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Having left my full time job in March 2022 (yes, I am part of the great resignation) the most obvious route was to go into solo consultancy which I have done  previously, so it was not totally new to me. I had no interest to get back into the hunt looking for a full time job so quickly with my last experience can be best explained as harrowing. Previously when doing consultancy, it was more of a short term solution compared to when I left my full time job in March 2022 it felt more like a medium to maybe long term solution.

Before worrying about all things consultancy, I took some time out for couple of months to re-charge the batteries. Taking advantage of the borders opening more travelled to Dubai and Barcelona.

It was also nice to be at home, exploring London such a great city you can never fully appreciate it when living and working a hectic lifestyle.

The Set-Up

I decided to run as a sole trader which suits me nicely, never really considered setting up a limited company. Going down the sole trader route it’s easier to manage, far less paperwork, have a process that works for me, my accountant, and the tax man. One of the disadvantages is the liability risk, so far touch wood I have been totally fine. I do have insurance, only been asked about it once in the last 12 months.

One of the first things I had to get in order was how I manage my finances and get control over my cashflow. When in FT you know there is a constant stream of income coming in but not in consultancy there are no guarantees. I opened a new bank account where all my invoices would be paid into, I had a fixed deposit coming to an end allowing me to take out 3 months of salary for a rainy day. The plan is to never eat into those 3 months, I would like to create a buffer so come 18 months, max 24 months I can put the 3 months’ salary back into a fixed deposit. Listening to a podcast the recommendation was to build out a cashflow in excel. The cashflow was great to be able to see month by month what my expenses were and if I need to make a big payment i.e., holiday when the best possible month is for the expense.

The Work

Going into solo consultancy post a 2 year pandemic with the world slowly going into a recession is not the greatest timing. This did not help as business started tightening the grip on their budgets. As expected, I sorted out my CV, Covering Letter and LinkedIn profile so it’s updated with the right details, I reached out to recruiters to give them an update on my position, what I am looking for etc.

Not being tied down by working 5 days in a full time role my preference was to do 4 days a week and work on projects but would still consider fixed term contracts which provide a security in terms of regular income for a period. I found working on projects provided huge amounts of flexibility in my own lifestyle where any given day could be quite varied: have morning calls / meetings, go to the gym, out for lunch, out with my camera, go to the cinema. I am very much a night owl like the idea of working late at nights which could be from 8pm to like 2am. My days do end up being long where I could start the day with a call at 10am or even a call at 11pm. If planned correctly projects provided me the ability to work on multiple projects at the same time to learn and work with different people.

What I did not take into consideration was my website primary my blog would be a source of driving inbound leads. I revamped my blog, the design and brand in summer 2020 during redundancy upto that point I had used LinkedIn and Medium but decided to put everything under the one domain.

By the time I left my full time job in March 2022, my blog had been running for around 20 months with every blog post gaining trust with Google which is where the growth of my blog came from via organic traffic. The inbound leads that I did receive, 50% came directly from my blog.

The other 50% of inbound leads has come from a mix of: recommendations (of whom I don’t know) directing them to my blog or social media Twitter or LinkedIn. The use of social media i.e., sharing my articles, twitter chats, twitter threads, LinkedIn conversations has helped in driving leads as well.

Not all leads convert and not all leads are the right fit for several reasons: pricing, alignment, timing, and expectations.

My first project came from a US based client which lasted 7 months. I did a free audit I did in 2020 and I worked on a smaller project in 2021. From past projects I had an inclination there may be potential work as they were working on a transformation in 2022. Good timing, I sent an email just at the right time. I was asked in advance to scope out 3 phases of work required up front and with each phase a 20% buffer was added. 2 of the phases were completed on budget, the last phase did go over budget which is where the 20% buffer came handy. For each of the 3 phases, the full amount was paid within 30 days of the work starting and the 20% buffer was paid 30 days once that phase of work was completed.

The challenges of consultancy you may only work on a portion of a project and never see the delivery, and results. This project in essence started in 2020, continued in 2021 and I was able to work across strategy to solution design and implementation setting them up for success.

