The first year of owning my own business could not have gone better, even if I had to write the script myself. And going into year two (2019), I had a few ambitious goals to continue riding the coat tails of the previous year:
- Find balance (my theme for 2019).
- Add a new customer.
- Start an intern/mentorship program.
- Get Project “Stanton” off the ground.
I’m the kind of person who can go into my office and disappear for 8 hours, and going into 2019 it was important to remind myself every day to take that 5 minute break, make time to go to gym a few times a week and generally be more balanced in how I spend my time. It’s easy to get burned out if you don’t have enough self-care, and being a single-person business makes that a pretty dangerous predicament.
Adding a new customer
Other consulting companies will tell you (or maybe not) that 80% of their business comes from existing customers. Working for myself that percentage is probably higher, but even though I had some really good customers and repeating business from all of them it was still important to expand my customer base.
While one new customer doesn’t sound like much, with the amount of time and effort it takes to get new customers and sign new projects (ask any independent consultant) it was definitely a good goal to have.
A non-profit customer of mine paid a well-known consulting company lots of money to develop a custom application, customized CRM platform and a Data Warehouse. They did a good job with the first two, but building a Data Warehouse was not really part of their expertise and the resultant mess was disappointing to say the least.
Knowing that a redesign was the only real solution and that they wouldn’t be able to afford that, I was able to come up with a somewhat creative solution (it doesn’t happen very often) that would combine my love of teaching/mentoring/helping with a complete redesign of the Data Warehouse.
They liked the idea and the intern program became one of my key projects for 2019.
Project “Stanton” is a side-project and collaboration with a friend, and while I can’t share the details it was something that required a substantial amount of time initially. My goal for 2019 was to set some (non-billable) hours aside each week to see if we could get it to a place where we could make a go/no-go decision.
From the outset, 2019 looked to shape up to be another great year…until it didn’t.
I’m probably aging myself here, but the movie Dear John is a good reminder that life doesn’t always turn out the way we want it to, even when it looks like all the stars are aligning. And after all the ambitious planning and best intentions for the new year, life happened in 2019 and as much as I don’t talk about my personal life too often, I think it’s still important to share the lessons I’ve learnt after a pretty tough year.
Have the power to say NO
Quoting from my YearCompass planning booklet, one of the three things I was going to say no to in 2019 was “Bad projects and/or customers“, and little did I know that I would get that opportunity very early in the year.
I can’t share the details, but after a customer relationship turned out not being about reciprocal trust, communication and professionalism I had to make the difficult decision to end it. Given that this customer was also responsible for a good chunk of my yearly revenue and the long period of time I had been involved with them, this was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do and one experience I do not wish for anyone to have.
Looking back at it now, the lesson for me is this: Relationships will be tested (a customer relationship in this case), and if it fails the test you’ll need to make some tough decisions about whether it is worth the investment or not. And even though it doesn’t seem like it at that point in time, walking away is sometimes the best thing you can do. For me it was about the principles on which I build relationships with my customers, and saying no to something that fell short of that standard.
I failed at many things in 2019:
- My year of “finding balance” turned into a year of imbalance, not exercising as much as I needed to and not getting to the things I’ve planned.
- My intern program had exactly one response, who pulled out after two months due to other responsibilities.
- Instead of adding a new customer, I ended the year one customer down.
It’s a sad story, but not really. You see, failure is inevitable and if you don’t fail then you’ll never know what it takes to win. Failure gives us an opportunity to assess and reassess what’s really important in our lives, and how we can do or be better to avoid similar failures in the future. At the end of the day it’s ok to fail, to dust yourself off and to try again.
Focus on what’s important
This blog post is really about things I’ve learned from owning my own business, but we all have personal lives with families and loved ones who are more important than any business goal we may have.
With many personal challenges in 2019, I had to change focus and set aside some of the ambitious business goals I had in the beginning of the year. At times it meant keeping my head down and providing for my family, and at other times it meant working less to focus on what my family needed most. Because of that, I am happy to restate some of my 2019 goals in 2020 and try again.
Look for the silver lining
There’s always a silver lining somewhere…we just need to find it! Even though 2019 was a difficult year, I have many things to be thankful for and achievements I can celebrate. Here are my “silver linings” of 2019:
- Two awesome vacation trips, to NOLA and the balloon festival in New Mexico.
- Presented my very first SQL Saturday precon at two separate events. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I feel very fortunate to have had that opportunity.
- Started Consultant Corner with my good friend Tim Mitchell (@Tim_Mitchell), and hoping to do more events in 2020.
- Presented at the Power Platform World Tour in Phoenix. This was my first time presenting at an event other than a SQL Saturday or User Group, and I met some awesome people there.
- Even with one customer down, my overall revenue was only down slightly (less than 5%).
In business there will be good years and character-building years. Bring it on 2020, I’m ready!