#073: When the Analyst Goes Independent – with Adam Ribaudo

October 10, 2017

Do you have a spare shingle lying around? Have you been thinking about painting, “Analyst for Hire – Will Work for Cookies” on it and hanging it up on your front door? It seems like a lot of analysts are pondering whether the next company they should work for should be their own. Adam Ribaudo did just that (figuratively — we have no evidence of an actual painted shingle) 2.5 years ago. He now works for Noise to Signal, a company he joined…just as soon as he founded it! On this episode, we grill Adam about how he keeps his vast workforce in line, as well as what his thoughts are about the decisions made by Noise to Signal’s upper management.

Episode Links

Show Transcript

00:00 Michael Helbling: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Digital Analytics Power Hour. This is episodes 73. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be solo? All alone, all by yourself with no one else, completely alone. To the introverts, it’s like, “Where do I sign up?” But maybe even extroverts have good reason to go solo. Well, hang your own shingle and start your own LLC or sole proprietorship, that’s what we’re talking about on this episode. As always, I’m joined by my co host Moe Kiss. She’s the product analyst at The Iconic. How you going, Moe?

00:41 Moe Kiss: I’m going great. You nailed it that time.

00:42 MH: Yes. Aw, I’m so proud of myself.

[laughter]

00:45 MH: And of course, Tim Wilson, senior partner at Analytics Demystified. Welcome, Tim.

00:51 TW: Hey, Michael and Moe. I sort of feel like maybe we should just drop off and you should do this all by yourself.

[laughter]

00:56 TW: In the spirit of equality.

00:58 MH: Moe, You’re on your own. Good luck.

01:01 MK: Oh, great. Don’t worry, I’ve got this.

[laughter]

01:04 MH: And I’m Michael Helbling. I am the Analytics Practice Lead at Search Discovery. But we needed an example of this digital nomad life. So who better than our guest, Adam Ribaudo. Adam started out at Agency Life as a developer, then the agency grew to a huge size and he became the VP of services, but then he decided to go out on his own in analytics and marketing technology. He’s started freelancing a few years ago. He loves the process, the challenge, the education that you need continuously to be successful as an entrepreneur. And we are glad to welcome him here to share his story with us. Welcome to the show, Adam.

01:41 Adam Ribaudo: Hey, thanks for having me. I do feel like I should set the record. Completely alone makes me sound like some sort of cave troll. I do see the sunlight every once in a while, so I just wanna set that straight.

[chuckle]

01:52 TW: I thought that we were… I was a little worried the candle was gonna burn out in your little, your little cave there, but it sounds like maybe you can open a window.

02:00 MH: Yeah. [chuckle]

02:00 AR: Right. I have enough oil for the winter.

[laughter]

02:04 MH: Well, it’s a… That’s a discipline in and of itself, if you don’t have to be in front of people everyday, it’s sort of like, “Well, do I really need to shower today?” That’s a question.

[laughter]

02:18 AR: Is that our first question?

02:19 MH: You don’t think so.

02:20 AR: Whether I showered today?

[laughter]

02:26 MH: Let’s get right to the tough stuff. All right. Well, Moe, you had a really interesting question earlier as we were getting ready. Maybe we kick off with that one.

02:35 MK: So, Adam. I’ve noticed in the analytics community of late, it seems to be a little bit of the rage to go out solo and on your own. But I suppose for me, there’s lots of examples of this and peers of mine are doing this kind of in pairs or groups of three. Is there anything unique to the experience when you’re literally a one person show versus having, say two or three people, as part of your team?

03:01 AR: Yeah, I can only speak from my experience which is from that of a sole freelancer, sole proprietor. But I will say that something that has kept me sane throughout this process is that I do work with, I subcontract a colleague who is a little more junior than I am and started out on the same path maybe like a year or two behind me. And that’s been super helpful. Just from a day to day, you have someone to bitch to, if a client is really tweaking you the wrong way or you just need to vent a little bit, it is good to have somebody who’s sort of on that level. So from sort of just a sanity perspective, I can definitely speak to having somewhat of a cohort while you’re on this journey and having someone to lean on a bit. But I’m sure it’s gonna be a totally different experience if you’re two or three professionals in your own co-working space trying to build a business together, but that’s not really what I’m doing.

03:56 TW: I feel like, and I had… The smallest I’ve ever gone was four, was a starting up and I was the fourth one. There were two guys with the vision. And it seems like there is a point where, with one you may say, “I wanna be me and I wanna have the independence and the flexibility. And I kinda just wanna make a… I want the stuff that appeals to the control and flexibility.” And two, it may also be that, especially if you’re great friends or if you’re married or partners or whatever. Three seems like it maybe still in in that. Once you get in the three to four, it always… To me, it feels like you’re trying to start a company and grow something, and you’re starting off with the dynamics of, “We all have to be really well aligned, ’cause now we’re a start up. We’re not a sole proprietor who… Every argument I have is with myself.” That’s my…

04:53 AR: Yeah. And that’s a really good point to make, I think. Because the path you’re gonna go down is gonna be completely different if you’re starting out with that start up mentality or growing a business mentality versus what I’m doing is, I’m trying to survive comfortably. I’m not trying to grow a huge agency or anything like that. I’m doing this because I enjoy the work, I have other passions or pursuits that I also like to follow and this a comfortable lifestyle for me. It’s engaging, it’s interesting and I can support myself doing this. And so neither direction is right or wrong. It really just depends on your preference and what you’re trying to do. But I think that’s a decision that one should make really early on if you feel like going out on your own or freelancing or maybe leaving your company is try to think about where you wanna take this. That five year plan, I guess that kind of thing.

05:43 MH: Yeah, ’cause certainly for our listeners, that’s the question is, “If you wanna be your own individual shop, how do you keep it small?” It’s, a lot of work comes your way and you gotta make [05:56] ____ about that.

05:58 AR: Yeah. That’s a great question. I struggle with that, because I tend to not say “no”. I think I’ve just been brought up in that agency mentality that as soon as you say “no”, you die. [chuckle] So I do have a tendency of taking on a little bit more than maybe I should. But there are outlets. There is a community out there of other freelancers. And if you can find some in your area that you trust or through colleagues, and I’m sure we’ll talk a little bit about networking and ways of finding that community, but that you do have some release valves there. And like I mentioned, I’m working with a subcontractor. I work with other freelancers on different gigs, and that can help a lot.

