Episode 58: Salesforce Entrepreneurs with Ankit Taneja

 

 

Ankit Taneja is a self-described Salesforce solo-preneur. He also co-leads the Berlin User Group. In this episode, I’m talking with Ankit about his experiences as an entrepreneur. He also shares some tips and tricks for all of us. 

Not only is Ankit a successful entrepreneur, but he also wrote a master’s thesis in IT forensics and almost got his PhD in that field. It was when he took a break to decide what he was going to do that he found his way to Salesforce. Tune in to hear all the amazing knowledge Ankit has to share.

 

 

Show Highlights:

  • Ankit’s early experiences with computing.
  • How he veered to Salesforce from IT forensics.
  • How he got involved with and eventually became the leader of the Berlin User Group.
  • What it has been like to lead that community during a pandemic.
  • The pros and cons of the freelancer/entrepreneurial lifestyle.
  • What he does to control his day and create a good work/life balance.
  • Tools all freelancers should have.
  • How he divides his tasks to keep his business up and running.
  • The importance of having business licenses and other legal protections in place.
  • How he finds customers and maintains his client base.
  • How to figure out what to charge and how to structure your budget as an entrepreneur.

 

Links

 

 

Episode Transcript

 

Ankit Taneja:

Solopreneurship or freelancing is not, to me, about making money. It’s about giving me the freedom to do the things that I want to do. It can be doing music, it can be baking bread. It can be just having one day free.

Josh Birk:

That is Ankit Taneja, a self-described Salesforce solopreneur, and also a co-lead for the Berlin User Group. I’m Josh Birk, your host for the Salesforce Developer Podcast. Here you will hear stories and insights from developers for developers. Today we sit down and talk with Ankit about his experiences as an entrepreneur and get some tips and tricks from him. But first, we sat down and talk about his early experiences with computing.

Ankit Taneja:

Well, I always liked computers. Unlike the 90% of the Indian community or the Indian IT guys who are doing some other kind of engineering and then moving into IT, I always loved computer science. My dad bought me a Pentium II in 1996 with-

Josh Birk:

Nice.

Ankit Taneja:

… Windows 3.1. I deleted the whole thing because I was like, “Oh, we need more space.” I didn’t know that system things need space. And so, I always love computer science and it was a childhood dream to be a computer scientist because of a classmate’s father was a scientist and he went to France and brought chocolates. And I was like, “Oh, scientists get to go to travel the world because they take part in conferences.” So that was my goal. I like computer science and I want to be a scientist so I can go to conferences and buy chocolates.

Josh Birk:

How successful have you been in going to conferences and having chocolates?

Ankit Taneja:

Quite successful, actually.

Josh Birk:

Nice.

Ankit Taneja:

I came to Germany to do my PhD. I do my master thesis and then probably do my PhD. That was the whole goal. So I did IT forensics. I’m one of those people who’s coming from scientific background into Salesforce world. I did a nice master thesis on IT forensics, so when you have a crime scene, how to get information out of devices. My specialty was audio forensics. You can find my people on Google Scholar.

Josh Birk:

Nice.

Ankit Taneja:

I was supposed to do PhD. My master thesis went really well, but it was pretty elongated because we were getting good results. It went on for 11 months. I took a break of six months in order to decide what should I do my PhD in? That’s when Salesforce came in.

Josh Birk:

Because I was about to reframe my next question, because that sounds like a lot of work in a very specialized field. How did you veer to Salesforce instead of sticking with something like IT forensics?

Ankit Taneja:

Doing my master’s, I grew more interest in IT security, when I was like, “Security is protecting the stuff. I want to be the best. What happens when the security is broken? What happens then?” That’s why I went to IT forensics. In 2010, 2011, forensics was still a developing field and it’s still a developing field. That time we didn’t have so big hard drives. As I mentioned before, I did my masters and I was… I took a six months break where I was like, “Oh, now I have to take some time and think what I want to do my PhD in, like what more part of forensics.”

Ankit Taneja:

I could have worked in a bar, or I went to the university job board and somebody was looking for someone to learn Apex. And I was like, “Okay. So Java, Python, what is Apex? Let me meet this person.” So I met this person. He showed me Salesforce. I was not at all interested. But then he said, “I’m going to pay you double than what a student earns.” I was like, “Well, looks like we’re doing Apex.”

Josh Birk:

What languages were you working in before that?

Ankit Taneja:

I’m a C, C++ guy, because audio forensics is basically reading all the bits, making sense of what kind of file it is you’re… Every file has a signature, and then you make sense of what is this file. Then if it’s an audio file, then you… Like MP3 have frame rates, and using the frame, you carve out of whole, carve out the whole file. It’s called file carving. Then you have all these chunks, and then you make sense of all those chunks together.

