Advice on Being a Freelance Business Analyst from Alex Papworth

New challenges and experiences are good for the soul.

Alex Papworth Freelance Business AnalystAlex Papworth has been freelancing as a business analyst since 1999. He is Marketing and Communications Director with the UK chapter of IIBA and hosts a blog to help business analysts: BA Mentor. Alex was kind enough to spend time speaking with me last week and shared many insights about working in large corporate environments and the pros and cons of being a freelance business analyst. I’m excited to share some of those insights with you today.

Freelance Business Analyst: Pros and Cons

Question: What are some of the advantages of freelancing as a business analyst vs. a full-time business analyst position?

Answer: If you can generate consistent work, you’ll make a better income as a freelance business analyst. In theory, you are a master of your own destiny. But the reality is that if your preference is to be employed most of the time, you can’t be as selective about each opportunity. However, if you are willing to take some time off between contracts, then you can be selective about the positions you take on.

As a contractor you don’t get as involved in office politics. They are still there and you need to work through them. But because you are working with that organization for a fixed duration of time, you don’t need to fully engage in the politics.

A key advantage of freelancing is that you have the opportunity to face fresh challenges on a regular basis. You learn about new organizations and have new experiences. This makes it nearly impossible to get stuck in a rut, which can be easy to do if you are employed full-time with an organization for several years.

Question: What challenges do you face when starting with a new organization?

Answer: As a freelancer, it’s important to be productive in a short amount of time. This means you need to quickly understand the way the organization works, what expectations they have of someone in your position, and over-deliver to generate a good name for yourself.

Question: What recommendation do you have for a BA starting in a new organization?

Answer: Don’t go in with a box around your role — i.e. this is what I do and this is what I don’t do. Your job as a business analyst is to find the problems and solve them.  Every organization defines the BA role a bit differently because they have a slightly different hole to plug. Figure out what hole the BA plugs in that organization and fit yourself into it.

Business Analysis in a Big Corporate Environment

Question: What’s it like day-to-day to be a business analyst in a big corporation?

Answer: In a corporate role, there is plenty of chaos. Just because you are involved in a big corporation, it does not mean that things move smoothly. There can also be bureaucracy to work through as a BA. Typically, there is a level at which you are expected to conform to specific standards and a framework within which you must work. When starting with a new company, it’s critical you learn the framework quickly.

Question: How do you go about learning that framework?

Answer: Typically there is documentation about the business analysis process and sometimes you’ll even be able to find knowledge via eLearning opportunities on the corporate intranet. Most companies don’t have a formal induction process so in your first few weeks, you need to go and seek out the information you need. Oftentimes your co-workers are the best source of knowledge about how requirements get delivered and can point you in the right direction.

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Comments

  1. One thing to keep in mind as a freelancer, speaking from my own experience, is that you create your own career progression. It can be quite difficult to turn down a project when you are not working but sometimes that can be the right decision. In busier times, you may have more than one project offered to you but are able to choose only one based on the expected time commitment. You must evaluate each opportunity that comes your way and determine which project(s) make the most sense for you to work on.

    If you are a person who likes a consistent work structure, is looking for a sense of predictability, or wants to move up a defined career ladder, think long and hard before leaving the “corporate” workplace. On the other hand, if you crave variety, do not need a title to validate your experience level, and don’t mind some down time in between projects, life as a freelancer may be the right path for you to take.

  2. Very true Jennifer, it’s not the the right choicefor everyone.

    One of the downsides is definitely being responsible for your own career progression. This can be a difficult burden and one that has challenged me – how do you switch focus and move into areas where your experience is not so strong? This is one of the biggest challenges.
    I guess the other side of this coin is that you’re not constrained by your current organisation’s view of career progression.

    The biggest upside is complete independence to control your future. This works well for me and reflects my natural inclinations. I don’t think I thrive when constrained by the corporate expectations of me as an employee.

  3. Thanks Jennifer and Alex.

    Alex, I think you make a good point about the ability to switch gears as an independent contractor. It can be difficult to convince a company to hire you to do a short-term contract when you are taking on a new set of responsibilities, whereas in some companies as a full-time employee your manager might support the more gradual assumption of new responsibilities.

    But, from our conversation, it does seem to me that you have made some changes to redirect your career. It seems that small steps might be a good way for a contractor to make specific progressions in their career, over and above the big steps that might be available to full-time employees. Does this mesh with your experience?

  4. I guess I have made progressions.
    Firstly, you need to be clear on what you want. Secondly, be open to opportunities and pursue any that arise. Also, be clear on skills/experience you have that can be translated into a new role and can sell you into a position.
    Recently, I took on a new role in the banking industry which was a pure business facing position with no IT element. At the time, I was looking for roles being employed directly by the business rather than the IT department.
    I was able to sell myself as I had relevant and rare industry experience. SEPA – Single European Payment Area for those who are interested.
    This in combination with broad experience as a business analyst in financial services got me into an interview in a difficult market.
    I will be starting on my second contract with this organisation from 4th January.

  5. Hi – Thank you for this. I started in a big corporation, eventually went on to a smaller, more agile development organization and now after taking some off after having a child and working in an unrelated field, I am trying to get back into business analysis. I would prefer to work as an independent contractor/freelance.

    Any specific ideas (or can you point me to) on networking and marketing?

    Cheers,
    Tia Peterson

  6. I have studied Bcom Information management and have no experience in the the corporate world. Is it a possible to begin an independent venture with no experience in BA but what I have studied?

  7. Prashant says:

    Some fantastic reading here (and also the link provided by Laura). Really good insight into the world of freelance BA.

    Freelance business analysis is something that I would really love to get into. My work colleague and I have discussed heading down this path together branching off from the corporate world.

    Really at the preliminary stages at the moment and discussing options as I have never done something like this before. Ideally I would love to head down the direction of helping SME’s with Dashboards, KPI Balanced Scorecards and internal reporting and setting up a number of clients who would find this information of value to their respective businesses.

    I have read all the tips and suggestions which are great but something I am interested in is what i should start doing prior to landing clients. i.e Setting up the business, establishing rules (as partners) etc. Obviously success is measured on client base but I would love to get some insight on the steps required to put yourself in the best position to start handling clients once they start coming.

  8. Kumar Chandra Rohit says:

    Hi Alex,

    I am an IIT graduate and currently working as Business Analyst in one of the best Marketing Analytics firm in India. I have experience in working in many different domains of industry and played a key pivotal role in solving many business problems.
    Now I want to become a freelancer Business Analyst and want to solve the business problems as I think I am capable of doing that by my own.

    I would be grateful to you if you can guide me through the process that how I can get the projects from the clients and where I can interact them.
    I would be highly obliged to you if you can help me in this regard.
    Please reply me at sinha.kcr@gmail.com

    Thanking and anticipating your reply

    Rohit

  9. Dear Sir,
    How you estimate the price/ charges/ fees of Business Analysis. whether its depend upon the size of organisation or profits ? How to decide the time require for one Business Analysis.
    Regards,
    Amar B

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