International Women’s Day – An Interview with Rene Lowell

Today, we complete our series on Women in Business with an interview with Rene Lowell.

Rene is one of our longstanding Employment Umbrella clients – here she tells us why she loves working as a contractor, and shares with us some of her tips to a successful assignment.

  1. Please could you introduce yourself, tell us a bit about what you do, your current role, and what it involves.

  I’m a mature professional female contractor who mainly provides LEAN commercial procurement and contract management solutions across national and international multi sited organisations that work in collaborative partnerships with one another. I specialise in identifying and achieving substantial savings and income generating opportunities while cleaning up the current situations; which are always messy. That’s the usual reason a contractor has been called in.   The recession has been a real boost to my career as everybody needs to make savings…big savings… and the public sector is having to become more commercial fast, as well as to combine forces to make the best use of taxpayer’s money. That said, there are many many profit led companies who do not operate as commercially and effectively as they could and it’s a case everywhere I go of putting a solution into place that promotes working smarter and not harder.   To do this job you need to be a proactive problem solver with experience of finance, some operational management, some supplier management, a concept of what value looks like and costs, the ability to influence and enthuse people… be quickly accurate… and you have to have a passion to get the best possible outcome for as many players as possible in one go… and I always look for the “cash in the attic” in every step! As a consultant I am a bit of a jack of all trades!  
  1. Tell us a bit about why you chose to go self-employed.

  I didn’t really choose to go self-employed… in fact I was frightened of it. Most people in permanent roles are.   I fell into it because many public sector jobs were fixed term contracts only… and after 2 of those my whole department had been made redundant mid project, at the start of the recession, so I turned to temping.   Being made redundant knocked me for six because I didn’t have the confidence to know that I had something special to offer. I don’t think many people in permanent jobs realise just how much to offer they do have.   So I became a contractor out of necessity, but found that not only did I enjoy it… I was seen as a valuable commodity with a skillset that organisations really wanted to buy! My confidence and my results have grown with every assignment.  
  1. What do you enjoy about being a contractor

  I enjoy everything about being a contractor! I enjoy:  
  • the incredibly good pay and nest egg I can now build
  • going in and cleaning up the mess
  • giving the gift of savings and maybe a new untapped income stream to the organisations I work for
  • the freedom it gives me to work or not work …so an enhanced and less stressful lifestyle
  • the multitude of people I meet.
  I make so many friends wherever I go and receive so much appreciation for my work that it has brought a lot of happiness to my life to be honest.   There are many more opportunities for a contractor to influence and change things than for a permanent employee who is under the constraints of their job description and line management. I don’t have any of that to deal with as a contractor… it’s a very positive and lucrative experience for me all round.  
  1. What is your biggest day-to-day challenge as a contractor?

  My biggest day to day challenges are:  
  • initially getting quickly through unfamiliar systems to get the information that I need
  • and then it’s about finding the right people to help you put the solution into place … instead of doing what they’ve always done.
  That’s normally pretty easy if you can enthuse people to share your vision which always needs to be backed up by data and risk-proofed.   I have to be sensitive to their styles, their agendas and make sure they don’t feel they are being sold to, or pushed.   For me it’s very much about connecting with people and making sure they know the safety net is in place beneath them while taking them along in the journey of the developing vision.  
  1. How did you go about finding your first client(s)?

  Headhunters have always found my clients for me… word gets round if you are a marketable “sure thing” interim. I give recruitment agencies written walking references and an updated spreadsheet of quantifiable savings and income generated by each role I have had. I make sure I have good endorsements on my LinkedIn site and a CV that gives a quantifiable achievement for each contract. I keep all that on file with my main go to agencies.   Then I leave it to fate and don’t worry about it much… when I get 5 or 6 approaches, and usually all within the same week, I know it’s time to move on and send them my updated quick info which I keep up to date and in a file on my desktop.   I don’t have a rule about having to make more money every job…  I do jobs I’m interested in doing or that are in places where the commute isn’t so far it will take too much of my profit.   I always stay in touch after the role and stay in touch with interim buddies I have picked up along the way… and recommend them to headhunters if I don’t want the job. It makes everybody happy and we all try to help each other if we can. It’s important.  
  1. Do you have any tips for those thinking about going freelance?

  • Quantify your achievements – Get a written reference before you leave the role as a read only PDF. Make sure they quantify your achievements and say they would welcome you back. Send the references to the headhunter, take print outs to interviews and leave them with your interviewers.
  • Remember to make yourself a product that is easy for agencies to market.
  • Always do a good deed for anyone you can… give headhunters other interim’s names and contact details if they ring you for a job… stay in touch with other interims and tell them about jobs you don’t want… stay in touch with as many people as you can and always be positive. Everybody remembers and likes someone who has helped them and is fun to know.
  • Dress smartly but sensibly and modestly… and don’t ever feel you are too old or too female in a male environment. A suit doesn’t get you far if you can’t bring anything to the table. If you have good ideas, credibility, enthusiasm and clarity of vision all men and all younger people will listen and respond. I never think about my age or my gender at work… just the quality of my ideas… be confident in your own abilities.
  • Don’t ask don’t get.
  • Sometimes you take a pay cut to gain some experience and the next job you end up quadrupling what you make.
  • Never take a job where the manager is destructive to their employees and never take a job for an organisation that won’t give references by policy. Ask at interview.
  • Always ensure you have 1 to 2 work from home days guaranteed each week.
  • Don’t be arrogant EVER and be humble, decent and non-competitive with everyone.
  • Keep your integrity and just enjoy learning from others and being the best you can be.
  1. How have you found working with Danbro?

Danbro is wonderful to work with and provides me with excellent support both personally and professionally after all the years I’ve been using them as my umbrella company.   I can trust them – I am more than just a payroll number to Danbro and they are very helpful in pulling agency contracts and payroll staff into line.   I would never go with any umbrella but Danbro again, and advise everyone I know to only use Danbro. They are a company with integrity who provide a reliable quality service.   For me Danbro is family… they make me feel less alone and are a very proactive company.  

If you’re a freelancer looking for support, give us a call on 01253 600140 to find out how we can help you.

Take a look at another interview here.

Blog written by
Damian Broughton MBE

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