Are you debating on whether to continue working as a contractor or go full-time? There are certainly pros and cons to each method.
It’s been over two months since I started consulting at a financial tech startup and I’ve now got to make a decision to lobby for a permanent spot, stay on as a consultant if they’ll have me, or return to the world of fluffy rabbits and afternoon siestas in the park.
I have learned a TON about marketing and analytics so far, and I plan to learn a ton more for the remaining time left. It really never occurred to me to promote anything with marketing dollars since Financial Samurai has been organically grown since the beginning.
But if you can spend $1 dollar on marketing and get $1.01 in return, you should continue spending until your marginal revenue meets your marginal cost. Figuring out how to maximize one’s marketing dollars is the fun part.
The only thing I have to sell on my site is my severance negotiation book. Based on what I’ve learned, I plan to do some promotional tests and see how things go. The book’s monthly revenue is a tiny portion of my total monthly revenue even though it’s the only thing I sell here. Pretty neat huh? If I focus, perhaps I can grow my book’s revenue to 10-20% of total revenue. We shall see.
I think this post will be insightful for anybody who has ever had to make a decision between money, time, experience, freedom, joy, and responsibility. Let me first share five positives for continuing to work either as a contractor or as a full-time employee. I’ll then share the main negative and wrap the post up with some final thoughts.
Continue Working As A Contractor Or Go Full-time
One of the reasons why I enjoy contractor at Personal Capital is because I’m given resources to put theory into practice. I think of ourselves in the marketing department as research scientists, constantly testing new ideas to see which works best. Marketing nowadays is much more analytical with constant A/B testing going on in the background. Proving a hypothesis right or wrong is a very rewarding experience.
My time at Personal Capital reminds me of my three years going to business school part-time at UC Berkeley. I was a mid-level Associate at the start of business school who still had some doubts as to what everything meant in the financial world.
Even though going to class from 9am – 6pm on a Saturday was absolutely brutal, I was able to utilize what I learned in the classroom at work. My professors acted like consultants to help me do my job better. Give me another year of working with the marketing department and I’m sure I’ll develop a strong new expertise.
Helping Create Growth At Personal Capital
As a contractor, I’m helping Personal Capital grow. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing progress after dedicating a lot of hard work. Organic traffic on Daily Capital has roughly doubled over the past three month, a solid accomplishment no doubt. Seeing over 150 social shares on posts such as Career Limiting And Career Enhancing Moves is extremely gratifying.
Working on Daily Capital is like going back in time and working on Financial Samurai in 2009-2010. But given what I know now about building a significant site plus having monetary resources for content promotion, I feel like I’ve got a jetpack strapped to my back. There’s nothing but upside for Daily Capital, and that’s exactly what I like.
Working With Smart People Is Fulfilling
I’m learning something new every day largely because I’m working with smart people every day. When I was working at home for the past two years, I felt like I knew at least 90% of everything there is to know about the online content space because Financial Samurai continued to grow.
FS’s growth validated my knowledge if you will. Now I’m learning from people who are designers, analytics gurus, branding experts, and serial entrepreneurs from various backgrounds. Surely some of their knowledge will rub off and make me a more well-rounded individual.
I’m outside my comfort zone at a startup because I worked at two large investment banks who employed more than 20,000 people each for 13 years. As a contractor, I have the flexibility to work with many types of people.
But the more time I spend working at a ~100 employee, Series C funded startup, the more confident I feel about my place in the organization. I enjoy surrounding myself with people who know much more than me.
Financial Reward Is Nice As A Contractor
I would be remiss to mention that earning a steady paycheck feels good. I’ve been struggling for so long to figure out ways to support myself with my own two hands that I almost forgot the thrill of seeing a physical check in the mail.
Because I’m living off my online and passive income streams, I dumped my entire first paycheck into funding my self-employed 401k plan (Keogh 401k). Once that self-employed 401k plan is maxed out, I’ll then use the proceeds to methodically invest in the stock market.
I’m an over-saver and perhaps having another income stream will allow me to spend more freely. (Read The Cure For Financial Hoarding)
Besides health care and paid time off, one of the potential big benefits to working full-time is receiving stock options. It’s hard to imagine receiving a lot of options given the firm is already ~100 people large, but it would be nice to gain some type of equity and watch it grow over time.
I strongly believe in the growth of Personal Capital, and I’d probably feel remorse for not owning any equity if the company gets bought or goes IPO in the future. I’ll write a post dedicated to employee stock options, but for now, I’d read Stock Options or RSUs?
