Perspective: On being brave

4th Jan 2022

Michelle Ward reflects on the response she received when setting up her own practice

“That’s brave,” they all said. This was not a reference to some daredevil feat that I had decided to take on for charity, but to the news that I was starting my own IP practice.

But it was a sentiment that I only heard from the IP profession; if I mentioned what I was doing to anyone outside of the IP world, I was met with enthusiasm and “How exciting!”

The difference in perception of what was involved in setting up a new business, albeit one that was an IP practice, still shocks me five years on.

Why should it be seen as so scary and daunting to set up your own practice? Yes, there are risks, but that is true for any business. Perhaps it’s a testament to how conservative a profession we are and how reticent practitioners are to try something new or to be different.

I’m not saying that what I do is anything wildly different either. I am certainly not a disrupter in the widely used sense of the word, and I don’t consider myself much of an entrepreneur. I’m just doing what I love my way and with the principal goal of making clients happy.

Change of perspective

Indeed, I never set out in the profession with the idea to one day set up my own practice.

I would readily agree that in my younger days it would have been something that seemed scary – perhaps more so as IP was never a profession I planned to enter. Like so many others, I found the world of trade marks accidentally. 

But things change – and need to change. I gained experience, worked in different locations with different types of businesses, and I started a family.

Over time, my perspective, interests and what I needed from life changed. Eventually, I realised that what I wanted to achieve in my working life was something I was going to have to carve out for myself.

It still took me a couple of years to make that step though, and the lack of information and resources on how to do that was perhaps one of the things that held me back when the opportunity first arose.

There is a lot to consider when you set up your own practice, even if just as a sole practitioner.

Apart from all the standard issues that need to be considered when setting up a business, there is the added complication of regulation, as well as finding suppliers of specialist services that would be prepared to cater for my size of business and budget.

As for the process of picking a name and developing my brand, I finally got to appreciate the pain that clients go through.

Confidence, a positive attitude to being able to develop and grow a business, and taking the time to read through and research before I took the plunge were my key weapons to successfully setting up and getting going.

But it is daunting, and at times it can seem a bit lonely if you’ve been used to a lively office. You soon discover that your support and business networks are essential to keep you sane.

And then, of course, we had Brexit. The vote to leave the EU happened in my first month of business and I was devastated, although it did mean that I was able to adapt and plan for the coming changes from a very early stage.

As part of this planning, I reached out to CITMA for help and guidance and was grateful for the support it was able to provide.

Hard times

Next, the pandemic hit. And it hit hard. It was as though someone had turned off the tap.

Most projects suddenly stopped, as businesses held their breath and waited for the temporary lull to be over. But it went on, and my business suffered for a while. I spent a lot of time reaching out to friends to stay positive.

And then, again, along came CITMA, which took time to set up online meetings for different groups within the membership.

One of those was designed for solo practitioners and small firms, and I jumped at the chance to take part. I have to say that I was probably quite vocal about the impact that the pandemic was having, and the CITMA team took this on board. 

At the start of 2021, CITMA held talks with several firms to understand the difficulties they were facing and what support was needed going forward.

After my experience of the pandemic and Brexit and the support I had received, but also knowing the challenges that being a solo practitioner can bring, I emphasised the need for there to be more support and understanding of those challenges, to see how CITMA could be of even greater assistance.

CITMA acknowledged this, and in the spring a new meeting was trialled, aimed at bringing together solo and small practices.

The objective is to help such firms with the specific challenges that result from their smaller size and resources, allowing CITMA to see what support and CPD may be able to help, and allowing a community to form among such firms to provide a level of mutual understanding and support. 

It’s early days, but I have high hopes for the longer-term gains from such a group, not least to help provide a resource for others who may want to embark on the journey of setting up and running their own practice.

What I’ll tell anyone who asks is this: I’m glad that I took the plunge. Yes, it is challenging, but it is also very rewarding – and I absolutely love it.  

If you’re interested in learning more about CITMA’s support for sole practitioners, please email [email protected]

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