How to Know If Freelancing Is Right for You

Many developers have entertained the idea of freelancing or consulting. It sounds great, but jumping into something you know little about can be scary. Here are a few things to know about going freelance.

Cash Flow

Income can be unsteady when you’re out on your own. In fact, it can be feast or famine for many freelancers and consultants.

You may have made quite a bit of money in June, but July and August aren’t promised to you, revenue-wise. It’s entirely possible you’ll have no work at all during that period. A great time for a vacation, perhaps, but bad for the ‘ol nerves if you’re not ready for that lack of activity.

A lot comes into play when talking about cash flow. Networking is key to finding good consulting gigs, as is being resourceful on freelance job boards.

One great example of this is Sean Allen, a freelance iOS developer who recently broke down his 2017 income via YouTube. As you can see in the video below, carefully managing projects is also a concern. You may choose not to accept new projects if a larger, more intense one is just around the corner. (Note: He focuses on revenue in U.S. dollars, but his underlying point remains valid no matter where you’re programming.)

Office Hours

As we suggested in the last section, managing your time is also critical to freelancing. Allen was careful to not burden himself when an intensive project was coming. That’s a smart move.

Freelancers must be careful not to overwork themselves, and that means daily as well as long-term. A good plan of action is to set office hours for yourself; rather than working yourself to the bone to make a client happy, being reasonable about your work-life balance is a smart bet.

This is critical for a variety of reasons. If you’ve got a family, they need your attention more than your clients. Establishing office hours allows you to walk away from work at the end of a day. Getting into a cadence of preparing for the next day just before you shut the door to your home office lets you mentally disconnect, as well.

Networking

You may not be comfortable talking to people – and that’s okay. Not everyone can be an outgoing type-A personality.

But if you’re going to freelance or consult, you have to be able to interact with people constructively. Many times, clients don’t have a full-fledged idea of what they need or want. It’s up to you to help them get there, and explain the details of the journey.

It doesn’t mean you have to be a used-car salesman, but it does require stepping out of your comfort zone (and often). Even when you come highly recommended, a potential new client is sizing you up. Confidence is key. Cockiness is a detriment.

It takes time to build up a reliable network, too. Building said network may not be as linear as you might think. Sometimes, it comes down to joining those obnoxious professional groups, or chasing down speaking gigs at various conferences. A social media presence that backs up what you say is also critical.

At a 9-to-5 job, you get to show up and find work ready for you. When you’re freelance, you create your own workflow. It’s the gift and the curse.

Taking Jobs You Hate

If you’re the type of person that needs to feel passionate about the work you do, we’d caution you against freelancing. Seriously.

When you’re working independently, there will undoubtedly be times you take jobs that don’t drive you. Your passion may be in audio tooling, for example, but those jobs are few and far between. The deep-pocketed doctor who wants an exclusive social app for their plastic surgery patients? Too lucrative to pass up.

There are plenty of small projects to take, and smart freelancers know any project can lead to further work later on. Between new technologies and updates, that simple social app for that hypothetical doctor could bring in residual revenue for years.

It’s a Grind

There’s a lot more to freelancing than meets the eye. You’ve also got to navigate tricky tax paperwork, and create an ironclad standard contract for clients to sign.

Those with plenty of work – or independent projects that bring in consistent revenue, such as apps – can attest to the benefits of freelancing and consulting. When done properly, it’s easily one of the better ways to make a living. Getting to that point isn’t easy, and it’s never perfect, but it might be better than enduring your cubicle.

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