Josh Birk:

Got it. C++ allows you to work with all those nice system level libraries, things like that.

Ankit Taneja:

Exactly. Right.

Josh Birk:

Got you. Got you. Okay. So then that solidifies one of the binary questions I ask people a lot on the show, which is, you walked into the Salesforce ecosystem not knowing what the abbreviation or what the acronym CRM stood for.

Ankit Taneja:

Not at all, no chance. Zero. I had no idea that this worlds exist. I was like scientific, science guy, university student, professors. That was my realm. It was reading scientific papers.

Josh Birk:

Now, as you’re getting into the Salesforce ecosystem, it looks like you’ve been a solo entrepreneur the entire time. Is that correct?

Ankit Taneja:

No, not exactly. I joined this guy as a student programmer, and yeah, I was doing it for six months. Now, as a scientist, I was always… I have this curiosity. I’m a curious person. I was like, “Well, what is this Apex? I get into it, and what really attracted me to Salesforce was the governor limits. Back then-

Josh Birk:

Really?

Ankit Taneja:

… you could not do more than thousand things in a list. And I was like, “Well, this is nice because coming from C, C++ world is your oyster to whatever you want, you just need to manage the list and garbage correctly,” and I was like, “Wow. So only thousand things in a list. You can only query up to, I don’t know, back then was five or 10,000 records at a time.

Josh Birk:

Right. Right.

Ankit Taneja:

Being the curious person that I am, I was like, “Well, this is a nice challenge.” Those six months went away quite fast. I gave no thought to my PhD. The guy said, “Do you want to build a company with me, because it looks like you’re interested in this?” I said yes. So we built an ISV. This is where I learned my first entrepreneurship lesson, that you can build a very nice technical product, but selling a product is a totally different ball game.

Ankit Taneja:

You can have best engineered things, but if you don’t know how to sell to it, then it’s not going to work. Secondly, B2B selling is totally different to B2C selling. I was like 23 at that time and I was making the product and my partner was selling. Long story short, ISV didn’t take off as we expected, but we were getting a lot of consulting work because the clients were like, “Hey, can you help us with this?” So we had some success, but it was not paying bills.

Ankit Taneja:

The clients were like, “Hey, can you help us with consulting?” We were like, “Sure.” Slowly the consulting business took of and the ISV business did not take off. Moved to Berlin. Berlin is like the freelance capital of Europe. Got bit by the solopreneurship bug, met other solopreneurs or freelancers over there. Then I told my partner, “Hey, the startup is not taking off as expected. It was a nice journey of three years, but now I want to go on my own.” And then I switched to solopreneur.

Josh Birk:

Got it. Okay. Okay. Well, I want to talk more about freelancing and being a solo entrepreneur. But speaking of Berlin, I also want to call out your work with the local user group. How did you get involved in the user group? And now you’re currently the leader of the user group as well.

Ankit Taneja:

Right. Coming back again from the scientific community, you have conferences and you have get-togethers, and people will come together and talk to each other. As I was getting into the community, so I started with Salesforce in 2012. Then you had a problem, you were creating blogs of Kier Bowden or Abhinav Gupta, all these people. Then slowly you realize, “Oh, there are user groups or something.”

Ankit Taneja:

Then I was like, “Okay, there must be one in Berlin.” I got in touch with… I don’t even remember who was at that time, Sophia or someone, and I said, “Hey, in Berlin, I want to start something.” They said, “Well, you already have a group, and these are the X leaders. Just get in touch with them.” So then I got in touch, and it’s me and Alexis. Yeah, we were like just four people initially just coming together every month, eating pizza, drinking beer, talking Salesforce. Now it’s like 40 people doing the same thing.

Josh Birk:

Nice, nice. I like this constant thread in your life of being motivated by conferences and candy, if including beer as a candy food group, of course.

Ankit Taneja:

Of course. I’m in Germany, mate.

Josh Birk:

Right. Now, the question I’m asking, basically, anybody involved with organizing community, organizing that community, how has organizing events and groups been like in the pandemic?

Ankit Taneja:

It’s been tricky. We just had like the CGL, EMEA CGL hours on two days ago on events day, and it’s been tricky. Particularly for me also, I’m now part of so many calls and there’s like… Meeting like this is just more like a webinar. The real thing that happened at the networking events was you met someone, somebody gave a talk. We always had an open forum. So there was question, answers, and things went for 40 minutes. Add beer to that, 60 minutes. Or people took those conversations outside.

Ankit Taneja:

Of course, in Zoom, you can break out into personal rooms and you can have your private chat rooms. But it’s not the same. So I’m also very wary of organizing just the user group meeting for the sake of it. So that’s why we just did one in July, which was TDX Global Gathering. And then I didn’t do anything. Now here in Berlin, we have a tradition. We have Christmas markets. I don’t know if you know, because you’re in the US. Before-

Josh Birk:

Is that the marketplace that gets put up in a park or something?

