June 19, 2024

Future Emergent: year two

close-up photo of the sculpture Eagle by Alexander Calder
photo caption: a section of the sculpture Eagle by Alexander Calder. eagle sits facing the water here in seattle. it’s fun to look at and nice even when the birds are using it as a toilet. we all have to go somewhere, right? anyway, my business is two years old! woohoo!

I’m a week late (thanks, covid!) but I’m so excited to mark the end of my second year in business. If you only know me through this blog, I started Future Emergent, my own consulting business, back in April 2022. Last year, I wrote about my first year in business. This year, I’m sharing a few lessons I learned over the past two years.

year one

My first year was all about starting up the machine and seeing what fell off. These tips are for people who are thinking about starting their own business.

It’s okay to start small. Before I launched Future Emergent, I took a few small side projects while I was working my full-time job. Doing these projects at night or on weekends was a lot of fun! It was the moment I realized that there was a lot to love about consulting. The work was also pretty exhausting! I learned that I would much rather make this my job than try to fit it into my regular life.

Prepare your mise-en-place. Chefs and great cooks know that the key to cooking a successful meal begins with preparation. I did this kind of prep before I started cooking my business (please note I did not say “cooking my books”). I was able to do things like filling out forms, designing a website, and getting a bank account during my off hours. I filled my ramekins without the stress of also having orders flooding my kitchen. On average, I spent a night or two a week across several months while I still earned a salary. This relieved an unbelievable amount of pressure when it was time to launch. I got to “celebrate” my new business with a week-long trip to Texas to see my sister and her family (and get a tattoo, haha).

Be patient. I got off the ground with a small network of contacts and a lot of luck. Before I launched, I reached out a few times to folks who might want to hire me one day. I was lucky to have a couple clients who wanted to work with me almost as soon as I started my business. But luck and networks are inconsistent. Even signed contracts don’t always last as long as you plan. I’ve met with countless consultants who said it took them 3-4 years to begin to learn the cycles of their business. That still feels true for me.

year two

I spent my second year riding the high of year one and trying to pinpoint how the magic happened. I felt like I finally understood how to run the day-to-day of my business and start branching out with new sales pitches. These tips are for people who launched recently and may be thinking, “that wasn’t so hard. Wait, is this it? Am I missing something?”

Know your worth. I’ve received requests to “join” or “sit in” on meetings as an expert in the fields I’m in. My enthusiastic reply includes a small explainer about my rate for those services. If I didn’t do that, most people wouldn’t think to ask. I would love to join for free every meeting I’m invited to. But that would take value from the work I and my colleagues do as consultants. It would cheapen my expertise. When I’m in a room of clients or colleagues, all getting paid by their full-time jobs, why should I alone be there for free?

Take the time to find your niche. I learned this one at a recent Consultants Coffee I attended last month. 2023 was the year that I got real with myself about what I’m spectacular at. Lots of consultants, including myself, start out wanting to be everything to everyone. But I accept that that’s unrealistic for most people. I’ve been thinking about the questions posed in this guide. I’m starting to narrow down or refine how I talk about the skillsets I sell to clients. This might mean I spend a while feeling like I’ll lose clients who don’t need those skills. I also hope it means I am the go-to person someone thinks of when they need exactly what I can do.

You don’t have to build it alone. Independent consultants wear many hats. They’re also the only ones buying hats for the office—if they even have an office. I am still I qualified for free small business consulting help through the City of Seattle. Small means less than $500k-$5M in annual revenue, so if you’re in Seattle you probably qualify. If you don’t, please contact me about working together!

ideas for year three

Year three of Future Emergent has barely started (thanks again, covid), but I have a few ideas of where I want to go this year. These ideas are for folks like me who may have regrouped enough to start planning the next leap forward.

Refine my messaging. I need to take stock of my thoughts about the above. Once I have that clear in my own mind, I can update how I talk about them to clients and other consultants. As I enter the third year for Future Emergent, I’m revisiting the questions I had for myself before I started. Only this time I can reflect on my accomplishments more than my aspirations. What have I really enjoyed doing? What have I been good at? How have I make a tangible difference in the spaces I’m in? And, how can I convey all that without boring the person I’m talking to?

Stay strong, not perfect. It took me more than a year of business before I found a CPA I enjoy working with. Last month I found bookkeeping software I trusted enough to finally abandon all my spreadsheets. This may not even be Future Emergent’s final form! I’m itching to start making plans to build a consulting cooperative. I’m not interested in scale for scale’s sake, but I would love to team up with brilliant people on more cool projects.

Running my own business gives me the freedom to live out my values at a level that I’ve never been at before. It’s hard for me to imagine myself trading that away anytime soon. I get to define what success means for me and my business. For instance, I take most Fridays off and don’t sweat the potential loss of income.

Since 2022, I’ve talked to people from my past careers who have thought about taking the plunge I made. Having stood where they are now, I know the view from there is scary. Many of my consultant colleagues and I are still seeking stability in an ever-changing world. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to quit their job and start a business tomorrow. But I might say, “think about it. Take some time and decide if and when it’s right for you.”

These days, I don’t know if anyone can find stability anywhere. I don’t want anyone to equate “scary” with “risky” or “not worth doing.” In another life, I could still be in those cubicles in those office jobs that made me miserable for so many years. But I’ve already had opportunities I never would’ve had there. Even after two years, I feel like Future Emergent is just getting started. Thank you for being along for the journey.

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photo of josh martinez

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

i own and operate a consulting practice, Future Emergent.

say hello: josh[at]bethefuture.space