I’ve always wanted to work for myself. Last year I starting doing just that.
This is what I’ve learned so far:
Working out what to charge is probably the hardest part of working for yourself. When I first started out I was undercharging. It quickly became apparent that freelancing wasn’t a viable career choice if I wanted to maintain or better my standard of living.
My advice for others now would be to follow a formula similar to as follows:
- Take the salary you’d want to earn as a full time employee.
- Double it.
- Divide your doubled salary by the amount of days you’d work as a regular employee.
- This is the minimum rate you should charge per day.
If your thought process is anything like mine once was, you’ll think this figure is ridiculously high, it’s not.
Not only does charging more help you realise your financial ambitions, increasing your rate also attracts you to better projects, and once working on those projects helps with the amount of influence you can impose.
Be cautious choosing clients
A lot of freelancing is being able to understand who a good client is and a bad client. We as developers are incredibly privileged right now, supply seems to be heavily out striping demand and therefore we can afford to be picky. I’ve had multiple occasions where my gut has said this client doesn’t feel right and therefore decided to turn down the work. There are plenty of other fantastic clients out there and I’m happy to say my gut so far has always been right.
Retainers are a great way to add security to what is ( or can be ) a pretty uncertain financial path, however they don’t come without risks. You have to make sure any retainer you agree to works for both you and the client. If the client is asking for 24/7 on call support you either need to refuse, or charge enough for this support that you could then afford another two of you to look after the customer. Turning down a retainer when I was just starting out freelancing is probably one of the best decisions I have made so far.
Focus on selling to companies
I now truly believe that anyone wanting to be a successful freelancer should be focusing almost all of their attention on working with/for companies and not individuals. My reasons for this are as follows:
- Companies spend money on solving problems.
- Companies will spend more money for you and your experience.
- Companies want code that’s been written properly. They’re willing to spend more in an attempt to guarantee that quality.
Keep in contact with all you colleagues old and new
The highest paid work I’ve received so far has come via referrals from my old work colleagues. I always try to maintain the very best relationships I can with everyone I’ve worked with. I’ve been surprised on more than one occasion by where and who new leads can come from.
I’ve also had the opportunity to send leads to other developers I’ve met during my first twelve months. I really enjoy this aspect of freelancing, and it’s one I hope to increase, and make profitable in the future.
How’s did the last year go:
Last financial year the accounts show a gross profit of £49,265.25. Approximately £2000 of this was earned from retainers, the rest has been earned via a mixture of various short term projects. This is more than I thought I would achieve in my first year, which is fantastic. In the future I want to focus more on recurring revenue streams, either by building products, or selling suitable retainer/maintenance contracts.
With my work life balance
I “worked” less and earn’t more than I ever have done on my life so far, which can only be defined as a success. It’s not all been plain sailing, freelancing has at times been incredibly stressful and the biggest single cause of that stress is the worry of finding that next pay cheque.
To mitigate this I’ve built up a bigger financial reserve and taken on a longer term project. This has come with certain lifestyle sacrifices ( I’ll be working more ) but with the gain of greater security ( I’ll be paid regularly ).
That being said, freelancing and not knowing exactly what’s next or what’s coming around the corner is exhilarating I’ve worked on projects I wouldn’t of believed existed, worked for companies of every possible size in multiple industries, and met some incredibly talented people, all this in just twelve months.
The biggest success I’ve had in promoting myself is this blog which now sits at roughly number 2 for the phrase freelance PHP developer on UK search results. This is resulting in around 2-3 leads a week without any effort on my part on optimising the conversion process. I can attribute this to three simple steps:
- Make your blog fast
- Not being afraid to submit posts on social media sites ( A big thank to the Hacker News community )
- Sharing knowledge
All of these posts so far have been filled with empty promises I’ve not achieved, so my goal for the next year is simply this :
To have fun and continue to build on what I started last year.
I’ll end this post the same way the post first month freelancing ended and that’s asking for help. Any thoughts or advice you’d like to share with someone a year into their freelance career would be greatly appreciated.
Feel free to discuss this post on Hacker News.