I’m not in a huge rush to leave full-time employment any time soon but I firmly believe in maintaining multiple revenue streams. I also believe it’s important to celebrate your successes and be proud of your achievements. I thought I’d take a minute to share my freelance progress and lessons learned over the last 15 months for those of you trying to build your own freelance careers.
My freelance career kicked off in March 2012 with a business friend desperate for help with his a bug in his cobbled-together website. It was an easy fix (two hours) and garnered me $150. This client was a tad needy so I neglected to accept any more work from him in the future.
At this point I started actively looking for freelance gigs. http://gun.io/ was the new kid in town at the time and the jobs appeared to be good quality. I picked up a job from an education startup. I neglected to have the client sign any contracts before I started working based on what I perceived to be the “good character” of the client. I did some simple performance optimization for which they paid me half of what they owed me. I attempted to collect my money by sending multiple emails, all of which were ignored. I netted $500 from that job.
The next job I booked was for a former employer. They enjoyed working with me in the past and offered me a part time development contract. Over the course of 3 months I billed them approximately $15k. While I felt good about the work, it was really a favor from an old friend. He offered me the work so I could work on a side project. It never felt like a real “win” but as I’ll explain shortly, it was pivotal.
At the beginning of 2013 I was contacted by an old acquaintance, a founder of another development company we shared office space with. He has some basic Ruby on Rails development work for me. I recently wrapped up this project and was able to net another $15k.
I have recently booked another Rails job from an acquaintance from last year. I did the initial work on his site for my full-time employer. The project is slated to launch in November and will earn me $12k.
I hesitate to divulge my rates in detail but the gist is, I started out at ~$50/hr. Since then I’ve upped my rate to over $100.
My freelance experience has reinforced all the typical advice you read about freelancing so there won’t be anything revolutionary revealed here.
Contracts. Do them. Don’t be lazy. Any sort of contract will do. Even if they seem like good people, do it. It’s a risk-free way to cover your ass.
Be picky. If you don’t need the work, don’t do it. The quick cash is enticing but exercise caution.
Experiment with pricing. Some clients are sensitive to large numbers. Some like the flexibility of hourly pricing.
Avoid remote work with strangers. There’s simply too much risk. The geographical distance leaves open an opportunity to be exploited. Note: good contracts help with this.
Be sure to communicate clearly and consistently. I like to do weekly reports. I was sheltered from this as an engineer; project managers generally handled this for me. But it’s absolutely necessary. A good client can quickly turn sour if ignored.
Realize that seeds take a long time to grow. Some of my most lucrative jobs come from people I met years ago. Mention your freelance work to anyone you think might be a potential client. Plant the seeds. Six months from now you’ll have a lush selection of jobs.
My freelance network has grown very organically. I wasn’t trying to build a vast network but simply doing good work and talking about my availability has inundated me with requests. If you’re at all good at what you do and friendly in the process, you should be getting offers for freelance work nonstop.