Today I start a series of articles where I will talk about my experience working as a freelance so that you know first hand everything that surrounds this way of working.
No, I have not created a billionaire company from my garage (maybe I should start by having one 😅) so here you will not find the experience of someone who gets up at 5, runs 10 kilometers, drinks a wonderful “detox” milkshake and works from your iPad in the Maldives. But I do believe that I have known how to find a series of guidelines and habits to feel that my professional career is on track.
For me being a freelance is a way of facing life, Of course as valid as any other. Although throughout these articles I will often defend the position that being a freelance has greater advantages than working as an employee, I believe that this decision has to be compatible with your way of being: in the same way that it happens with other types of decisions you will have to decide if this way of working suits you.
In my case I have always been very restless, I love challenges and it is hard for me to stick to the hours and rules imposed. That together with some negative experience when I have worked within companies have made me value the freedom and way of working that I enjoy now much more.
So following a recommendation someone gave me on Linkedin I will start at the beginning. Why did I become a freelance?
¡Wow! I am a freelance
To understand why I decided to work as a freelance, I think I should go over my career before. I think that it will be clearer the causes that led me to make this decision. I promise to do it as enjoyable as possible 🙏.
In 2009 I started in my first serious job as a consultant at Banco Santander. After 3 months completing Excels I decided that this work and the projection that I saw in the medium term “was not what I was looking for” so I joined a start-up that a very good friend had started and where I got a way to work a lot more dynamic and fun. I could make decisions in consensus with the team and the priority was to have the milestones in date rather than to warm the chair at my desk.
That’s why when the first phase of the project ended, I decided to set up “something on my own”. I am entrepeneur mama! 🥳🥳🥳
As education has always been one of my vocations, I partnered with another teacher to open an academy for private lessons: this was probably my first contact with the world of freelancers.
And from that first self-employment came a phrase that I will not get tired of repeating:
If you are going to kill yourself to work, it better be for you and not to make another rich
Ok … it does not have the style of Paulo Coelho but I think it illustrates very well one of the reasons why I prefer to work as a freelance: I love to work (in fact and as I will discuss later for my programming it is practically a paid hobby) and I do not it matters to work for 10 hours but not to see how someone takes advantage of my work and effort. Unfortunately, the latter is quite common for two reasons:
- Anywhere they can pay you 9 instead of 10, they will. The problem is that when you work for someone else, the prospect of reaching 10 is delayed a whole year.
- After the crisis, there was a feeling that work was something that had to be maintained at all costs: working for free, spending more hours than a clock in your workplace, leaving you always later than your boss for keeping the forms , etc.
And that is not the way I have to enjoy and take advantage of my skills.
Those two years I was in the academy were incredible. I worked a lot but I had a great time and I had a great experience that I still remember with love.
Hey … but you’re not a web developer? Yes, we have reached that.
My first webs
During my time as a partner in the academy I learned to develop websites with Drupal and applications with iOS in my spare time. From there came an idea that together with another friend of mine (hello Javi!) we were about to materialize:
An application that allows to reserve lists / bottles in the discos of Madrid and a management system for those clubs that acts as public relations.
During its development and the various promotional attempts we made, I met many new people who introduced me to other people who in turn told other people about me … You know, word of mouth.
And as 2013 entered part of those new people who had heard about me began asking me to develop websites and applications
Note. In mid-2013 we decided to abandon the nightclubs project. Seen from the perspective given by time, the proposal was too revolutionary for a world (that of the night) that is governed by certain hard-to-change codes.
Word of mouth works
And it’s something you have to take care of if you dare to be a freelance. In my case it is the only way I have to attract new customers.
Word of mouth is not luck, it is another side that you have to take care of when working on your own.
Every company has its commercial department and when you are freelance you are (also) that department. That is why I take great care of using the expression “What luck! He called me X ”since behind that call there have been many hours of social networks, meetings and events.
And how to work that word of mouth beyond social networks? In my opinion in two ways:
- The first being a professional throughout the whole development of the project. This implies transmitting confidence, having a good attitude towards the client and taking care of the product you are developing as if it were for yourself. I will deepen all this in an article dedicated to it.
