The first year The wonder years

Recently I celebrated with a few other contractors my first official year of being a freelance digital marketer. It’s been over a year and I’ve seen some crazy things happen. The largest one being that I intended to be a freelancer, and now I’m running a virtual digital agency. (Connex pays/represents 5 contractors, I happen to be the salesman, account manager and one of the contractors :)

I try to live my life with no regrets, and I do not regret leaving the best job I’ve ever had, however the road, the journey this first year has not proved to be easy. I’ve made many mistakes and my failures have become brighter, louder and more annoying to me.

So if you want some background on me quitting my job last year  or the second company I started in the past year  check those posts out, or the inspiration for this post, but if you want to know a fraction of the lessons I’ve learned in my first year read on.

The First Year: 10 Lessons Learned

1. I don’t scale.

I try my hardest to work more and work harder but I still fall behind. I cannot be around for my wife, available for my kids, work 80+ hours a week and keep in touch with all my friends. I owe apologies to many clients, friends, aquaintances and more for not being able to scale. (The Connex tean was birthed out of this lesson, and frankly working with a team is much better.)

2. I’m not perfect.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m pretty great. But when you jump from a perfectly good job to be a freelance contractor you have to have a healthy dose of ego. I admit that there are days when I doubt every decision I have ever made, from the house we bought to the career I’m in to the college I went to. But in general, people find me to be a very assured person. However the challenges I’ve faced in the last year have led me to take a slightly more humble approach to clients, people, friends and more.

3. I’ve met incredible people.

Right here would be the opprotunity to name drop.. like James Altucher did here. But I’d rather leave it to your imagination, from millionares to winners of the best father of the year award, from anti-social really gifted contractors, to highly sucessful beer-entrapreneurs. None of these I’ve mentioned would have talked to me in my previous “job” but being a contractor, and an entrepreneur starting a business opens doors you’d never believe. I even consult with my competition on a weekly basis!

4. Taxes suck!

Need I say more? When you are watching every penny coming and going, thinking you’re doing well by paying bills on time etc and then find out that you owe Uncle Sam more than 10 months of one project’s revenues… well that hypotentical situation just may have taken the wind out of my sales and my sails.

5. I have the best wife in the world.

Today happens to be our 8th anniversary and she’s been with me through some of my most critical moments in career and personal life. She’s seen me get downsized (lets call it fired) and seen me quit a job after only working there 3 days. Shoot we got engaged while I was unemployeed and living at my Mom’s place accumulating debt daily. Today, the picture is a different story, but I could never have made it half way here without her. So my love, happy anniversary and thank you for believing in my potential even when I doubt it. I’m looking forward to our date tonight!

6. Search still sells.

I named my company Connex Social, after what I thought was hot, Social Media marketing. However after 12 months of doing social media for various clients and Search Engine Optimization for some of those and many others I’ve come to realize I was a little bit ahead of my time. Real businesses, where watching the bottom line is important are still buying SEO services. The “search problem” is far from solved and thanks to Panda continues to generate a revenue for my company and many others.

7. You can ride the wave of sucess.

Each project that expeiences sucess has brought in more projects and more clients. Perhaps the wave of success only lasts 12 months, or 3 years. But however long it lasts I’m gonna ride it.

8. Marketing yourself is hard.

Before starting my own gig, I was frustrated with marketing agencies who failed to market themselves. I now resemble that. It’s a factor of the billable hour. (I’ve got an ego that encourages me to market myself and my business, that’s not hard. But justifying the time is.)

9. There is no way to do a service business without the billable hour.

I think my long term quest of which this “first year” has been my social media agency is to move away from the billable hour. I think Noah Kagen has it right playing more disc golf.

10. I have some of the best people in the state working with and for me.

Connex’s sucess wouldn’t be a fraction of what it is today without them.

So raise your glasses, here’s to the next first year, to my contractors, and the next 10 lessons learned.

What about your first year?

What lessons have you learned as a freelancer, as a contractor, or in the first year of your business?