06:35 TW: So this made me think ’cause you described it as you wanted to make a comfortable living and other benefits I’m sure we’ll get into, that maybe there’s this other dimension of you feel like you’re very capable, above average, able to do the work of analytics and do it well, and support yourself, which I think is absolutely… That’s one angle. I think there are other people, and I’m trying to think of some specific I’ve run into it. Maybe this gears more towards product-type things that, I’ve got an idea of how I can do something new and innovative or different, and the only way I’m gonna get the flexibility to prove out that this new and different and totally innovative thing is gonna happen, is if I go on my own. I’m doing it because I don’t like the way that I do the work. The way that you do the work could be done as part of an agency, or part of a quadrant consultancy, or part of a company. Is that… Do you guys think that’s a fair distinction as well?

07:38 AR: Yeah. So you mean, launching a new product or service versus consulting to solve existing challenges with existing solutions? Is that the distinction you’re making?

07:48 TW: Yeah, I think so. Do what’s being done well. Be a highly-valued, capable doing… It doesn’t mean there’s not creativity and innovation and ways to make things that are unique and differentiate you, as opposed to, “I have what’s frustrating me is, people aren’t doing this thing.” Or, “This product hasn’t been built.” Or, “This approach hasn’t been taken and this is gonna change the world.” Which seems like, that also skews back towards the growth. “I wanna build an organization that really gets scale and takes over the world.”, as opposed to, “I wanna build a personal reputation and have a steady flow of business and the right level of flexibility.” I don’t know. Maybe I’m forcing that.

08:34 AR: Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t think it has to be either or necessarily. When I started out, and this seems silly or sounds silly in retrospect, but I was so certain that I was just gonna land so many Google Tag Manager implementation gigs. ‘Cause I saw there’s so many people out there, to this day, haven’t implemented a tag management system. And I was just sure that was my ticket to freelancing, is just selling myself as [chuckle] Tag Manager Implementation Engineer almost, and just knocking those out. So it’s kind of taking something, a newer product that’s been developed and applying it to people who didn’t even know they needed that product. Looking back on that I think, came to realize that clients aren’t really interested in tag management system. They’re interested in all the things that a tag management system lets you do, and you have to focus on those things and sell those services. And then you’ll end up backing yourself into some GTM implementations here and there. But I think if it helps you make that leap because you notice something in the industry that you think other people haven’t noticed, maybe there’s an e-mail service provider system that you know is a game changer and nobody’s using it yet, you could sell your email marketing expertise and use that as your secret weapon. That might be a way to straddle both of those worlds.

09:45 MK: I’ve got a bit of a question around that initial thought about how you saw yourself positioning in the market of being a GTM expert. I guess when I think about going solo, to me, it sounds really scary. And you and Tim kind of keep mentioning flexibility and space for other things in your lives. When I think about going solo, I think it sounds like a hell of lot of work. I think it sounds really hard. And so I just wanna hear… Even just that you go out thinking, “I’m really good at this one thing and I’m gonna make money doing it.” And that’s already been completely flipped. So I guess I wanna hear a little bit more about, how do you know how to make that decision and is it as hard as I think it is?

[chuckle]

10:35 AR: Yeah. The journey to making the decision I’m sure is different for everybody. I can talk a little bit about mine, which is that as Michael mentioned, I was working at an agency for about seven years. And it was growing and growing and I was taking on more and more management responsibilities and doing less and less in terms of client services. And so what kicked my butt into really making this decision, was just that desire to be doing again. And I saw this… I could laterally move to another agency, but I doubted that I would end up really doing the work that I really wanted to do. So I figured this was my last resort really, to be actually super hands-on and doing this kind of work.

11:20 TW: How long do you feel like… You obviously don’t know, it was gradual, but was it like that was building over three years, or that was building over three months, or… At some point, you became conscious of, “I’m pondering making this big, scary jump.” How long did you then ponder it?

11:36 AR: Right. Yeah, I would say maybe over a course of the year. I think everybody gets that itch every once in a while, right? To break out, to do something different, to find a new company, find greener pastures. And in a lot of cases, hopefully, you work through that itch and you work with your manager, and you find out what’s really the problem, and you shift your responsibilities, and you see what can happen. So I’d say I got that itch maybe a year before I left and worked with my manager. And we made some changes and I think after a few changes that itch was still there. And I’d say maybe at the six month mark, I started making more formal plans and notions about, “Okay, wait. This is doable. This is something I can do. I have the safety net to make this possible” and aligned things to make it more and more doable every day.

12:24 TW: So what did you have to, what did you think through on that… You said safety net, was that literally like, “I’ve got cash in the bank that I’ve got a six month… ”

12:30 AR: Yeah, basically. [laughter]

12:31 TW: “I’ve got a six month runway.” Had you gone as far as saying, “This is my go no go. X months in is to when I have to say, ‘Oops, time to go back to stability.'”

12:43 AR: Yeah. Yeah. I had that napkin math done. And I definitely have a spreadsheet of expected revenue and does this even make sense mathematically? Can I support myself? That kind of stuff. So there were some checks and balances there for sure. Yeah, so I think I would definitely give the advice that when you are making, if you’re gonna make this decision, set the expectation that you’re gonna fail. In that way you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you don’t.

[laughter]

13:11 AR: Is that okay?

13:11 MH: If you don’t.

13:13 AR: Because honestly, especially in my situation, I don’t have any dependents or anything. I’m sure it’s a very different scenario if you do. And if people are depending on you, you have to know what your exit is and what your plan b is if things do fail and that revenue doesn’t come in as you’re expecting. So I found it safer to set the bar super low. And then, again I’ve been pleasantly surprised everyday that I’m still able to do this.

[chuckle]

13:36 MH: Yeah. I think I share Moe’s sentiment, because I definitely considered this at one point. And was like, “Man, that seems like you’d have to go out and sell the work, then you have to do the work”. And it’s like, “That’s two jobs in one. How will you ever… ” That’s something I think is really a good myth maybe to dispel for people or help people understand how to balance that out.

14:02 TW: It is.

