Becoming a full-time IT freelancer?
February 7, 2017 3:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm not completely wild about my current IT job of 6+ years, and I generally enjoy the small bit of freelancing I've been doing on the side. I'm limited in the time I can offer paying clients due to my day job, and I'm stuck on figuring out how to resolve that.

For example, I have one client right now who would love to pay me for more hours than I can provide, and they've already been burned by using someone else for a web site project that I couldn't fit into my schedule.

They also have a line-of-business application that they'd like developed, and while that's my wheelhouse, I don't know how I would do that on my own without working for them directly full-time. Even with my current job, I don't have the logistical support I wish I had for doing my day-to-day development projects.

I have another client who has a website upgrade project I can handle, and while they'll be happy with the results and my solution will completely meet their needs, it's honestly going to be on a smaller scale than either of us would prefer.

Realistically, I don't think I'm at the point where I could quit my day job because 1)I don't have enough billable hours now and 2) I'm not very good at or knowledgeable about gaining new customers.

I guess I'm looking for some sort of solution that can increase the hours I'm billing for, and get my clients a better level of service. Maybe a career counselor is the answer? I've read a lot of books on the subject of freelancing, but I feel like I'm just missing something.

Possible solutions might involve outsourcing work*, outsourcing my sales process, finding a consulting company to hire me, or getting training on running a business. But that's all a lot of different directions, and I don't know which is the best, if any. Or even how to approach outsourcing projects that need to be done. What's the missing piece here? Help?

*This idea intrigues me because along with the technical work, I see a lot of customers who don't really have the written content they wish they had for a website. If I'm outsourcing the technical work, I imagine I could also hire editors and content writers. And then all of a sudden I'm an IT Solutions General Contractor, managing a team of freelancers? I have no idea how to get to that point.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug to Work & Money (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
1)I don't have enough billable hours now
So, from what I gather from Hacker News, you shouldn't be billing by the hour. You should be billing by the day or project.

As a freelancer myself, I do things on a piece basis. Then it is my problem how much time it takes. On the downside, if it takes me forever, I am making a pittance per hour. On the upside, if I get good and get faster at it and it takes me less time, then my hourly wage goes up and no one complains about me being overpaid.

2) I'm not very good at or knowledgeable about gaining new customers.
Work on getting more knowledgeable about this before you take the leap OR have enough savings where you will still be eating if it takes you a few months to figure this piece out.

If you make enough money at your job, this second approach may be the better approach. I could not figure out how to make money as an entrepreneur while I still had a corporate job. It is a different mindset and process entirely and I could just not wrap my brain around it while I had a corporate job. I did figure it out after I left BigCo and now eating depended on me figuring it out.
posted by Michele in California at 4:07 PM on February 7, 2017

is it possible to take a week or two of 'vacation' time from your current job to get the line-of-business application up and running and then you'd be able to maintain/expand it during your off-hours?
posted by noloveforned at 8:26 AM on February 8, 2017

I think you're just going to have to take the leap at some point. It's a little scary.

How much does your employer need you? If you're essential there, you might be able to turn in your notice and continue as a contractor. Depends a lot on the details. My first client was my former employer (they cut me loose first), and this is not unusual for freelancers.

Alternatively, you might be able to negotiate a reduced work week with your employer allowing you to ramp up your freelancing more slowly.

Do you have any savings? Having a few months of living expenses gives you a bit of runway.

> I'm not very good at or knowledgeable about gaining new customers.

Finding clients is indeed the hard part. I've been freelancing ~10 years now and I still haven't solved this. Sometimes clients find me now, but when I do have to hunt, I'm not much better at finding them than when I started.

My approach has always been to go where people are saying they want help. I've probably found more gigs off Craigslist than any other single place, you can get good work there, but be warned, you'll need to kiss a lot of frogs to get a decent client from Craigslist. Hacker News has a looking-for-help thread every few months and I've found work there. I've called up people that I used to work with and just asked them if they needed help with any projects. I'm plugged into our local developer's group and it's common for people to advertise projects or need-a-hands there.

In some areas (not mine) you can hook up with a recruiter that can find you gigs pretty easily. Something you could check out ahead of time.

If I was desperate I might try a online matchmaker service like TopTal. I'm kinda allergic to those guys, but you could try one out. I'd definitely stay away from the bottom feeder sites like RentACoder.

I wouldn't hire somebody to train me. I'm very skeptical you'll find anyone who will teach you anything you can't figure out just as well for yourself. If you could find a mentor that you could sub for, that might be a different story.

Anyway, I've never found a silver bullet. If you find one, I hope you'll let me know.

It's worth reminding yourself that a failure here just means you go get another job. You're a developer, lucky you, that's not too threatening of a prospect. Nobody will kill you or drag you off to debtor's prison if it doesn't work out.
posted by mattu at 11:12 AM on February 8, 2017

« Older What are our rights when passing through US...   |   Freelance/part-time/side hustle ideas? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.