What I've learned during a COVID Sabbatical

Summary:

A professional sabbatical is an investment in yourself that can bring surprising benefits. I took a sabbatical over the last six months since leaving mParticle. It restored my mental and professional energy. 

My sabbatical gave me purpose, but it didn't come all at once. Two lessons I learned:

First, don't be afraid to do nothing for a bit. Second, all it takes is the courage to put one small foot forward.

My sabbatical turned out to be busier than I expected, but I'm most excited to share three things:

1) I'm writing a book on how to build your own consulting business based on experiences building my own, selling its IP to mParticle, and re-inventing it in the last six months.

2) HBE has been relaunched and has a storefront with new services and playbooks.

3) I'm launching the Marketing Technology Academy.

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I left mParticle a few months ago after a two-year tour, which came on the back of building a 1.5 million dollar consulting practice, before a two and a half year sprint at Branch, now a leading provider for attribution and deep linking technology.

At the time, I had intentions to join another startup, and do another tour of duty to build something great. But shortly after leaving, things didn't materialize, partially because I had much less little left in my tank than I realized at the time. I decided - or rather, fell naturally - into taking a career sabbatical. What started as just taking a month off turned into an adventure that restored my energy and brought balance to how I'm navigating COVID. 

I wanted to share my story, and what I've been up to, in the hopes that some of it may resonate and be useful to those out there whom I know are also struggling to get on, maybe off the backs of their own rigorous career tenures, or perhaps because this is just a strange world we are living in right now.

Making a List

With that said, I took a month off in March to do nothing. Yep. Nothing. I woke up late. I read the paper for an hour, watched MSNBC, rebalanced my stock portfolio, worked out, played video games, and had an Aperol spritz at 4 PM every day. And that lasted about three weeks. The time needed to rejuvenate your heart and mind is never longer than most people imagine. What's a month, really? It's one reason why prioritizing short, frequent breaks throughout a year can drive positive health and career results. This understanding likely comes across as painfully obvious to some, and surprisingly revelatory to others.

In the fourth week, I was mentally ready to get cracking. Still, I was cautious about diving into consulting on martech, which I had grown accustomed to over the years. The time filled "doing nothing" had given me lots of ideas about what I wanted to do in the long run, not just what was comfortable and obvious at the moment. It also helped me consider what I wanted to learn, and what I didn't want to go back to when I restarted my work life.

So the first lesson of a COVID Sabbatical: don't be afraid to do nothing for a bit.

That feeling of exhaustion from February was quickly replaced with a sense of renewed energy to carve a new path for myself. The time took to do nothing allowed me to create a structured list for my sabbatical. The plan was something like this:

1) What I want to do:

  • Work in marketing technology.
  • Keep consulting and meeting people.
  • Teach, nurture others, and give them opportunities similar to how I had been given opportunities.
  • Work less, but have the work I do be more focused and impactful.
  • Write about my experiences growing my own consulting practice, and help others in their journey building businesses.

2) What I want to learn:

  • Cloud computing and how that might influence marketing technology.
  • Financial knowledge, especially a more formal version I could apply to help colleagues and friends.
  • Hobby skills I put off over the years: learn to be a better cyclist, become a notary, a marriage minister, a certified drone pilot, a better water ski-er, an electrician, and handyman.

3) What I didn't want for myself:

  • Finding myself in a mental place or operating on a team where I am not learning or challenged. 
  • Playing for a team where the financial benefits overbalance those from learning and personal growth. I have to recognize the privilege in this statement, too, when so many in America struggle to make ends meet. 

My Sabbatical Timeline

This initial plan allowed gave me the structure to educate myself, pursue things that made me happy, and find happiness in new ideas for my life and business. This timeline of discovery looked something like this...

April:

- I started consulting with Mars in Marketing Technology. Things would ultimately end after a three-month engagement. Still, I am incredibly grateful to Shubham and his team for allowing me to work with them.

- I started and wrote the lions share of my upcoming book I plan to release this winter that details how to build a consulting practice. It considers my own journey in building a small company and shares lessons about the trials and tribulations along the way. You can pre-order a copy here if you're interested: https://www.consulting.hbe.io/product/consulting-in-the-time-of-covid

May: 

- This one has gotten some laughs. I became a Virginia notary and e-Notary. I've always thought this would be a useful skill to have in the family. While I started the process a year ago, I never got around to finishing it. Let me know if you ever need a document notarized : )

- After extensive research, I applied to The University of Virginia for their professional studies program in Financial Planning (tp become a CFP or Certified Financial Planner). To date, I've taken two classes and have enrolled in my third. I opened up a small department under the HBE umbrella to help monetize my work. I've already helped half a dozen clients with services from salary and startup equity negotiations to retirement, estate, and home-ownership planning. This hobby threads into one of my original sabbatical realizations that I feel most happy when helping, educating, and serving others.