14:03 AR: Yeah. Well, okay so… Right, right. So for the second part of her question, is it bad as it sounds, I would say yes and no. It is that much work. There’s no escaping that work. You do need to do the work and you need to keep selling your work, even while you’re doing the work. That’s just a fact. But I would say that it can’t be overlooked how the flexibility and how you align your working hours around and within the rest of your life makes that a little bit more doable than it might sound at the outset. ‘Cause there’s evenings and weekends guys.

[laughter]

14:41 AR: You shift up some of the things that you were doing in the evenings and weekends during the day. And you can shift some of the stuff you do during the day into the evenings and weekends. And it’s just, you can better balance your life to fit your work and your work to fit your life. And so I feel like I’ve been able to find that balance and maybe there’s some scenarios where it does become untenable for people and maybe due to other life circumstances, but I haven’t found it. I’m not pulling out my hair every day trying to figure out when am I gonna make time to send out this proposal, anything like that.

15:11 TW: Do you find yourself, on a typical Saturday, Sunday, are you doing zero work, a couple hours of work, eight hours of work? Now that there aren’t plenty of people in corporate jobs who could say, “I haven’t not worked on a Saturday or Sunday.”

15:24 AR: Right. Yeah.

15:25 TW: But, I guess, maybe that’s a personal style. There could be people who say, “I’m drawing this hard boundaries and I’m going to take these off or not.”

15:34 AR: Yeah. I think it totally comes down to personal style. I worked on Sundays usually for four hours, ’cause I like getting a jump on the week. But I was doing that at the agency as well. So I think it’s, that’s more personal preference. I think you can fit within a 40 to 50 hour a week and do this type of work.

15:54 TW: Was that even for the first, months number one and two? And how… I should know this. Are you two years? Two years in, how far?

16:05 AR: Yeah. A little over two years.

16:09 TW: Which is part of the reason we wanted to talk. There are people who’ve gone out on their own and built their own thing, but that was 10 years ago. So for those first couple of months, were you… Well, you didn’t have a full client load. So you were still 40 to 50 hours a week, even if you’re doing all this other stuff or was there a period where you were like “No, I’m just gonna be nose to the grindstone and I have to kill myself on this for three months.” [chuckle] I’m assuming that all sorts of administrative… Insurance, accounts payable, bookkeeping. The first time you go through something with a client, that couldn’t have all been figured it out before you had to go through it.

16:49 AR: Well, the challenge starting out, wasn’t, “How I’m gonna fit all this work?” It’s, “How I’m gonna fit all this free time all of a sudden that I don’t have a job?”

[laughter]

16:58 MH: That sounds delightful.

17:02 AR: Yeah. Yeah. [laughter] That’s the hardest part. Honestly, is waking up on a Monday morning to like, “Op. Calendar is free. Got to pretend to work, like everybody else. [laughter] I still don’t have a client.” [laughter]

17:14 MK: So when you made the decision, you didn’t have a client yet?

17:18 MH: No, I did. I’m being a little facetious there, because my work was gracious enough. And, well timing just coincidentally lined up, so that I was on an important enough project that it made sense for them to keep me on as a consultant through the transition into freelancing. So I’d say for three or four months I stayed on, at maybe for 40 to 50% time working, just working on that project. So that was ideal. Obviously, not everybody’s gonna be in a similar situation, but if you can find a way to make that work, without being opportunistic and lining up work even though you know you’re gonna leave. If you can find a way to make that type of arrangement, it helps avoid what I was just describing which is waking up feeling you have no purpose in life ’cause you still have a project you’re working on and then there’s the administrative stuff. But that doesn’t take a whole lot of hours out of the day. I had to set up an LLC and that kind of stuff, but it’s all…

18:12 TW: But it seems like there… I can think of a few people I know who said I wanna go out on my own for something. If I could find something that’s say hard 20 hour a week commitment. So that doubles my runway, and it gives me that I’m never gonna wake up with nothing to do because I’ve got… The challenges do not have that grow to be sole client or subcontracting. So it seems like there’s that. I know a few people who… And you wound up with that as well. You had about half of your time was, which meant both some income and some free time and probably more structure around… I’m assuming you switched from salary to a no, you’ve got me for 20 hours a week which…

19:01 AR: Yeah. So another branching path and another decision that has to be made is whether you want to be the type of contractor that is fully assigned to a client for say six month stretch ’cause there are gigs like that or have a multitude of clients that you’re working with on and off. And like Michael was saying, you’re selling and you’re working, you’re selling and you’re working. And I took the latter path ’cause I find that more interesting myself, but in that case you need to set strict limits with your clients about how available you are to them. And so when I mentioned I was consulting with my agency, I was the one that set that 50% limit ’cause I knew I needed to have the mental bandwidth to go out and find work and network and actually build this thing off the ground. So that’s definitely some advice I would give is set upper limits for how much you’re gonna work for a client. ‘Cause even though you’re eager to get a client and get the work, you need to save some space to build something.

19:55 MK: I was actually talking about this at Web Analytics Wednesday a few weeks ago because as I said, it seems a lot of people in the industry are really wanting to make this move. And a friend of mine who’s actually an avid listener of the show I’ve discovered, one of the questions that he had, he’s relatively early in this process and he’s like, “I don’t get how people find clients.” That’s the bit and the funny thing is his background is in sales, but the bit that he’s really struggling with is the how do you get clients. ‘Cause another friend of ours has done the same thing, but he has seemed to have gotten all of his clients through I guess the analytics community because he was an analyst and he already had those relationships. So I’m keen to hear a little bit from you about particularly when you first started. How did you tackle that?

20:43 AR: Yeah, it was a lot of lunches. A lot of talking to people, older colleagues that I used to work with, calling them up and grabbing lunch with them and that’s been a pretty consistent part of my practice ever since and a mental health thing. Make sure that you’re reaching out. You’re hanging out with people, you’re meeting with people and making sure that it’s not about making a sale. Just having a lot of friendly lunches or coffee dates with people and just talking about what’s going on in your life and inevitably 20% of those, someone is gonna say, “Oh hey, I heard somebody is actually looking for those services,” and you follow up on that. So this might not be especially novel advice, but I read Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone and it made networking not a dirty word for me. I think that was an important milestone.

