Aaron Gray spent the last eight years as a consultant and executive at two of the top web analytics vendors (Webtrends and Coremetrics). Like many web analytics practitioners, Aaron recently left his job and started a career as an independent web analytics consultant. Since many people in the space seem to be interested in this career path, we asked Aaron to answer some questions for our Rock Stars blog.
Here is the interview:
1. After eight years in the vendor world what motivated you to change paths and start your own business?
a. The timing seemed right, really. I started my career independently, and was recruited into a small analytics player back in 2001. I personally benefitted immensely from being on the inside at multiple vendors, but I really wanted to get back to what I enjoy most, which is helping people to get significant value from their investment in web analytics. To be able to do that from a neutral third party perspective is quite freeing.
2. There are a lot of independent consultants and small web analytics consultancies springing up. How do you plan to differentiate yourself and your services?
a. I’m capable of delivering a wide range of services, from analytics strategy to in-the-weeds conversion optimization. But I’m focused on strategy and program execution. My sweet spot is what I’ve started calling “web analytics turnaround.” There are a lot of companies out there who have invested in the technology, but have languished there and are not seeing any return on their investment. If the whole company were performing this way, a turnaround team would likely be brought in to right it. Working with companies in this situation, I help them turn that investment around so that they start getting positive business value from web analytics as soon as possible, and continue to build on those returns over time.
3. Do you have any plans to build a consultancy around yourself at this point or would you prefer to stay an individual consultant?
a. I have formed a company, Greater Returns, through which I deliver my consulting services, but it’s just me. I’m quite happy to work as an individual. It gives me a lot of flexibility to choose the type of projects I accept. Often times, there is a team, or at least a group of people in place at the companies that hire me, and my job turn that group of people into a team by getting them aligned around an analytics strategy and helping them build sustainable business practices that provide tangible business value to the company. Sometimes my work involves implementing new technology, but more often it is simply putting to better use what is already there. I’m just a temporary leader – a catalyst.
4. A lot of the independent consultants that we place with our clients are very tactical. They are often either focused on the technical aspects of implementation, reporting, or writing analysis on data sets… My impression is that your experience (at least your recent experience) has been more strategic. Are you able to / willing to do these types of more tactical engagements, as well?
a. I started my career in analytics, back in 2001, defining reporting needs, building complex report configurations, pulling and analyzing data sets, and recommending changes to user experience to drive improvements in conversion rate. I made a lot of money for my clients doing this type of work, and I still like to do it from time to time. I’ll often roll up my sleeves and do this type of work as part of a more strategic turnaround engagement. It’s important to be able to show the team on the ground how to put the data to work, if they don’t already know how.
Would I take on a tactical engagement like this without the strategic component? Sure. I’m doing some tactical work right now for a company I have a long-standing relationship with. That tactical work is a good way to get it and show value. If I’m doing my job right, I can show the company how an investment in a strategic engagement will yield far higher dividends than they’re already getting from the tactical work.
5. How do you plan to market yourself… get your brand out there?
a. Well, there’s the Greater Returns blog, which you can read at www.greaterreturns.me. I’m also very lucky in that I’ve been in this business for a while and have built a lot of relationships over the years. Most of my work so far has come from those relationships. The type of work I do can have a significant impact on the internal success of the executives who hire me. The best marketing I can have is word of mouth and personal recommendations from these executives.
6. What is your greatest challenge at this early stage?
a. Honestly, the biggest challenge right now is smoothing out the flow of projects and revenue. I’m still in the “feast or famine” cycle that is so common with consultants. I would like to smooth out the cycle so that I don’t have a lot of down-time between engagements, and don’t have too many stacked at the same time.
7. If you had things all your way, what would your professional life look like in 5-years?
a. This is such a funny question. When I look back at how I’ve answered this question in the past and compare that answer to where I am now, it never lines up. So, I don’t really believe in the question itself. The world is full of opportunities and I’m sure I will come across some in the next five years that I can’t even fathom right now. That said, if I had all things my way, I’d be able to work 9 months out of the year, spending most of the summer with my kids. They’re a lot of fun to fly kites with.