Ankit Taneja:

Right. Right. Every area, every city have their Christmas markets, and there are different teams. And you drink something called the Gluhwein, which is warm wine. It’s tasty. You need to get used to it, but it’s tasty. It has cinnamon in it and star anise, and all of that stuff. So we always have our annual meet-up over there. They have an admin combined, like all Berlin groups combined. I just posted today that let’s do a virtual [inaudible 00:10:09] market or a Christmas market one.

Josh Birk:

Got it. Nice.

Ankit Taneja:

That’s because everybody at home drinks some Gluhwein and just it’s been like four or five months.

Josh Birk:

Got it. Nice. Nice. Bringing it back to freelancing, it’s just, how long have you been freelancing with Salesforce customers now?

Ankit Taneja:

2014, 2016, six plus years. If you count the startup before, it was just me and him, and then I was managing some outsource people in India. I also count that in my experience, because I was going to client and doing that. It’s just that money was not coming to me. It was going to a company and then I was getting a salary

Josh Birk:

Right. It was like freelancing with an ISP side.

Ankit Taneja:

Right, right, right, right.

Josh Birk:

Got you. You’ve never gone into the office lifestyle, so to speak. What’s attractive about being a solo freelancer/entrepreneur? What are some pros of that particular lifestyle?

Ankit Taneja:

Again, if you listen to my podcast, I talked to Amnon and Enus about it. Solopreneurship or freelancing is not, to me, about making money. It’s about giving me the freedom to do the things that I want to do. It can be doing music. It can be baking bread. It can be just having one day free. If you look at other freelancers in the ecosystem, like Amnon or Enus, Amnon has his ISV which he’s running on the side. Enus is producing books, courses. I don’t know. This woman is producing lots of card game.

Ankit Taneja:

Freelancing is about, right now, utilizing your skills, working the hours that you want to work, and then having the freedom to do the things that you really want to do or you’re passionate about.

Josh Birk:

Got you.

Ankit Taneja:

That’s freelancing to me.

Josh Birk:

Nice. And then, on the flip side, what are some cons or some of the challenges?

Ankit Taneja:

The challenges of freelancing are, well, initially, it can be a little tricky to find work, and the challenge is saying no to work. Sometimes clients are throwing big money at you and you’re like, “Okay, I don’t want to do this because I have my limitations.” I have been burnt out myself where I was like, initially when I started, I was just taking three or four projects because you were just looking at the hours and the dollars, and then later on you realize, “I have all this money, but I don’t have time to spend.” You need to learn how to set those boundaries and not overgo them.

Josh Birk:

Well, that’s interesting because that feels like a fairly distinct spectrum then, because if some of the benefits of freelancing is that you have flexibility and power over your own hours and how your week is set up. But on the flip side, if you can get consumed by that, then you lose one of the key benefits of being a freelancer.

Ankit Taneja:

Exactly. At some point in my… I didn’t have a home and I didn’t have an office. Everything was just intermingled. So I was waking at crazy hours. I was working at crazy hours in the middle of the night. Then I was sleeping. Then in the evening, a friend says, “Hey, you want to get a beer at the bar?” “Sure.” Then you come back home. As an IT person, because you’re not facing the customer every day, especially if you are a developer, you get your task. Now you have to write this class or feature for the next two, three days. You can plan around it. I lost that work and home thingy. So it took a while.

Josh Birk:

That’s really interesting because that is almost word for word some of the advice that I’ve given people who have now found themselves in remote working, which is if you lack distinction in both your physical life, as well as the structure of how you’re approaching work, it’s really easy to get burned out and stressed out because you don’t have any word of… You have no comfort zone. Everything’s work at that point. Have you found other things that you do to control your day-to-day to ease that work-life balance?

Ankit Taneja:

It might sound a little corny, but I have a girlfriend. And she kicks my butt if I’m working more than seven, or if on the weekend, I said, “Hey, honey, I have to do this.” She’s like, “No, it’s our time.”

Josh Birk:

Nice.

Ankit Taneja:

That helps.

Josh Birk:

Nice. Nice. Okay. I have to be very careful with this segue here, but I miss having a dog because my dog insisted that I take breaks and go… I always say cats are great if you want to stay inside and curl up on a couch. Dogs are great if you actually want to go get sunshine and some exercise. And it’s like-

Ankit Taneja:

Absolutely.

Josh Birk:

Yeah, yeah. I miss that forcing factor in my life. Back when I was a consultant, we would work with contractors and freelancers. I remember one guy, we constantly tried to hire him full time. He was like, “No, because I make…” He was basically a Java developer and he’s like, “Salesforce is so niche that I am making too much money writing Apex.” Basically he’s like, “There’s no way you can afford me.” Do you think that math still holds true that Salesforce is like this niche ecosystem where it’s like you have a specialized skill and therefore you can edge out more money, more pay per hour than a standard Java developer?

