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Working at Code-Switch Consultants

Hellen Parra-Flórez discusses her role as Founder and Director of Code-Switch Consultants.

  • Name: Hellen Parra-Flórez
  • Current position: Founder & Director
  • Organisation: Code-Switch Consultants
  • Date of Interview: November 2022
Headshot of Hellen Parra Florez.

Tell us a bit about your company. 

Code-Switch Consultants was born with the aim to provide researchers with real work experience as research consultants because placements and internships are difficult to come by. We do this by delivering an innovative programme, Full Switch ™ – Research Consultancy Programme where researchers work in multidisciplinary teams to help businesses and organisations solve challenges.

We use the learning we gather, from delivering these consultancy projects, to create impactful courses and project-based workshops to set researchers up for success in their engagements with industry.

What steps did you take to launch and grow your business? 

Before I officially launched my business, I made sure that the product I was going to offer at that time, Full Switch™, was something that my potential customers wanted. I liaised with university decision-makers until I gained the confidence that my product was something they were interested in engaging with and paying for. During the first couple of years of the business, I kept a part-time job. I didn’t quit working straightaway to ensure I had a source of income.

Code-Switch has been growing ever since. In the summer of 2021, we decided to expand our training offer to include shorter courses and have recently launched individual workshops. We now engage around 20 different guest speakers and 7 expert facilitators in our training. We have worked with numerous universities and Doctoral Training Partnerships. We also have a team of researchers who support us with tender applications and delivery of consultancy for businesses and organisations.

What sources of support did you draw upon when launching your business?  

I applied for and won a Flying Starter award from the Masood Entrepreneurship Centre (MEC) at The Alliance Manchester Business School. I used this award to commission the Code-Switch logo and website. I attended multiple business sessions and courses at MEC and signed up for a support scheme from the Manchester Growth Hub where I received mentoring during the early days of my business.

What challenges do you face on a day-to-day basis?

One of the main challenges of running a business, especially a start-up, is to find the right balance between working in your business and on your business and between marketing and delivery. To manage this, I block 1h a day in my calendar to engage in marketing and 2h of deep work first thing in the morning to work on tasks that help the business grow (e.g. developing new products, reviewing strategy, acquiring new knowledge and training). The rest of the day, I spend on operations and service delivery.

The main risk a business can have is not generating revenue. I have managed this risk by diversifying my product and service offer and selling to both businesses (B2B) and customers (B2C). Another risk is not to have the resources to deliver services at a given time. I have managed this by slowly building a team of contractors who support me with training delivery and can step in when needed.

How have you recruited people to your company?

I work with contractors to deliver the training we offer. So far, recruitment has been happening organically, usually after inviting them as guest speakers to some of our events. In this way, I can get a feel for how passionate and engaged they are with their subject expertise.

When it comes to the consultancy side of the business, we hire researchers who we have already trained and worked with as part of our Full Switch™ – Research Consultancy Programme.  

Give a brief overview of your professional experience. 

I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and have almost 10 years’ experience working on career advice, researcher development and teaching. I have overseen the delivery of more than 30 consultancy projects. I come from a law background. I did a PhD for four years before I decided to stop the project.

During this time, I learned about the challenges PhD researchers were facing getting jobs in academia and acquiring the experience and skills to compete for jobs in industry. There I found a gap in the market to set up my own business.

Did starting your own business require a shift in mindset?

Since I set up my business, I had to learn how to see the glass half full rather than half empty, focusing on what has been achieved rather than on what’s left to do. I practice this every day.

Another thing I had to get better at was at risk taking. At some point I had to decide between keeping some savings and facing the potential collapse of the business or spending it all on marketing and see if I could gain clients. After some deliberation, I chose the latter and it worked.

What motivates and excites you about launching a Start-up and running your own business? 

What motivates me about my business is the positive impact I can have on people’s lives by creating products or services to help them solve problems. When someone decides to engage with your product and tells you about how much it has helped them, it feels as exciting as when your research is applied and used outside academia.

Running a business is also a huge source of personal development and learning. In employment, usually, you need to find opportunities for career development within a role. For example, a new project, a new responsibility.

When running a business, you are responsible for the survival of your business and your own income and that puts you in many situations where you must engage in tasks you’ve never done before. This brings a lot of personal and professional growth.

How do you get a good work-life balance when starting your own business?

At the beginning, I was so excited about my business and determined to make it work that I didn’t need a work-life balance, I just couldn’t get enough of it. Then my body and mind (and partner!) started telling me to slow down and take a rest.

I have learned to live with the fact that my to do list will keep growing and growing irrespective of the number of hours I work each day. Prioritising has helped me with work life balance; if something is not crucially important, it doesn’t need to be done that day (or that the weekend), so I can rest.

What type of skills and traits are useful for starting your own business/working in a start-up?

I think the skills required to set up or work in a start-up are very similar to those required in academia: resilience, drive, resourcefulness, independent work, creativity, coping with uncertainty, coping with failure, adaptability, being brave and executing plans and projects, etc.

Any final comments that you have about launching a Start-up?

If you think you have a great idea but are doubting yourself because of fear of failure, ask yourself, what is the worst thing that can happen if I fail? If nothing too catastrophic will happen in your life, then go for it. Normally, the worst thing that can happen is that you will need to find a job.

Any tips/advice that you can pass on to postdocs thinking of starting their own business?

Before you launch your business make sure you have a product or services that solves a problem that people have and that they are happy to pay for.

Talk to potential customers and get their feedback on your ideas.

Find a co-founder that will complement your skills but also to share the pressure with.

Be ready to adapt to what the market wants and pivot.

Resources

Code-Switch Consultants website

Contact Hellen Parra-Florez

LinkedIn

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