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2021 In Review: From contractor to Business Owner

I am extremely grateful to be able to say that 2021 was a huge success for me in many ways, even in the face of some serious challenges (e.g. a global pandemic) that have had a negative impact to a great number of people and businesses.

While I have been freelancing since 2018 via my Cascadia Digital business entity, the bulk of my work during that time has been in the form of full time engagements as a contractor. However, in the years since, I have managed to leverage my network for additional work to the point where I could operate as a more fully independent business with my own roster of clients.

I originally wanted to make this switch in 2020, but the opportunities lining up at that juncture for what would have been a reliable pipeline of client work quickly dried up as the year progressed. I carried on in my full time contract work until mid-2021, when things finally began to line up again, and it made sense to make the change.

Motivations, and a shift in mindset

The genesis of my business came from an opportunity with one of the aforementioned full-time contracts, which came with the stipulation of being incorporated in order to have the contract. Since I could see the immediate benefits of making the effort for this contract, the corporation was created, and with it the seed of an idea to grow it beyond its initial purpose. The first fruit of that seed was to give the company a name, and not merely have it be a numbered company - and so Cascadia Digital was born.

Since the very start of Cascadia Digital, a shift was beginning in my perception of what I was doing on a daily basis. Following what was initially a move to capitalize on a great opportunity came the realization that, in essence, even though I now had a business, I was still essentially working a job. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, I realized early on that an incorporated business had the potential for so much more than being a vehicle to holding a singular contract. The possibilities that come with business ownership can be virtually endless.

Over the course of my first year in business, a few other small jobs came my way through my network. For a time I looked at these projects as merely a side hustle next to the full time contract that kept me busy for 40 hours a week. These side gigs provided a bit more variety in their requirements, some extra cash, and were generally more lucrative when broken down by an hourly basis. For the time being, however, these gigs were merely icing on the cake of a decent full time job, working with people whom I admired, and enjoyed working with.

Over time, more and more work kept coming to me through various channels, but mostly through my network of acquaintances and colleagues, to the point where in mid-2021, I was able to revisit the idea of unplugging from the full time “job” and focus more on my own set of clients. Finally, I was able to make this change in June.

A more sustainable business

Now, rather than having a job, I had a business to run. In some ways, this is more risky than having a single full time client, especially in that cash flow could be less predictable depending on the business model.

Having the ability to spread the source of revenue around via multiple clients is certainly a great way to mitigate cash flow risks, and was something that I wanted to pursue. By having multiple revenue sources, the disappearance of a single client wouldn’t need to devastate the business in the way that losing a single full-time client would.

Since the start of 2021, I’ve gone from that single full time contract to one-off or multiple projects with 5 new clients, in addition to 5 monthly retainer clients of various types.

While this has led to a busier schedule overall, it has produced the opportunity to have a bit more flexibility in my day-to-day, as well as increased revenue. Additionally, having multiple retainer clients allows for more opportunities to say yes to larger projects, since the risk of losing out on other opportunities because of a calendar occupied by one client is diminished. The flip side to this is the added ability to turn down projects. The peace of mind that comes with having multiple clients and cash flow spread out between them is huge.

Looking ahead

Even with the success of my first true solo foray into my business in 2021, I still have work to do. In reality, I remain a generalist front-end web developer by trade. The real opportunity for long-term success, from my perspective, will be from focusing on a specific target market or niche client - whether a specific technical focus or a demographic focus, having the focus to differentiate is the thing to set a generalist apart from the rest of the pack.

I don’t wish to be a commodity, but rather as the *something-*guy; the go-to guy for a specific kind of problem for a specific kind of business. Is there something I’ve been able to help you with that has moved the needle for your business in some way? I’d love to hear about it: let me know over on Twitter @laroymike.

💪🏼 2022 will be my year to flesh that out 👀.

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