In 2020, Personal Capital did get acquired by Empower Media. And the stock options I bought fo $10,000 were worth $49,500 at acquisition. Not bad! I wish I had more stock!
Developing New Connections
Building a network beyond the financial services space could lead to exciting new opportunities in the future. I worked side-by-side with one prominent venture capitalist with a couple decades of experience. I’m slowly getting to know some of the C-level folks who are themselves, highly connected in the Valley.
Of course there’s my team and other people at PC as well who are all quite interesting. I don’t expect anything to come out of these newly formed relationships. I just think it’s nice to know people whom you can turn to for help if needed.
Biggest Downside To Going Full-Time
In the debate between working as a contractor or going full-time, the biggest downside to working full-time is a severe restriction of freedom.
The desire to experience absolute freedom is the reason why I saved so much to be able to exit the corporate world in 2012. The good thing is that I know what absolute freedom feels like, so I’ll never need to wonder.
Although I’m a contractor who is working about 60% more than initially agreed upon, I come and go as I please within reason. For example, I decided to leave the Redwood City Office at 4pm one day in order to miss out on the majority of rush hour to get back to San Francisco in 55 minutes instead of 1.5 hours. Nobody cares about my hours so long as I’m getting things done. If I worked full-time, I would feel bad skipping out an hour or two before everyone else.
I’m also no longer able to spend 100% of my time doing what I think is going to make the biggest difference because I’m not the CEO of the organization nor am I working in isolation. Collaboration and careful discussion is involved before almost everything is produced. I think this is the right call. It just takes time getting used to a new system.
Finally, in the fall of 2013 I spent five weeks working out of my home in Hawaii plus another six weeks traveling around the world. Clearly, being out of the office for 11 weeks is outside the scope of most companies.
But who knows, maybe I’ll be given such leeway. I’m kind of tired of travel, but what I really want is to be able to spend as much time with my parents in Hawaii as possible. If they lived in North Dakota, North Dakota I’d be for five weeks during the winter. Luckily, they happen to live in one of my favorite places on Earth.
Go Full-time All-In?
I love learning about marketing, hanging out with cool people, and contributing to a product I believe in. If I can continue to work on my online endeavors while working part-time doing something I like that’s highly synergistic, this seems like a good option. But working full-time with a larger compensation package and stock options also seems very enticing as well. (I do worry if I go full-time whether my writing will suffer on Financial Samurai)
It’s interesting how going back to work makes you want to earn more money. When I was away from work, my main focus was on trying to live in the moment. Money was only a byproduct of the growth of my site if I stayed consistent.
Now that I’ve tasted what working at a startup is like, I’m finding myself wanting more. But maybe it’s not so much about wanting to earn more money, but more about wanting to be compensated based on what I think I’m worth. Content is the crown jewel for many internet-based companies. Hence, surely the chief content creator should be well taken care of don’t you think?
I’m lucky to be living in the epicenter of the tech/internet bonanza. I don’t know of any other person in my situation who can take advantage of such opportunity. It would be a shame to completely stop working at Personal Capital altogether. I’ve gotten to know everybody and understanding their systems and culture. Their free financial tools are a no-brainer to help manage your own money. Meanwhile, their wealth advisory business is competing with the best of them.
Start Your Own Business AND Be A Contractor
Being a contractor or go full-time is a tough decision. I think one of the best combos is to be a business owner and do contracting work on the side.
It’s been over 12 years since I started Financial Samurai. Today, I’m earning a good passive and active income stream online. I’m currently running my online business and contracting to earn extra income, learn new things and meet new people.
If you enjoy writing, creating, connecting with people online, and enjoying more freedom, see how you can set up a WordPress blog in 15 minutes with Bluehost. You get a free domain name for one year as well. You never know where the journey will take you! Check out all the income possibilities from a real personal finance blogger in this chart. It’s all about establishing your platform and brand online to gain access to potentially 3 billion+ people!
Updates On Contractor Or Full-Time
Update 2H2016: I ended up contracting for Personal Capital from November 2013 to April 2015. It was a great 1.5 years and I’m now official an Advisor to the company. They just raised $75M in new Series F funding and are set to continue growing. I highly recommend everybody sign up to manage their wealth for free if they haven’t done so already. Leverage the internet to better your life!
Update 2021: I’m loving being an independent business owner. I no longer do any contracting because I’m a father of two kids. I originally wrote this post in March 2015. In retrospect, I should have tried to get more stock options at Personal Capital given it sold for 4X. At the same time, I’ve had a wonderful time building Financial Samurai into a top personal finance blog. If you’re debating between contractor or go full-time, really make a guess at the company’s upside potential.