The Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) space is a natural fit for independent contractors. Instead of hiring EHS pros in-house, many companies outsource their needs to freelancers or external teams.
Maybe you’ve considered going out on your own. You might be interested in flexibility, a greater work-life balance or the ability to be your own boss.
There’s definitely potential for job satisfaction as an independent contractor. A 2017 study by the journal “Safety Science” found independent contractors and on-call workers were significantly less likely to report experiencing job stress, compared with workers in FTE roles.
EHS experts can find flexibility, freedom and ownership in roles like consultant or small business owner. They get to manage their own schedules, choose their clients and operate their businesses how they see fit.
However, running your own business has challenges and considerations to be aware of, whether you’re a freelancer or a business owner building an EHS consulting organization.
Steps to prepare for success as an EHS independent contractor or small business owner:
1. Create a Business Plan
A business plan helps you formulate a business strategy. Even if you want to be a solopreneur, you can use a business plan as a guide to stay focused and evolve it as your business grows.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has helpful free resources, like how to create a business guide, how to fund your business, how to calculate your startup costs and how to analyze competitors. It also advises how to determine the legal structure of your business (sole proprietor, LLC, general partnership, etc.) as you craft your business plan.
Think about what your short and long-term goals are. If you envision what you want your daily operations to be like, you can determine if you want employees and how many you’d like as you scale.
2. Get Insured & Certified
Employers will have various requirements for what they’re looking for in EHS professionals. Certification shows you’ve acquired the education and experience that designates you as a credible EHS expert. You may already have some of the main credentials from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, like:
- Associate Safety Professional (ASP)
- Certified Safety Professional (CSP)
- Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST)
- Occupational Hygiene and Safety Technician (OHST)
There’s also a Certified Industrial Hygienist credential offered by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene. Research what kinds of credentials are valued in the specific area of safety you want to specialize in. Think about how you can use your unique background to position yourself to new clients and what new certifications can help you do that.
In addition to relevant credentials for the type of work you want to specialize in, the American Society of Safety Professionals recommends getting professional liability insurance. This protects you for unintentional mistakes and errors of omission that can become costly and potentially drain your business if you’re sued, even when you’re an incorporated business. You should also consider Occupational Accident Coverage (OAC) insurance which provides benefits to employees injured or killed in a job-related accident.
When you work as an EHS professional with YellowBird, you get an OAC insurance policy that offers significant coverage and protection.
3. Organize Your Finances
One requirement for legally operating your business is to make sure you’re keeping accurate financial records and paying what you need to in taxes. Organizing your finances also helps you track deductible items, which can save you from over-paying come tax time.
Consider hiring an accountant to help you manage your finances. Some contractors opt to use a service like QuickBooks Self-Employed to manage finances themselves. It’s up to you how much risk you’re willing to take based on how complex your business finances will get, especially depending on if you have employees working for you.
A convenient way to get streamline finances is to use the YellowBird platform. YellowBird manages payments between safety companies and professionals, so the billing and payment process is easy to track.
4. Prepare Your Office
As ergonomic safety professionals already know, you’ll want to make sure your at-home or remote workspace is conducive to productivity. You might create an office at home, or look into coworking or meeting spaces where you can meet clients and work.
Even if you’re planning on being in the field most of the time, a dedicated workspace helps you conduct business professionally and focus on work. As you build your workspace and get ready to take on clients, use these tips.
- Designate an office space: Create a dedicated, clutter-free area where you can easily access your computer, office supplies and any other tools you need. Whether this is at home or off-site, office space signals it’s time to get to work.
- Add natural light: Natural light can help you work more efficiently because it reduces stress and improves mood. Position your office near a window if possible.
- Apply for a business credit card: Get a small business credit card for office supply purchases and other business expenses. Many business credit card programs offer discounts or perks for office-related expenses, ranging from WiFi to business supply store purchases. Separating your personal credit card from a business credit card will also help you manage your finances.
