The 27th September 2019 was my two year anniversary as an independent analytics consultant. I started this phase of my career straight after leaving my previous job as the Director of Business Performance at Yotpo.
It's been one hell of a journey and I thought it would be a nice change of pace to take a step back and share with you the most important lessons I've learnt as an analytics consultant.
Lesson #1 - Don't jump into the deep end completely blind
When I left Yotpo I had a strong belief that I'd manage to close enough business quickly to support myself. I felt this way because I had already had a few discussions with entrepreneurs and employees at other companies that painted a picture that my services were needed.
I took a chance in deciding to become a freelancer (instead of looking for a different company to pay my monthly salary) but I wasn't jumping into the deep end completely blind.
The lesson: Look for clear signs that there is a market for your skills before taking leaving your job.
Lesson #2 - You don't know where the contracts will come from so knock on all doors
In the first few months as a freelancer I was running around Tel Aviv meeting with whoever I could. I gave myself 4 months before I'd have to pack it in and look for a job so I was desperate to close business.
I met with dozens of people but would never had guessed that a short coffee meeting with an early stage founder would lead to my most lucrative client.
I met with the entrepreneur on an average Wednesday and I quickly realized that his company was simply too early in its life cycle to work with me. I was disappointed and saying to myself what a waste of time this was until the entrepreneur mentioned his friend Tom. Tom ran a small but growing startup and was looking for someone just like me.
The entrepreneur I met for coffee made the intro within an hour of our meeting and within 24 hours I had signed a contract with Tom.
Fast forward 18 months and that "waste of time" coffee meeting helped me bring in over $27,000 in business.
The lesson: You can't predict where business will come from, especially in the early days. You need to hustle and connect with as many relevant people as you can. You need to plant seeds and give them time to grow.
Lesson #3 - Balance speed with thoughtfulness and quality
One of the biggest challenges I've faced as an analytics consultant is finding the right balance between speed, thoughtfulness and quality.
I closed a small contract about a year ago with a travel media company in the UK. The client wanted me to help them establish a centralized dashboard that could be used to track certain KPIs.
I estimated about 2 days worth of work and the client was happy with my plan and the dashboard tool I recommended (Cyfe).
I got to work and shared an early version with the client within a few days. The client wrote me back, "looks good but can you add lines to show the results in comparison to our goals?". The client wanted to not only show tweets, sales, traffic etc, but how their results compared to their monthly and quarterly goals.
I had jump the gun and tried so hard to close the contract quickly that I didn't take my time and fully understand the needs of the client. I wasn't thoughtful enough and shot myself in the foot.
This $700 contract ended up costing me weeks of my time and left a client frustrated.
There is a fine balance between speed and quality in this game. I've had to learn to judge the client and see how I can balance the different variables so that everyone is happy.
The lesson: Don't jump the gun and make sure you have the right mix of speed, quality and thoughtfulness in your planning and execution.
Lesson #4 - Don't rely on one marketing channel to bring you business
This lesson might seem obvious but I was reminded of it late last year. I had a great year up until October. I had closed more business up to that point than I had the whole previous year. Then I went almost 60 days without closing a contract. Since I started freelancing I haven't had a run like that and it was devastating.
There are a few reasons why I got into this position but one of the main reasons is that my main marketing channel had dried up.
MeasureMatch is a freelancing platform that I've been using the last year and a half with much success. In 2019 more than half of my business came from this platform. I would typically close a new contract every other month from the platform and usually retained the client for 2 - 4 projects which meant I didn't need a lot of new clients to bring in decent money.
Q4 was a quiet quarter for MeasureMatch and all my expressions of interest got rejected. I had connected with a few great companies via LinkedIn and through some referrals but everything few through. As my existing contracts dried up I was left with zero client work.
The lesson: Ideally you want a few successful channels driving you leads. This way if one or more channels dries up you have backups and you reduce your risk.
Lesson #5 - The freelancing model kind of sucks
I've left the most important lesson for the end and you might find it surprising.
The truth is that the freelancing business model is highly flawed. As a freelancer I'm still selling my time for money which isn't scalable. Now add to that the challenge of constantly needing to find new businesses to which you sell your time and you have endless headaches. To be successful as a freelancer you need to be good at sales, marketing, negotiations, project management, communication and organized. You need all of those skills before you even get down to doing the actual work.
The reason I'm still freelancing is because it works for me, even with all the challenges. The fact that I can do my work from almost anywhere allows me to leverage geoarbitrage and see places I would never see while working a traditional 9-to-5.
My plan this year is to work on projects which will help provide extra support and secondary streams of income. If I succeed then I'll have more wiggle room and can take some risks I can't afford to take right now. For example, I'd love to get into the position where I could focus all my time and energy on creating content for this community.
The lesson: The freelancing business model has fundamental issues which shouldn't be taken lightly. Use your free time and work on other projects which can provide additional streams of income. This will allow you to have more freedom and if you choose, stop freelancing altogether.