- Became an ordained minister registered to perform marriage ceremonies in Virginia and California.

- I learned a lot about AWS and cloud technology. I studied for and received my AWS Cloud Practitioner Certification.

June:

- I learned a lot about Terraform, studied for, and received my Terraformn Associate's certification. It was especially rewarding to help a client recently build a tool to manage a portion of the stack using Terraform. I'm excited to blend similar cloud services with some of the more standard martech services I have offered in the past.

- I wrapped my engagement with Mars and then kicked off a new one serving as an interim head of marketing technology for Postmates, including conducting a full audit of their marketing technology stack.

- Through Webflow - which may be my new favorite tool - I relaunched my consulting career with a new website and set of services offered on https://www.consulting.hbe.io/.

- I received my official FAA sUAS (Small Unmanned Aircraft System) Pilot's License and registered as a US airman. I've flown more than a dozen times this year and even shot the official Lake Monticello Fourth of July parade video for our local lake community outside Charlottesville.

- Based on this certification and hobby, I built a micro-business in DC and Palmyra, the focus of which is delivering remote drone services to homeowners and real estate brokers. Launched a website to service customers at https://drone.hbe.io.

July:

- I started my AWS Solutions Architect Certification, Snowflake Certification, and Google Cloud Practitioner certification to continue my cloud education.

- Wrote a few other playbooks which are all available on the new store I launched to showcase and sell some of my projects: https://store.hbe.io

- I re-organized HBE into a series of micro-businesses under the HBE umbrella and have launched the LLC as a hub for creating and incubating small innovative business ideas: https://www.hbe.io/

- I began constructing The Marketing Technology Academy, which I recently shared a teaser about on LinkedIn. Stay tuned for more information!

This recap of the last few months isn't meant to flaunt my accomplishments. In fact, if anything, it confirms my mental instability and my insatiable appetite to learn and be busy doing things. Throughout this experience, I was following my plan, but I often still felt lost. It wasn't until most of the way through my journey I started to see the broader arc of my adventure and feel satisfied with my accomplishments. I'm sharing this because lots of us are feeling lost right now. This year is a strange and painful year for many of us. Some of us are taking time off work not by choice but because it was thrust upon us from the virus or the economy. Some of us have lost loved ones or fear losing loved ones. And we miss seeing and hugging our friends and families.

I was similarly feeling down and lost at the start of my sabbatical. But by focusing on my intentions with a structured list, the courage came to me to take one small step forward. 

So the second lesson of a COVID Sabbatical: all it takes is the courage to put one small foot forward.

I hope this timeline and recap of my journey inspires or comforts others to take their own sabbatical and find new meaning, even in strange and difficult times - whether that's now or in the future.

What's Next

While most of the exciting news precipitates in the timeline above, I wanted to pull out three significant announcements that I'm excited to share.

A Little Guide on How to Build a Consulting Business

1) How to Build a Consulting Business: I'm launching a book about consulting, how to build your own consulting business, and how I did it, with real stories from my struggle building HBE. It includes a practical application to the current environment and the COVID pandemic. A pre-order is coming soon!

The New HBE & Store

2) New Services Hub and Store: I've also launched a new hub for my services and a store where I am selling and will sell more of my ideas, playbooks, and frameworks. You should check both out and see if anything piques your interest: 

HBE Ventures Hub: https://hbe.io

Store: https://store.hbe.io

Certified Marketing Technology Manager Course - Fall 2020

3) The Marketing Technology Academy: I'm launching a Marketing Technology Certification course this fall through a new business I started called The Marketing Technology Academy

I will be offering two versions of the introductory course: asynchronous and synchronous. 

In the asynchronous course, you can purchase a seat and consume all the content on your own. In the synchronous version, I will guide a small group of roughly 20 students from consumer brands and vendors through a customized version of the course. We will teach various technical concepts that will help prepare individuals for a career in marketing technology.  Sign up here to get updates when the courses are available for enrollment: https://marketing-technology.com/coming-soon.

Last and not least, while I am happily consulting with Postmates and Plushcare at the moment, I'm interested in long term roles in Operations, Growth, and Marketing Technology. If you know of any exciting leadership roles, or if you're interested in having me join your team, please let me know!