Just recently I left my, what I assume to be, last desk job ever. After 10 long years and 30lbs of weight fluctuation between jobs, I've decided that I've had my fill and frankly programming for a company is nowhere near as complex or fulfilling as college professors make it out to be. Looking at you Mr. Jones. And so without any real prior knowledge or experience I have begun the freelance path in life, and so far, it's very...interesting. It's only been a few months and today I'm way better off than I was when I first started, but it's still unfamiliar territory for the most part and I have a long way to go. So today I thought I'd share a bit of that process with everyone to give a better idea to those looking to do the same in their lives and give an idea of how it's going.
Say goodbye to your stable paycheck
One thing is for certain. I kind of miss a stable paycheck. Just knowing that the week after next I was going to be rewarded with rent and foods money was the motivation I needed to sit in a chair for 8-12 hours 6 days a week. But a part of me also kind of doesn't miss that repetitive pattern. Those paychecks never really feel earned to me. And that's mainly because I get paid regardless of the work that's assigned to me that week. Maybe it's a slow week. Maybe I spend it just making a single report that may or may not get looked at.
Going freelance means that I'm free to charge whatever I feel is right. Maybe I can build you a website for $300, or maybe I can charge you $3000 for a custom business idea that you may have. Or maybe you only have $1000, but you really need a site for your company. Then we'll work something out. There's something archaic and historic about charging someone what you think is right for a job. Nowadays everything has a set price, and that's unnatural I think. And it also gives this idea that owning a website is far out of most people's reach, when in reality, it really shouldn't be.
People Don't Know They Need Websites
I've noticed that most people with small businesses don't realize the benefits that come with having a website. Not only is it a strong branding tool, but it also, obviously gives owners the opportunity to sell their business to potential clients. It's important to let people know this. So a good part of my meetings with prospective clients is running through the pros and cons, for their particular case, in building their ideas.
When the bills come knocking, you can only hide for so long. Cold calling is just as chilling as it sounds. You call people you've never met before just to get a good 30 seconds to interest them with certain keywords. It's normally used in sales, and technically, I am in sales now. I'm selling my services as a web developer. Much like the vacuum cleaner salesman of the 1950's, I too am showing you how amazing a website is, and how it can make your day that much better.
But because this is 2016, for me it's more like "Cold-Emailing", with a splash of code-calling. Sending out dozens of emails to small businesses, linking them to my own website, and giving them free consultations I found is super important. Particularly because since I'm new, my phone isn't exactly ringing off the hook just yet. But there have been times when talking to the prospective client has shown them that I can indeed build what they're looking for.
I inform people of what I can offer them and I let them know that I'm always free for a chat about their ideas. And so far, people seem to appreciate that personal touch. Some let me know that they aren't interested, while others take me up on the free consultations even though it doesn't lead anywhere. And of course, some have liked what they heard and we went ahead and moved forward with a project.
This one is important for me. More than likely you have hundreds of small privately owned shops in your neck of the woods yourself. From a quick Google search, I found small plumbing shops, restaurants and coffee shops in my part of town, and many of them don't have websites. They rely on sites like Yelp, YellowPages and Facebook in order to get their name out. So paying them a visit and saying hello definitely doesn't hurt. I've emailed a few of these businesses and it's always nice to get a reply with someone who's interested and would like to set up a meeting, even if it's just a meeting at first.
All About Quality
The inevitable goal is to become my own brand. To have worked with enough clients that I no longer have to go out and look for them. And that's going to require some time. Elon Musk didn't start off with a spare rocket in his backyard. He shared a computer with his brother in an office that he slept in and took turns working on it. But once his product was complete, he did the same thing. He went out and found people to buy it. Then another person. And another. And finally that one important person that just wanted to buy the whole thing.
So it's important to do a good job and leave a lasting impression. And that does indeed require time. If you asked me 5 years ago to build you a website, you would hate it, and then in turn you would hate me. Nowadays day, it's almost second nature for me and I've built up quite the toolset to aid me in making SEO friendly, responsive and complex sites.
Turning Down Work?
Client acquisition has a surprisingly low conversion rate when you're going solo, and that's mainly because someone has to take your word for it that you can do the job. So unless a client wants to re-build Amazon for 50$, which has totally happened to me, then I'm taking the job. In the beginning, you need clients to build up your portfolio. I.E. I need more clients to build up my portfolio. I have a few for sure, and it's great to see that list slowly grow. But it's almost an entirely second job to acquire new clients, so when the opportunity arrives, I'm for sure taking it.
Feel Free To Hire Me
Which brings me to my last point. Feel free to send me message if you're in need of a website :) I've been a full stack developer for the better part of the last decade. I've worked for several Fortune 500 companies in my career and I own and operate about a dozen of my own websites. I can build anything from small scale marketing sites, to full business solutions. And I of course offer free consultations, so if you have any idea but aren't sure where to take it, feel free to send me message and we can go over it.
A Few Last Words
So far, so interesting. Going freelance is a tough choice and it took me 10 years to decide to do so, and I think most of that comes from both getting too comfortable at a job and a certain ego boost that comes from having a stable and relatively high paying job. Once I grew out of that phase though, I realized I had more freedom to work how I want and with who I want. But once again, it's tough. It's almost like starting a career over. I have to figure out many many things, such as how to find clients, how to charge clients, how to work without someone telling me how and when to do it. But it is several times over more fulfilling than spending my last decade in life making money for somebody else.
As this journey continues, I'll be sure to post about the progress and the successes and failures that will undoubtedly accompany it on this blog.
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Walter G. is a software engineer, startup co-founder, former CTO of several tech companies and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He has been blogging for the past 5 years and is an avid BMX rider, bio-hacker
and performance enthusiast.