Today I am sharing an update on my journey to be a professional Power BI freelancer.  I often get emails from people asking me what it is like as they are also interested in taking the plunge to become a full time Power BI pro.   I thought that readers of PowerPivotPro.com may also be interested particularly given Rob is such a strong advocate of the new BI economy and what it has to offer.

It was 3 year ago almost to the day that I told my story on PowerPivotPro.com.  So much has happened and changed since then:

  • I started a blog
  • I wrote a book
  • I learnt a lot
  • I made a living
  • I have presented at a lot of conferences
  • I became a Microsoft MVP
  • and not least of all, I have (and continue to) watch and be amazed by the rise and rise of Power BI

I unashamedly told Rob up front – “I am going to model my new career on you Rob”.    I want to share some salient points about these things mentioned above.  Even if you are not thinking of taking the plunge yourself, you may be interested to hear about the journey.

I Started a Blog

Taking the lead from Rob’s model I decided to start a blog.  The blog was the easiest thing for me to do because I was already blogging about topics that I was interested in.  Making the move to a blog that also supported my business was therefore a snap.   I only really made 1 mistake in my first year and that was not prioritising my blog as much as I should have.  Three years down the track I have a lot of great content that generates a lot of help for many in the community and a lot of web traffic for me.  The truth however is I am only 2 years down the track because I didn’t put enough effort in during the first year.  If you are starting out on a journey of independence yourself, then do yourself a favour and start sharing some content on the web.  It takes time to reach critical mass and the sooner you start the sooner you will get the benefit.

I Wrote a Book

learn-to-write-DAX-450-highWriting my book “Learn to Write DAX” was both challenging and rewarding.  It was challenging because there was so much else to do.  It is hard to focus on things that are important but not urgent (hard for me anyway).  But thanks to good coaching by my publisher (Bill Jelen, Mr Excel) I set a plan with the number of pages I needed to write each week, and tracked it in Excel (of course).   I am no JK Rowling so I wont be retiring any time soon from the proceeds of my book.  Gosh, I am not even a Collie/Singh.  But I have carved out a niche for myself by creating a unique product that gives new Power BI/Power BI users everything they need to get started with DAX (and nothing they don’t) at a very affordable price.  Many readers tell me they wished they had found my book earlier (read their reviews here – it has 4.9 stars on Amazon).  If you are interested in buying the book, please consider buying from Mr Excel in the USA or from my shop in Australia.  You will get a DRM free copy of the book as well as the paperback if you buy from Bill or me.

The book has been important to me for a number of reasons.

  • It rounded out my knowledge of Power Pivot and DAX to a “full house”.
  • I use it for my course material for students of my live training classes in Australia.
  • It creates awareness of me in my industry.

If you are going out on your own and you can afford the time and effort to write a book, then you should certainly consider it.

I Learnt a Lot

This is probably the most rewarding of all the points I am covering today.  I have learnt so much by getting involved.  I am a strong advocate for helping others on forums (as outlined in this article I wrote last week). I have learnt such a lot by helping others.  I have also been blessed to learn about many other industries apart from my heritage at The Coca-Cola Company.  I have worked for clients that deal with …

  • Retail
  • Wholesale
  • Vending
  • Finance
  • Mining maintenance
  • Utilities management
  • Government
  • Drug companies

…to name a few.  It is a privilege to learn about these different industries let alone stimulating.  And what is amazing is how different and yet how similar they all are.  The thing that ties all these industries together (every industry in fact) is that they all have data and they all need to analyse that data.  I can’t think of a better job to have than to be a data analytics guy – what fun!

