To Freelance or Not To Freelance, that is my question

Recently I have been seriously questioning my desire to be a Rails freelancer.  I love RoR and coding and all that goes with being a freelancer except for the continuos struggle to find new clients.

That struggle has been the core of my recent frustrations and the reason for questioning freelancing.  For those of you that are considering becoming a freelancer, do not get me wrong, it is a great life and I would never try to deter anybody from becoming a freelance developer.  I think that the one-person freelance operation is great but I tried to take it further.

What are the reasons that people prefer to freelance as opposed to working for the man?  Two main reasons in my opinion; higher pay and not working in an office.  What would make a developer want to work for a company?  In my opinion again, I feel it is for security and benefits.

That is what I wanted to offer the guys that work with me; benefits and security.

I have learned an amazingly lot about running a business mostly the hard way after my first year.  Employees simply will cost more money and by employees I mean W-2 employees.  Contractors cost less for a business.  So I struggled with that; my desire to help out those working with me and the increased cost to do so.

Ultimately, I recently failed a couple of those guys.  I just could not find any work for them.  What leads I had were mostly people with great ideas and no money.  Others seemed to prefer the lost cost development available overseas.  I looked on the various freelance sites and boards but all there are there are jobs that pay less than if I went to work in a fast food restaurant.

I then thought about RoR telecommute jobs.  There are not many of those out there.  I guess it is that companies feel that they cannot trust a person to work remotely.  Maybe they hate working in an office and figure that everybody should have to be miserable too.  I know that some big name developers have repeatedly commented on the lack of telecommute jobs.  Hey I might want to work for a Bay Area company but I sure as shit do not want to work there.  I got a headhunter email from Boston asking if I was interested in moving.  Why the hell would I leave my beautiful Phoenix weather to go play in the cold and snow?

So I am left with the idea of local jobs.  Punching the time clock (do they still have time clocks anymore) and sitting in an office.  Would I rather do that than be a freelancer? Well, no but the other option is hoping to get new business.  Who know, maybe tomorrow the phone will ring with a great big shiny new application that needs to be built.

Bottom line, do what makes you happy if you can.  Maybe my feelings are just those of somebody in their 40’s and maybe I would fell differently if I were in my 20’s.

8 comments on “To Freelance or Not To Freelance, that is my question

  1. I hear ya. I’d really like to quiz the folks at Hacker News that are all about freelancing and get some demographics about their various gigs. What are they doing? Are their other developers on the project? How many hours per week for each client are they putting in? How many simultaneous clients are they working with? How did they get leads? How much non-development time are they spending?

    My experience consulting in C, C++, and at times SmallTalk and LISP, is that most projects I work on last months, and and clients require a full time focus. So it creates this poor cycle of feast or famine.

    So I’ve been curious just what tasks these new breeds of freelancers are taking on, or what is it about web applications in Ruby that allows a freelancer to work for a client for a few days, or week or two, and have actually accomplished much.

    I can understand working for a small company of n freelancers with a paid salestaff lining up new work, but hey, then that’s a small consulting company, not a freelancing opportunity. And of course, even the small consulting companies are certainly not guaranteed to succeed.

    And while I hate to blame it on Phoenix, I think being a freelancer or having a small consulting company, especially a RoR practice would work out 1000x easier based in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Boston, London, Tokyo, … where there is just tons more demand for it, and where the clients are thick enough that one is likely to meet another at a Starbucks or meeting and drop your name.

    I think my goal to learning RoR, etc., is not to be a freelancer, always dependent on finding someone else with an idea and a website, but to use freelancing (or a 9 to 5) job to pay for my time in the downtimes or evenings to develop my own sites.

  2. Yes there is a very fine line between freelancer and business owner. Like two freelancers working together on a project. Are they freelancers or a company. One freelancer with a sales staff; is that a company? Fine line indeed.

    Interestingly, you mentioned something that I never thought of and have not seen written about, using paid sales staff.

    I do agree with you that the opportunities is some cities are going to be less abundant than in other cities. The trick is to get oneself known in other cities.

    I appreciate you comment.

  3. @bob, the paid sales staff is something we’re heading towards. That’s why we give a 10% commission for every paying lead already.

    I think @jerry is partially right in that Phoenix is not thick as fleas when it comes to work like this. That’s why Integrum is flying across the country for work. I can see more air based commuting in the future for other firms.

    As far as freelancing goes, I’m not a freelancer with RebelHold. I consider myself a member and co-owner of a new breed of worker owned businesses. It’s been rough this winter, but nothing that can’t be toughed out.

    I think one mistake we’ve made is spending too much time in client work and not enough time honing our marketing. We’ve also not been focusing enough on building our own product. You know that’s my current kick so I won’t rant on about it. But without less of a dependency on any particular client, the feast and famine cycle will continue.

    Keep the faith. Build, build, build.

  4. Great write up Michael! Thanks 🙂

  5. […] To Freelance or Not To Freelance, that is my question (bob-roberts.net) […]

  6. Hey, you may want to check out http://www.simpletelecommute.com search engine for freelance and other work at home jobs

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