First month freelancing.

What I’ve learnt

  • There is plenty of work out there, for someone who knows what they’re doing.
  • There are a lot of web development companies looking for full time developer roles.
  • It’s hard to say no to full time employment when you’re starting out.
  • Most companies will try to bid you down on price, don’t accept straight away. Reach a compromise that works for you both.
  • There are a lot of companies making money producing bad code, there’s money to be made fixing bad code.
  • There are a lot of failed companies with legacy code which now needs to be maintained.
  • Debugging and finding a solution to a customers problem despite having to wade through bad code is fun.
  • It takes time for people to get back to you, to get contracts sorted, to get feedback on work.
  • Waiting is frustrating. Have a side project to work on whilst you wait.
  • Getting payment terms down to 10 days is impossible for some companies, but not for all.
  • If you don’t ask you don’t get.
  • People want to pay you hourly/per project, convince them it’s better for both you and them to pay you daily. I’ll explain why in a future post.
  • Get the specification of work nailed down as thoroughly as you can, it’s mutually beneficial to you and your customers.
  • There’s a lot more to learn.

How I found work

  • Created this blog, hosted it on Rackspace, made it run fast.
  • Emailed web design companies in and around the local area using this Blog as my CV.
  • Posted adverts on Gumtree. ( a free classified ads service in the UK )
  • Posted on web forums for those technologies which I used in their advertisement section.
  • Getting in contact with friends and telling them I’ve started freelancing. ( A big thank you to all my friends who have been incredibly supportive so far).
  • Entered a programming competition, this hasn’t directly lead to work, but I’m hoping might work well for me in the future.
What tools/software am I using

How much money have I made

  • £1,785.25

What’s my plan for next month

  • Continue to satisfy my existing clients producing quality/maintainable code.
  • Branch out and try to find some hosting/long term contracts with monthly recurring revenue.
  • Continue to work on my start up ideas.

Suggestions

Any thoughts or advice you’d like to share for someone starting out would be greatly appreciated.

Posted

by & filed under freelancing, web developer

32 Responses to “First month freelancing.”

  1. sean

    Hey,
    Nice blog post. I have 2 years of web development done in college and done a bit my self, what type of web development did you do for your freelancing was it more advance like php or just html and stuff?

  2. Beef

    Congratulations on getting going! I, too am a freelancer, and have now managed to survive for 18 months on my own, having left an agency that later tanked (a lucky escape, I think). Two things I think you should consider, if you haven’t already:

    1. Get an accountant. When it comes to tax, good accountants pay for themselves
    2. Use Freeagent (my referral link: http://fre.ag/3u6pmr5q) – it’s bloody amazing!

    Hope your freelancing career goes well – I did my first £10K month last month, so yeah, there is definitely plenty of money if you’re any good!

  3. Zack Morris

    I also quit my day job in November of 2010 to freelance full time doing iOS development (no Android yet) and just wanted to add that it’s important to watch out for contracts that are below your price level.

    When money inevitably gets tight some months, it’s tempting to think “ok I can do this job even though it’s only 75% of what I normally charge.” But those are the jobs that tend to suck you in, and you’ll find yourself working for weeks doing general work instead of specialized work, and get paid less for it in the process. So the opportunity cost of marginal work is high.

    I also agree about charging by the day or by the project, not hourly. Also I’ve found that clients are surprised when you can do good work, and are usually more concerned about correctness than schedule. Just don’t let a project draw out too long because your time is money too.

    Zack

  4. Marc Gayle

    I recently started freelancing too – and I wrote a script that gets new leads for me.

    A friend saw it and loved it, and thought that others might pay for a service like that.

    Would you guys be interested in a service like that? Basically, just an email with a handful of curated links to potential leads to your inbox – daily.

    Would love to hear your thoughts.

  5. Mike

    What programming contest, and how do you think it will help you achieve your goals?

  6. Aaron

    About finding work: I’ve done very little in the way of advertising and searching through gigs myself. What’s worked well for me is local networking — going to development events and talking to people. It’s amazing the kind of opportunities that come to you when you’re not even trying, after you meet other developers.