21:33 AR: Just actually feeling like I can network and feeling like I can meet people and be comfortable in that environment. And that’s been really, really crucial because you can never point to one meeting or one moment that led to these clients. But when you look back on it, it was the sum of all of these different meet ups and lunches and coffee dates and things like that that helped build up some momentum to the point where people are talking about you. People know that you exist and I think in the analytics specifically, that’s the kind of advice you can give to any freelancer, but I think in the analytics community specifically, because it is a little bit smaller, a little bit more close-knit and freelancing isn’t that… I don’t wanna say popular, but I don’t meet a ton of freelancers doing what I’m doing. I think there’s room for more so it becomes a little bit easier just because the community, Digital Analytics Association, the Measure Slack, this podcast, it’s all helps with that networking aspect.

22:36 MH: Just a housekeeping item real quick. If you do get work coming from the podcast we do expect…

[laughter]

22:48 AR: I have to say, I mean…

22:48 MH: Hate to mention that on the air just part of our normal contract. No big deal.

22:53 AR: You can make a case that all of my work came from the podcast because when I first started freelancing, one of the things that made me feel as though there was going to be a community surrounding me in this type of challenge was finding Digital Analytics Power Hour and just through, not that you guys ever said it explicitly, but just through context clues, you kind of hear how you guys talked about the community, the networking, the conferences, the drinks after conferences. You get these little clues that tell you this is a community I can get down with. This is something that…

23:21 MH: And yet we have never received a check for that. Interesting, very interesting.

[laughter]

23:29 MH: I really thought that was gonna go down the path of, “You know, I found the podcast and realized [23:33] ____.

[laughter]

23:34 MH: Actually have a podcast, the bar must be really low on that…

23:39 TW: I’m gonna be a star.

23:42 MH: It’s interesting and because I do work from home as well so I got that shared… There is that sanity bit that there are times when you can feel like “If I go out for a lunch… ” “If I eat lunch and walk the dog here, I’m still 35 minutes and I’ve gotten everything done.” But if you’re working from home and say, “Look, I can go have lunch with somebody who either I know and enjoyed working with or enjoyed meeting and it was interesting and I can tell myself that I’m not selling so I don’t have to feel sleazy about it but it is what I should be doing is staying out there and having these conversations.” Or even how often are you having lunch or coffee or something with somebody who a contact of yours said, “Oh, you two guys should get together” and you haven’t actually met? I feel like that happens to me quite a bit and 90% of the time, it’s actually really enjoyable even if it’s a much lower that turns into business. I just kinda learn to say, “Sure. Let’s do it”

24:44 AR: That’s absolutely the right attitude. I found myself just having a period where I just have to say yes to everything because you never know where the next sale is gonna come from or the next opportunity is gonna come from. So just say yes and you have to be comfortable meeting with strangers and saying nice things about yourself. And as stupid as it seems that can be really hard for some people including myself still, sometimes. It’s not for everybody but I think that it has to be… It’s a necessary part of the process. So I would say probably at least once a week, maybe twice a week I’ll have lunch with somebody just ’cause I have to get out of the house and make sure that people know that I’m still alive.

[chuckle]

25:28 AR: But in terms of business lunches or things like that maybe a couple months or something like that.

25:35 MH: Did you start doing that a little bit when you were like I know I’m gonna go do this. So let me start…

25:40 AR: Yeah. I guess a little bit. Not in earnest ’cause I think my work probably would’ve noticed if I was going out every single time at lunch time and [chuckle] to weird parts of Boston.

25:47 MH: Well, and I think it brings up a thing. There’s a actually a number of skills in play here in terms of being successful and understanding some of these concepts. How much of your professional services experience do you think was formative or important for your success in going out on your own?

26:08 AR: Well this is something we haven’t really talked about but given the fact that I didn’t really have much analytics experience before I started freelancing, I would say a whole heck of a lot. My experience at the agency was started as a developer, grew their design and user experience group then grew their account team and ended up for the last couple of years managing the account managers but also serving as an account manager on key clients. So it was a lot of customer service, customer strategy, selling to customers, pitching things like that. So that that was sort of my bread and butter. Along the way I became interested in analytics by way of I’d say two things. One, we did a lot of Sitecore work at our agency and Sitecore has been pushing their analytics database and engine personalization and AB testing engine for the last seven years or so. And so I learned to sell that stuff before I really even knew what it was. I really had a hands on experience ’cause I was basically told “Sitecore has these new capabilities, we need to sell it to our client.” So I’d have to figure out really fast what AB testing was and what personalization was, not having really implemented it myself.

27:13 AR: And the second would be just the rise of marketing technology and marketing technologist as a word in our Lexicon now. Scott Brinker is Boston based so has a lot of clout here and seen him speak a couple times. So I’d say through those two things I started just keying in on analytics and marketing technology as a huge need in the marketplace and a space that was wide open for freelance consultant.

27:37 MK: How did you craft that, I guess that path to learning? Because I think about it and I’m pretty new to analytics as well. And a lot of my learning comes from my peers and without them, without having that person to bounce off or that person to show you how to do something, someone’s mistake that you can learn from. How are you going about keeping your learning up to date and even in those early stages?

28:03 MH: You just get really really clueless clients. Right?

[laughter]

28:07 AR: I mean it’s a joke but my first few clients were pretty small and they were probably clients that I wouldn’t take on now but they were instrumental to just the fact that they gave me the keys to the kingdom in terms of HubSpot and Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager. And they didn’t care as long as the work got done. So I was able to poke around and I got the job done. It probably took me a little bit longer than it would have taken a seasoned professional. But it is a legitimate way to learn on the job. Find clients who are open to your skill set and what you’re bringing to the table and it might take a bit longer. You’re learning on the job but it’s totally legitimate. And then there are more classical ways. So I took Luna Metrics course. While I was still at the agency I got a GAIQ certified which was really helpful for me to just making GA knowable. It was this black box before and then once I realized, oh you’re just requesting a blank image and sending these parameters over and once you got it down to sort of HTTP terms that I could understand, it broke it wide open and I realized how how simple tagging and tracking is. So that was a huge milestone for me. So there’s definitely more formal educational options.

29:21 TW: The fact you haven’t mentioned the formative experience with Analysis Exchange just completely…

29:25 AR: Oh.

[laughter]

29:27 AR: And of course.

29:29 TW: Your alleged mentor is terrible.

29:30 MH: It goes without saying, Tim. I think is…

29:36 AR: Yup. Analysis Exchange with Tim Wilson, my mentor who taught me everything I know.

