Well, there we are. Week 26, which means six months of Orso and six months of going solo. The mysterious, time-warping effects of self-employment mean that those six months have felt like both an instant and a lifetime.
I started writing weeknotes 13 weeks ago, partly in order to have a record for myself of what I thought and felt along the way, since I knew it would be a whirlwind.
I think once you reach a destination it’s easy to think that’s where you were headed all along, and moreover that you always knew it was where you were headed. But that’s not the case. Preserving a record of my uncertainty is a useful antidote to potential future hubris – or despondency.
So, six months in, where do I find myself? Not at a destination, by any means, but certainly having travelled somewhere. If nowhere else I’ve travelled to the end of my first financial year, since I’ve adjusted it to correspond to the calendar year. That has the pleasing side-effect of aligning my reflections on how the business year has gone with the general feeling of indulgent retrospection that’s in the air in December. Efficiency of wistful remembrance, that’s what we’re looking for.
How have the numbers been, then? When I started, I set myself a slightly punchy monthly billing target, something that felt difficult but not impossible to achieve. Turnover has been 81% of what it would’ve been had I hit that target every month from day one. That isn’t too bad given that I had a period of ramping up at the beginning and given that 2023 seems to have been a tough year for most independents. Still, though: work to be done in the new year (and probably over Christmas, too).
I’ve worked for 8 different clients. 94% of my revenue has come from working with creative agencies, which is perhaps unsurprising. Moving from working full-time in an agency to going solo, the most straightforwardly transferable thing for me to do was to carry on doing that same job for other people.
But there are two things that add nuance to that. The first is that the balance is shifting. Of my revenue forecast for the next six weeks, only 53% is with creative agencies. That partly reflects the tendency of creative agencies to book me last-minute, and so I expect that balance will shift in favour of creative agencies as time passes. But it also reflects my growing direct relationships with brands. In the long term, I’d like this balance to be much more even.
And the second is that 15% of my revenue has been from consulting on agencies, rather than in them – so working with agencies to position them relative to other agencies, to help to develop their strategy offers, or to help them with internal structures and processes. I suspect this will be a highly variable and volatile type of work, so who knows what percentage it will be in the future.
70% of my work has been billed on a project rate, and 30% as a day rate. I set out with the idea that it would be 100% project-rate, but I think that’s probably unrealistic for now. Regardless, as I’ve written before, I’m trying to take gambles with my time and maximise risk vs. reward, so I would like to focus on growing project-rate work, variable compensation, risk-sharing, success fees, etc.
Apart from that, my focus in the new year is to continue to grow my relationships with brands while remaining available for those agencies that I’ve developed close working relationships with already.
Personally, I’ve loved the wild ride I’ve been on these past six months. I feel a little more in control of my own destiny, while still being conscious of being a minnow who’s often buffeted around by larger currents. I’ve met and worked with some amazing new people who would otherwise have remained strangers. I’ve had to sit down and figure out what it is I love to do and what it is that other people might be willing to pay me for – a Venn diagram that I’ve discovered, to my relief, has lots of overlap. (Although sadly it’s not a perfect circle.) I feel like a small part of a growing community of independent strategists who are redefining expectations of how great consultancy is delivered.
It’s been a blast. Roll on 2024!