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My 2nd Indie Anniversary

On the afternoon of Friday, August 22, 2008, I “left work” for the last time.

It was my last day at my full-time job and I was officially self-employed.

The last two years have been a whirlwind, and the benefits and repercussions of that single action have been far more significant than I ever could have predicted. As I’ve said 100 times — and will probably be repeating til the end of my days — that was the best decision I’ve ever made.

I had a great job at a great company and I loved my work, but I wasn’t satisfied with my career or my life. So I forwent the cushy routine and instead chose the unstable, insecure, unknown, unpredictable path. As a result, I have created a life for myself that is better than I ever dared to dream.

Independence is a word that holds a lot of weight with me. Freedom, autonomy, self-reliance, self-expression. And anxiety, discord, isolation, vulnerability.

I am completely alone in this. It’s the best possible best and the worst possible worst all wrapped up into one.

And yet somehow, someway, it fits me like a glove.

Last year I was feeling a huge mix of emotions as my first year of full-time independent consulting came to a close. Quite frankly I was a chicken with my head cut off, and I was feeling it at hard. I knew I needed to make a change. So I created a strategic plan for how I wanted to move my business forward and how I wanted to better live my life — and now, looking back at Year 2, I’m happy to say that I stuck to it.

From August 2008 to August 2009 (Year 1), I had contracts with 17 clients. I was juggling far too much work with an unsustainable schedule of meetings from 9am-6pm, a four-hour break for events and social life, and production work from 10pm-4am. I was a friggin’ zombie, double-booking, pushing deadlines, eating crap, losing touch with friends, and desperately searching for air.

I was told by a close friend and mentor to raise my rates, so I did, and continue to. As a result, from August 2009 to now (Year 2), I had contracts with only 8 clients, and I earned 30% more year-over-year. After crunching the numbers, I discovered that I made 270% more money per project in year two, meaning that on average my project rates were almost 3x the size year-over-year. That’s pretty damn cool.

There’s another stat that I’m particularly proud of: In Year 1, 7.3% of my invoices were unpaid; in Year 2, a staggering 0% unpaid. This feat doesn’t just tell me that I got better at collecting money, but that I got better at choosing clients.

Best of all, I worked less. I stopped most (though not all) of my late-night shifts, and spent a lot more time speaking at conferences, writing, and reconnecting with my friends and myself.

Some events of Year 2 are immeasurable: I gave the closing keynote at the conference where I had given my very first presentation just one year earlier; I did research and strategy for the Holocaust Museum; after waiting more than 4 years, a U.S. patent with my name on it was finally granted; after completely bombing a presentation, I went back to the drawing board and turned it into a hit; I was published by A List Apart; I was approached by multiple publishers to write a book for them; I was invited to Foo Camp. I mean, come on! My mind has been blown over and over and over again. I can’t believe this is my life.

I’ve faced a lot of negativity as well, and I’ve discovered even deeper, truer friends because of it. It certainly hasn’t all been a cakewalk, and I expect that things will just get harder as the years go on. But I take solace in the fact that I’m learning that independence doesn’t have to mean loneliness. I have an incredible support network of friends, family and fans (though I prefer to think of them as friends I just haven’t met yet). I’m constantly inspired by the community of members at New Work City, who have lent me their strength and taught me the value of co-independence. I’ve learned a lot about who I am, and who I want to be. And I’m learning how to get myself there.

I serendipitously got a link from my friend Will Sansbury today that couldn’t be more apropos. It’s on the “Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership” by Kent Keith. His rules:

1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

6. The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

7. People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

9. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.

10. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

Today as I start Year 3, I will be keeping these principles in mind, skipping down my path, enjoying all the good fortune and important lessons life has to offer me, and sharing it all with you along the way.

Thanks for traveling with me.

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  • Anna Smith

    Thanks for sharing! You’re an inspiration.

  • http://tagsmith.org Matthew Knell

    Simply put, you are extraordinary. Here’s to year two of 40 ;)

  • http://dossy.org/ Dossy Shiobara

    Congratulations, Whitney! I enjoy following you on Twitter, and I’m closing out my third month of being full-time independent, myself! It’s great to see that the hard work you put in has paid off — it’s very encouraging for others like myself.

    Best wishes throughout your next year!

  • http://www.kristenashton.com Kristen

    Love that quote! Working towards independance myself, here’s hoping!

  • http://www.thisisaaronslife.com Aaron Irizarry

    “Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.”

    Right On!

  • http://twitter.com/rafaeltosta Rafael Tosta

    Anna Smith said it all. Congratulations!

  • http://stewartmccoy.com Stewart McCoy

    Thanks for continuing to share your journey with us :)

  • http://blog.jwegener.com Jonathan

    Keep kickin’ butt!

    • http://gingerbbm.com Stuart

      Hi Whitney. I’m a recent follower of your tweets n’ posts and I want to say I admire your candid attitude and it really is an inspiration as I hope to move into UX from the coal-face of development. Thanks! And keep up the good work :)

  • http://www.erinlynnyoung.com Erin Lynn Young

    Whitney, your success is a continued inspiration and your advice about upping your rates in a situation like that makes a lot of sense. I’ve taken the transitional approach, leaving full time for a series of 40-hour contracts before dropping (next month!!) to a 20-hour off-site contract and a variety of other work. It’s an exciting and scary journey.

    Thanks for the motivation.

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