Ankit Taneja:

That’s a very good question. Not anymore, to be honest, because three or four years ago when Salesforce was still new… I mean, it was not new. It was 16 years old back then. But in the last five years, it has just been like a hockey stick. And then there are more people coming in. So now these days, that’s why made also the course, because for experienced people like myself, we have that experience on our resume, so that speaks for us. But for anybody else who’s just starting out, it’s not as simple as it was for us.

Ankit Taneja:

Secondly, for us also now, there is cut throat competition. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s business. Now there are new people coming in, which are offering 10, 20… They’re working at 20, 30% less than what I would say I would charge or the other person charge. But you also see that in the quality of work. So there’s a lot of code that comes your way. Then you’re like, “Holy Jesus, [inaudible 00:16:27].” Who did this? Why did this?

Josh Birk:

Yeah. Well, and that’s interesting. I think it’s actually turned into a constant joke on the pod that developer purgatory is your own code from a few years ago. But you’re probably in a situation where you have to deal with somebody else’s code a lot more frequently. So I don’t know if that’s your purgatory. It might be one of the circles of hell or something like that though. How often do you find yourself fixing somebody else’s code?

Ankit Taneja:

Just recently I started something which is basically that, and I texted a friend of mine and he said, “Well, that’s your niche. You have specialized in that. Look at the positives.” And I’m like, “Thanks, mate. Cheers. Now go and…” Yeah.

Josh Birk:

I feel you. I remember distinctly I was part of a three-man software team for a while. I was trying to get our pages to work across like Internet Explorer and all this stuff. I just went into this epic Microsoft rant. My partner was like, “Josh, you realize if all of that stuff worked easily, you wouldn’t have a job here, right?” Right. That’s why they hire us.

Ankit Taneja:

That’s right. But one thing I want to say, see, I also learned with time. I have written triggers in 2012 when I was starting, where the whole logic is in the trigger and there was upsert trigger and there was an insert trigger. I was still working for the same client. Two years later, I got better. I told the client, “Hey, now I know better. We need to have these handler classes. This is not right.” The client said, “No, don’t change the running system. It’s working. I’m not going to pay you extra hours.”

Ankit Taneja:

Even when I left the client, I made a ticket about technical debt so that the next guy who’s coming in or next guy or girl who’s coming in looks at that ticket and says, “Hey, yeah, here is the ticket,” and not just like, “What is this?” I at least expect that. When you are in the market, then I always say to people, “Leave the org as you would like to inherit it.” Even if you have created some technical debt, mention it. There’s no shame in that. We all learn.

Josh Birk:

You were a better friend to future developers than I was. I think the extent of my documentation for my descendants was I would write in a comment, “This is the hackiest thing I’ve done all day,” just as a warning.

Ankit Taneja:

Right, right, right, right. I mean, the code that I inherited recently is also contract C is equal to this, and account is equal to this. I’m like, “Well, there we go again. It’s 2020, what can get worse?”

Josh Birk:

Right. Okay. Let’s start talking about some specifics. I want to get into freelancing. What are some tools that I absolutely should have?

Ankit Taneja:

First of all, a project management tool. Don’t live like… If nothing, get a free Trello board. My life is on Trello.

Josh Birk:

Oh, really?

Ankit Taneja:

That’s very important, to have a project management tool so you can schedule it around. Second is time management tools. Again, as a freelancer, I do not recommend anybody to work five days because it’s also about administrative tasks, like your invoicing tax, all of that. Then you need to spend some time on marketing. I mean, treat it as business. This is where people also lack because most of the times freelancers fail because they don’t have follow-on projects. They get this big project and then there’s nothing.

Ankit Taneja:

You need to market it. You need to keep oiling that machine so that you have a good pipeline. Yeah. So having time management tools, setting aside time. It’s not a tool, but, yeah, a project management tool and time management tool to set aside time for stuff. Billing tool, yeah. That would be, I would say, the tools.

Josh Birk:

Well, and so give me a little bit more detail on that because as a solo act, you’re the whole deal. You’re marketing, you’re your own HR department. You are your back room business office. Roughly, how do you divide up your time? Is it like daily, weekly, monthly, to get all of those tasks done, to keep the business up and running?

Ankit Taneja:

I mean, it’s case by case basis. I mean, I cannot say for every one. But at least for me right now, I can say, so my current schedule is I work three days a week for a client. As you know, I do a podcast, Forcepreneur. So Thursday is marketing day. Now, on Thursday, I’m either recording a podcast or I’m editing a podcast. If I don’t have anything, then I’m writing article or doing something. So I have set Thursday as a marketing day.

