At the end of 2020, I decided to start my own consultancy business which seemed slightly crazy at the time.
I was inspired by other SEOs and consultants who shared their stories and business reports.
So, here is my own 2020-21 business report and the lessons learned in my first year of being self-employed.
The goal is to hopefully help others who are thinking about making the jump to being a freelancer and being self-employed.
I’ll be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started but I wanted to:
- Have a lot more freedom over my time
- Earn enough to keep being self-employed
- Work on interesting projects I enjoyed
Overall, I have hit all these goals but I feel like the last 12 months have really changed my approach to life and work.
In the 2020/21 corporate tax year I managed to make £74,000 before tax.
A few details behind these numbers:
- I only technically worked for 10 months (no work in January or August)
- It was all Consultancy work (no affiliate or earnings from my newsletter)
- I’m lucky I have such a good network of ex-colleagues
I know this figure is smaller than others who have shared their business report but I also know that if I tried to make £100,000+ from Consultancy in my first year it would be a quick way to burn out.
Considering I smashed my take-home target by 137.86% when compared to my last previous job’s salary in only 10 months. I’d consider that a win. So I am happy 🙂.
A retrospective is a ritual that product and engineering teams use to identify how they can work better together. At my last job, I always enjoyed these team meetings and so below is my attempt at my own yearly retrospective.
Below are my thoughts on my business over the last 12 months.
What did I enjoy?
- Meeting new people – I’ve (virtually) met and talked with a lot of new people over the past year. Whether they are new potential clients, SEOs giving or asking for advice or those who reached out to chat about SEO and product management.
- Educating – One thing I have always enjoyed and continued to enjoy is educating SEOs on new practices or a topic that actually helps them solve a problem. I’ve spoken to a number of other SEOs who wanted some advice around technical SEO and it was nice to help them. I even helped someone get an in-house job at Wise. Which was nice.
- Solving problems through SEO – A lot of my consultancy work has been technical SEO audits but a few clients on retainers have kept me on to actually solve the problems raised in those audits. As a Product Manager, I really enjoy working with in-house teams and developers to solve a problem and both parties learning along the way.
- Working with developers – I’ve worked with some amazing (and not so amazing) developers over this past year. It takes me back to working with the squads at DeepCrawl and allowed me to see if my tried and tested frameworks for SEO Delivery work (which they really do). I’ve really enjoyed working with React, API and backend developers.
- Writing – I haven’t done as much writing as I’ve wanted this past year but when I have produced a piece of content and shared it with the SEO community it always seems to resonate. I’m not a writer but I do really enjoy transforming ideas into content to help others learn or access information that might not have been previously clear.
- Learning – I have read, listened and watched a lot of content around business, productivity and being an entrepreneur. I’ve enjoyed trying things out and quickly seeing if something works (Notion for example is a game-changer). Business is more of a personal journey than I realised and there are so many people out there who are happy to provide advice (not all good but that is the point of learning right?).
What didn’t I enjoy?
- Business Admin – I mean who does right? Finances, answering emails and chasing clients for invoices. All the business admin that you have to do to keep a business going. I don’t enjoy it but it is a necessary annoyance I need to learn to manage.
- Ghosting – People ignoring you or not getting back to you is something I never liked. However, I know working in agencies and in-house that communication is based on the priority of what you need to get done that day. Sometimes you’re at the top of the list and sometimes you’re at the bottom. Chasing people is part of business admin (which I don’t enjoy).
- Lone ranger – As someone who has worked as part of a team for almost 10 years I am finding the “working alone” thing difficult. It is generally easy until you need to talk to someone about a client or figure out a problem you can’t solve. I think it’s why I enjoy working with in-house teams and developers.
What could have been better?
- Time management – I learned this too late but I defiantly could have managed my time better in the first 6 months of being self-employed. Planning out my weeks and using time-boxed slots of time to do tasks is something I found very useful but still need to work on.
- Productivity – I think like most I’m guilty of scrawling through Twitter, Slack or LinkedIn and not being very productive. I’ve worked a lot on how I can be productive but it still needs work.
- Engaging with people – I’ve reached out to individuals to have chats this past year but I could do more to engage with the SEO community. Time is an important resource for me but I need to make time to chat and discuss things with other SEOs. I always seem to learn something new.
- Processes – A set process in dealing with a situation is great for reducing the time it takes to produce a piece of work and reducing stress. It also improves the quality of work. I need to work on improving processes so I can produce better work for my clients.
- Writing – I could have produced more content or written more. This again is just a time constraint but it’s something I want to make more time for in the future.
What’s Next in 2022?
In 2022 I plan to:
- Invest in other revenue streams – I’m going to focus on creating other revenue streams in 2022. A lot of this will revolve around educating SEOs. I have a number of different SEO courses in mind to help those who want to learn advanced technical SEO techniques.
- Newsletter – I’m going to make more time for the SEO Sprint newsletter and I have some other ideas around making the content even more useful for Technical SEOs and SEO Product Managers.
- Technical SEO content – I’ve been writing about experiments, ideas and case studies throughout my SEO career to help others have more information to solve their problems. I want to continue to do that in 2022. Hopefully, it will help others and if not I’ll enjoy writing it anyway.
- Consultancy – I’m going to continue to work with client development and internal teams to solve problems, not just deliver documents. This might mean I say no to traditional SEO consultancy work but time will tell if that is a good idea or not.
Summary: 2021 Business Report
So, that was my (short) first-year business report.
There were positives and negatives over the last year being self-employed and owning a business. Hopefully, this report and my retrospective have provided some quick insights for anyone wanting to make the jump to being a freelancer.
Good luck and stay safe.