Gabriele Endress runs Endress|Analytics, an analytics consultancy based in Northern Colorado. If you have ever thought about becoming an independent measure consultant, than this interview is a must read.
1. What type of projects are you working on?
GE: I am working on a variety of different projects for my primary client right now – creating tracking manifests for a couple of new sites, QA testing another one where the tracking is currently being implemented, along with running monthly and quarterly reports, and providing analysis, for sites that are currently up and running. My primary client is an advertising agency so they keep me pretty busy right now doing a variety of projects for their clients.
For my smaller clients I’ve primarily been doing research for analytics and social media metrics vendors, and trying to find the right fit for them.
2. How is your approach to an analytics project different from how you would approach it if you worked directly for the client?
GE: Since I am not an employee of the client, I get a lot more lee-way in how I manage my time. I’m not obligated to be glued to my desk for 8 – 10 hours/day unless I choose to do so. This allows me to get out of the house and ponder some analytics problems in different ways. I feel this allows me to come up with different, and in some ways better, insights when I am not constricted to just sitting at a desk all day.
Another factor I find different as a consultant is that I am seen as a subject matter expert and people question what I say a lot less than when I was an employee. This actually motivates me even more to make sure that everything I do is as accurate as possible, so that I don’t ultimately damage my credibility. As an employee I was more motivated by deadlines and trying to get things done on time, often because all the requests I received were last-minute. I can’t tell you how often someone at 5pm would ask me to run several reports they needed for a meeting at 8am the next morning!
This is not to say I’m no longer motivated by deadlines, but these days I tend to set my own deadlines.
3. As a consultant, how are your interactions with analytics vendors different than when you worked for a client?
GE: Overall I’d say my interactions with the vendors aren’t that different. When I worked for a corporation, it was part of my job to vet new vendors, negotiate with existing ones, and in general be the liaison to the vendor for our company. The biggest challenge I had was dealing with the many levels of management approval required whenever engaging with a new vendor, or renegotiating a contract with an existing vendor.
As a consultant I am very much shielded from all the management approval required, and with my smaller clients this is fairly non-existent – with a 2-3 man shop you generally don’t have a lot of management layers to deal with. With my primary client however, they manage their relationship with the vendor directly and I generally go through them when I need to interface with vendor support of any kind. All negotiations are done through the client and through their management folks.
4. Did you work on side projects before deciding to leave your full time job and if so when did you decide you had enough work to be able to do consulting full time?
GE: Becoming an independent consultant was rather thrust upon me unceremoniously. In October 2008 I was laid off from my job as a business analyst at a tech company due to budget cuts. In November 2008 I formed my LLC and hung out my shingle, so to speak. It took me a few months of networking, building my social network following, and also sending out resumes to various companies before I got the attention of a few head-hunters looking for consultants, which is how I found my first client.
5. What is the balance between time-spent working for clients vs. managing the business?
GE: I’d say right now I spend 80% working on client projects and 20% managing my business, which primarily consists of keeping my books and making sure to send my invoices out on time, and taking time to keep up with my social networking activities (primarily twitter – my blog is falling woefully behind these days).
6. How are you acquiring new clients and how much time each month do you dedicate to cultivating new business?
GE: A lot of my potential clients contact me first – finding me either through LinkedIn or the Web Analytics Association (WAA) web site. I do regularly peruse the WAA job board for consulting opportunities and have had some interested parties put me in their “we’ll keep you in mind” list. Most of them require relocation which I am unable to do at this time.
I’d say I take about 8-10 hours/month to cultivate new business – that is actively seeking out potential clients, contacting them, spending time with their recruitment personnel on the phone. This is in addition to the time I take to keep my LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, and Twitter up-to-date, along with my profile and resume on the WAA site.
7. Is there a risk to taking on a project that consumes all of your time and if so, how do you manage your pipeline to ensure future work?
GE: If the project were a short-term project (less than 6 months, ideally less than 3 months) that required 40 hours/week of my time, there wouldn’t be too much danger, as I am willing to work 60-80 hours/week for short stretches. If I was approached for a long-term project (6 months or longer) that would take up all my time it would depend on where the opportunity was coming from – if it was from my current primary client I’d have no problem with it, but if it were from a potential new client I would probably turn it down.
I am very loyal to my clients and I try to balance any new work I take on with any work they are currently requesting of me. If a new potential client’s project would have detrimental effects in my ability to deliver projects on time to my current clients, I would most likely turn down that work.
8. How often do you have gaps between projects?
GE: At the beginning I had fewer, but longer gaps (3-4 months) between projects as I was looking for new clients at the completion of each project, but now the length of the gaps has significantly decreased. This is primarily due to the fact that I have a long-term contract with one client and they consistently keep me busy. I still have a gap or two every month – anywhere from a couple of days to up to a week. This is less so during the months when lots of quarterly reports are due. I have more quarterly reports to do for clients than monthly.
9. Do you see a benefit to forming alliances with other contractors?
GE: There is definitely a benefit to forming alliances with other contractors – it is one potential source of new clients, and the contractors I ally with can often also become a client as well. Plus networking with local contractors and small businesses is a great way to get your name out in your community.
10. What advice would you have for someone who was thinking about leaving their job to become an independent consultant?
GE: The most important thing is to make sure you have enough capital money to support yourself while you are shopping for your first clients. Can you afford to go without any income for up to 6-12 months? It takes time to establish yourself, and the front-end is mostly time and money spent networking. Once you have started to make a name for yourself and you have a couple of clients it does become easier. Folks are more willing to engage with you if you show that you have some experience under your belt.