Advice From Our Community

Halima Khatun, Founder of HK Communications: Make professional development your priority this year

Halima Khatun, Founder of HK Communications: Make professional development your priority this year

Tuesday, 05 March 2019

I started out as a broadcast journalist, freelancing for ITV and the BBC, before quickly realising that the plum full-time TV jobs were few and far between.  For the majority, a career in local radio - with unusual shift patterns and low pay to boot - beckoned. This was not what I wanted, so I went over to the ‘dark side’ and entered the world of PR.  I started out as an account executive at Bell Pottinger North – part of the largest PR group in the UK – and progressed in-house from there. 

This progression wasn’t part of a five-year master plan, it was a much more natural process of progressing within an organisation, before moving on to better pay/opportunities/location to another company.  

Professional development factored somewhat in my corporate career, in that I would have to write my goals at every appraisal, detail what I would like to achieve, skills I’d like to develop, etc. But if I’m honest, I didn’t give it the attention I should have.  


When I was in the corporate world, I treated professional development as more of a tick box exercise at every appraisal. I felt it was something that my bosses had to put me through to comply with HR policy. But I was wrong. Now I run my own business, I realise that professional development goals are intrinsic to shaping your career.


Setting proper professional development goals isn’t just about going on a course somewhere. It’s an opportunity to develop new skills, hone your craft, and learn beyond the scope of your current role.

With the power of hindsight, I should have made better use of the opportunities available during my corporate career. Setting up your own business is akin to a baby bird being thrown (or, in my case, jumping) out of the nest in order to learn to fly. There is no boss, there is no infrastructure, and if you set up alone, there are no colleagues. It’s just you. How much you do – or don’t do – is solely dependent on your effort.  There’s no regular income in the form of a salary (at least not at the beginning) and there aren’t any appraisals.  


It is precisely this ‘out of the frying-pan and into the fire’ situation that forced me to address my professional development goals like never before.  After all, I was my business, and my business was me. So if I wasn’t working at an optimum level, the business wasn’t working. 


I knew I needed to sharpen up certain skills, such as networking, mastering e-newsletters and negotiating. Essentially, I needed to become a more rounded businesswoman, as opposed to just a PR person. These goals now form a crucial part of my overall strategy and vision.


Admittedly, it took me a while to prioritise this. Initially, my main concern was making a profitable business. So I networked like never before, scoured PR agencies for contract work, and also did some dreaded cold-calling (tip – don’t bother cold-calling if you run a PR service – it’s fruitless).


Once I’d created a viable business that I knew was working, I then turned my attention to myself. It was around month three of setting up HK Communications that I realised I needed to spend some time working on my business and not just in my business. It simply wasn’t enough to make good money from client work. I didn’t want to be a freelancer, I wanted to be a business owner. To achieve this, professional development goals would be intrinsic.


I signed up to a regular women’s networking event, which I am still a part of. This has not only won me new business, it has also introduced me to other female business owners and provided a great platform to learn, share ideas and support each other. One of the biggest challenges of being a business owner is the feeling of isolation. For me, this was particularly apparent as all my friends and peers were still in the corporate world.


I housed myself within a co-working space full of other entrepreneurs.  This was a real game-changer as this addressed the loneliness of working from home. I made the most of the mentoring advice available at the space, and I learned from others how I could improve my own business, and nurture my professional development.    


I began reading professional development - or self-help - books.  I was the biggest cynic when it came to such books! I would not have touched them during my time in the corporate world.  However, after asking for a few recommendations, I read the ‘The Miracle Morning’ and ‘Essentialism’, both of which encourage focussing on yourself in order to be more successful in your working life.  I found them to be enlightening and took the learnings in earnest.       


Finally, as business is going so well (no small thanks to the professional development goals I set myself), I have enlisted the services of a business coach, who helps me achieve my goals and holds me to account.    

I've found that professional goal setting takes on a whole new meaning when you run your own business. And sadly, many others who set up alone do struggle and they ultimately return to the corporate world as they neglect their business’ biggest asset - themselves.        


Having seen professional development from the corporate and self-employed world, my advice would be to give it the attention it deserves.  Don’t treat it as a tick-box exercise to please management or secure funding for your business idea.  Think of it as an investment in yourself, and it will pay dividends.


Halima's Top Tips 


  • Read more– I know self-help books aren’t for everyone. In fact, I was the biggest cynic, as the term ‘self-help’ didn’t sit right with me.  But you’ll be amazed what you can learn about yourself, your career, and those around you when you read them.  
  • Get a coach or mentor– It’s no coincidence that all the top business leaders have coaches. A good coach will help you find clarity in your decision making and hold you to account.  If a coach isn’t in your budget, you can ask someone whose work you admire to become your mentor. Most people are happy to share their pearls of wisdom.      
  • Network– And not just for the sale! Think of networking as an opportunity to meet other businesspeople and learn from them.  So attend events and talks both within and outside your industry. You never know who you will meet and what you will take away from it.  
  • Think long-term- Remember, whether self-employed or in the corporate world, your professional development is something that will far outlive your current role. So don’t just think short-term and look at what will benefit you now, but also think of the skills that will benefit your entire career.  After all, professional development is an investment in you.     


Halima Khatun is the Founder and Director of HK Communications, an independent PR consultancy based in London. Halima has worked for the largest PR Group in the country, Bell Pottinger North (part of Chime Communications PLC), where she provided profile-raising PR for corporate and public sector clients. Prior to working in PR, Halima was a broadcast journalist, working for ITV and the BBC.    


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