Ankit Taneja:

It’s also like, how do you call? Context switching in your brain. When I’m working for a client and I’m doing like custom fields and flows, I cannot think about top five ways to be a freelancer. So I have Thursdays for that.

Josh Birk:

Got it.

Ankit Taneja:

Then Friday is just if any client work is left or if any of those marketing work is left, then that comes into my Friday. I’m single, I don’t have a family right now. You don’t have that much of taxation work too. When you have a family, you might have a lot of bills to file and stuff like that. So Fridays is just also anything that seeps in. Again, as I’m a hobby programmer, so I made this job board, blazenewtrail.com or a [inaudible 00:21:36] Salesforce start resume. So I keep having something. Go to GitHub, you will find something that you’ll be like, “Oh, nice. Let me do this.”

Josh Birk:

Nice, nice. Now here in the States, when I was freelancing briefly, I had what’s called a DBA license or doing business as license. And basically like legitimizes my business name as something distinct from my own name. Then you can also be a bit fancier and do like an LLC or limited liability so that your corporation has a distinct legal aspect. I don’t know how that works in Germany, but talk to me about the importance of having that level of setup to kind of protect you as an individual.

Ankit Taneja:

Right, right, right. Again, in my course, I talk about that. Either, in a nutshell, if you talk US, or EMEA, or APAC. You’re either a single-person company, or you are a limited liability company with single person behind it. If you break it down, that’s two parts to it. When you’re a sole proprietor, then you are responsible for everything that happens in the company. If you do something wrong, if customer sues you, all your assets are available to the court, so if you have a house and everything.

Ankit Taneja:

If you have a limited liability company, then you’re behind that company and your assets are protected. If someone sues the company, then the company gets sued, but your assets are protected. But again, this is like in a nutshell or a overview. I mean, there are more complications in the middle. What happens in Germany is for sole proprietorship, Germans love insurances. There’s a liability insurance that I have basically.

Ankit Taneja:

I have like a [inaudible 00:23:14] position, which is like a lawyer… I have a lot of insurances, mate. Germans love insurances. I even have a bicycle insurance, and it paid. My bike got stolen and I got everything covered.

Josh Birk:

Nice.

Ankit Taneja:

Yeah. It’s two euros a month.

Josh Birk:

Nice. Nice.

Ankit Taneja:

Yeah. I have this liability insurance protection. So if anything happens… I am not registered as a limited liability company until now because I didn’t know about it before. And then I just started like this. Then I continued when I was like, “How do I protect myself?” I have this insurance, so if anything goes wrong, I’m working the client data, and if my system gets hacked and their data gets leaked, how do I protect my back?

Josh Birk:

Yeah. Because it’s better to lose the office and not the house.

Ankit Taneja:

Right, right, right. So it’s important to have. Check out in your areas, I’m pretty sure every country has an insurance or something for that. Or, yeah, figure out. So yeah, it’s either a sole proprietorship or limited liability.

Josh Birk:

Right, right. With the asterisk neither of us are lawyers. We’re not providing legal advice.

Ankit Taneja:

Yeah. Please, please, please. Yes. Yeah.

Josh Birk:

We’re telling you go seek legal advice, and that these are valid concerns. Right.

Ankit Taneja:

This is the money which is well spent. You will sleep so good at night if you have a nice tax lawyer. Like I have a tax lawyer, and I’m from India, so I’m a little cheeky. I went to him and I was like, “Hey, can we do this? I bought this nice 65-inch TV. Can I do this?” And he’s like, “Nope, Nope.” Righteous man.

Josh Birk:

I would also add, on at least my side, my experience was have not just a good accountant, but a moral one, because the small shop I worked with for a while, our boss just brought in his personal lawyer to… Not lawyer, accountant, to tell us what we could expense, which seemed like everything, which actually worried us a little bit.

Ankit Taneja:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You’re absolutely right. I have a very moral guy and I sleep better at night.

Josh Birk:

Nice. Nice. Okay. Once I have all of these things, I need those other things that are called… What are they again? Oh, right, customers. By the way, this is why I fled freelancing because, oddly enough, the Green Silo Trade Magazine here in central Illinois, wasn’t enough to pay my bills as my single only paying client. So as a freelancer, how do you go about finding customers and maintaining your customers?

Ankit Taneja:

Yeah. This is the million-dollar question I get asked 1,000 times. How do you find those customers? Well, basically, as I said before, how does Salesforce find customers, or how does any company find customers? Marketing. You go ahead and you advertise your work. How do you market? Well, in a nutshell, you produce some kind of content, audio, video blog. How does somebody know that you can do the work? You are one in the seven billion? How does someone know you can solve Apex problem? You need to have some kind of network.