    For example, my main client currently was a referral from a guy I met at a local Python meetup. I didn’t ask him for work, and it’s not even a Python gig. The client sorely needed a front-end developer at the time, and I was in a good position to take the gig and get started at a moment’s notice.

  7. Rasmus

    Fixing bad code might be fun initially. You might feel productive, being able to quickly fix issues here and there, thinking “I’d never write code like that! Who were these morons?”.

    Here’s the problem though: If you fix it, you own it. The client will forget exactly what bug you fixed, instead believing “this should work by now. After all, you fixed some bug like this, didn’t you? I mean, you fixed crashing, right? But now it’s crashing again? Weren’t we clear on that? No crashing!”.

    Soon you’ll find yourself owning code you only partially rewrote, in worst case still fundamentally flawed from a design perspective, without time/money permitting a proper rewrite. Then a new, shiny project comes along, demanding all your time. After all, you can’t sit around waiting for the next problem to occur on the old project, right?

    So, project passes to the next consultant, soon laughing at the same fundamental flaws. “Who were these morons?”…Well, who touched it last?

    If you fix it, you own it. Charge for ownership, and charge well, because you might need to set aside time for proper fixes and fundamental rewrites down the line, when realize the extend of the problems – and this is most often time that’s hard to bill.

  8. admin

    @sean There’s been a big difference in the range of work. I have helped smaller companies install plugins, modify existing scripts very basic stuff. Other times I’ve been working on advance PHP projects. The bigger money is obviously in the more advanced work as it takes time and knowledge to get the skills to handle the work in the first place.

    @beef Thanks, that amount of money is incredible, is that single projects or are you at the stage now where you getting recurring incoming? I will be checking out freeagent :).

    @zackmorris. Thanks Zack. I’ve found that too, and I’ll be honest it wasn’t something I was expecting at all, I thought most clients would be concerned with the result and not the quality, I’m very pleased to report that for me that’s not been the case.

    @Marc That is something I’d be interested in, I saw your comment on hacker news too and I agree with others a free month signup first would be needed to review the quality of the leads before purchasing.

    @Mike You can read more about the competition here http://alanhollis.com/silicon-milk-roundabout-coding-competition-final/

    @Aaron I think this is definitely something I’m going to have to work on more. It’s unfortunate now that where I’m base pretty much requires me to get a car to get around. Moving back to central London is an option, but not one I’m considering at the moment. I’m debating whether mingling at events not specific to coding, but in industries where coders are required would be worth it?

  9. Aaron

    I’m in Phoenix, AZ, so the idea of NOT needing a car to get around is a bit foreign ;-)

    Events not specific to coding might produce some leads, but in my experience other developers usually give you the best leads — either subcontracting for them, or passing along leads that aren’t a fit for them (too busy, outside area of expertise, employed full time). They’re often more lucrative than the type you might get from business people too (building a cookie cutter marketing site for someone isn’t that exciting).

    I’m not that charismatic, but it helps that I genuinely enjoy going to tech events and mingling with others. So whether or not I get leads, I don’t count it a loss.

  10. admin

    @rasmus Thank you very much, that is awesome advice, You’ve brought up a number of points that I hadn’t thought about for one second, and I’ll definitely have your words in my head next time I quote for fixing bad code.

  11. Jan Lukacs

    Hi Alan,
    i’d like to help out by offering you a free account with Paymo in case you will have clients that require you to track time. You can also use our tool to manage projects and to create invoices. Send me an email if you’re interested.
    Good luck with your new freelancing career!

  12. PJ Brunet

    I agree with many of the conclusions. How many phone calls are you getting? In my opinion it’s a sign of desperation. It’s a bit like dating–if you’re very attractive then you’re literally hard to get. At the other end of the spectrum is the unscrupulous business that will promise anything to anyone–just call the free hotline. I tell my clients phone calls are for emergencies. On the other hand, if you enjoy talking on the phone (and/or you’re desperate for more work) it might be a good idea to put your phone number out there.

