I get a lot of reader questions about freelancing. People interested in freelance web development or freelance mobile development or what have you. I applaud the desire to go free agent, and I think you should do it.
But I think you get a lot of bad advice about how to do it. Bad advice at a philosophical level, that is.
Today I’m not answering a specific reader question, though. Instead, I’m just going to talk about going freelance.
I did this years ago and have had a good run. But I really wish I knew then what I know now. Hopefully I can help you get to joy a lot quicker and in less roundabout fashion than I did.
And don’t worry. I’ve stated that you’re asking the wrong question, so I will, eventually, get to what you’re probably wondering — what is the right question?
Freelance Web Development? Here Are Some Tips (That Help Us Make Money Off You)!
If you google advice about freelancing as a developer and about freelance web development, specifically, you’ll probably find a lot of advice from a certain kind of site. Fiverr, Upwork, and Toptal are all happy to help. They’ll tell you how great it is, saying things like:
- Be your own boss!
- Have work-life balance.
- Choose your projects.
And they’ll offer you advice, like:
- Beef up your breadth and depth of tech stack knowledge to have the most opportunities.
- Build up your portfolio so that you can show it off.
- Create and promote your personal brand through a website, user groups, conferences, etc.
- Get your business affairs in order.
All of this is actually good advice for your immediate future. Full stop. This stuff will help you blast out of your salaried job and into the world of self employment — they’re right about that.
But here’s the rub. All of these sites are providing advice to you on how to be a good product for them to sell. Think of these the way you’d think of recruiters giving you job search advice.
They want you to do an excellent job with the next stage of your career and go exactly no further. This makes sense, since they earn their revenue pairing freelancers with companies in need of short term labor.
Freelance Development is Basically Just Job Hopping
If this whole thing sounds familiar, it should. It looks an awful like recruiters helping you from job to job as soon as you’re willing to jump.
The world expects you to jump as a freelancer, but feigns shock when you do it as a salaried employee. Freelancers jump — it’s what they do.
But make no mistake — the difference is only that you jump perhaps a little more often and that people expect it.
Do you want to know what I thought freelancing would be like when I started? I’m actually chuckling a little as I type this.
I’d had some moonlighting gigs in the past where I did 5-10 hours per week of work in my spare time for someone. So I just assumed that I’d find 4 app dev clients that wanted about 10 hours per week of work.
I’m not chuckling because this was or is a stupid thing to assume. I’m chuckling in irony because of how much the world turns out not to work that way.
You get into freelancing assuming that you’ll have a bunch of clients and diversity of work, handling multiple projects at once. But what you’ll wind up doing is taking sequential gigs with periods resembling job searches in between.
This is a Hamster Wheel
You’re going to need something more than this, eventually.