This week I've launched the website for stoutbear - my small science business.
stoutbear is just a way for me to function as a sole trader to handle a small amount of consultancy work I'm doing. In the future it might grow to do other things.
I got some excellent startup advice from a free business adviser via University of Sheffield Enterprise (although my business is nothing to do with the University of Sheffield). The biggest difficulty was sorting out IP and contract problems with my main employer.
Here are some useful things I've discovered for postdocs thinking of setting up as consultants...
- Research generates intellectual property but, by definition, consulting does not. Confine yourself to consulting and there should be no IP issues to resolve with your employer. Of course, there's a lot of semantic trickery hidden in there, so be careful.
- Generally, postdoc contracts state that outside work only needs the approval of your line manager or head of department. Initially HR were rather obstructive in case it impinged on my university work (or perhaps they just wanted a quiet life), but fortunately my contract leaves that decision up to my HoD.
- HR aren't the big, bad wolf. Go and see them (it's so much easier than using email), talk about what you want to do, and be reasonable - it is their job to make sure you do what you're paid for.
- Having said that, you'd be surprised at how much officials are willing to turn a blind eye to.
- For most postdoc consulting sole trader status is the ideal, lite-touch answer. This is basically a one-man band business structure, with debt risk taken by you. In my case there is no financial outlay, so no risk. It's pretty easy and cheap to set up.
- I haven't got to this stage yet, but my business adviser assures me that tax self-assessment for sole traders is much easier than accountants make out.