Choix Update: Building A Community
It’s been an incredible summer for Choix, with major milestones achieved across team, network and pipeline-building.
The next exciting steps range from the launch of our new blog series (you're reading the first installation!) to the development of the Choix Community - an area of particular passion for me.
So, as we sally forth into September, I wanted to share some reflections on the Choix journey to date, a glimpse of the road ahead, and a few of the lessons I've learnt along the way.
In the beginning
Choix was conceived in a technological and cultural landscape that, even pre-pandemic, was undergoing rapid and radical change.
In line with a growing emphasis on career control and work-life balance, freelance consulting was becoming a path of choice for professionals of all levels of experience. At the same time, as the paradigm shifted towards digital, companies were beginning to completely reimagine workforce planning.
It was clear that the future would be dominated by blended, hybrid, distributed workforce models in which freelancers would move towards - and start to take - centre stage.
However, it was also clear that traditional recruitment agencies were not giving companies or freelancers the choice, experience or support required to set up, or to make the most of these models.
The following themes came up repeatedly in our research conversations: companies - consulting firms in particular - were facing huge issues securing permanent and freelance workforce supply, regularly turning down work as a result; companies who did work with freelancers were frustrated with the, often huge, markups that recruitment agencies added on top of fees; and finally, many companies were aware of the potential benefits of a blended workforce but felt they lacked the experience, processes and / or buy-in, that would make it a success.
It wasn’t plain sailing for the freelancers we spoke to either: how would they find the next project in what was becoming an increasingly competitive market? How could they collaborate and sell larger pieces of work? The freelance lifestyle had wellbeing challenges too, chief among these: loneliness.
So the Choix journey began with a series of questions: how could we disrupt traditional ways of buying and selling consulting services, to provide fair, equal and transparent choice for all; and what kind of support would companies and consultants need as they made the transition into the blended, distributed digital world?
Where we’re at now
Fast forward two years and we’ve built a product that benefits individual freelancers and freelancer teams, consultancies, PE & VC, FTSE 100 companies, and scaleups and startups alike.
Our platform gives companies ongoing access to a much wider choice of talent than a traditional agency; and our (predominantly) subscription-based model is completely transparent, with no hidden fees, or disproportionate mark-ups. In short, Choix allows companies to respond quickly and cost-effectively to capacity constraints and skill-gap issues, at the same time as giving scope for robust long-term planning.
Our built-in project management tool is designed to facilitate communication around objectives and outcomes: to flag problems and delays so they can be addressed immediately; and to avoid the mission-creep, so often cited as an issue in our product research.
For freelancers, Choix is designed to open up a greater choice of project type, scope and location, to give consultants the opportunity to control the way in which they are marketed; and to enable them to sell and collaborate on larger projects, by building in-platform teams.
My initial vision for Choix was on a rather different scale to the business we have today. In the very early days, it felt like we were building a house...which quickly became a village, which quickly became a town… and now it’s more like a city!
There are so many ways in which Choix can help both companies and freelancers - so many ways to improve working lives across the board.
In mid-August we began laying the foundations of the Choix Community, with our inaugural Choix Chats webinar. We invited our Network members to join us in an open conversation about the challenges they currently face as freelancers, and how Choix can build a community that addresses these challenges and offers genuine, active support.
Although as part of our verification process, we speak with 100% of the consultants accepted into the Choix network, this was the first time we’d gathered as a group. As such, it was a major milestone, and a particularly exciting moment for me and the team.
Community is at the heart of the Choix vision. Freelancing can be a lonely road, but it doesn’t need to be, and we want to support our consultants beyond simply finding new work opportunities.
In this next phase of development, as we continue to improve platform functionality and add new features (AI-enabled psychometric matching and anti-bias software are both on the slate), we will be working hard - in partnership with our fantastic network - to create a vibrant, active, supportive community; where freelancers, while carving out the career of their choice, can collaborate, learn, mentor, market themselves, discuss ideas and support one another.
I’m incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made, and proud too, that so many people have played a part - from our amazing core team and advisor cohort, to our network, our investors, our brilliant development partners at E-C, all the firms and freelancers who have participated in the research and development process, and to the family and friends who’ve offered so much support throughout. I’m looking forward to updating you again as the journey unfolds; and in the meantime, as promised, a few of the lessons I've learnt to date:
Choose advisors carefully
Your advisor network is one of your most important assets. I would always recommend starting small - talk to people you know and trust, get introductions and go from there. It’s an extremely personal choice: you want people who are brilliant at what they do, of course, but it’s equally (if not more) important to have people who are going to genuinely support you. If someone seems amazing on paper, but they just don’t feel right, don’t be afraid to say no.
Never compromise on your core team
These are the people who learn with you, make mistakes with you and share success. Trust is paramount: it’s so easy for a small, close environment to become toxic with one wrong hire. The Choix core team are all highly capable, experienced individuals, but beyond this they are all people who I genuinely like, respect and whose values are aligned with those of the business.
Show appreciation - often!
Your core team will be full of people who are excellent at what they do. Remember to tell them! And if for some reason they’re not doing well, help them!
No plan survives first contact
I started my career in the army, and this is a key army principle that's served me well throughout my career: essentially you should always have a plan, but as soon as someone starts shooting at you, it will go out of the window. You need to accept the situation, adapt, and make a new decision. Quickly.
Accept the waves and ride the highs
Setting up a business is tremendous fun but there is a huge amount of stress involved. Our first advisor - the Executive Chair of a major financial consulting firm - warned me that this stress would come in waves: things will be up one month (or week, or minute) and down the next. He was correct! I’ve come to accept and expect this constant shifting / emotional rollercoaster, and learned to really recognise, appreciate and take energy from the good times, the positive comments, the acts of kindness and support.
When the going gets tough, reach out
There will be many bumps in the road, often potholes - sometimes craters! At these moments it can be tempting stick your head in the sand and isolate yourself. Don’t. Speak up, reach out - take advice and support: stay connected. You’ll be amazed by how many people want to help.