[laughter]

29:42 MH: No, checks have been sent to Tim Wilson. It’s like just…

[laughter]

29:49 MH: So I realized probably the question that I see the most and the most uncomfortable and ill equipped to answer and feel free to completely dance around this and speak in generalities, but people say I’m going out on my own how much do I charge or how much do I figure out how much to charge? And I’ve got some standard advice and points I make without being ever able to say well this is what you should charge. How did you figure that out? I guess what process did you go through? Not necessarily what is your bill rate.

30:23 AR: Sure. Yeah. I know exactly what the process was. It was I knew exactly how much I was being billed out to when I was at the agency. And I also knew that I was you know I was a principal consultant at that agency. I was doing a lot of that work and so I already felt valued at that rate. So they trained me to feel valued at a higher rate and I cut that rate by like 30%. I was like, “Well surely if people are paying for me [chuckle] you know this agency rate they’re gonna be thrilled to hire that same person at a 30% discount.” So that was my mentality. It mostly worked out. I think that some earlier clients you do get a little bit accommodating with your rate to make sure your bringing in some work so, you know, for some of those smaller early clients.

31:10 MH: And they will be thrilled, right, in that you’re bringing in work and you want them to be thrilled with the value ’cause you want them to be referring?

31:16 AR: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. You wanna feel like your over delivering and then you build back up to the rate that you want. So I don’t know that seemed to work for me. I think it seems legitimate if you know what you are being billed at today use that as a starting point.

31:32 MH: Well, and I’ll say the flipside to that just because you said you build back up that I assume is not building back up with any client. Once you set a rate with the client it is very, very hard to go up. So if your building up with the next client because your like yeah I can go up. Right. Okay.

31:48 AR: Exactly and you through their facial expressions when you tell them your rate you quickly get a read on the market for what is an acceptable rate and what is not. After your first three clients you’ll get it I’m sure.

32:03 MH: But you have to be yet to be careful because there are times where people just have completely unrealistic expectations right? And they’re expecting, they’re saying I’m expecting to pay somebody you know $20 an hour. Did you have any early on when you got to the point of actually a hard quote were you willing to, and whether it happened or not, were you willing if they said that’s too much did you have a mental line in the sand where you’re like yeah but this isn’t gonna work long term if I’m below that? Or did that never happen?

32:36 AR: Yeah I guess that’s happened maybe once or twice. I don’t know. What I’ve stayed true on to myself is that I’m always gonna be building an hourly rate. I haven’t done any scope project based proposals and that’s very intentional. I know how ugly things can get in terms of that was in scope, that was out of scope. And I just don’t think the incentives are aligned in those types of proposals. So I stick to an hourly rate and that way I know I’m using my time and effectively and if I’m not using that time for another client I’m still you gonna have a paycheck at the end of the day. But I have given a little here and there on rate I guess just depending on the scenario.

33:16 TW: It’s interesting it is a hotly debated… There are people in the industry who and even beyond our industry who are like yeah time and materials is terrible because it’s got all these horrible incentives. And my… I’m kind of with you. It depends on the nature of the work. If you’re doing a Google Tag Manager implementation, you have a good handle on their site and the scope then there is a start and an end. And that’s like it’s a three month project or two month project or one month project of x amount of size. Whereas if you’re supporting them with analysis and reporting and trying to be staff augmentation it’s very, very hard to say “This is the scope,” because you don’t necessarily have one deliverable. So to me it feels like you could be independent and say… But if you were the GTM implementation guy you could be like, “Look here’s my GTM implementation. I’ve done this ten times and this is exactly how… I’ve learned how to write it so that the scope is very clear and it is fixed and I’m gonna get burned occasionally but I’m also gonna be a super smooth occasionally but… ”

34:27 AR: Not interested [chuckle] that just says no to me. I like the variety and I like working on totally different projects from one to the next so I think that necessitates an hourly rate. That’s just my belief. Yeah.

34:41 TW: I’m with you.

34:41 MK: So I’d like to shift gears a little bit if that’s okay, Adam, and I’d like to get a little bit of and understanding. Whenever you talk to people that go out on their own, they’re starting of their own business, one of the pieces of advice that comes up quite often is that you’re gonna have to devote more energy than you think to the tasks that you either don’t like or your not good at. And that the stuff that you like will come easily and you’ll make enough time for it. Is that something that you’ve found?

35:08 AR: Yeah I don’t know so have I made the buckets of what I like and what I don’t like. I think it definitely takes a certain amount of self awareness and self reflection around, usually in hind sight, around what I actually procrastinated about this week as opposed to I really just nailed because I was confident about it and felt good about doing it. So I think there is a lot of looking back and realizing “I really left this the last minute ’cause I just don’t like reporting,” or whatever it is. I guess I would just frame that as you have to keep yourself honest because you don’t have a boss who was probably usually there to play that role to say, “Hey I noticed you tackled this one task I gave you but not this other one even though the other one was given you before either one that you tackled.” Usually there’s somebody else in the room to tell you how you’re behaving and how you’re taking different tasks and completing them. So, it does take maybe a little bit of stepping outside of yourself and being honest about what you’re procrastinating on, definitely.

36:10 MK: And how have you found the admin side of the business in particular? Has that, I mean, invoicing clients and that… Is that something that comes naturally to you or have you kind of had to learn the ropes around that?

36:22 AR: Yeah, [chuckle] I love it. It’s one of the few moments where you can just totally tune out and just do it. Like invoicing? Oh, my god. You can listen to music and just turn off your brain and do it. That’s a pleasure I think. Honestly.

[laughter]

36:40 MH: Oh, but didn’t you have to chase… What about the chasing payment? Have you had to deal with either disputes or tracking down late payment type stuff?

36:51 AR: Nothing major.

36:51 TW: Where you’ve had to all of a sudden shift into…

36:52 AR: Yeah, I think I’ve been really lucky ’cause I’ve heard some real horror stories and I certainly have colleagues who have gone through worst. I haven’t had anything too bad. I’ve had late payments but nothing that an email reminder hasn’t cleared up. And I think a lot of it has to do with not dealing with scope based projects or scope and… What’s the word I’m looking for, where you set the payment terms based on the scope completed. And then it becomes an argument.

37:15 MH: Fixed rate.

