Going indy: define success

Deciding to go out on your own as an independent consultant can be both freeing and utterly terrifying.

Gone is the external validation from your workplace peers and supervisors (who’s going to tell you you’re a good data scientist now?).

Gone is the 9-5.

Gone are uncomfortable shoes – live the dream!

Working out how you’ll become independent is hard when you haven’t done it before. This is the first in a series of posts. Some of them are going to tell you how I did it, others how I should have done it. I’ll cover the basics of financials, defining your value proposition, networking and whatever else I can think of that might be useful.

But if I had my time over again, there’s one thing I’d do before any of that.

The first thing I think you should do if you’re going to go independent is define success. What does success look like to you?

If you don’t know, you’ll spend a lot of time floundering – maybe doing things that don’t make you happy. Maybe looking for that external validation that isn’t coming. Maybe comparing yourself to companies and people in ways that aren’t sensible. Maybe I did a lot of that in my time and hopefully you don’t have to!

So what does success look like for you?

Success might be financial

Financial success is generally regarded as pretty amazing, but what does it mean? For everybody who goes independent as a consultant it’s going to be different.

Some people might see financial success as being bought out by a large consulting masthead in five years time for a seven figure sum.

For others, financial success looks like the ability to pay your mortgage, your bills and have enough left over for the fun stuff – with the added bonus of having time to do the fun stuff.

Neither is bad or wrong: the right part of the spectrum is the one that’s working for you.

Success might be personal

Personal success has a few dimensions – the respect of your peers, the respect of clients, building something worthwhile. For some people, the freedom to take on pro bono work, mentor others and contribute to great causes is a big drive to go independent. For others, the time to spend with your kids is a measure of success.

Don’t let financial measures of success be your only indicator: the whole point of being independent is the freedom to define yourself and your business.

Success might be intellectual

One important bonus of being independent is the ability to choose work you’d like to take on. To be frank, it can take awhile to get to the point where choices are out there. But once they are, intellectual freedom to pursue projects that are interesting and push your boundaries can be another measure of success.

Success might just be space

I’m going to lay this one out there: data scientists are a pretty distinct bunch of people and for many that comes with a lot of pressure. Success for you might be the space just to be yourself without having to spend extortionate amounts of energy keeping up with the requirements of a corporate or academic world.

That doesn’t mean that at some point in the future you can’t take on the corporate or academic ladder: but the space just to be yourself with minimal overhead is a kind of success worth talking about. Lots of us need it for at least awhile in our lives and independent consulting can be one road to that kind of freedom.

Where to from here?

Once you’ve decided what big picture success looks like for your new consultancy, it’s time to get specific. In the next few weeks, I’ll talk about defining a data science offering and value proposition, defining and dealing with competition, what you need to get started, the financials and whatever else I can think of.

Got something you’d like me to cover or a question? Comments aren’t open because I have all the generic viagra and cialis I could ever need. But feel free to use the contact page or drop me a line on twitter here!