Two Years of Trading

Two years ago I quite literally gave up the day job. I had no clients, no experience of being anything other than a salaried employee, but I did have an urgent need for change! Two years on I’ve just done the end-of-the-year reporting and I’m struck by how far I’ve come and how much the numbers surprise me (there are no actual numbers in this post, it doesn’t feel appropriate somehow – but there are graphs!).

Year on year, all the numbers are bigger this year, which feels healthy. People know that I’m around and doing this kind of work, and this year saw more new and increasingly interesting projects come in. I even had to turn some of them down because I was too busy! I always say one person does not scale well and I feel the downsides of that sometimes.

Today I found out some fun things, mostly from this graph:

This is generated by Harvest which is a hosted tool I use to track my time and issue and track invoices. As with everything, it’s only as good as the information it’s given but since I’m still managing to log my time daily so I know a) where that time went b) how much time I am actually working and c) who to send invoices to! At the end of the year, all that time tracking means I have access to some interesting numbers.

Last year I was surprised how much time I spend at conferences, or preparing for them. That one-hour talk you see on stage usually has 20+ hours of prep behind it, never mind any travel time and the rest of the time spent at the conference (and therefore not earning any income). Conferences broaden my mind and help me meet people though, so I resolved to keep doing conferences, but get better at doing some work in between to fund the lifestyle. In the coming months I’ll speak at CakeFest, PHPNW, FOWA and ZendCon and I know they will all be excellent and well worth that time – but it does dent the business numbers!

This year I was really surprised how much of what I do comes under the “training” heading. I teach both public courses and within organisations, but it’s really not what I do the most of. However with a few clients needing bespoke courses for their developers, and writing several new courses for NTI Leeds, and then delivering all of the above, that accounts for a good proportion of my time!

There are two items above that don’t pay well at all, but which I’m very proud of. The first is the orange one on the left. I took 41 days off in total in the last financial year (mostly because I got married). This is exactly why I’m freelance – it gives me a flexibility to walk away from my work when my life needs me, and since it’s my business, I don’t need to ask permission or explain things to anyone else. If I am not due with a client and something else comes up, then that’s the way it goes. On the flip side, I work weekends when things are busy.

The other thing is smaller, and purple. It’s labelled as “Study/R&D” – and it’s my playtime! I set aside a day every six weeks to just dip into something new. This month I fiddled about with my new Arduino Uno from DPC, and how to use python to grab some data and feed it slowly over serial. Usually I manage something more educated, many of the “integrate with API X” posts on this blog come from the days where I’ve set aside the day to play with something new and I am adding whichever API it is into my own dashboards for some reason. I think it’s vitally important, especially now I don’t have smart colleagues to learn from, to keep giving myself the chance to try things that aren’t strictly work.

So that’s it – two years ago I had no job and few prospects. One year ago I was losing my mind trying to write a book. This year I am proud to say I have paid myself every month for a whole year, and I got to attend and speak at OSCON, and sign that book for a queue of waiting people. And next year? Who knows?

One thought on “Two Years of Trading

  1. This was a really inspiring read, Lorna! Thanks for sharing.

    I had the same experience three years ago and haven’t looked back since. Just like in your case it keeps getting better and better. But I should really try your method and get some proper numbers on the “betterness”. :)

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