I’m going self employed, and here’s why…

Jonathan Denby
Life Hack: Your Story, Experience, etc
7 min readJun 22, 2015


Almost 7 years ago I set out on a path I never expected to be on. A part-time theme park worker, full-time undergraduate of business management at Teesside University and, for want of a better term, apathetic lay-about with a working life identity crisis.

Some context

The early days

I suppose it can be deemed serendipity at it’s finest. The coming together of two university course mates to create, at that time, a small company that simply audited digital presences of businesses and provided them with recommendations of how to improve. Within 6 months of founding this business we’d attained office space, hired two employees and won a decent client base — not to mention we were early dabblers with iOS applications and were now developing websites to fuel our day to day lifestyles and pay our salaries. We even created an mCommerce application before any other bugger (although 99.999999% of credit has to go to Jason Agnew, now of Big Bite Creative, who absolutely smashed making it).

It sadly didn’t all go to plan and I will now, with the benefit of hindsight and a more adult approach to life, happily be the first to step up and admit it. e-Shout, as we had called it, was no more and I was back to working at a theme park on a bit-part basis to pay the bills. I also decided to get an MSc in Marketing, just to give myself even more of a problem.

A bold move

Almost 2 months in to my second stint at the theme park I decided to take a run and a jump at moving to London from my childhood home of Thirsk, North Yorkshire. At this stage I was very much a confused youngster who’s only thoughts focussed solely on the fact I had a marketing MSc. I assumed this gave me every right, along with having my own agency for almost 3 years, to apply for anything I damn well pleased. I was wrong.

One company did take a punt on me though, and I ended up working for a lovely little software house called Dot Net Solutions based in Windsor at the time (right by the Queens other house) but now London Bridge in Central London. I spent 6 months at this lovely little company, but it taught me several things:

  1. I don’t like B2B marketing, or at least not in the world of software.
  2. My identity crisis was still evident. All I wanted to do was get involved in client projects, rather than my own.
  3. The world of digital marketing was a far cry from what I wanted to do in delivering and developing products

Finally in London

I eventually ended up in London after joining Digital Annexe as an Account Manager in early 2012. The role sat primarily with Mercedes-Benz UK, however soon moved to a broad function of digital planning and new business efforts. They proved to be a great challenge and a steep learning curve and, after spending the last few months working with a fantastic talent in a good buddy Iain Reid on trying to found a product division within the agency (and creating a very early prototype in iBeacons before any other bugger did, might I add), I decided to step away after two years to focus on larger clients in a larger agency set-up.

Subsequently what followed was a fantastic year at Somo. I joined as an Account Manager on a handful of their retail and FMCG clients at the time as it was the only role available but a great opportunity to get within the business. The business management were very accommodating and over the year I tried my hand at literally everything — Client Services, New Business, Product Management, Strategy and even Media. With Somo, however, it was simply a case of right place at the wrong time. This want to be able to own the journey of a product and concept from inception to release isn’t possible in Account Management and, with no real vision to be able to move in to the right departments or to be able to be involved in that whole process (given it requires different skill sets and people from different departments in the larger organisation set up), it felt a good time to move and take a small career break for a few weeks whilst I gathered my thoughts and feelings about it all. It’s worth noting as well that the senior management at Somo were fantastic with me leaving — several different exit interviews and a mutual understanding of why I needed to step away. It was particularly refreshing in an age where you watch companies just cut people off.

The final step in the journey to now was 4 months ago in March 2015. I joined hedgehog lab as Client Partner. A step up, for sure, but an interesting and different one nonetheless. In 4 months I’ve seen 2 live products go to market, I’ve owned and run discovery and scoping projects with more start-ups than I can shake a stick at, and I’ve assisted the agency in developing new processes that can help them grow and scale at the outstanding rate they have been doing so in the last few years.

So what now?

I have a few things that I want to tackle, both personally and professionally, which requires me to make drastic changes and re-prioritise everything. The first casualty of this is hedgehog lab but most certainly not on a sour note, and I am sure somewhere down the line given the experience I have had with them that we will somehow work together again.

My first priority, completely and utterly, is to start working on digital projects and with businesses that fit in with everything I am trying to achieve. I’ve worked for a long time now in the Retail, QSR and FMCG space, but also heavily around loyalty, data and CRM. Further to this I will also be focussing much more on my personal “product management” proposition than anything else — something that I feel in the UK is not properly represented or understood just yet.

I’ll also be taking time to focus on my professional future as well. This includes a range of opportunities from developing my own products (watch this space very soon) to developing myself personally and ensuring that the stuff I am doing is always of the highest quality and best standards.

Something which is also very passionate to me is the start-up world here in London. Through my personal networks I’ve met some great people but the guys at WhatLeadsTo (one of the founders I met through Twitter and we agreed to grab a drink — story for another time) in particular are developing a fantastic product and it excites me that I can start to make time to hopefully help the likes of these guys and others develop and build ground-breaking products, both commercially and for social change.

Finally, I’ll be developing my own personal network as well. Since being in London I have found that I keep joining companies that feel very much like families. Week in, week out, I find that these people still play a part to both my personal and professional life and I’ll look to nurture these relationships further in the future.

Then there’s the personal gains…

For the last 2 years there has been a project very close to my heart that I have felt divided and conflicted about being able to give the right amount of time to. One For The Boys, a male cancer charity and awareness campaign here in the UK, is something that will take much more of a leading role in my life from here on in. Working with my good friends Sofia and Emma I genuinely hope that our activities and campaigns can change the way that Men view their personal health.

A big one for me, as I am sure a lot of people will understand when they work away from their hometown, is Family. I am notorious for not spending enough time with them, or being able to see them enough. Self employment gives me that new found ability to be flexible with my work so much so that I can afford to take time to see my Mother, Sisters, Nieces and Nephew, Grandparents and every one else under the sun who sadly falls by the wayside due to a terrible work/life balance.

How about a bit of travelling as well? As I have already said this is something I haven’t actually done and the digital nomad culture is something I am keen to explore. Provisionally planning to visit some friends in Vietnam and Australia, just need to take the jump, and also have the right projects in line to do so.

And I guess finally is personal wellbeing. Something I am keen to maintain, and something which the guys at hedgehog lab have been very accomodating with, is this idea of a healthier and more active lifestyle. It’s a common belief that being more active, and having that healthier approach to life, can lead to a more productive and more proactive function when it comes to work life, and giving myself that time and flexibility to focus on this is something that excites me a hell of a lot.

To conclude

You can probably ridiculously say that 7 years in to my working life I have managed to “find myself” without having to scale the world and without having to travel a ridiculous amount to do so (Sorry for the dig, Chevy!).

It’s definitely too early to be able to tell if this is going to be something successful or whether it’s a very expensive and haphazard way of seeing if something works — I can only see! That being said it’s an exciting path to be on and I hope and pray that it works out.

Also, I should point out that, if anyone has anything that fits in the realms identified above (project opportunities, start ups, going it alone or just a general chat) and would just like to chat it through then please feel free to email me on me[at]jonathandenby.me.uk or try connecting with me over on LinkedIn and Twitter.



Jonathan Denby
Life Hack: Your Story, Experience, etc

Digital Strategy chap. Business Director @MakoLab. Drink too much coffee. Eat too many biscuits.