a respected business colleague who introduced me to a companion as a successful businessman. I got him on his own, and asked him where he had got the successful bit from. 'How long have you been in business, Geoff?' he asked me. 'About four years.' 'And you're still here. I call that successful.' "

When you downshift or go it alone, he says, the word 'success' takes on a new meaning. Fulfilment comes in different ways. "Success could be as little as paying the bills and having a modest holiday once in a while." Burch is practical: "Where pounds 10 an hour may not seem that awful as a salary, it is pretty terrifying as a turnover. Particularly when in the early days you may have the odd week with no work. Money up front is a bit of policy thing with me."

He recommends, in certain situations, charging a 'concept fee' - asking the potential client for money after an initial presentation. The trick came from a former advertising colleague, he says. "After he secured the 'concept fee', it didn't really matter if the job went ahead or not because he could make a handsome living out of concept fees alone. The customer, having spent the money with him and not with others, felt that if they didn't go with him, part of the budget was lost."

Burch is a pragmatist and insists that positive thinking isn't the be- all and end-all. "You would do well to have self-belief and self-confident, but it isn't essential. If you do screw up, you haven't let the book down. You certainly haven't let yourself down. Let's pick up the bits, put it back together and avoid ever making that mistake again. End of story."

Go It Alone, pounds 7.99, is published by Thorsons.

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