Lighthouse Labs took on the challenge of surveying our community to discover the intricacies of being a freelancer as a web or iOS Developer. With an abundant amount of knowledge in our network, polling our community resulted in a fantastic source of intel and insight into the unique career path.
A nationwide survey was distributed to our mentors and instructors, and the responses were rich with educated advice for any developer and we are eternally grateful to our community for sharing their experience and knowledge. The overarching objective was to educate ourselves and share this knowledge with our community & students. As the results were gathered, two main themes came into the spotlight: learning what it takes to be a freelancer and managing the financial scope attached to it.
Freelancing Learning Curve
Of our 37 respondents, more than half said that being an employee took their knowledge to a higher level than being a freelancer due to the availability of mentorship. The benefits of starting as an employee are endless as you get exposure to acknowledging coding standards, working with a team of developers, and a faster learning curve as you will be immersed in the role full-time.
As a freelancer, the journey is more turbulent where constant experimentation and creativity is almost always a prerequisite. While freelancing can limit the exposure to new learning opportunities, this can be exciting for those who thrive under self-directed education. With greater knowledge of the industry and a healthy pool of personal referrals, you could be able to enjoy the freedom freelancing entails.
Twenty-one respondents would not recommend freelancing to recent boot camp graduates, while six indicated that it is a viable career route while being in a full-time dev role because there is an option that you can take on small projects to test the waters of what it takes to be a freelancer before fully jumping in.
Being fresh out of the bootcamp, grads have to understand the bigger picture when entering the industry. The results shown above illustrates what makes the freelancing career both rewarding and challenging. The advantages to freelancing include freedom, self-managed time, decision-making and the satisfaction in seeing the whole progression of the project. On the flipside, one sacrifice is having to deal with inconsistent workflow when it becomes challenging to secure a stable client base.
“Although freelancing can provide great freedom, it does come at a price. It’s very easy to get lost and not stay connected. I recommend forming a small group to work collectively rather than being on your own.”
Despite the obvious understanding that one must have above average developer skills, mentors mentioned soft skills such as time management and communication skills as important attributes of a successful freelancer. After-all, the relationship that is built with the client can impact the progression of project completions, so technical expertise can be seen as highly complementary with the ability to balance priorities and have a clear understanding of the scope through thorough conversations.
“Definitely a good direction to grow into, but freelancing out of the gate is hard and make sure you set expectations properly. Bidding by the job can help when breaking into a new area that you’re not yet sure of your efficiency.”
More than just working on personal projects, anyone looking into building a career as a Developer also must acknowledge that mentorship is vital in building sustainable employment through freelancing.
So how do Freelancers find support?
Personal connections and mentors from past employment were indicated as the best ways to find assistance as a freelancer. The power of networking and creating new partnerships via meetups can be useful, but what stood out was the significant impact of keeping and nurturing the relationships one has already built through personal referrals. If they are working on mini-projects and need some immediate assistance, a good resource as mentioned by one of the respondents is Code Mentor.
In the tech community, most individuals believe in the sense of community where everyone pitches in to an idea or project. Your warm connections matter, so treasure them!
One of the biggest concerns of taking on freelancing is finances. As the demand peaks, the supply must catch up. Therefore, when deciding which route to take, more than half of the respondents advised being a Sole Proprietor because of its lower barrier to entry with lesser fees in contrast to Incorporation. Pursuing Incorporation also holds benefits as this allows you to be more appealing to other companies, adds the notion of professionalism, and provides long-term benefits when it comes to legal liability and financial stability. One respondent offered the advice of starting off with a Sole Proprietorship and pursuing Incorporation upon reaching a valuation of $100-130K in order to ensure that taxes would not swallow your bank account.
Charging an hourly rate seems to be the most popular with freelancers; however, a third of the total respondents agreed that there are other methods of payment such as piece-work, value-based, or based on the agreement the parties have concluded with. A piece of advice that stood out was:
“Don’t charge by the job. Charge by the hour. This way you can focus on working ‘with’ your client to help them accomplish their business goals, instead of spending your time bickering with them over what is in scope and what is not.”
This is great advice! Providing an hourly rate ensures freelancers getting paid for the entire scope of the project, and limits the opportunity for clients to request more than what was agreed upon.
As you glide through the waters of financial freedom, there’s one flag that needs extra attention: payment collections. To protect yourself legally, a written contract is almost always a non-negotiable preparation before diving in. It is in your best interested to ensure work ownership through Non-Disclosure Act clauses and payment milestones that builds the idea that once payment stops, work stops as well. Another protective measure is to confirm the identity of the person you are dealing with as well as the legitimacy of the company by getting their address, contact number, and what they do.
Communication is the key in this relationship as most clients are non-technical, so laying out the scope of a project and ensuring that any additional details that exceed that agreement must be quoted or added later. Once these terms are set in stone, projects relationships will work beautifully and elegantly later on. The long-term benefits of having such conversation are significant, even though it may seem almost awkward.
“In general, round up and negotiate down. Don’t people please with the estimate. Find out the budget and give the client some options as to what you can do within that budget. Always have a contract with stated deliverables. Do not extend scope on demand.”
Great resources to look into when managing finances are Wave Accounting and Freshbooks, but most of the respondents expressed that they use spreadsheet/excel to manage expenses. When it comes to project management, two tools that stood out are Trello and Basecamp.
The road less travelled by, at one point, becomes the road most travelled by. With that being said, take a calculated risk and take the dip whole heartedly without having any regrets. Invest wisely, my friends. Looking far ahead, keep coding and check-in with yourself whether this is something that you are truly passionate about.
At the end of the day, you are in control of your destiny and understand your strengths as a developer, innovator, and entrepreneur. For those whose hearts ache for freedom and creativity through freelancing, we hope that the information that was provided can become a good foundation of your decision on your pursuit of happiness. There is nothing right and wrong here, there is only YOUR chosen path. Either way, it will be a learning experience. This article only provides guidance to what those two realities would look like. No turning back now but you are always given a chance to change routes.
Be the captain of your own ship! Most importantly, enjoy the journey.