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IA Summit 2009: The Courage to Quit

At the IA Summit in Memphis I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a panel titled, “The Courage to Quit: Starting, Growing & Maintaining Your Own UX Business,” along with Sarah Rice, Chris Fahey and Jenn Anderson.

Photo taken by John Yesko

The description of the panel:

Information Architects have an opportunity to structure and evolve their own work environment. There is potential to influence where they work, who they work with, the type of work they do and who they do work for. As a freelance IA consultant, there can be a lot of flexibility, but also a lot of uncertainty. Creating boundaries that help define the work we do and how we do it can be difficult, and these boundaries change as the field changes and as we as IAs mature.

This panel will discuss what it is like to create ones own work environment – the motivation for taking this entrepreneurial path, what it has been like, what we’ve learned, the ups and downs of such a work life. There will be lots of time for the audience to ask questions and make comments.

The panelists range in experience, including someone who is new to freelance IA work, someone who has been doing freelance for more than a decade, someone who has taken on employees in his own company, and someone who joined forces with other partners to start a consulting agency.

Here are the combined slides from all of our presentations:

My friend Brad Nunnally did me quite a favor by live Twittering the panel because now I get to include it for you all here! It’s rather difficult to live Twitter from the stage ;)

  • Preparing to live tweet from ‘The Courage to Quit’ Given by Sarah Rice, @whitneyhess, @suzieqjenny@jennanderson, @askrom
  • There is the feast and the famine that goes along with being a consultant.
  • Being the main bread winner of her family gives her lots of motivation to work.
  • You are more likely to have the persons at the top’s ear if you are a consultant rather than just an employee.
  • @whitneyhess takes the mic. She calls herself the freshmen of the panel.
  • Whitney quit to get greater control over her career, get a variety of projects, and she didn’t fit into the corp environment
  • Didn’t like dealing with the politics that are associated with working in a large corporation.
  • Even though she become indie just last year, she started down this path back in Aug. 05
  • In a sense she knew what it took to run her own company thanks to her parents.
  • If she wanted to do this on hew own, she needed to collect professional deliverables to have a template to build off of.
  • She knew going in that it was totally possible that she was going to fail. She created a reserve fund that could support her.
  • How many UX people does it take to plug in a mac? 4 apparently ;) Just kidding ya’ll :D
  • Limited herself to 3-4 clients at a time and only did projects that took from 2 weeks to 4 months on.
  • Spends 5-10 hours a week on business dev and growing her business.
  • Always look towards the future and spend enough time to work towards it.
  • Being a consultant also means being part of the community with speaking, writing, and teaching others.
  • Big challenges include pricing structures, no design crits, being strategic about whats next, no routine, and plenty of fear.
  • Being flexible with your pricing is important, but found it was important to stay away from a hourly rate.
  • Constantly have to think about what is next and how can she grow.
  • Not having a routine is harder than it sounds, it makes getting your work done complicated.
  • You don’t have a safety net, there is no back up. You to have confidence, and show that you have confidence. @whitneyhess
  • “Share what you have to give.” @whitneyhess
  • Jenn Anderson is now taking the mic. Whitney great job!
  • About half the crowd here are full time people and also do freelancing.
  • ‘The Daily Beast’ http://www.thedailybeast.com/ wanted to know how full time employee were supplementing their income.
  • There are many different ways to define and experience success.
  • At the end of the day consulting is consulting.
  • Becoming an innie – what does it mean to go work at corporation?
  • Thought it would be easier to drive consensus when you are part of internal time.
  • In the end she needed to hire out to a consultant to get the consensus done.
  • Also, she thought she would be able to pick and choose her own projects.
  • With the number of projects it was just impossible to keep your finger on top of them all.
  • Assumed she would be able to control the direction of the product, but discovered it was really up to the product managers.
  • Becoming an outie she assumed it would be less connected, the community just wasn’t there.
  • Though she would have control over her own time, which took a lot of discipline in order to accomplish.
  • Good parts of being an innie, deep domain knowledge access, camaraderie of peers, access to thought leadership.
  • Having the support staff to do all the work you could do, but didn’t need to. Another perk is conference $$
  • When you are a freelancer you never get the chance to make money while you sleep, it is all the sweat off your back.
  • Getting to exercise her nimbleness and the variety of work that is available to her.
  • If you want to be an outie you need to be flexible, willing to be part of a team, have the courage to step away
  • @askrom is now taking the stage. blog at graphpaper.com and company www.behaviordesign.com
  • Your job is your business school and incubator. Observe from others, network, participate in conversations, and collect info.
  • Don’t steal from others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from others.
  • Pay attention to the mistakes you and your company make. How did they screw up?
  • “Who were the douche bags and assholes? How can you NOT be them? ” @askrom
  • A thousand hours later they came up with the name ‘Behavior’ for their company.
  • Pros of forming a team: complimentary skills, diverse experiences, share decisions making, specialization, collective knowledge
  • Cons of forming a team: Hard to focus offering, groupthink, pigeonholing, slow to make decisions, POLITICS!
  • Forming a team is like getting married, have to have trust and friendship, compromise, financially interwined,..
  • familiies intertwined, and finally ‘…death do us pat.”
  • If you are thinking about doing indie work, just do it and try it out.
  • Sales and marketing is the most distasteful part, but it is necessary.
  • Half of their clients came from referrals or past work, the other half was selfish self promotion.
  • Sales Techniques: Make stories, not deliverables. Selling your abilities more than any ideas you have.
  • Sell you services high, don’t sell yourself short. At the baseline you are expensive, don’t be afraid of that.
  • Dress one notch higher than the people you are meeting. It puts you in a better position.
  • You need to understand cash flows, it is what keeps your business alive.
  • You need to meet and discuss what your business plan and brand is, does it make sense?
  • Why do you have your own business? – Power, Glory, Freedom, and The Thrill.
  • Q&A Time – How do you find a partner to work with? How did it go?
  • Likes having the ability to turn around and collaborate with someone when you need to.
  • A partnership can be successful and also come to an end.
  • A good partnership makes you better than you are when you are alone.

Thanks, Brad! And thanks to Yoni for his Tweet-to-Blog tool for making it so easy for me to grab the tweets :)

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