ADVICE: “The only thing I would do differently is starting my own business sooner”

While the pandemic has created uncertainty and disrupted job security for millions around the world, it has also presented opportunities to try new things and explore new territory. This is exactly the challenge Kathy Zmijewski took on when she found herself redundant due to COVID-19 and embarked on launching her own consulting business.

In this interview, she outlines how she took the leap into business ownership, the journey to getting her first clients, and her advice to others struggling during the pandemic.

  • What made you decide to start your own consulting firm, instead of joining another company? 

I’ve wanted to start my own business for a number of years, but I couldn’t find the right time. However, like with many things in life, there never will be a right time so you might as well give it a go.

My professional background is in marketing communications and business management. I was made redundant from my role as a General Manager at an employment law firm due to COVID-19 at the end of May this year. I was in this role for almost six years and if it wasn’t for a pandemic, I would have stayed there long-term.

However, like many people, I was faced with unemployment and took advantage of that push to start my own consulting firm, Right Fit Consulting. I provide a variety of consulting services such as strategic communications, public relations and business consulting.

I come from a family of hard-working Polish immigrants with a penchant for entrepreneurship. I grew up watching my parents start their own side business; and then invest and work in my brother’s tech-based company. All of these experiences and my qualifications, in particular my Executive Master of Business Administration, have provided me a great springboard to start my own business.

  • How did you go about acquiring your first clients in the first weeks of starting your consulting business? 

I found my first client through an advertisement on Seek and my second client through my personal network who is a business owner. Once you get your first client, it is easier to get the next one. I found that people are genuinely interested to hear about your experiences on starting a new business whether it be your friends or your professional network.

Cultivating my LinkedIn network has been incredibly helpful as well. I make sure I respond to all of my messages, even if they are not 100% relevant to me. Receiving one good recommendation from a potential referrer is worth its weight in gold.

  • Having recently gone through the process of setting up the company, what’s your advice to other consultants considering starting their own business?

Make the most of this uncertain time. Whilst many businesses are struggling, opportunities are arising. You just need to be open to new things and be quick to jump on them. My three pieces of advice are:

  • Talk to people in your professional or personal network who have started their own business and ask them lots of questions. I reached out to so many people asking for tips such as which indemnity insurance company to go with to what rate to charge my services at.
  • I know this sounds like a cliché, but don’t be afraid to fail. What has helped me is knowing that it is an unusual time where you won’t be judged if you have a slow start or if things don’t go well in your new business.
  • Have a monetary buffer or a secondary source of income. I was lucky to have a significant redundancy payout and savings to keep the fear of uncertainty and potential failure at bay.
  • Anything you’d do differently? 

The only thing I would do differently is starting my own business sooner. You don’t need a pandemic to try something new. However, if you are like me, I recommend that you make the most of this time.

  • What’s your advice to others who may have lost their jobs, been stood down, or are going through a redundancy due to COVID-19, who may not be in a position to start their own business? 

My advice is just to give it a go, especially if your business has the flexibility to be conducted from home during this uncertain time. Believe it or not, starting a new service-based business does not cost as much as you think. Assuming you have a computer and mobile, you just need to set aside a small bit of money to get a business name registration, domain name registration and build a simple website through a template-based website provider like Wix. Use your spare time to research online tools to help you develop marketing material and promote your business.  Alternatively, you can reach out to a freelancer or a boutique consulting firm like mine to help you get started.

I used to be so dependent on my regular salary coming in and was scared to go out on my own in case I couldn’t make enough money. However, COVID-19 has forced me to think differently about money and employment. My circumstances have led me to diversifying my employment. In addition to starting my own consulting firm, I have also accepted a part time management role at a succession law firm. If one doesn’t work out, then I can fall back on the other.

About the expert

Kathy Zmijewski has worked in marketing communications for over ten years specialising in business development, public relations and operations. She has assisted numerous businesses in the legal, financial services, consumer and automotive sectors to grow their brands and reputations. Her professional career includes working in PR agencies and in-house roles. Kathy has completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree, majoring in Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne, a Post Graduate Degree in Public Relations at RMIT and most recently an Executive Master of Business Administration at RMIT. Kathy established her own consulting business, Right Fit Consulting, in May 2020 after being made redundant from her corporate role at a law firm.

Whilst born in Australia, Kathy identifies as part-Polish with her parents immigrating to Australia from Poland almost forty years ago. In her spare time, Kathy is an avid skier, loves being in the outdoors and going for dog walks with her white fluffy Samoyed.

Image description: Close-up headshot of Kathy. She has long blonde hair, is looking at the camera and is wearing a floral dress and a black blazer.