Ankit Taneja:

How I started getting my work is basically… Again, so we were doing the Berlin Developer User Group meeting. We were four or five people. Of course, we had pizza and beer, but it was serious stuff. I don’t know how people say they don’t have content to produce every month. In the last four weeks, I’ve definitely learned something, that I can put it on in a 20-minute presentation and put it in. Writing pseudocode is not that hard, but somehow.

Ankit Taneja:

This is how I got started. I was always doing presentations at the Berlin Developer User Group, not to gain customers, but just to attract people. When I was showing that, then people started coming to me because I did a presentation on, let’s say, service load integration with Heroku. And they were like, “Hey, we have a similar use case. Would you like to help?” And I was like, “Yeah. Okay. Why not?” I was just helping for free. But at some point, it was like, “Mate, this is like five days of work.” They were like, “Yeah, what would you like to charge?” And I was like, “Ah, okay.”

Ankit Taneja:

So you need to produce some kind of content. You need to have some kind of identity. Otherwise, you need to differentiate yourself, just like companies are doing. That’s what I’m, again, focusing in my course about, like how to go ahead. No, you need to identify your niche. Today, if you’re blogging about Sales Cloud, you have a long way to go. I mean, go to Bob Buzzard, he wrote a Bible on it.

Josh Birk:

Right. Right. Exactly. Well, then, that’s true. It’s not just content, but don’t tread over trodden ground. It’s content which is new and interesting to people.

Ankit Taneja:

Now look at Narender Singh, like look at Nad07. He took external services and is going with it. So it’s not like it’s end of the world. The other thing is, Josh, that I want to say, people want things to be served them on a platter. Freelancing is not that. It’s hard work. It’s not like, yeah, I’m getting 90 euros an hour. No, it’s hard work, mate.

Josh Birk:

Right. Right. Well, and then going back to your anecdote where they’re like, “How much do you want to charge?” how do you figure out that number? How do you know what the right rate that’s going to be putting money in your pockets while also being attractive to a client?

Ankit Taneja:

Mate, this is rocket science. I cannot tell you this. This is like this big question. How much is the right money? It’s simple math. What you do is you go ahead and see how much do you need in a month? You add your rent, you add your insurances or mortgage, whatever you have, you add the groceries, you add the things that you want to do. You go to the bar, toilet paper, all these things that you need, you add all of that. Then you get a sum. It’s your monthly thing.

Ankit Taneja:

The other thing is you see how many hours you want to work. I work 24 hours a week, like three days. So I go ahead and then add those hours. Then you take that first sum divided by the number of hours. Then you see how much tax you have to pay. So I am single and I am in the highest tax bracket. Thank you, Germany. So then you add that tax on top of that, and then you add a little bit of buffer. I calculate it, for me, at least right now, I don’t have a very hi-fi living standard. For me, it comes around 55 to 60 euros an hour over here.

Ankit Taneja:

Now that’s the simple rate calculation. This is the money that I need in the world in a month. This is the hours that I’m willing to work. Boom, it’s met. On top of that, with the number of years, you can add premium. Now that’s more variable and depending your experience and the niche that you have and the project that you have. That can play. But this is the basic science of calculating rate.

Josh Birk:

Nice. First of all, I think I have to have you do my budget because just what you just described is far more detailed than I’ve gotten into for years. But on a follow-up to that, how do you see the budget… That’s on a micro scale, like what’s the hourly rate you’re going to pitch to the customer. How do you structure your budget over a period of time, more on a macro scale?

Ankit Taneja:

Right. If you want those micro thingies, you can take my course, and there is an Excel which comes with it. So I’ve done it for you. Secondly, on a macro level. What do you mean by macro level? Can you detail a little more, like all the…

Josh Birk:

How do you plan month to month?

Ankit Taneja:

That is your monthly expense, and then you go ahead and extrapolate it to a year. Then, again, in that sheet I’ve also calculated how many vacations I want. So you give your monthly expenses. Then there’s also a column for holidays I want. I also take into consideration that I’m going to this dreaming event, that dreaming event, tickets, the time that I’m not working. So you get that. When you do it for a year or two, you get the idea, okay, this is the amount of money that I need every month to make ends meet.

Ankit Taneja:

I mean, I’m also not going that specific, but I can zoom in and look at that, and just be generous with it. I put in thousand euros, I put in… No, how much do I put? I put 300 euros every month for vacation, but I’m not going. This year we didn’t go anywhere on vacation. Well, that’s wrong. We went once, but yeah. Just in Germany, inside Germany, with [crosstalk 00:31:24]. But yeah.

Josh Birk:

I think these days vacation comes in quotes anyway, so I hear you. I hear you. Do you recommend people keeping things in the coffer in case they get into some lean months?

