The Past Year as a Free-Agent

It’s been a typical consultant’s year for me — periods of feast and famine and never being able to plan more than a month in advance. An article by Rob Levinson in the Wall Street Journal shows that even with success, free-agents ask different questions than would a full-time employee:

In my past life as a full-time employee, compensation, bonus structure, benefits and title were all that mattered when comparing assorted job offers. What else was there? For a consultant, the criteria for determining next steps are less clear. What are the relevant factors for solo consultants trying to chart a career path?

That’s because I have serious personal questions for myself. Do I focus on partnering with my colleague Kate and building her consultancy? Should my consulting firm be my first — and only — priority? Should I chart a growth strategy and think about hiring employees?

From Michael Cage, I also learned business lesson #1 again, and I became seriously immersed in blogging — moving to my own hosted site after having used Blogger and Quicktopic. A blog is definitely the best marketing tool for free-agents and small businesses, and it’s not about publishing a diary, but more about the network effect that makes blogging so powerful for small business. As Jon Udell says:

We can’t say exactly how the trick is done, but we understand the basics: a network, a message-passing protocol, nodes that aggregate inputs and produce outputs. The blog network shares these architectural properties. Its foundation network is the Web; its protocol is RSS; its nodes are bloggers. These ingredients combine in ways that are not yet widely appreciated.

Probably my greatest work achievement this year was in extending my network of friends, colleagues and fellow professionals through blogging in order to expand my own scope of learning and work. Knowing that I have this extended network makes me more optimistic about the coming year, because I know that I’m not alone 🙂

4 Responses to “The Past Year as a Free-Agent”

  1. Anonymous

    Thanks againGood advice, once again. If you’re ever passing by Sackville, please feel free to give me a call. I think that we could swap some stories, and maybe help each other with possible connections.

    Have a happy & prosperous new year.

  2. Anonymous

    RE: The Past Year as a Free-Agent
    Like you, I learned the lessons of feast and famine, and also discovered that being an entrepreneur is more of a lifestyle choice. Here is a piece of advice I offered to someone recently who has chosen this path:


    There are a lot of us (most people you will never hear about) that make a living from running an online business. We aren’t gurus… we don’t sell info-products telling you how you can get rich… ’cause if we knew how, then I expect we would be rich. But we get by, just the same.

    Christmas, 2003, I made a total of $988.00 for the month. That was the worst month I’ve had since December 2000.

    Still, I paid all of my bills, bought a used car for $4000 and spent $1000 on Christmas.

    I was able to do this because, as an entrepreneur I know if I am to survive I have to live well below my means.

    OK… so in December of 2003 I wasn’t living below my means, but for the 11 months before… I was.

    My ex wife made fun of my truck. Yes… I have two vehicles… paid cash for both.

    Between her and her new man they are spending $1500 a month for two new vehicles, financed through the bank, (that’s including insurance) and last year, besides child support, I was loaning them money almost every month.

    Let me tell you about my cousin Harry. Harry is a millionaire and entrepreneur.

    A few years ago on a trip he and his wife were taking, their car needed repair. Actually… the frame broke. The garage where he took his car looked at the problem. After seeing that the frame had already broke and been welded 5 times in the past, they said there wasn’t any solid metal left so the car could not be fixed. So Harry had to part with a car that was 20+ years old and bought another one.

    Lot’s of people have a problem with this type of thinking. My friends and family constantly say to me "Why don’t you buy another house?" or "Why don’t you buy a new car?"

    I’m not here to impress anyone…. heaven forbid! What if I have 4 or 5 bad months in a row?

    It has been my experience that this isn’t likely, but I would be fine.

    Being an entrepreneur isn’t about money. It’s a lifestyle choice. When you choose this lifestyle then you have to be able to adapt your finances to match this lifestyle. This means finding the ability to live well below your means so the money will be there when you need it.


    You also shared a link to Michael Cage’s "Lesson 1" and I’d like to share my experience with you in this matter.

