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My First Year As Analyt

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Author: Sean Burton
Updated: 07 Apr 2015
My First Year As Analyt

Well... It's now been a year since I founded Analyt and, as seems tradtition, I thought I'd write about the experience of my first year. I've split this article into three sections, as this felt like the best way to explain each stage of the journey so far:

  1. Before taking the plunge;
  2. my first year;
  3. next steps.

Before you make the plunge

I'd been working as my previous company for just over 9 years. In the world of digital that made me one of the old hats, despite only being in my mid-30s! It's fair to say that I'd been considering the contractor life for a number of years, namely as a way to address my work/life balance. You see, for the last 6 years or so, I'd been living up north (near Newcastle-upon-Tyne), and had been traveling down to London every week (about 3.5 hrs each way on the train). I had reached Directory level and had a team of 7 people. When things were busy I frequently found that my working week was upwards of 70+ hours. Additionally, my daughter was born in 2013, and I really wanted to spend as much time as possible with her - you only get to watch them grow up once! The combination of these factors led me to feel pretty stressed most of the time as I always felt I was letting someone down.

It's fair to say that there were numerous occassions that I was pretty miserable and I got to a point where I decided I needed to make a change.

It's at this point many people hand in their notice - my advice... try to wait for a bit first! It's not going to help anyone if you burn your bridges. I tried to leave on a positive note, but also tried to explain some of my reasons - I always try to be honest, but in a constructive way. Not sure I achieved this, but that was my intention. Not a rant. Honest :)

Before I set up my own company, I spent about a year trying to build up my contact list outside of the company and researching the market place - I still wish I'd done more networking and research, but I'm a data guy and you can never have too much info right? Actually, this was another reason for me wanting to set up on my own. I felt that I had stagnated a bit - I wanted to get the 'fear' back a bit. As a consultant you have to be constantly learning and solving problems - it can be very stressful, but also exciting. I felt as though I had stopped learning and therefore needed to do something different.

So, before you take the plunge, my key lessons are:

  • Build a following - Network like mad and try to build your own personal brand. Get social, write a blog to see what resonates in your market.
  • Research your market - get to know the type of projects available to freelancers/contractors. Talk to other contractors to find out how much they charge.
  • Know what you need - equipment? accountants? web site/branding?
  • Know what you want - what do you want to gain by going independant? What does good look like for you? Where do you see yourself in a year, two, five?

My first year

I'm now offically into my 2nd year of business and, in general, I'm very happy with now year 1 went. I have been very fortunate that I've had lots of interesting work to get my teeth stuck into, which has largely come from word of mouth recommedations and existing contacts - to all those that helped me, I thank you all!

I do have one regret. There was a project that I wasn't happy with, which largely stemmed from me taking on too much and the quality of the work suffered - I'm not happy with an 'ok' deliverable and it's frustrating when you end up having to deliver something that doesn't live up to your intensions. However, the last year has taught me that you can't dwell on failure, but rather use it as a drive to improve and fix the cause of the problems. Failing isn't the problem, it's not learning from failure.

One of the most important things for me to realise, was that it is very easy to forget why you went independent in the first place. Ensure that you remember and don't let yourself move too far from your original plan. I found myself at points trying to fit my family in around work - it took me a while to remember that this was the wrong way round! Don't get me wrong, the work was important, but with a little bit of planning I could make sure my client work was delivered on time and that I spent quality time with my family. I read a blog a few months ago that said to treat your family as a client - book out time and make sure you don't double book them! Additionally, I've found that having this time set aside has helped me to scope and prioritise work more effectively as I've not wanted things to over run. All that said, one of my reasons for setting up on my own was to give myself additional flexiblity and so I no longer have a 9-6 routine. I found it took me longer to adjust to this than I expected. Previously, I traveled down to London every week and this become the focal point of my week - when I stopped going to London regularly it was a little disorientating and it took me a while to adjust. Now my focal point is taking my 18-month old daugher swimming on a Saturaday morning - a far nicer focal point!