Ankit Taneja:

Exactly. The golden rule of freelancing is… Please listen to this. Save six months of money in the bank account. As soon as you start working, start saving the money and start… You calculate how much you need in a month, like your gross, not net. And then you start saving that, and you start to save for one month. Then you save for three months. Then you save for six months. When COVID hit this year in April, I was not at all worried. I was worried what will happen with the world, but financially, I have money saved for at least a year.

Ankit Taneja:

So if I’m out of work for one year, I don’t have to worry and I can maintain the same lifestyle. If I reduce my lifestyle like eating at home more than [inaudible 00:32:18] is doing, I would probably survive 14 or 15 months. I have a very good friend. He has saved it for two years. And that guy’s driving a big Audi. I can tell you that too. He’s true German. I am now in German and he’s true German. He has saved for two years and I was like, “Hey, what’s up?” And he was like, “Yeah, I’m cool for the next two years.”

Josh Birk:

Yeah, yeah, no, I got financial advice from an old, old friend of mine, Roger [inaudible 00:32:41]. Roger was like, “You’re like me and you’re chaotic when it comes to stuff. So put money in the bank and forget about it. Just forget that it’s there and then just keep banking it. Then when you need to look at it, look at it,” kind of thing. It’s not your money anymore. It’s just your savings in case something happens.

Ankit Taneja:

And-

Josh Birk:

Yeah, no go.

Ankit Taneja:

Have it in cash. Have it in cash or… Again, I’m not giving any financial advice, but we work in IT. You can invest in a very good blue chip stock, like Salesforce, or Apple, or something that you think, okay, will not crash. So something like that.

Josh Birk:

Nice. Speaking again of COVID and the pandemic, how has that affected how you interact with your clients? Has it changed a lot because you don’t have that face-to-face relationship? Or has technology basically just always been there and you haven’t shifted that much?

Ankit Taneja:

No, it has made a difference. I can tell that. I always say working at a new client is like starting a new relationship, when you started with someone. You need to understand each other’s idiosyncrasies and you try to say, “Okay, how is this person behaving?” You build the expectation, they build the expectation, how to work with you and what do they expect from you, and what do you expect from them in terms of requirements? So it’s building that relationship.

Ankit Taneja:

It’s a little bit easier when you’re in the office. So if you have a question you can always ask them. Of course, Slack, and IM, and Google Chat, and all these things are there. But me and my new client, because I just started two weeks ago, we also had this idea. We just leave our webcams on for eight hours so that I just look, but then it was very weird. Don’t do that. Don’t. With a new client whom you don’t know, you’re welcoming them in your living room.

Josh Birk:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I have a friend who works in an office and they’ve gone remote, and she’s like, “My manager has everybody have their webcam on for six to eight hours straight.” And I’m like, “That sounds like hell.” I don’t want to be worrying about I’m touching my face or-

Ankit Taneja:

Exactly.

Josh Birk:

… of my staring off into the sunset for a little while. I should be allowed to stare off in the sunset for a little while.

Ankit Taneja:

Exactly. Home offices, anywhere is No Pants Day, so you don’t know. But this was not working out. Like you’re putting your finger in the nose and then the guy’s like…

Josh Birk:

Yeah. Yeah. I remember a couple of times, even back in the old days, I would start like a Google hangout, and the other guy was already there. But they didn’t know I was there. And so, they’re just like coding and staring into the screen and they can’t hear me. And I’m like, “That’s a really weird experience. I wouldn’t want that for eight hours straight.” I don’t think it would actually make feel better about the work environment in any way.

Ankit Taneja:

Right. Coming back to your point, what we are doing right now or what I have proposed is that we do one call in the beginning of the day where we just set the tone. We do one call on Monday where we just set the tone for the week, and then ad hoc I write to them if I have a question. He replies on Slack. If I need more explanation, then I say, “I want to talk to you.”

Josh Birk:

Grab a [inaudible 00:35:59]. Yeah.

Ankit Taneja:

Then we probably do it at the end of the day. Then on Wednesday, we do one mid-day talk where it’s like, “Okay, this was done and this is what…” Because I’m also learning new things about the org, and sorry to say, but it’s not a good documented org. So there are a lot of… Can I tell you what I’ve seen new? As a freelancer, I’ve seen so much funny code, like I can write a book about it.

Ankit Taneja:

I’ve finally seen people naming custom fields in German. Let’s say pin code, postleitzahl. Usually, people will call it pin code in English, but they will not use translation workbench. They will call it just postleitzahl, which is the wrong way to do. Here they have given it the German name, and the German API name, and I’m like, “We are back in ’60s. We don’t use English.” So I’m writing code and I’m using German names for stuff. Now it is good because I know German, but Jesus, I was like, “Wow.”

Josh Birk:

Looking at it the first time. Yeah.

Ankit Taneja:

Yeah.

Josh Birk:

Yeah. I can imagine.