I Made a Living

None of what I have talked about would have been possible if I wasn’t making a living.  Admittedly I was at a life stage when I could afford to take a bit of a risk – I doubt I would have done the same thing 10 years earlier when I still had a lot of significant financial commitments.  The key to making a living (for me) was to find 1 solid consistent client that needed what I had to offer.  I effectively worked part time as a business analyst for an extended period of time, and that paid the bills while I was building my business.  I am convinced there are plenty of opportunities like this out there.  Not every company has the resources it needs to do analytics well.  If you are a data person, then you have something that many companies need.  If you can find such a company that has a need and can take you on for 1-2 days per week, then you have the foundation to grow from (it worked for me anyway).  Three years in and I have many varied clients around the world and enjoy engaging with them all.

I Became a Microsoft MVP

I always wanted to be an Excel MVP, for as long as I knew what that was.  Becoming a Data Platform MVP last year was good enough for me even if it wasn’t the Excel kind.  Being an MVP has helped others (people that don’t know me) to understand that I have got what it takes.  I also really appreciate the recognition from Microsoft for the work I do in the community and for the support Microsoft provides to its MVPs.

Thankfully for those that want to become an MVP, the process has never been better (I’m not saying easier, just better).  You can now submit your case as to why you should be an MVP and you will normally get an answer within 4-8 weeks.  When I submitted it took 10 months before I heard back.  If you are doing great things for the community with any of Microsoft’s products, you can submit your case to be an MVP here.

I Have Presented at a Lot of Conferences

This is actually one of the things I enjoy most.  You can’t tell me this group doesn’t know how to enjoy itself

Unfortunate its not like the good old days at Coke when someone else paid for my Business Class airfare, accommodation, and importantly my salary while I was away.  No, these days I pay for my own economy airfare, my own accommodation and I don’t get paid when I am away.  But hell, you can’t have everything!  I do love speaking at conferences, but not really for the reason you may think.  What I like most is the people I meet.  I’ve met a lot of great people that are speakers, and a lot of people that are conference delegates.  I will be speaking at the Microsoft Data Insights Summit in early June.  I will be presenting with Will Thompson about DAX 050 – DAX for the rest of us at 10:00am on 12 June (this is the lesson you get before DAX 101).  The objective is to start from the very beginning of DAX and not get too complex.  I will also be presenting on the topic of Evaluation Contexts at 11:10 am on 12 June – be sure to see that one!

I also do a lot of local speaking events including running the Sydney Power BI User Group with co-founder Iman Eftekhari.  If you live in Sydney, we would love to see you there.

The Rise and Rise of Power BI

This is actually what has underwritten my success – the rise and rise of Power BI.  Call me lucky, call it timing, call it what you like.  But it if weren’t for this fabulous product I doubt I would have been so successful and happy.  I actually started out thinking I would be a custom Excel shop.  While I am certainly capable of doing that, I find the data world (in the presence of Power BI, Power Pivot and Power Query) so much more interesting and exciting.  In fact I hardly ever use regular Excel at all any more.  So a big thank you to Microsoft for building (and continuously improving) such a great product.  This product is laying the foundation for careers for people like me and Rob, and maybe also you.

What Next

The opportunity to make a career as an independent Business Analyst using Power BI has never been better.  Or if independence doesn’t appeal to you, there is plenty of career options too. Going independent is not for everyone.  If you want to take the plunge to become a Power BI consultant and don’t want to go it alone, there are always people like Rob that are looking for the best of the best to work for him.  At this stage I am not looking to hire people myself but have instead elected to be a one man band. But who knows, that may change one day particularly for the right person.

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Matt Allington

Matt Allington is a Microsoft MVP specalising in Power Pivot, Power BI and Power Query Consulting and Training based in Sydney Australia. Visit Matt's blog here. 

This Post Has 34 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your amazing journey Matt!
    You made it so quickly ! Such a reward to be part of the Data Insights speakers…Congratulations!
    You are also a source of inspiration for young Power BI ninjas like me.

    1. Some one said to me at a training session a few week ago “you are so lucky to be in the right place at the right time”. I said, “yeah, really lucky! I gave up my high paying corporate job to roll the dice with no guatanteed income and no promise of success”. I believe you make your own luck. :-). I think you Tristan make a lot of luck for yourself!