You might also consider renting meeting space, when you need a board room environment to meet with clients or you need quiet that you’re not able to get from a coffee shop of at home. Use a tool like Calendly to schedule meetings.
5. Manage Customer Relationships
In any small business, networking is key. Your network will refer you to clients, can share important resources with you and can inspire business innovation.
You can manage your contacts with a customer relationship management program. Research options like Salesforce, HubSpot, Zoho, Insightly, Zendesk and Pipedrive to see which platform fits your or your team’s needs.
With every client interaction, from a phone call to a LinkedIn message, log the customer or networking details and note what type of communication you had. You’ll be able to pick up where you left off last time and show you’re invested in the relationship.
You could also do this manually using a tool like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. As you scale your business, you may want to invest in something more sophisticated to accelerate your growth, sales and marketing efforts.
6. Research State & Federal HR Laws
Working alone as an independent contractor is pretty straightforward. But with any small business, once you start hiring additional workers or contractors to partner with on projects, it becomes more complicated.
You’ll want to research your state and federal human resources laws to ensure your hiring and employment practices are legal. This will affect things like salary and payment, scheduling, paperwork and contracts.
Check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s State Labor Laws as a primer. Better yet, work with an employment or small business attorney so you can ensure all your business hiring and employment is safe and legal.
7. Get Expert Eyes on Customer Contracts
Unless you have a law background, contracts can be difficult to decipher. You want to ensure you’re getting compensated fairly, accurately and on-time. It helps to have a legal expert look over contracts your clients draft up, as well as to advise you on drafting your own agreements.
There are services like RocketLawyer and LawDepot that provide independent contractor templates. It may be worth working with a professional lawyer to ensure your contracts fit your business model. Especially if you plan on growing your business and hiring employees, working with a small business lawyer will ensure you’re protected every step of the way.
8. Prepare for Evolving Safety Considerations
The COVID-19 pandemic changed how most on-site businesses operated in 2020. It may have implications for future interactions, as well. When new developments or emerging pandemics strike, EHS professionals also need to adapt.
In 2020, COVID-19 testing became the norm for EHS consultants. Many businesses required EHS professionals to be tested before they were allowed to arrive on-site and interact with employees. That had implications for both independent contractors and EHS consultants with bigger teams.
The pandemic is a reminder to pay attention to how world events affect the EHS industry and its diverse clients. EHS consultants have had to make personal safety a priority for themselves and their teams in order to maintain jobs and steady work.
9. Finally: Be Patient
Growing any business can take time and energy. Everybody’s bound to experience some challenges.
Hopefully, as you provide amazing service and build relationships with your clients, more referrals will come your way. You’ll be able to grow your business naturally and hire employees if that’s something you want to do.
How YellowBird Helps EHS Consultants
One way to get help for growing your business is to register as an organization with YellowBird. YellowBird matches EHS Professionals with Companies on demand. When you’re working with a client and don’t have the capacity to take on additional jobs or you need specialized talent to work on certain projects, YellowBird can supplement your resources. All you need to do is post a Job on the platform with the required skills, experience, certifications, and location, and YellowBird will find an EHS Pro who matches these requirements. The Pro then works with the client on your behalf.
Plus, YellowBird has supplier relationships EHS professionals and consultants can leverage. EHS contractors and small businesses don’t have to spend hours going through various vendor certification processes. YellowBird has approved vendor status via major supplier platforms, which provides you and your business access to work with hundreds of companies. Companies are beginning to understand the true business case for EHS investment, and the YellowBird platform enables you to assist them.
YellowBird helps the businesses you’re consulting in other ways, too. When clients post jobs on YellowBird, the platform manages invoicing, accounts receivable, collection, scheduling, rating and reviews. That saves time and makes it easy to get jobs completed efficiently.
YellowBird can help you get more work, whether you’re doing the job yourself or you want to get more clients by expanding your resources. Grow your network by registering as an organization on the YellowBird platform today!