One year ago I decided to quit my consulting job at a respectable company and go rogue as the Founder and sole employee of Ned in the Cloud LLC. I thought that now might be a good time to reflect on how I feel about that decision a year in, how things are going personally and financially, and where I see the company going in the future. Come with me friend on this introspective journey to examine the real-world of an independent content producer.
I guess I’ll start with how I feel about my decision to leave a stable position at a good company for the great unknown. It was with a fair amount of trepidation that I left the cozy confines of an employer. It meant I no longer had the comfort of a bi-weekly paycheck of a set amount. If I wanted to get paid, I was going to have to do things that people valued enough to pay me. That being said, I had developed a fair number of clients and revenue streams. So while money was a concern, it turned out not to be the primary issue.
People are social creatures, and as much as we IT folk like to joke about being introverts sequestered away in our cubicles doing our best to ignore end users and co-workers, the truth is all of us need social contact. The current pandemic puts this into sharp focus for all of us, but even before the pandemic, my decision to work for myself from home created a self-quarantine of sorts. I was not entirely psychologically prepared for the lack of interaction throughout the day. Small trips to the coffee machine. Dropping in on someone in their office. Chatting outside of a meeting room while you wait for the current occupants to leave. All of those small interactions create a background hum that is eerily satisfying, and one you only notice by its absence. Sort of like the thrum of an A/C unit that you only realize was there when it stops.
I miss those daily social interactions, and I struggled for a while to find a suitable alternative. A year in - pandemic and quarantine notwithstanding - I am still learning the balance.
But do I miss the job I left? Hmmmmm… No. I was working in a position I didn’t really enjoy. I felt unmotivated and unfulfilled. And now I don’t! That’s a win.
I give my decision to leave 4.5 stars out of 5.
If I was concerned about finding enough work, I needn’t have been. When speaking to a colleague yesterday, I said something along the lines of, “You and I have accrued very specific skill-sets over the last decade, and those skills are in high demand.” Being able to think about technology critically, communicate clearly, and get work done on time are a rare combination of traits. Rarer than you might think. Through a certain amount of determination, foresight, and sheer luck, I have found myself in a position where people want to hear what I have to say. While I occasionally find this baffling, I also appreciate it for the gift that it is.
All of that is a long-winded way of saying that business is good. Very good. Rather than scrambling to find opportunities, instead I find myself turning things down. I simply don’t have the bandwidth. I’ve even conscripted a buddy of mine to help out with a couple projects. He’s not an employee in an official capacity, but I am going to be paying him money to do things.
People get weird about numbers, so I’ll just put it this way. In my first year of freelancing, I have already exceeded my salary at my previous employer and next year I expect about a 30% increase year-over-year.
You might be wondering how I found all this work? I think it all boils down to two primary things. The first is networking and the second is doing the thing. If you don’t mind, I’ll expand a bit.
Remember that whole social creature thing I mentioned earlier in the post? Yeah, turns out that since we are social creatures, we tend to work with people that we know socially. That’s all networking is. When I hear a career development person - or, god help you, a “life coach” - talk about networking, it sounds like some esoteric process where you merge with the Borg collective by accepting their core tenets. And then you become one of us, the network anointed. The reality is so much simpler.
Networking is talking to people you know and the people they know. Not selling, pandering, pan-handling, evangelizing, proselytizing, pretending, faking, insinuating, genuflecting, or self-aggrandizing. It’s just talking to people and not being an asshole. You might recall that one of my three pillars is be nice, and I think you’ll find that being a pleasant person and talking to other people is a great way to expand your network - aka meet more people - and find new opportunities without selling yourself.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t put yourself out there. The corollary to networking is to promote yourself. I think there’s a tasteful way to do this without sounding like a blowhard egomaniac. Partly this will be your blog, podcast, social media, etc. All of those platforms are important. People need to be able to see your work and remember that you exist. Even more important is the word of mouth effect. Once you’ve done a good job for one person, they are likely to recommend you to colleagues. That is a virtuous cycle.
You can think of your public presence as your resume, and your network as a recruiter. But more importantly, don’t treat them that way. Make friends. Care about people. Help out when you can. People will notice that you’re a genuine human being, and respond in kind.
My buddy Stephen Foskett has this hierarchy of things you need to do to be successful. The first is to show up. Yes, it’s that simple. If you want to be successful, you actually have to show up. Seems like a fairly simple thing, but I can tell you from my experience managing people, they often fail at showing up.
The second is do the thing. Whatever your job is, do it. You don’t even have to do it especially well - more on that in a moment - you just have to do the thing. I know it sounds reductive, but again it is shocking how many people fail to do the thing they were hired to do.
The third is do the thing well and the fourth is do more than the thing. I’ll reserve those for another, more in depth post.
When someone hires me to make write content, create a course, make a video, I do the thing. Being reliable is incredibly powerful. The next time someone needs a video made for their webinar, an article written about their technology, a guest for a podcast, they are going to think of you. Because the last time they asked, you showed up and did the thing. I’ve been showing up and doing the thing for the last year, and now I am constantly being asked to do more of the things.
The future is now! In the short term I need to deal with the pandemic and my new working situation. Working from home alone is a lot different than working from home with three kids and a spouse. And I’m having trouble focusing on things for long periods of time due to general stress and anxiety. That’s fine. I mean it’s not fine, but I can deal with it. The whole household is adjusting and adapting, and I’m still getting completed work out the door.
In the long term, I need to start thinking about ways that I can increase my capacity by farming out work to others. For example, I hired an editor for my last two courses on Pluralsight. It probably takes me 4-6 hours to edit one hour of recorded content. By having someone else do the editing, it frees me up to do more valuable work. Editing is something I can do, but it’s not the core value of my company. In the same vein, I can do accounting, but I hire an accountant because they are better at it than me and it saves me time.
If I want to increase my capacity for work, I need to take a serious look at where I can provide the most value and farm out the rest. I’m about to start a couple writing projects, and I have already asked a friend to assist with some of the writing. I’ll be paying him a portion of the fee that I’m getting for the work. Are there other areas I could farm out to others? I think there are and I will be vigilant for those opportunities as they arise.
When I was naming the company, I seriously struggled about whether to call it Ned in the Cloud or something else. Ned in the Cloud was already my website and I owned the domain. Two points in favor of using it. But the name implies that it’s just me, and not a larger organization. Right now that is true; however, there may come a day that I hire others on full-time to assist. When I made the decision, I couldn’t imagine hiring others to work for me. It just didn’t seem like a likely outcome. I was becoming a freelancer, and freelancers don’t have other full-time employees. It’s like a lone wolf pack. One year in, I’m looking at my current workload and the opportunities coming down the pike. The idea of adding some full-time or even part-time employees is looking a lot less ridiculous. That might be 3-5 years down the road, but I should start thinking about it now.
Deciding to become an independent consultant and content creator was the best career move I could have made at the time. I was ready for the adventure and I had done the necessary planning to ensure a successful transition. This is exactly where I want to be at this point in my career and in my personal life. I’m sure circumstances will change, and if there’s anything the last few months have taught us, we have no idea what the future looks like. For now, I happy to report that my first year of Ned in the Cloud LLC was a resounding success and I am looking forward to see what the next year brings!