    Almost two years ago following a divorce, I moved home to Truro, Nova Scotia, after spending roughly 20 years in Calgary. I started a second business… which isn’t really important. What is important is how I approached it.

    I saw something lacking in this area, and I made a list of people who were already spending advertising dollars on something I could provide too… but also do a better job of it.

    I’m sure you realize by now that I’m talking about market research, but there is more…

    Many people who do their market research don’t find the one crucial item that will determine the success of the business. Just because you have identified a niche market that is spending advertising dollars on a corner of the market you would like to get a piece of… doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be willing to pay YOU for a similar product or service.

    There is only one way to find out. You have to ask them. This doesn’t mean you create a cold-call list, send spam, or write letters. You have to go talk to a sample of your niche market in person, to determine if they would be willing to pay YOU for your service.

    You know what?

    Since I’ve been home I discovered a need for small business consultants. There are a few that market their services locally, and I tested a handful of these. They all failed the test — of course they didn’t know they were being tested. This niche market is not being served well (based on my experience and testing) which opens the door for consultants that can meet the challenge.

    Best Regards,
    Steve MacLellan

  3. Anonymous

    Good AdviceSteve:
    Thanks very much for your considered comment. It’s comments like yours that give me the motivation to keep up this blog. Like you, I moved here from the West. I grew up in Revelstoke, BC.

    I can relate to your statement, “What if I have 4 or 5 bad months in a row?” as I have lived through this too.

    I think that you’re right about the SME market being underserved. I do some consulting through CAC/ACOA (regional funding for SME) which provides SME clients with a partial rebate on my services. It adds an extra level of government administration, but helps my clients financially. I can tell you more about this if you’re interested. On the other hand, you sound like you already have your business model established and may not need any ACOA intervention.

    Thanks again 🙂

  4. Anonymous

    A little more…
    I’ve been providing the U.S. Internet business community with web development services since 1997. This is my primary business. Although I have a good working business model to go on, I always try and keep an open mind, and I’ve attended many local small workshops put on by ACOA here in Truro. One of the workshops saved me from paying thousands of dollars in income tax.

    Of course… not all of the workshops were about accounting/tax/legal and I learned other things about running a small business that I didn’t know.

    Interesting to note that some of the workshops leaders were small business consultants. Some of whom already had won new clients from putting on these workshops. Note: Two of the business consultants in my test of local consultants, were ones that failed my test.

    So there is definitely an opportunity there to network through this agency by putting on small workshops for entrepreneurs.

    None of the people at these workshops were wannabe entrepreneurs. They all had established businesses. One gentleman runs a construction crew that build log houses. His company has built log houses throughout Canada and the US and sold custom packages to customers in Europe. Another lady was one of the top local real estate agents. Another company was a couple who offered to build and install custom windows and doors. There isn’t any end to the list of people who can benefit by business consultations. The group of people who attend these workshops are "hot" leads.

    Absolutely NONE of these consultants asked the attendees if they would like to receive a bi-weekly email newsletter that would offer them tips and tricks to help them grow their business even more. Most of them didn’t even make sure every one who left the meeting had their business card. Sadly… some of these consultants have no idea how to capitalize on an opportunity. If they can’t do a better job of managing their own business, I doubt they could do much for me…

    Yeah… you never know who is paying attention to small details like this.

    I think the people that will gain the biggest advantage for their business this year are those who can perceive the Internet as a communications tool and provide websites that engage their users. Through blogs, discussion forums, tele-seminars, and newsletters we can achieve this. Blogs are certainly going to account for a major percentage of this.

    My site traffic has doubled since I started blogging again, but still 50% of my average (10,000 visitors per month) are coming in through my discussion forum. Discussion forums are good too. My friend Dr. Paul Hartunian once said "if you are an expert in your field then you can never give away too much free information."

    Best Regards,
    Steve MacLellan


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