37:16 AR: Yeah. And then it becomes an argument. Well “Are you really 33%?” [laughter]

37:21 MH: Got it.

37:21 AR: Yeah.

37:22 MK: And have you had to rely on outsourcing for anything thus far? Or are you pretty much a one-person show?

37:29 AR: Yes.

37:30 MH: For the admin? Or for the… For the administrative stuff or for the actual work?

37:32 MK: For either, to be honest. I mean, have you gotten to a stage where the work’s gotten so much you’ve had to bring in someone else?

37:40 AR: Yeah. So, not for the admin. Like I mentioned, I think the admin… I don’t know, I feel like I hear people who fret about this quite a bit, but the only admin stuff I can really think of is the accounting and invoicing and sending out proposals and I guess paying vendors, that kind of thing. It hasn’t been too bad, so I wouldn’t worry about bringing somebody else in for that. But certainly for client work, there is a moment where you have to accept “I cannot give this client the attention it deserves, this project, the attention it deserves, unless I bring in somebody else.” And so, I have done that. I’ve been working with somebody for the last year and a half who’s been instrumental in a lot of projects. And I’m bringing somebody on in October as well to help handle some work. So I’ll be working with two subcontractors at that point.

38:25 MK: And so I’m curious because from the Australian perspective, a lot of the time when we bring in freelancers, it’s from people overseas, particularly around Asia, Eastern Europe. And then there’s a whole second set of issues about dealing with people in different languages and different time zones. The people that you’re working with, are they based in the US? Or have you looked a bit further afield?

38:49 AR: Yeah, yeah. There’re people who are in a similar situation that I am and they just happen to be in Boston as well. So, yeah. These are more… I think I mentioned him earlier but one of the subcontractor is just a little bit more junior than I am, doing the same thing. So he’s happy to have somebody sort of feeding him work and learning from me and I’m learning from him. So it’s finding that kind of a network. I haven’t had to bring in offshore developers, anything like that. It’s been… I mean, the work that I do, which I guess we haven’t really talked [chuckle] about is PPC and web analytics and reporting and tagging implementation, and these are skill sets that I don’t know, I would feel more comfortable working with somebody I’ve had personal relationship with than say, like a task rabbit type, one-off outsourcing kind of deal.

39:36 TW: Have you run into any cases where when you’re in a company, they’ve got some level of IT and the help desk and protocols, and they deal with the… When they’re selling to another company, if there are requirements for compliance for data security or data privacy or that sort of thing. Have you run into cases where either you pretty much won the business, but now you need to jump through the hoop of IT or security or compliance and they’re asking you for typically corporate things that you’re like…

[chuckle]

40:16 TW: “Ah, I’m just working from my home office.” Or is that not… I mean that’s…

40:19 MH: What’s your password recovery policy?

[overlapping conversation]

40:21 AR: Yeah, what’s my insurance policy up to?

40:24 TW: Yeah, what’s your data purging? How is it, does it fit some corporate thing or some standard you’ve never heard of?

40:30 MH: Do you have a paper shredder on your premises?

[laughter]

40:33 AR: Yeah. So, no. But I think that’s by the design of the system, which is to say that the types of enterprises that would have those policies have their own internal analytics or paid marketing shop. So this is probably worth mentioning here, which is that I’ve two categories of clients. I’ve the clients that I’ve earned on my own, which tend to be a bit smaller, small to midsize. And then I have the clients that I’m working with through another agency. So, I’m subcontracted through agencies. And for the agencies, I’m working with the big guns, bigger brands. But the clients that have on my own are like I said, small to midsize. So, it hasn’t been an issue because by design, bigger companies are gonna wanna work with an agency, not with a freelancer. And so, luckily I can straddle both worlds and I get to work with really big brands because I’m working through the agency. And so, I feel like I’m doing good work for impactful brands and it works for me.

41:28 MH: So tell me more about this work that you do for other consultancies? No, I’m just kidding.

[laughter]

41:34 AR: Let me cut you a deal.

[laughter]

41:37 TW: Am I right in thinking that even the work you’re doing through agencies are still through the network that you built? It wasn’t like the agency was… That was also you maintained the relationship through building relationships and they were saying “Hey, we have this need. Let’s bring… ” Somebody there in account management, somewhere knows, “Oh, Adam could probably do this.” And as an agency, they’re setup to handle freelancers?

41:57 AR: Well, I can draw a direct line between the e-metric summit in Boston that I emceed, that you spoke at Tim and one of the agencies that I work with right now. So, I mean the DAA has definitely been helpful. I guess… Wait, do I owe them a check now? They, maybe they should.

[chuckle]

42:15 MH: Just a shoutout on the podcast is sufficient.

[laughter]

42:21 AR: Yeah, so they’ve been great and I think I mentioned it before just knowing that you have an analytics community to lean on I would attribute it more to that than necessarily older colleagues that I’ve worked with it in past jobs or anything.

42:35 TW: It’s probably does bear… You’ve mentioned it a couple ways but you also co-ran the DAA Symposium in Boston, as you just mentioned like you said, “I’m gonna go to e-metrics in Boston”. So there’s this component that occasionally I feel like I’m talking to somebody who is thinking about going out on their own and they… It’s not clear that they actually know how to engage with the community or the industry so that probably… It keeps coming up as we’re talking but we haven’t really explicitly said it like, “yeah”. Which hopefully means you’re going out to do something that you’re passionate about and so you’re happy to go and talk about it and learn more about it and that just feeds itself. But if there’s someone thinking, “I just want the flexibility and I think it’ll be more lucrative and I don’t wanna have to work for somebody and analytic seems like the way to go”, but they’re not really recognizing that, yeah they need to be internally motivated and interested enough to go out and just talk to people.

43:36 AR: Ask yourself, when was the last time you went to meet up, you know a professional meet up? If the answer is over a year, do you really wanna freelance ’cause you’re going to be to a lot of meet ups [chuckle] so…

43:46 MK: Does the podcast count as a meet up ’cause I’m just asking for a friend.

[laughter]

43:56 TW: A very small meet up.

[laughter]

44:00 MH: As details come out, Adam, it is obvious that you worked really hard, you’ve created a lot. I mean you co hosted or helped organize the symposium for the DAA. You’re doing a lot of networking. You emceed the e-metrics in Boston. So you’re kinda like a Tim Wilson type person and that you’re just always doing stuff. So if you’re a lazy person like me [laughter] would it be okay to do this or would you be warning people like, “hey, you need to have a lot of self initiation to be successful here.”

