So, exactly one year ago Jo Gordon Consulting Ltd. started trading. I incorporated at the end of September, but only started paying for insurance etc. from the day of my first contract. And before anyone thinks the title relates only to my Netflix habits, you’re wrong – I’ve watched way more than five seasons of some series in the past year ;)
I think other small business owners and freelancers will understand if I say that I wasn’t really thinking of temporal seasons when I came up with the title. It’s more the various feelings, phases and developments that year one has blown in. Think not of evenly spaced, (somewhat) predictable spring, summer, autumn, winter. ‘Five’ is your clue.
Instead, think of The Wire - with a long story arc, one weak series and a couple of dodgy episodes. Some episodes you need subtitles because you just don’t understand, others have you gripped, but watching though your fingers because you can just sense something nasty is about to happen. And dull ones that become relevant much later.
Despite the above it’s simply the greatest TV show ever written. The flipside is some absolute belters of episodes, bingeing night after night because you need to see how it turns out, feeling the pain of the characters because you’ve truly invested in them. It’s both endured and enjoyed, not at all glamourizing the district and lifestyles it portrays.
SEASON ONE – The big premiere
I started my company as a result of being offered a contract, not vice versa. I ended up extending my contract twice with this firm. In some ways this was an excellent outcome, but it let me postpone the mindset shift I needed to make well into 2019. When that contract ended, I had done nothing to set up a pipeline.
Financially, I was bang on – my aim is to work part-time, and I did seven months straight at 4 days/week. I could have made it easier for myself had I also done some work ON my business during and not just worked IN it. I also fell into the trap of thinking that because I had a large network, word of mouth would continue to be enough.
SEASON TWO - The slightly disappointing one (depending on your perspective)
I took two months out to do some training on some software that I didn’t get the opportunity to learn when I was employed. That change of pace was welcome and I’m glad that I resisted giving up on those plans just because they would not pay immediate dividends. This was when I really started to think about me as a brand and a business.
I continued the CPD using what I had learned about SEO and social selling to update my website and start testing the efficacy of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to a business like mine. In parallel I also set up on some online marketplaces to understand my own effort to earnings ratio of those platforms as a source of income.
SEASON THREE – The one you think is weak but turns out to be pivotal
I took a new voluntary role and the first mutterings of ‘procrastination’ were heard. But I volunteer – all three organizations know that I also work for money and sometimes must prioritize that over them. The new role completes an ambition, sharpens my skills and gets me amongst people. I do better paid work as a result, so it has a place in this story.
I started talking to people online: in Twitter chats, via Facebook Groups, on LinkedIn and Instagram, though this blog. On WhatsApp, in Slack, by phone and even by videoconference. I found my digital voice. Time to tackle lukewarm outbound and properly engage with my network.
I know about expected response rates, but I was pleasantly surprised. The bigger learning was about how selfless other freelancers are with their time and advice. ‘You should talk to X’, ‘have you contacted company Y’, ‘When I need help with ___ I go to Z’. Introductions, ideas and recommendations have diversified my network.
SEASON FOUR – The one that’s set in a different location
Last season gave me the confidence to network face to face. I’m an introvert so I find it exhausting, but I can fall back on my presentation and client handling skills in the room. I’m exploring whether I can use my skills to service small businesses, but job number one is to articulate clearly what it is that I can offer. Very much a work in progress!
Networking has already yielded results. Not (yet) for pipeline, but as a consequence of conversations that I’ve had: I’ve been on a seminar about purpose, I’m booked onto a course to generate a business plan, I’ve made new connections on all platforms and I’ve identified people who can help me with behavioural and business development.
SEASONS 1-4 - Recap
SEASON 5 – Spoiler alert
Is running a business like I thought it would be? No way – I didn’t think that it would be a breeze, but I also didn’t expect the extent of mindset shift that would be required. I was ready for the financial feast and famine, but not the rollercoaster of mental highs and lows; the energy required to map the next stage in the journey and the stamina to deal positively with rejection which very often is simply a lack of response.
Success doesn’t have to be defined by the number of clients or turnover achieved. It can mean a perfect blend between paid work, voluntary work and leisure time. Or a mind that is constantly challenged and learning, whilst making money from activities that have never felt like work. And although it can be precarious and unpredictable at times, the knowledge that my success is entirely down to me spurs me on to stretch further.
Will I be back this time next year to celebrate my 2nd business birthday? You bet.
I will run for longer than 5 seasons, the end of my story is not yet written.
See you then.