My first 2 months as a Freelancer and what I’ve learned…

So in mid-October I made the jump from being a permanent employee to being a freelance web developer, and I have to say that so far I absolutely love it!

I thought I would share some of the things I’ve learned over the past couple of months with you.

My final day at my ‘proper’ job was Friday 18th October. The following Monday I took a leisurely walk into town, sat in a cafe and had a cup of tea, made one phone call to an agency I had been in touch with a few weeks earlier about possible projects, and landed my first freelance gig starting the following day!

Now I’m under no illusions that throughout my freelance career I’ll get the work coming in as quickly as this first role, but this fact quite nicely illustrates my first learning point, which is:

Availability is king!

I made that phone call on a day where the agency had just landed a large project and they would need to bring in external help for. Talk about good timing – but that’s what being freelance is all about! There’s a very short window to secure a project (especially if you’re working with agencies as they move ridiculously fast!). If I had made that call a few days earlier the project wouldn’t have been signed off, and if I called a few days later the agency would have already found someone to do the project!

Also I’ve had to turn down at least 3 possible projects over the past month because I’m still working on my first project. I could get stressed out about this, thinking of those lost opportunities, but I’m taking more of a Zen-like approach and accepting that it just wasn’t meant to be, and there will be opportunities where I am available. It’s all about timing!

Networking really works!

The software industry has a great community and the opportunities to widen your network are practically slapping you in the face! There are so many meetups, hack events, conferences etc. that there’s simply no excuse not to get out there and make new connections. You never know where that next piece of work is going to come from!

Because I’ve been doing IT for a while now, I’ve already got a decent number of connections. One thing I found which was really heartwarming, was when I announced I was becoming a freelancer a good number of my connections have stepped forward to help me out! So far in the past 3 months I’ve won one website contract, pitched for a website rebuild project, landed a few days consulting for a friend’s company and been approached to do a couple of days on-site AngularJS training! The power of networking – it’s totally worth it!

Tell people you’re available

You can’t expect people to make the effort to come to you to ask if you’re available for a contract when you’re just starting out and have no reputation (although it’s always nice when they do contact you instead of the other way round…). You have to shout about the fact that you’re available – update your LinkedIn profile (this works really well in getting the news out there!), tweet about it, update your website’s ‘About Me’ page (you do have a website don’t you?).

I found my first project through Twitter. I follow a number of digital agencies that use the same technologies that I do (Umbraco CMS if you’re interested). In the run up to going freelance I sent my CV out speculatively to a whole load of them, and got a few positive responses. I put these positive responses onto a short list that I followed up with when I was actually available.

Also even now while I’m unavailable I still keep in touch with these contacts, and try to help them out if possible. It’s about building a good working relationship even if you’re not working together at the time!

Pick up the phone.

Someone somewhere on the internet at some point has probably said that it’s easy to say ‘no’ to someone via email, but harder to say ‘no’ to someone if you’re speaking to them. Picking up the phone and ringing a prospective customer is something that goes against the often introverted nature of software developers, but you have to take responsibility for getting yourself out there. Nobody is going to feel the slightest pang of guilt saying ‘no’ to a faceless email – pick up the phone and make a personal connection in order to create opportunities!

Get an accounting package

So the past couple of months I’ve spent most of my evenings learning stuff I never thought I would have to learn, from setting up a payroll, preparing and completing my Corporation Tax returns, registering my company for PAYE, and learning all about IR35 legislation. It’s been confusing and often frustrating, but it’s essential to get all of this stuff sorted out right at the beginning, so you can run your company efficiently and without the added headache of trawling through a shoebox of receipts at the end of the tax year, trying to figure out where they came from!

One thing that has proved invaluable already is setting up an accounting package. I use Kashflow which I chose because it’s a good price, and also includes a Payroll module (though the two aren’t fully integrated yet). The only downside is they bombarded me with marketing calls during my free trial, to the point where I was considering finding another package altogether! But if you can live through the phone spam, it’s worth signing up to the platform and getting stuck in.

Order and Method

I spent my first couple of weeks working at my my kitchen table or on the sofa. “Living the dream” – or maybe not. I had back pain, my wrists hurt, and I hardly left the house at all during the day, so I wasn’t getting any exercise either! So I rented a desk in the center of town, which not only gave me a proper set up (one of the things I struggled with working from home was not having that second monitor, a real keyboard and mouse!) it also added some structure and routine to my day. I now have a pretty established routine – I get up at 6am and do an hour’s work before having breakfast with my family. We then walk in to work together, dropping my daughter off at nursery on the way and I spend a solid 7 hours in the office. I leave the office bang on time, and pick my daughter up on the way home.

By working this way I stick to a routine (I like routine), I have the evenings free to spend with my family (yeay), and learn more oh so exciting accounting principles (not yeay)!

There are of course days when I have to pick up more work in the evenings, but that’s fine because I’m able to juggle my workload to fit my lifestyle rather than the other way around.

Recruitment agencies are not all bad

There seems to be a real hatred for recruitment agencies within the freelance community. Sure there are some people out there that are a bit pushy, or aren’t very pleasant to work with – however you will find them in all professions. I’ve worked with recruitment agents on both sides of the recruiter/job seeker table, and I’ve met many that are great to work with!

If you make an effort to create good working relationships with a handful of good recruitment agents that you get on with (for me that means finding ones that aren’t pushy, know their subject matter and are genuinely interested in finding the right person for the right job) you will find that they will be a lot more proactive on your behalf when the time comes to find that next contract (the same applies for permanent roles too!)

That’s about it really…

So there’s not much else to add really – I’ve found that making the transition to freelance has been an incredible experience for me so far. I’m able to explore more opportunities than I could when I was in a permanent role, and there’s only one person responsible for me doing a good job, and that’s me.

I hope this has been of help, and if you’re thinking of becoming a freelancer then my advice would be – what are you waiting for?!