Strat-Talking regularly speaks with freelancers and founders in our regular feature called "Founder Focus" to talk through their journeys to being freelancers and/or consultancy founders in their own right.
The second edition of Founder Focus features Mark Kelly, Founder of Mark Kelly Consultancy and here's what he had to say...
What made you take the leap?
Like quite a few people I’m sure, there’s nothing like a bit of a kick to make you leap! I'd thought about doing my own thing a couple of years before I actually did, when I was looking for a move from a previous agency. But (as someone described it me) I opted to stay in the ‘warm bath’ of a salaried role and not risk the cold.
So instead I joined another agency - great people, interesting clients but like lots of agencies over the past few years they were hit by reduced client spends (public sector, for one) and I was in redundancy wave four I think it was, (spookily) just short of my two year anniversary.
Not getting redundancy pay was a good thing in my case – there’s nothing like having to pay the mortgage to get you on LinkedIn and on the phone talking to new clients and old industry friends! I'd decided to go 'solo' when the writing was on the wall, I definitely didn't want to join someone else’s business again, so I focused all my energy on my consultancy from day one.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I've been lucky to get a lot of referral work (although I try to keep my inbound marketing up to date to attract new biz) so gaining work hasn’t been the biggest challenge - I'd say it’s the peaks and troughs of project-based work (and therefore the cash flow) that’s the tough one. All my expenditure / direct debits are monthly but revenue can be ‘peaky’ when you freelance.
I love what I do so it’s actually not a major stumbling block though (but I have had the freelance fear near the end of the month a couple of times!).
Has anything gone wrong?
Thankfully nothing disastrous at all. I think I underestimated the 'lull' that the Christmas period / New Year can bring (for me anyway). I know that will vary depending on the specific clients you may have though.
That said, it’s a double-edged sword: two postponed projects meant three quiet weeks this year but it was great to focus on some side projects that I have on the go.
Any tips for people looking to do the same?
Start networking and 'contributing' ten years before you become a Consultant. That's not a facetious answer: being an active part of your industry (helping run events, or professional groups etc and also blogging useful stuff) helps get your profile up. And it hopefully demonstrates you are a helpful person and you know what you're on about!
Get your LinkedIn profile up to date too. I was / am genuinely chuffed and humbled by all the endorsements I get on LinkedIn and feedback to my blog (I kind of forget people actually read it!).
Those endorsements and also things like +1s or article shares/likes help with new enquiries but also the referrals from people who already know you. It confirms they’re making a good call in recommending you to their own network.
So my tip would be, if you haven’t already started a blog but are thinking of being a Consultant – what are you waiting for? Get writing useful and interesting posts. Also ask ex-colleagues and clients for long-form recommendations on LinkedIn, rather than wait for the ad-hoc endorsements (great though they are) that may come in.
I’m straying into freelance evangelism / cheese here but the biggest success has been building up the business over two years to the point where I’m devising plans or expediting work for some excellent brands, via a nice mix of quality Agencies (about 70% of my work is via Agencies).
And I’m working direct with a set of great clients who I get to be genuinely helpful to (so I’m told anyway!). Success for me is also having the flexibility of working till midnight on a project but then stopping at 3pm the next day and hitting the hills with my hound.
My website and blog are here: Mark Kelly Consultancy
I’m on Twitter at @markkelly333