      1. And taking that risk is probably one of the biggest barriers to others (myself included) making that leap. So kudos for that. Also, find your book helpful in conjunction with Rob’s stuff as well.

  2. This will certainly work for someone living in Australia, US, or canada. But, can u give any tips for someone living in a third world country like pakistan where the need for large data modelling is definitely but people are not generally aware of its huge potentials.

    1. I’m not sure I’m qualified to talk about the specifics of a third world country. However one point I would like to make is that 85% of my work is done at my desk at home. Admittedly this was not the case in the first two years, where I was on site about two days per week.

      Note however I also spend quite some time, maybe 2 to 3 days per month travelling within Australia delivering training courses. I guess that only works if there is an engaged market. Three years ago I could only get four or five people to a training course. Now I see that changing to triple or even quadruple the numbers. So even if it has not been possible in the past, maybe the time is right now

  3. Matt it has been a pleasure to watch you make the switch. Your move from Coke to consultant has been a consistent piece when telling my PowerPivot story. Thank you for all of your help along the way.

  4. Thank you all for your encouragement and support. It is great to have so many “virtual community” friends as well as those of you I have been fortunate to meet at conferences etc.

  5. Hi Matt, great blog. I think it exemplifies the approach, or attitude, that is quite common in the PBI world, with information freely shared and help willingly given. Something that is not always easy to find in other areas of the BI world. I for one have always found your blogs (and your book) very helpful and easy to follow, so thanks and keep up the great work!

    I too will be in Seattle at the Data Insights Summit, and am looking forward to the many excellent sessions on offer, so see you there!

  6. Hi Matt,
    You started, You wrote, You learned.

    This is a little bit like Julius Caesar who in his Latin tongue once said:
    Veni, vidi, vici
    I came, I saw; I conquered

    I hope you will continue informing/inlighting the rest of us in the wonderful top-down way you have done so far.

  7. Matt, great story… thank you for sharing. I agree that pushing SQL database discipline and associated languages out to a bigger audience from within the framework of a widely available, pre-existing program (Excel) was a two-for-one dream for end users. This vastly simplified the path to getting exposure to big business methods and dramatically cut the out-of-pocket costs (for an independent consultant) to get training. Thank you again for for the strong light you are bringing to this path.

    1. Lol first thing I thought was oh cool Collie is a Primus fan *mentally adds “Primus fan” to the “Rob Collie” row of the “Interesting People” dimension table in my head*

  8. Gents, I posted this question in another thread but I think it’s probably more relevant here:

    I wondered if you had come across this major irritation: people within IT who sneer at Power BI as still being left field and “unsupported”. There are many who still don’t get the transformative revolution going on here: business led BI rather than IT led and at times it boils my piss!

    1. I haven’t actually, but that doesn’t mean they are not out there. I had one client that IT would only use Microstrategy and they wouldn’t let me support the business users by me accessing the data warehouse. After a couple of years of being frustrated by only being allow to use file extracts I decided to stop working for them. I had another IT dept that deployed Power BI as an enterprise solution, but wouldn’t let the business have Power BI Desktop. And a new client today that has a great Business guy in IT trying to make the life of the users better. So there are all sorts

      1. Cheers Matt. I always say the same thing to them “ok, go and turn into an IT project and put the timescales and cost to the stakeholder, see if they agree”. Cue tumbleweed moment

  9. Thanks for sharing Matt, the truth is you probably don’t even know how many people you help (or to what extent) because there’s lots of people like me who have learnt lots from your blogs/books (to the point where I’m now a Microsoft/Power BI consultant myself for a Gold MS partner in the UK!) but haven’t really taken the time to drop you a note to express my gratitude…so here it is in writing (thank you!) and I’ll be sure to come over and speak to you at the Data Insight Summit so I can do so in person too!

  10. Thanks for sharing your story Matt, I started two years ago in Melbourne and have loved every second of it. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to say hello at the Data insights conference.

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