44:37 AR: I think you would be really great at another job.

[laughter]

44:45 MH: I hear that a lot.

44:46 AR: I’m sure there’s something for you. [chuckle] We’re gonna find a great spot for you.

[chuckle]

44:52 AR: No, I mean, I think yeah you’re hitting on something real which is that you have to get excited about taking initiative. I mentioned having lunch with strangers. If that makes you deeply uncomfortable then it might not be a great fit. Which doesn’t make you a bad person, by the way, I mean it just… There’s a different ways of approaching this and there’s different…

45:14 TW: Other things make you a bad person.

45:15 MH: Yes [laughter] And I just love all those things, Tim. I love it.

[laughter]

45:22 MH: There used to a team evil forces in analytics so… Of which I was a member. Alright. Tim is giving me the wrap up sign, but I really don’t want to. But maybe as we head toward wrap up we can… I just wanna ask you one more question, Adam, and then we’ll get it to a wrap up routine which is resources. What would you tell somebody like, “Hey here are the three things you need to know or the two books you need to read” or however you wanna frame that up for people. But if somebody’s like, “Wow. I listened to this episode, I’m really excited about sending checks to both the Analytics Power Hour and Adam Ribaudo, because I’m gonna have a successful career as a freelancer”. What would you say, foundational you gotta do these things or read these or whatever?

46:09 AR: Listen to Digital Analytics Power Hour, that’s number one. [laughter] I am playing to my audience. I probably mentioned them all just scattered about so maybe I can collect them here. I mentioned Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I thought that was great and it’s kind of a timeless book so it might not be adding anything new here, but it was helpful for me to get over that networking, getting excited about networking hurdle. And the Digital Analytics Association, The Measure Slack. I’ve done a couple structured educational units at this point, I mentioned Luna Metrics training. I did a Data Science Program at Northeastern called Level and I took a course with Tim on the Dartistics course. So I think finding those types of opportunities has been helpful just to make sure you’re keeping your ear to the ground, you’re listening for what’s the next thing and staying up in industry changes in terms of tools and technology and things like that. Yeah, so I think those would be my hits. My best ofs.

47:13 TW: A lot of those really boil down to have passion and engage and try to grow. I mean that’s… I think I’m gonna be reading “Never Eat Alone” so [chuckle] Actually, I was not so familiar with it, but, it seems like a good one.

47:26 MH: Well this is a great topic and actually I feel like there’s actually lot of lessons there for anybody, whether you go out on your own or not, I think based on this discussion I think they’re applicable. So I think that’s kinda neat. One thing we do on the show is we go around and we do q last call which is just something we’ve got to share that we found interesting in last couple weeks. I’m putting you at a disadvantage, Adam, ’cause you just shared a bunch of resources and things that are interesting.

[laughter]

47:52 MH: But I’m gonna ask you for one more thing. Do you have a last call that you wanna share?

47:58 AR: Dig in to the bottom of the well. Yes, I do.

[laughter]

48:03 AR: Found it. Yes, so riding off of, I think your last episode, at least the last one I listened to, was on machine learning. So there’s a gallery in Boston called the Open Gallery, run by a friend of mine and their focus is on internet and society. And they hosted an exhibit showcasing graffiti artist Shantell Martin, she’s a British artist who trained a Neuro Network through the help of a Neuro. I had the name here… Anyway, we can post it. Sarah Schwepmen collaborated with Shantell Martin to train a computer to create her drawings. So they fed in a series of steps. She would step through the drawing, “Here’s beginning of the drawing, here’s the middle the drawing, here’s the ending of the drawing.” And the computer eventually learned how to complete her drawings for her. And it opens up a lot of questions about the value of an artist and is the art still meaningful if it’s made by a computer and not Shantell. So it was a really fascinating exhibit and it had all the pieces up that they used for training the Neuro Network and then they also had a, like a CAD, robotic arm making the drawings in real times. So you could watch the drawings be created. That was excellent.

49:10 TW: Wow. That’s cool.

49:11 AR: So we could post a link there of an article, I can share.

49:14 TW: The benefits of living in Boston.

49:16 MK: That’s really cool.

49:17 MH: I know. There’s a couple of good colleges in Boston, I’ve heard.

[chuckle]

49:24 MH: Moe, do you have the last call?

49:26 MK: I have two today and they’re a little bit odd. So the first one is actually a tool and there’s a bit of me that feels a little bit guilty for plugging a tool, but I saw a demo a couple weeks ago and you know when you’re just… I have this thing where sometimes I shy away from doing something just because everyone else is doing it. And everyone’s been talking about Domo and I’ve been like, “No, I refuse to have a play around. This is… No, I’m not into it.” But I did and I actually… The reason that I wanted to raise it, is the thing that I think is really cool particularly if you’re working at a company that’s a bit smaller, that you don’t have a data warehouse. I probably didn’t realize that functionality of how you could pull in the different data sets and connect them. So if you haven’t had a play around…

50:12 MK: I also didn’t realize that they had a free version. So I’m sure lots of listeners have already tried and if you haven’t and you’re a little bit resistant like me, it’s kind of worth having a little exploration. And then the other one that I wanted to mention is a not for profit that I met with a few weeks ago and in fairness completely blew my mind. But, basically, it’s called Folo.world and Folo is F-O-L-O. So it’s www.world.folo and what they’re doing is they have some not for profit restaurants as well, but basically when you shop online you can donate a small percentage of your purchases to go towards a charity. And they’re basically looking for analytics help. So if there’s anyone that is going through learning that wants to take on a bit of a project, I’m sure they would be grateful for any support. Feel free to reach out to me directly in Slack or Twitter or whatever and I can put you in touch with the charity, ’cause they’re a really cool group that are doing some really amazing things.

51:14 MH: Very nice. And I’m probably gonna get in trouble, because you are the one that first brought Domo up even though Search Discovery is a partner, but that is okay. [laughter] You didn’t hear it from me.

51:25 MK: No. And I intentionally didn’t tell you about it, because I didn’t want to be like biasing the crew.

