How do I transition to a freelance IT career?
May 17, 2015 6:00 PM   Subscribe

What IT/computer-based fields offer a viable opportunity for someone who is handy with technology to freelance from home and earn a living wage? I'm interested in fields for which the skills can be learned independently or without going through years of formal education.

I have 5+ years of IT support experience, can do HTML & CSS coding and handle basic Photoshop tasks. I've dabbled with Linux and Unix. I'm not a programmer. But I am a fast learner. My degree is in journalism.

What IT fields offer a realistic opportunity for someone like me to succeed as a freelancer, given dedication and a commitment to independent learning? I'm not opposed to taking a virtual or real-world class if necessary, but am unable to return to college. I am in the US. By succeed, I'd like at least the potential to earn in the neighborhood of 40-50k per year.

Graphic design, web design, database admin, or something else entirely? What path should I pursue to achieve my goal of being my own boss? That singular attribute is my primary concern at this time.

Please be as specific as possible.
posted by iamisaid to Work & Money (5 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You are probably already qualified to be an outsourced IT manager for small businesses that don't need a full time person for that. Find 4 small businesses that need 8 -10 hours a week and you have a fairly stable income stream that isn't overly dependent on any one client. By small business IT I mean everything from setting up desktop machines, to babysitting their web site. At $50 an hour you are making way more than $50K a year.
posted by COD at 6:38 PM on May 17, 2015

My singular attribute was existing connections / reputation from working at a managed service provider. Customer service, organization, communication, and follow through are more important than tech skills, which should pretty much be a given.

I am a one person business managing IT for about 10 small businesses and residences. This goes beyond basic help desk support as I manage everything: servers, network, desktop support, etc. Realize that half your time is managing the logistics of running the business—invoicing, scheduling, finding clients, etc as opposed to actual tech work. I bill an average of 16 hours weekly, and make more than your target salary. I travel to client sites an average of 2 days a week.

I know individuals who are a full time web designer, web developer, or database developer. Those are more project based so they can expect to bill more hours per week, although they need to keep finding new clients as opposed to IT support which is ongoing with the same clients.

Web designers often have connections with web developers and vise versa.

While possible for an individual, I haven't seen it (I only see larger companies do this), cabling and phone systems would be another path. Those are often multiple person jobs so that may make it prohibitive for one person. The high end AV / home automation is also typically done by companies.

Web design / graphic design would pay less than the IT work and the matching degree is more often required / recommended.

IT support can be thought of as more about experience than the others. Web designer, web developer, and database developer are more of a skill, if that makes sense.
posted by ridogi at 8:37 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in technical writing. Freelancing is fairly common among US-based tech writers, and I'm sure you can earn more than 50k/year doing it. The combination of a journalism degree and real-world IT support experience puts you in a good position to transition to tech writing. The Society for Technical Communication is planning to re-launch their certification program this year; that might be a bonus on your resume.
posted by neushoorn at 10:33 PM on May 17, 2015

Rather than a particular field of IT you can also go down the route of specialising in a particular application used by organisations. Look for something big, expensive and successful.
posted by rongorongo at 12:18 AM on May 18, 2015

Doing IT support similar to what you have done is probably the simplest next step. I worked for a guy who started solo and slowly built up an IT support business employing several people. You won't be able to work from home, though.

You could just jump to doing web development right now, but it may be a little tricky to match what you can do with what people want.

If you start IT support contracting and are good at making connections you could plausibly pick up web development that is in your zone of competence and over time turn that into your main line.

Do you have clients lined up? If not, how are you going to find them? This is the hard part. Won't do you a bit of good to learn web dev or whatever if you have no way to find people who will hire you. This is one of the most important things. If you are a nerdy type you may be tempted to deal with it last, but I advise against this. Start talking to people and searching out potential client interest now. Get a feel for what you're going to have to do here.

Making more than $50K/year will be no problem if you can get rolling. I live in the low cost Midwest and $50/hr is a low rate for either IT support or development. Plenty of guys bill out at $100 or higher per hour.
posted by mattu at 4:51 PM on May 18, 2015

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