- Make sure the client ends up happy. Do not deliver the project and “that’s it”. Reserve a morning to call him or be at his offices, answering the latest questions and presenting your work. A happy customer is the door to your entire network of contacts and future maintenance and updates (that is, more work).
From that first time in which I worked as a full-time freelance developer, I had a great experience because of the variety of projects I worked on:
- the typical wordpress of 500 euros,
- the poorly paid browns (I remember with chills a Moodle that I had to touch up to integrate with an Adobe service),
- Very cool projects (a web application based on Symfony to manage sports competitions),
- very tight projects in relation to hours / benefit
- and things for yesterday from a couple of advertising agencies.
That is, it was time to take “everything that came out” to fill the bank (because unfortunately happiness does not pay the pizzas) and expand my network of contacts. Was it worth it? Yes. Was it hard? Too. But I think it is a time that unless you are the master and commander of development you should go through one way or another for all that it brings.
What did I learn from that first stage?
The stage from 2013 to 2016 was 3 very intense years. However, as I was closing projects, they asked me for new and increasingly interesting web applications. This helped me to grow at a pace that I don’t think is possible in a company.
Regarding my progression as a developer, the variety of projects and companies made me familiar with an endless number of technologies: Wordpress, Angular, Symfony, Drupal, the first hints of hybrid applications using Ionic, and even .NET.
When you are a freelancer, it is rare to find projects that extend beyond 4 months, so there are about 3 “big” projects a year along with some small ones if you like to work as much as I do. I think that rotation in a company is more difficult to achieve because the projects are longer and technologies are subject to less change. That is, if your company works with React, forget about developing with Vue.
In addition and as I comment from time to time with a friend of mine, being a freelance teaches you how to “be a problem solver” If you do not know something, you will usually have to learn on your own or use ingenuity, which gives you a series of valuable resources to face increasing challenges.
On the other hand, at the economic level there is no better lesson to learn to value your time than to be aware that:
- every month you have to pay the autonomous fee,
- every 3 the personal income tax (and return the accumulated VAT),
- Internet, electricity, and equipment and workplace must be paid month by month.
That is, being a freelance gives you a perspective of the money you earn with your time (and the resulting expenses) that is harder to perceive when you are employed. If they offer you X euros per hour but it costs you (X-1) the work may not compensate you.
I think that thanks to that closer perception of the real benefit we get at the end of the month, we can negotiate our rates more firmly than when we have to do it on a contract.
On the other hand, the shorter duration of projects means not having to wait a year to think about your rates based on the knowledge you have acquired or to diversify the type of projects you can take on.
Some disadvantage will be ..
Uncertainty. Although I want to dedicate an entire article to talk about the disadvantages of being a freelance I would like to make a brief note about the main “buts” that we have to face when we embark on the adventure of working on our own.
Unlike when we are employed, being a freelancer means dealing with the uncertainty of what will happen in the medium term. It may be that we are now working on a great project, but what will happen when I finish? Will another arise or on the contrary we will see ourselves with nothing to do for a while?
That is why I think it is important to dedicate a few hours a week to strengthen our work profile so that we reduce this uncertainty. Linkedn, maintain a blog, attend meetups are some of the ways in which we can increase our network of contacts in the face of what may happen in the future. The more they know you, the greater the chances of being contacted for a new project.
Another website that works quite well is Malt, a platform that connects freelances with companies that require their services. I recommend you to register if you are starting as it is likely that you occasionally get a new project.
Finally I would not like to finish this section without referring to the need to be strict with your schedule. That is, adjusting to it as if we were working in a company. Both for good (not to do extra hours just for having the computer at hand) or for bad (being 24/7 pending email and other media something that is very easy to fall into).
On this and other points I promise to deepen that next article that I will prepare soon.
And so far this first article telling my first steps as a freelance developer. I hope that they have served you to acquire a new point of view if you are considering «throwing yourself into the pool» or if you have been there for some time and wanted to know other experiences.
See you in the next article!
Do you want to read more articles like this?
If you liked this article I encourage you to subscribe to the newsletter that I send every Sunday with similar publications to this and more recommended content: 👇👇👇