  13. Eric

    I gave the freelance thing a go a few years ago. Did it for about 2 years. I liked it, but then I got a job offer I just couldn’t turn down. You mention wanting to get some long term hosting contracts. I thought the same thing, but it turned in to a nightmare. The more hosting clients you have, the more work you have that isn’t related to coding. Margins on hosting is MUCH lower than coding, so I would stick with that. I know consistent cash flow gives you a warm and fuzzy, but it comes with a big cost.

  14. Ian Johnson

    I just put in my 2 weeks notice last week. I’m excited for the future and the challenge of managing my own time!

    I’ve racked up several leads from being active in local development events around the javascript library I use (d3.js). I’ve built up a network of other coders and designers who are now finding ways to help me out, we initially connected over mutual interests and people love to help out a friend.

    I would also really recommend attending hackathons, they make for a pretty intense weekend, but I’ve gotten several connections and unsolicited leads during and shortly after participating. You get to meet like-minded people and most of them are put on by companies scouting for talent.

    Good luck!

  15. Marcin Mincer

    Considering your daily rate it seems that you have worked for 7 days this months. Is that true? Do you bill for preparing analysis and contracts etc.?

  16. admin

    @jan Thanks I’ve signed up for a freeaccount, I’m mostly interested in the android app, however as stated in the post I’m much more interested in daily billing which means keeping track of time isn’t a priority at the moment.

    @PJBrunet Not many phone calls to be honest, mostly emails. It’s weird actually I’ve had several meet ups now where I’ve not used the phone once, purely email based. My phone number is in the header of this blog, all be it not very large and not with a huge call to action. Despite being on the front page of hacker news I’ve not had one call.

    @IanJohnson Good luck ian, it’s existing, the hardest part is staying motivated although I find once I’m stuck into the code the hours whistle away like they didn’t exist anyway! It’s amazing what you can achieve working at home without the distractions of the office!

    @MarinMincer A bit more than than that, unfortunately I haven’t got exactly £250 from every client so far. And finding work, is work ;). I have had to negotiate as it’s early days, and work for a reduced rate is better than no work. I haven’t yet taken the first offer any company has offered me though, hence my advice in the post to negotiate. I’ve not billed for preparing analysis and contracts so far as this hasn’t taken up too much of my time. I have technically worked and travelled for free too to get work, which is something I probably won’t do again in future.

  17. admin

    @Eric I’ve pretty much heard the same thing. I want to sell my hosting based on quality/service not on price, which I hope would provide the margins. I’d be looking for clients with a much larger monthly spend on hosting than the typical $10 – $30 bracket. Value adds like making sure the site is running fast/optimised properly for the software running would be my selling points. I also love this type of work almost as much as I love coding :).

  18. Veronica

    Great post Alan, a great story of self entrepreneurship. As the Romans said, “ad maiora”. And if you wish to save some time in getting “contracts sorted”, feel free to peruse Docracy, our e-signing service is free and legal, and we even have some web development contract samples open sourced there.

  19. Sam Richardson

    Great read. We’re trying to fix a few points that you came up with in your post by working locally (at the moment, just in Melbourne, Australia) and promoting high quality freelancers to high quality agencies through an email list (called “Dragonfly”).

    The biggest problem we want to solve is when people start trying to bargin you down on price. For good agencies price isn’t an issue, quality of work is. By curating what freelancers are on our list it means no-one is competing with each other on price and we avoid freelancers having to work with cheap agencies.

    If you are a freelancer or agency based in Melbourne, I’d love to hear from you: [email protected]

  20. Chris

    Great summary. I’ve recently started contracting (also in the UK), and have found that if you know how to market yourself, there is a great deal of demand. If you’re ever having a slow month, it’s worth considering a short-term contract (plenty of <= 1 month roles about on sites like Jobserve). I also outsourced my accounting to Crunch, who do all of my invoicing and accounting (including the tax stuff), just to avoid any potential headaches from HMRC.

  21. Tom

    Nice post – I’ve been thinking about trying my hand at freelancing too, so I’ll be following your blog with interest. Thanks!

