I’ve been freelancing for about 8 months now, and while it’s been rocky at times, things are finally starting to stabilize. I was unsure of whether freelancing was right for me, but I’ve taken inventory of my situation I think I can keep this up. Clients are calling, finances are not so anemic. Here’s a few things I have learned in my short time as a freelancer.
Never go it alone. Starting a new business by yourself is not only intimidating, it can be dreadfully lonely too. Try to find a mentor or an advisor. I’ve been lucky to have a colleague who’s not only a sharp technologist, he’s been nice enough to show me the basics of starting out with freelancing. Programmers are odd people – many of us are introverts and like our alone time, but everyone needs a bit of socialization, even if just to bounce ideas off one another or to help out with a problem. Find a co-working space or share an office with some other developers if you can. Work at coffee shops or the library. Get out of the house once in a while before you starting acting like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”.
There will be challenging times. Your bank account may start drying up. Work will be hard to find. Being prepared both financially and emotionally for lapses in projects is essential. For the first year or so, be extremely frugal. Save every penny until you build up a regular, dependable client base and have some savings. It seems that December is a slow month for everyone I’ve talked to, so prioritize accordingly. That being said, always stay busy, even if you don’t have any paying work on the table. Come up with a side project – something that interests you personally, learn a new technology, and always engage in networking. Online promotion is of course essential, but most of my work has come from word of mouth. Connect with other developers and companies in the area. Attend a few meetups. Nothing beats face-to-face communication.
When you leave the corporate world for the freelance world, you are trading one set of problems for another. With a full-time gig, you might have to put up with an unqualified co-worker, mismanaged or dull projects, or a long drive-time. With freelancing you are responsible for how you handle clients, how you spend money, how you set up your work environment, what technologies you use, how you pay for health insurance. The difference is you are fully in control of how you address those problems. That freedom is both terrifying and liberating. Being a bit of a control freak, I love this about freelancing. No excuses – if I sink or swim it is completely on me. There are no middle-men. I can choose what projects interest me. I do what works best for me and my clients. Working closely with a client and getting the satisfaction helping them meet their technology goals makes all these difficulties completely worth it. It’s the kind of joy I’ve rarely had when working for someone else.