51:32 MH: No, that’s quite all right. It does have some interesting features and some really useful stuff. So I’m glad you got to take a look. Tim, what do you got?

51:41 TW: Oh, I’m tempted to do two, but I’m gonna go with just one. So the one that I’m… I’m excited about it on a couple of levels. One is this completely came through a listener who just had heard a series of episodes and reached out. So Daft House who’s over in UK, said, “You talk about art, have you heard of KNIME?” And I was like, “What? What’s KNIME?” And he actually offered to… One evening, I think while I was, kids were getting put down to bed, we hoped on a hangout so he kind of demoed it to me. And he works for a company. He’s a user of this platform KNIME, but it’s graphical data programming. So, way back in my career when I worked at National Instruments and they had this awesome lab view which was graphical programming and I kind of got into that, ’cause I knew enough about programming. And then, “Oh, I get to drag these boxes and do a little connectors.”

52:34 TW: And KNIME is pretty much that for data. So I’ve downloaded it. I have to admit I haven’t played with it, but I did sit and watch what he was doing. But it’s… The reason he brought it up to me was he said, “It’s like a gateway to something like R when you’re trying to thing through the sequence. I wanna get the data from here, I wanna do this transformation.” It’s all blocks of inputs and outputs and you kind of wire it together. And it’s open source. And like a lot of open source things, there are ways you can do paid versions, but it was really pretty slick. So it had me thinking, for anyone who says, “I just don’t wanna dive into R or Python yet, but I would love to kind of get out of Excel and Google Sheets.” It does seem like… Daft brought it up and I think he nailed it. It is a great potential stepping stone and even a standalone thing on its own. So KNIME, K-N-I-M-E.

53:32 MH: So I feel like they missed an opportunity being from England and all to maybe just call it KNIM.

[laughter]

53:39 TW: Well, no. It actually came out, it came out… It’s in Zurich, so he’s is in the UK.

53:46 MH: Fair enough.

53:47 TW: It came out of the University of Konstanz, which I think it’s maybe, actually in Germany. And I’m… Butchered the name of that. So it came out of academia and it’s kind of scaled into an organization. But I’d never heard of it. And like you, I was like yeah that’s pretty cool so.

54:03 MH: Nice.

54:05 TW: That was long winded. What do you have Michael?

54:07 MH: Well I actually am gonna throw in a couple. So the first one was the one I was originally intending, which recently I had the opportunity to do a little online research in a data science topic around collaborative filtering and came across a really interesting and useful web page by Professor William Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University. He has a really great tutorial on collaborative filtering, which the data scientists will already know is basically a fancy word for recommendation engine. But a lot a good reading on his website and on his page so I recommend checking that out. The other thing is in keeping with the topic of this show, one of the books I think is maybe one of the most important books you could ever read if you’re gonna be in service as either on your own or as a consultant is a book called The Trusted Advisor by David Maister and a couple of other people. I highly recommend it as a book. Also, Never Eat Alone is a really good book too, but The Trusted Advisor is one I recently read and it just sort of blew my mind like, “Oh my goodness this is all correct. This is all the stuff I’ve been… Some of it I’ve been doing, some of it I haven’t been doing and here’s why I’m not doing as well as I wanna do.” So good book, Trusted Advisor and that’s it. Alright. So you’ve been listening, you’re about ready to start your own business as a freelancer.

[laughter]

55:37 TW: Is that what we said?

[laughter]

55:40 MH: Maybe you have questions or you wanna talk about something on the show. We would love to hear from you. We’re active on the Measure Slack, on Twitter, on Facebook, and you can also reach us on our website at analyticshour.io. We’d love to hear from you. Adam, are you active on the Measure Slack?

56:00 AR: Yeah, absolutely I think there is an Ask Ribaudo. Yeah.

56:02 MH: So perfect. You can ask Adam questions. You seem like a friendly person.

56:07 AR: Yeah check in just to make sure I’m okay ’cause I’m living in this cave now and there is not a lot of sunlight.

56:10 MH: Yeah.

56:10 AR: Running out of lamp oil so…

56:13 MH: What is your bill rate for consulting on going out on for that? That may be a whole other branch of your [56:19] ____.

56:19 TW: Yeah I like that.

56:20 AR: My side hustle is going to be teaching people how to side hustle.

[overlapping conversation]

56:24 MH: Write an e-book.

[laughter]

56:27 MH: No, but connect with Adam too to ask questions or explain more things. I’m sure he’d be willing to share his experience, and we’ve love having you Adam, thanks so much for being on the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Digital Analytics Power Hour and you’re also a fan of the iTunes, we would love it if you felt comfortable giving us a rating and review. I think that actually makes us more popular, which we really love to be popular. Tim Wilson especially.

[laughter]

57:02 MH: No I’m just kidding. So that maybe might help others discover it, which maybe would make other freelancers and people going out on their own in the future.

57:11 AR: Wait that’s my competition. That’d be a terrible idea.

[laughter]

57:13 MH: But you said that there’s room for more. You said there was room for more. Anyways.

[laughter]

57:21 MH: And frankly I don’t care, Adam. Maybe they’ll send us checks so.

[laughter]

57:31 MH: Yeah exactly. Affiliate. Just use the affiliate code. No obviously we would love it if you would rate the show. Anyways, thanks again Adam for my co-hosts, Moe and Tim. If you’re all analysts out there, you know what I’m gonna say. Keep analyzing.

[music]

 

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2 comments on “#073: When the Analyst Goes Independent – with Adam Ribaudo

  1. Hey Guys,
    Great podcast.

    I too have just started out as a Freelance Digital Analyst in the UK. Analytics has been an interest of mine for a little over a year and I have helped a few folks with getting their website and GA account setup. This has lead me to my first paying client just last week.

    I’d like to say that I already work as a freelancer as my main day job during the week so developing a second freelance business is not so scary as I can fit it around what I already have. In fact, it takes some of the pressure off me to be out there getting analytics work.

    I think it might sound a scary idea to break out on your own but It all depends on how risk adverse you are. Some people feel they need to pressure of not having a regular job any more to get the motivation to MAKE it work, while others might need some security (reduced hours/Part Time) which allows them to develop a side business until such time that it becomes successful. I’m in the latter, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

    I’ve struggled to build a network of other analysts in my area as I don’t know where they hang out.

    You’ve inspired me to make more of an effort to find out!

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