With my first invoice paid I splashed the cash on a new Canon R6 and 24-70 lens. Not cheap but photography is very much my right brain. I have been able to invest more time into photography having more control over my calendar.

I got an email from a potential client who came across one of my blog articles, we had a zoom session and the plan was to have a face to face meeting in London. I got a message on the evening of Sunday 14th August if I could come down to Cornwall, St Ives on Monday 15th August for a meeting I thought why not. The train journey was long, very long but the view was stunning, and the meeting was productive which did convert into a paid project. Sometimes consultancy can be glamorous. As much as the glamour it allowed us to get to know each other, for me to better understand the business, talked about the challenges, short to long term goals etc. In the end delivered good work I would like to think.

It’s one of the projects I can say I enjoyed working on as it also allowed me to share those insights and learnings with the wider community. I am all for giving back, as the saying goes sharing is caring.

In addition to the project work I also had 2, 6 months gigs at an agency and a publisher which was a nice mix of work. It also provided me stability knowing how my weeks are going to be structured and guaranteed income which is what every consultant wants. The challenge came both my gigs finished at the same time as well as other projects getting new stream of project work was not easy and not helped as it was coming to the end of financial year at a time when budgets were being squeezed.

It did mean after 9 months of solid consultancy work; I went into my 10th month with no new clients or new projects and ultimately no billable invoices.

The upside of not having any new billable work I was able to invest time into other areas. I was invited to Ham Yard Hotel to Re-Signals E-commerce conference to photograph the eCommerce conference and I loved every minute of it.

Being able to take photos and listen to Rory Sutherland was an absolute pleasure

Even with it being a slow month I was not going to take on a project that was not of interest to me

Expectations on a consultant can also be unrealistic. Expecting you can drop everything and deliver. One of the big bonuses of being a solo consultant I can manage my own calendar and dictate what I wish to work on and most importantly ensuring I can add value.

Allowed me to reflect that not all clients are right fit. At the time of rejection, it’s easy to take it personally as the saying goes you live and learn

One of the biggest challenges as a consultant is pricing.

As a consultant pricing will always be a stumbling block and I have second guess myself but got to believe you are worth every penny of what you will be delivering.  The right kind of client and business will value the work you do and not question the price.

In the 12 months I have worked either on a project fee or fixed term contract, when a client has mentioned hourly rates and if they have insisted on hourly, I have walked away from that conversation. Hourly is far too granular, it leads into micromanagement, harder to justify any planning that is involved in the work, it may allow the client to save money but making it harder for me to do good work. Most importantly both parties are working in the unknown especially if the project goes over the estimate provided. With both project and fixed term there are clear goals and objectives that must be delivered, it also provides flexibility as the course of delivery there may be delays. The third approach I would like to explore is value based with the right kind of client but totally get this is a long shot and has many potential grey areas. It would require full buy-in from the client and other stakeholders.

The Stats

The stats behind 12 months of consultancy:

  • 60% of income has come from existing contacts
  • 40% of income has come from new contacts made during the 12 months
  • 45% of income has come from contacts based in the UK
  • 55% of income has come from contacts based in US and Australia
  • 70% of income has come from project work
  • 30% of income has come from fixed term contracts
  • 30% of income has come via recruiters finding me fixed term contracts
  • 35% success in converting inbound leads

My income was shared across 3 core services:

If I added my paid photography gig it would take up 3% of the pie. Prefer it as a hobby.

Looking ahead

I have developed a data and tech audit which comes under my data consultancy services. The goal of the data and tech audit is to guide brands on their data strategy where to play and how to win.

In addition to working on various data projects, My goal is to work with brands that could be at various stages of their data maturity that want an unbiased view which is where my data and tech audit can help direct their strategy.

Looking forward to what the next 12 months bring.

I thought it would be fitting to share my gratitude in this article which is about my 12 months journey the support I have received from Rachel Maclynn and Caroline Barber.