It is almost exactly 2 years since Parker Derrington Ltd opened for business and over a year since I changed career definitively and gave up my university job to become a full-time businessman.
The change of career was a leap in the dark but 3 key facts convince me that I have landed on my feet:-
- I enjoy my work more.
- I do less work.
- I earn more money.
Of course, things could be even better and I want to use this blog to improve them. This post is a review of my career change and an outline of what I want to do better. It follows one of the good practices I developed as an academic manager – annual planning and target setting.
When I changed career, the target I set myself was to develop enough paid work to replace my salary before the end of 2015. I had a 3-point strategy:-
- Start a blog;
- Build a website;
- Offer free workshops to people I knew and generous discounts to people that I didn’t.
My plan was that the blog would bring people to the website; the website would bring clients; and free workshops would turn friends into clients. I thought that any client that had a free or half-price workshop would very quickly order a full-price workshop once they knew how good they are.
I was wrong both about free work and about discounts. Clients act as if workshops are only worth what they pay. They act as if my workshops are worth nothing. The workshops are very good but the attendees seem to expect them to be bad. And, they don’t lead to more work: clients act as if they are reluctant to pay full price for something they have had free or half-price. So now I charge the full price and I offer new clients a BOGOF (buy one get one free – two days for the price of one). For many clients the BOGOF clinches the deal. I am careful to make sure that my invoice states the full price and applies the discount so that the client sees the full price even if they don’t pay it. Since I changed my approach, a good proportion of clients have asked for follow-on work at full price.
The website and blog, which I promote through Twitter, have also been very useful. Of the 30 different clients or organisations that have hired me, about 20 found me through the web site or through Twitter.
I met the target I set myself with a healthy safety margin. I earned more last year through the company than I would have done if I had stayed in my job. However, although my income is higher than it was when I was an academic, it is a lot less predictable. I never know when I will get offered work and the delays between working and getting paid are variable and huge. The fastest payer so far was the University of Exeter, which paid within 3 days of my invoice. I won’t name the slowest payer because, even though they took over 4 months to pay, they will probably be replaced by someone even slower quite soon. Almost all my business is with universities and almost all universities are apallingly slow to pay their bills.
My next target is to change the mix of work. At present it is about 60% teaching people how to write, 25% writing and editing, 10% consultancy and 5% coaching. I’d like to do more writing because that’s what I enjoy most. It’s probably also where I add most value. Very few clients trust me to co-write their grant applications and papers but those few are delighted with the results: better papers and grant-applications with less effort.
My target for 2016 is to shift the balance of business towards writing and consultancy. My strategy will be to use the blog, the website and direct contacts to promote writing and consultancy.
So do get in touch if you don’t know what to write, if you don’t know how to write it, or if you know what to write and how, but don’t have time.