So, what has the last year taught me? Below are a few take aways:

  • Getting started - Personnaly, I'd highly recommend getting an accountant to help you out. It doesn't need to cost the earth (typically £50-£100 pcm will cover you for everything you need regarding set-up, tax, etc). They should also be able to advice on whether to set up a Limited company or simply as a sole-trader - I also found that my local Council had lots of info and also offered business start-up advice and networking.
    This choice will govern how you need to run your business and so it's worth investing time to consider the options. It will also govern the type of business bank account you need - if you opt to set up a Limited company, remember it'll take a few weeks for the account to be set-up, which you need to bear in mind when raising invoices.
    Depending on what you did previously, you might also want to get a lawer to look over your contract to ensure that you don't have any clauses that may cause you problems, for example, I had a 9-month non-contact clause.
    If you give out advice, then look at Professional Indemnity Insurance too.
    Lastly, you need to remember what benefits you recevied from your previous company and should carefully consider what you want to continue. For example, as an employee you have a degree of additional financial security, e.g. holiday pay, sick pay, pensions, etc. If you set up on your own this all goes away and you need to think very carefully about what you need. I was lucky in that I had been considering the move for a while and so had built up a financial safety net of around 6-months - make sure you know exactly where you stand financially and how much money you need to generate on a money basis to meet all your obligations.
  • Pricing & getting paid - If you've set up your own, then you control your pricing. Think carefully about how much you need to earn, by considering your rate card and the type of clients/projects you want to have. For example do you want to have 20 small clients, giving you a 1-2 a month, or do you want only a 3-4 clients with larger projects. Personally, I feel a mix helps to mitigate risk, whilst also giving you the opportunity to grow new clients and learn new things. You also need to decide how you are going to get paid. Most companies will operate a Purchase Order (PO) scheme, whereby you will need to agree the scope & cost of the project in advance and then raise and invoice. It is very common for companies to request that you invoice at the end of the project and they then have 60-day payment terms. This can cause significant cash-flow problems if you're not prepared and so make sure you discuss payment terms upfront - if everyone is on the same page then it'll save you a lot of grief later!
  • Learning - it's important to challenge yourself and to try new things. One area that I've managed to progress is the wider digital marketing services, such as Search Engine Marketing (Paid (PPC/CPC) & Organic Search (SEO)). I recently received my Google Adwords certification and plan to become a full Google Partner this year. Whilst digital marketing isn't a primary focus, it has been fun &interesting to expand my knowledge in this area.
  • Networking, Marketing, and self-promotion - This is something that didn't come naturally, but is also vital to generating contacts and a longer-term pipeline of work. I spent the first few months asking around to find suitable networking events to attend and which groups to join. I made a decision that I would invest time in doing this in the first year so that I be set-up for year 2 - this is largely the case, but I plan to try and attend more conferences this year.
    I also decided to build my own web site and to experiment with Social Media channels to see what got the most traction. It's fair to say that I had very low expectations that either would generate much business directly, but rather that they would help me to articulate better. I also decided to try and create a brand, rather than simply promote myself - this has been both challenging and a lot of fun! Don't beat yourself up too much and don't have high expectations initially - it takes time to build something from scratch. For example, it took @analytdata about 9-months to reach 100 followers, and then another 6-months to reach the next hundred. Ultimately, Social Media isn't really my thing and as such I don't invest much time in it, with the exception being the weekly chat on Twitter - AnalytChat - which I co-host with a colleague in a similar position to myself. It's been fun, and I'm hoping it builds through this year.

Next steps

Well that's the big question. I've been fortunate to have had a great first year and as things stand I have a pipeline for the next six-months or so - a very nice position to be in, but not one that I take lightly. Currently, I'm planning a similar work schedule to last year as many of my goals are still the same. That said, I'm looking to plan further out and to set goals for years 3-5 with the intension to recruit and expand the business.

I'd love to hear what you think. Have you had a similar or different experience? Are you planning a similar move? Let me know in the comments...


Comments:

verified
Rick Sage

Sean,

Thank you for creating this post; which (with or without realizing any intentions) highlights your values, beliefs and character.

Your current journey appears to be motivated by a drive to go beyond that of mediocracy.

Kudos on having the confection to grow as a consultant, as a father, and ultimately as the best version of yourself.

~Rick Sage
Article Rating: n/a stars


Analyt reply
Sean

Rick, thanks for your comments - I'm flattered! I guess we're all on our own journeys and we make the the best decisions we can.


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