How to start as a freelance data & analytics consultant – part 1 – why it took 14 years to start

I sometimes get asked how I started as a freelancer and what kind of learnings do I have. In this series I try to summarize the different learnings, aspects and strategies to become a data & analytics freelance consultant.

In July 2014, I was in a weird state of mind. My son was born 11 months before, and since May, I was on parental leave. Before I started my leave, I already quit my job afterward (it was a small startup, and I wanted to enable them to look for a replacement immediately, and I knew that I didn’t want to come back).

I spent the leave tinkering with an idea I had with a friend of mine. We built a prototype, had some initial teams that used our solution, did some talks with some angel investors. It was the first time for me not working in a company, and I enjoyed it a lot. But I had a safety net because of the payments you get when on parental leave in Germany.

So by the end of July, I knew that in 2 months, the fun would be over (due to the parental leave ending) and left me a bit devastated. Because I also felt that starting a startup is also no option for me (this is a different story).

But I didn’t want to go back into a full-time job at an office. I loved the work I’ve done, but I always struggled with hierarchies and being present the whole working day. And I can definitly work better at the beach.

The idea to start as a freelancer was in my head for a long time.

In my first job at an enterprise called Continental (the tire maker), I met an SAP consultant on a joint project. We had some lunches together, and I admired his lifestyle and kind of work. Choosing projects freely, charging high daily rates, learn about new companies, having new puzzles to solve, traveling a lot (.. more on everything later). This lifestyle made an impression on me and kept my head as a fixed point where I could go.

That was 14 years before I became a freelancer.

Why did it take me that long to start as one?

I don’t have a clear answer to that—just some assumptions.

I am a cautious character. Usually, I don’t take risks easily. Only when they are calculated to a specific degree. One of my talents is to be good at thinking about scenarios. In the case of freelancing, it was no help since I had some assumptions in my scenarios that were not true. I guess those assumptions held me back for a long time.

I had no entrepreneurial environment. About this, I am not sure. During my life, I met some other people who had entrepreneurs in their family, and I recognized a more straightforward approach to starting something on their own. In my family, there was no entrepreneurial spirit (technically, four generations ago, there had to be one, but it seems to get lost over the generations). In my upbringing, having a job was an essential part. But it was always having a job and not starting a business or something else. Above everything, there was still the saying: How would that look on your CV? I encountered this mindset a lot during my work career.

So it took me 14 years to start as a freelancer.

In August 2014, I started to think about potential ways to work as a freelance consultant. I have worked in product for the last eight years. But I struggled to come up with a consulting offer for product. I knew that you already get so much input from different stakeholders from my job, so why should you hire a product consultant additionally. I did not found a product service offering that made sense to me (today, I am 100% sure that there are plenty of ways to do product consulting).

So I looked into my second area of interest. When working in product, a significant focus was always on data. Making product decisions by only gut feeling and examining what the competition is doing was still my worst nightmare. So from my first job on, I invested in tracking and analysis. So analytics and data became close friends of mine during all my work. And I knew from my jobs that a lot of companies were struggling with analytics and data. That was my niche.

So, the next post is about finding your niche. And why it’s good to have a backup track as well.

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