  22. Billy

    6.5 years in, here’s my 2 shillings:
    -Don’t compare income to friends’ salaries: you’ve left the rat race
    -Bill for completed work ASAP. Rigidly adhere to your payment agreements and delinquency terms
    -Some months you bank big — others considerably less so. Don’t buy a Ferrari too early
    -Find alternate work environments to stay productive and happy
    -Take the large cut of projects that need some farming out. You will spend more time communicating, managing, and delegating than it seems

  23. admin

    @Veronica Thanks I’ll check it out!

    @SamRichardson. I haven’t actually worked with any agencies yet. I’m surprised it’s the agencies trying to get the price down I would have thought they would have been trying to get the best prices for their contractors.

    @Diego. The first couple of jobs I invoiced hourly but billed daily so just divided the total daily rate by hours and due to rounding left with me with the £0.25. I didn’t think about it until now but I bet the client found that odd.

    @Chris Thanks Chris, do you have any feedback on how best to market yourself? I’ve not considered contract work yet, as mostly people want you to work with them in their office which is what I am trying to avoid working this way.

    @Tom Thanks tom, if you’re thinking about doing it do it! :)

    @Billy Thanks for that. It’s one thing that I’d neglected to mention in the post actually, bill as frequently as possible, especially when there’s no negotiation on payment terms.

  24. joe

    ‘a month’ is ambiguous. how many hours? and how much coffee? these are real units of work out in the field.

    • admin

      @joe I’m not entirely sure on hours, all I can say is a months worth of time passed and that was the financial result at the end of it. Oh, and I only seldomly drink coffee, so perhaps only a cup or two for the month ;).

  25. Glen Scott

    Great post, Alan. I’m also a relatively new freelancer, so a lot of your experiences resonated with me.

    I wrote a couple of posts about my experiences with freelancing, particularly the administrative side of things which you may want to check out:

    Going freelance part 1: http://www.glenscott.co.uk/blog/2011/09/21/going-freelance/
    Going freelance part 2: http://www.glenscott.co.uk/blog/2011/09/23/going-freelance-part-2/
    Going freelance part 3: http://www.glenscott.co.uk/blog/2012/01/09/going-freelance-part-3/

    One great piece of advice that I took on board is that you should always be on the hunt for your next job — even if you are snowed under with work. It’s better to have things lined up, rather than coming to the end of a project and then hunting. But even if you have no paid work — don’t panic. There are lots of opportunities out there, and something will come along, perhaps when you least expect it!

    Good luck with your freelance career!

  26. admin

    @Geln Thanks glen, I read through your posts. I’ve found Siwapp does a great job so far for my invoicing needs, and my simple receipt tracker software does the rest. I’m conscious of all these other applications which seem to do much more than I need at the moment. I like the simplicity and therefore the speed of what I’ve currently got.

    I’d be really interested in any tips you have on how to find work.

  27. Kate

    @SamRichardson… sounds like you are promoting your startup. Considering you’re generalising (obviously basing your assumptions on past misguided experiences) we would never make anyone work on low rates, as that sets a precedence out there for professionals to be undermined — especially in this world of crowd-sourcing. Sounds like you are referring to some of the sharks out there but I would say they’re a minority and wouldn’t even give them the time of day. Coming from a design background myself, I appreciate where freelancers are coming from and value their expertise, and would never negotiate low rates. Treat those as you expect to be treated yourself and you can’t go wrong. I love the people who work with us; we rely on building solid relationships based on trust and transparency (we certainly don’t hide behind a fancy interface swirling out mindless propoganda on the fourms and blogs as cheap seo, with the aim of gobbling up hoards of people to build a DB to potentially sell off later… hmmm…). We’ve been running our agency for twenty years and remain indie. We know what we’re talking about and how to fulfill a brief and bring the right talent together for not only the job at hand but for the personalities involved. My advice is to avoid all the smoke and mirrors out there on the ‘net these days, and warn people to research who it is you are passing on your details to and make the right judgements as to who you are working with. If you do a good job for people then you can rely on referrals for return business… good luck everyone!

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