Being independent, 4 years on

It’s coming up to 4 years since I left full-time employment to embark on a career as an independent consultant. By and large, things have gone to plan and I have enjoyed both the freedom and challenges that come with working for yourself. Including some of the financial upside that I had previously touched on in my 2020 post.

I want to share some quick updates because:

a) We’re experiencing some of the biggest global economic downturns in recent memory.

b) Some of you have asked me for advice and help with finding clients.

2023 vs the pandemic years (2020-2022)

At the start of the pandemic, I saw a noticeable dip in incoming inquiries as potential clients are conscious of the upcoming uncertainty and started to cut down on spending. However, the trend quickly reversed course as it became evident that this is the new norm that we all have to live with. Business came back with a bang and my revenue doubled in the following two years. I was constantly busy from 2020 to 2022, in part because of my consulting engagements, and in part, because I also launched two new courses and co-authored a book. Business was good and I was enjoying the work.

However, we face a very different kind of uncertainty now in 2023. Because that pressure and uncertainty are being felt further up the food chain, by the venture capitalist and the banks that finance our clients.

VC investments have been trending downward throughout 2022 and have so far continued in 2023. And (I’m told by people who actually know this stuff!) what happens in the public market usually carries over to the private market after a few months. And the private market is where most independent consultants are feeling the pinch.

And sure enough, business has been quiet towards the back end of 2022. This is something we’ve seen across the board. Most independent consultants and agencies I have spoken with have been struggling to find new clients in recent months. There have been signs of recovery recently but I don’t expect to see the same level of demand in the market for a while yet.

Perhaps the recent uptick in Bitcoin pricing is an indicator of investors’ appetite for risk coming back, or just people fleeing from fiat currencies because of the stress test we’re seeing on the banking sector in the US and Europe. Whatever the case, there is a lot of uncertainty and uncertainty is bad for business. Investors won’t invest money and potential clients can’t spend money if they can’t get funding. So less work to go around!

If you’re considering a career as an independent consultant, my advice would be to hold off for now and wait for the market to recover.

How am I doing?

My consulting business has been hit as much as everybody else. Luckily I have always tried to diversify my income and have multiple revenue streams – training, courses, ad-hoc consulting and long-term engagements. The distribution of my revenue streams has ebbed and flowed, but I still have a sustainable business based on my non-consulting-related income.

On a more personal level, I have also been experiencing some health problems since Nov last year and have chosen not to take on any long-term engagements when the opportunities had arisen. I have been taking things easy, aside from some odd ad-hoc advisory work and working on my new course, Testing Serverless Architectures. Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have noticed that I’ve been spending a lot of time on my Xbox, and it’s been great!

But you might think, wait, at times like this, wouldn’t you wish you were in full-time employment and can get sick pay from an employer?

Quite the opposite, actually.

The statutory sick pay usually doesn’t cover your full salary. And the fact that I am physically able to work would probably disqualify me from these statutory sick pay anyway. And even if they didn’t, I would still have to deal with a number of complex emotions:

  • The expectation that I will return to work as soon as I’m able to. That can be very stressful.
  • The guilt of getting paid while not contributing.
  • The worry that I will miss promotion opportunities or lose influence in the project/team.
  • The worry that I will be seen as a slacker if I choose to take more time to recover than what others might deem acceptable.

As an independent, I don’t have any of these worries. I’m able to focus on my recovery and not rush back to work. As long as I have some rainy-day funds squirrelled away, or am able to generate enough passive income to sustain the business, I can take all the time I need to recover.

If anything, the past few months have made me appreciate the freedom and control I have over my work/life balance more than ever. And my wife, who’s been a rock and I don’t know what state I’d have been in had it not for her presence in my life.

Now that I’m hopefully at the end of the tunnel and coming out the other end, I feel refreshed. After all, there’s only so much beating a man can take from Elden Ring, Wo Long Fallen Dynasty and the like!

Jokes aside, you might have noticed that I’m posting more frequently again. And I have a backlog of serverless content that I think you’d really like. So if you haven’t already, consider subscribing and check out my upcoming workshop dates as well. I have just refreshed the workshop content for the April workshops and would update them again prior to future runs so that they’re always up-to-date.

These are tough times, I hope you all take care of yourselves and stay healthy!

And if you have time to kill, then consider checking out my existing meowtain of contents. Even I forget how much I have written about AWS and serverless sometimes…

Until next week, ciao!


Learn to build Production-Ready Serverless applications

Want to learn how to build Serverless applications and follow best practices? Subscribe to my newsletter and join over 5,000 AWS & Serverless enthusiasts who have signed up already.