Exactly one year ago on Friday, October 13, I finished my last day of full time employment. I had thought about freelancing solo for a couple of months prior to this day and decided that I would either manage to adapt to this new lifestyle and career within the remaining weeks of the year, or start job hunting again in January.
One year later, I am very happy with my choice. I have met many people along the way interested in what it is like to freelance (many of whom have also successfully started out), I wanted to distill as much practical experience as possible into a series of posts. The goal is to help you to clarify whether freelancing matches your personality and career goals and what fundamentals will determine the course of your first steps as a freelancer in the data world.
Naturally, what has worked for me is heavily influenced by my personality and is not the single truth. As you probably know if you’re working with data, context is everything in analysis — and yours might be different. Take away what makes sense for you, discard the rest.
While you have to walk on your own, I wouldn’t have had such a great experience without mentors, friends, partners and great customers and I am immensely grateful to each of them. I have tried to keep these posts as concise and short as possible while packing them with practical insights. In general, I’m an open book and I’d love to hear about your experiences, thoughts and feedback. Feel free to reach out via LinkedIn or my website.
In this post, I will briefly touch on my perspective on the data market and why now is a good time to freelance and formalities when starting out, followed by reflections on personality, principles, skills and your personal value proposition. I will close with thoughts on the role of your location and network.
The current state of the data market
I believe now is a fantastic time to be self employed in the data world. There continues to be huge unmet demand along the entire spectrum of companies and skills: from startups wanting to start out with analytics as lean and effective as possible to mid sized and large players with existing setups which they want to optimize or extend. At the same time, the breadth and depth of tools in the market is growing quickly, giving companies the possibility to do things that were much harder or impossible three years ago when I started my career.
Finally, there is still a good amount of unrealistic expectations and often half knowledge floating around both in the realm of management and sometimes tech departments. Data is a hot topic, but context and details matter. All of these fundamental trends offer a lot of opportunities both for generalists and specialists in the field to have an impact.
To stay on top of things myself, I created this GitHub repository: awesome-business-intelligence
While I was a bit anxious about the red tape involved in setting myself up, this turned out to be much less of a hassle than I anticipated. Starting as a solo consultant to deliver services is often quite easy. A tax accountant may speed up the process and give you some valuable tips regarding your new tax situation. Speaking for probably most locations in Europe, after receiving a VAT ID, what is left is to set up a business bank account, a bookkeeping system (spreadsheet or software) and consider a professional liability insurance if you are doing more technical work.
Keep in mind that tax authorities are often aware that you won’t have it all figured out if you start as a single entrepreneur and are lenient in the beginning. It was worth picking up the phone and talking to them to get clarity on a couple of things. Either they know what to do and will instruct you or refer your to your accountant. It’s an ideal exercise to get familiar with the feeling of not knowing every last detail and moving forward despite that. You’ll experience it regularly when freelancing and get comfortable with it.
This is part 1 of 4 posts on the topic.
Part 2: Principles & Personality
Part 4: coming up