Ankit Taneja:

This is a new org, like it’s just made in 2017.

Josh Birk:

Right. Oh gosh.

Ankit Taneja:

I was like, “Wow. Wow. Who did this? I want to go and just shake his hand. Like, amazing.

Josh Birk:

Okay. Tell me a little bit about your podcasts, Forcepreneur. Am I pronouncing that correctly?

Ankit Taneja:

Right.

Josh Birk:

Why did you get into podcasting? Just give me the elevator pitch for the podcast itself.

Ankit Taneja:

Right. Again, I was thinking about… Not thinking, but I was planning to start another Salesforce company, which is now on hold because of Corona. I was also curious to learn more about how business happens in the Salesforce ecosystem. What better way to speak to different entrepreneurs. Now, since I’m speaking to them, I just thought maybe I just press a record button and then share it with everyone, because there are a lot of people who want to start business, and how does business work?

Ankit Taneja:

Even if we’re talking about classic Salesforce consulting work, which is the 80% of business, let’s say, that happens in the ecosystem. I spoke to ShellBlack, or Neena Gupta, Jason Atwood. That was the whole motivation, to learn how does business work, what are the things to do, and how is it different to start a Salesforce enterprise than any other enterprise? Because as the governor limits, Salesforce has its own…

Josh Birk:

Right. We have our own nuances. Yes, we do.

Ankit Taneja:

Yeah. Yeah. Finally you used a German word. Yeah, exactly.

Josh Birk:

Right. That goes out weekly?

Ankit Taneja:

No, I’m right now doing monthly, because I first wanted to test the waters and see if people like it, and I didn’t want to stress myself.

Josh Birk:

Oh, I hear you.

Ankit Taneja:

Yeah. Now I have like… Yeah. Initially, I mean, I thought it would be easy. The first 10 minutes I edited, it took me like two hours to edit 10 minutes, because I was listening to things 10 times. Now I take two to three hours to finish editing an episode start to finish with volumes, intro, outro, everything. So-

Josh Birk:

Yeah. No, I hear you. Sometimes it takes me a good five minutes to get that 10-second intro into those podcasts. So I feel you. I feel you. Now, we’ve mentioned it a couple of times, and I think through the time travel of podcasting, it will have been out by the time we release this. But tell me about the course that you are producing.

Ankit Taneja:

Right. A lot of people asked me, how do you do freelancing? Yeah. How are you doing freelancing, because you are doing it successfully for so many years? I also get a lot of work, so I help other people get work. And so, I put this all together in a course where basically… First of all, I’m not teaching how to get rich. That’s not the idea of this course. Secondly, the course is not for people who have less than three years of experience in Salesforce.

Ankit Taneja:

The idea is when you’re a freelancer, you are a specialist, like clients are hiring you because they believe you’re a specialist and you can do things fast. And they’re looking for quick but solid solutions and they cannot afford a consulting firm more or less. The course is about exactly about that. Who’s a freelancer? What kind of different freelancing models are there? There’s developer, there’s admin, there’s tech lead. There’s a solopreneur like myself who’s a combination of all of them.

Ankit Taneja:

Then how to get about setting a business and how to ensure that you always have a running business. This marketing part is very important. Then how to deal with customers. But the whole idea, of course, is about why I’m saying the word solopreneur, because I think the long-term Salesforce freelancer looks like someone who can do the admin job, who can do the consultant job, and who can also do the dev job. So you go to the client, get the requirements, break it down into chunks, do it yourself, do the documentation, hand it over.

Josh Birk:

Got it.

Ankit Taneja:

That’s the sweet spot.

Josh Birk:

That’s our show. The podcast that Ankit hosts is available over at forceprenuer.com. The course that he has been describing should be available at learn.forcepreneuer.com. Ankit has graciously given the listeners of this podcast a 10% coupon code in the form of SFPOD10. Once again, that code is SFPOD10. Of course, all of those links and that coupon code will be described in our show notes.

Josh Birk:

Now, before we go, I did ask after, Ankit’s favorite non-technical hobby, and well, it’s the little technical as it turns out. He’s an AV guy.

Ankit Taneja:

Music. I have electronic drums and I’m trying to play drums. Right now I’m getting into video.

Josh Birk:

Cool. What kind of video?

Ankit Taneja:

Yeah, so editing my course, but now I’m also now getting into, so now I’m looking at Casey Neistat and all these people and I’m like, “Well, I can do some funky stuff.”

Josh Birk:

We’ll keep an eye out to see if Ankit does any funky stuff with video. I want to thank him for some great conversation and information. Of course, as always, I want to thank you for listening. If you want to learn more about this podcast, head on over to developer.salesforce.com/podcast, where you’re going to hear old episodes, see the show notes, and have links to your favorite podcast service. Thanks again, and I’ll talk to you next week.