I’ve been freelancing on the side of my professional training for two years now, doing mainly web design and web development. I’ve decided to stop (at least the big projects) but I’ve learned a lot in two years. I’m pretty sure many people have encountered the problems that I faced way before me but I’m going the write about it anyway.
Be a full-time freelancer, or don’t be
Swinging between being a trainee (I’m learning my job part time in a company and part-time in a school) and a freelancer was one of the worst idea ever.
First of all, you’re busy all day and you can’t work on your freelance projects during business hours. So you work during your break (which isn’t a real break then), your morning commute, your evening commute, when you get home at 7pm and during the weekends. Then you start again the next day… This can become really frustrating and can lead you to a burnout.
This was driving me crazy because I didn’t really have much time to myself anymore. I bought a new gaming rig at the beginning of 2016 (a 1500$ setup) and I couldn’t really enjoy it. I couldn’t watch an episode of a TV series in the train anymore, because I was working now. I couldn’t read much as well (I’ve read only one book in 2016 yet… pathetic).
I don’t intend to work as a freelancer again soon, but if, one day, I decided to start again, I would work full-time, not on the side of something else.
The client needs you more than you need him
I wish I knew this at first, but a lot of work is available as a freelancer, I looked for work at first, but then you get a little circle of regular clients, who sometimes recommend you to other people, so on and so on. Soon, work comes to you (at least in the field I’m in).
I would work ridiculous hours when it wasn’t worth it because I was pretty sure I couldn’t afford to lose a client… I was wrong. Get rid of the clients which ask for absurd things, get rid of those who asks for unpaid overtime, get rid of those who ask for free stuff.
I’m not saying you should get rid of your first client, but as soon as your “reputation” is made, don’t feel the obligation to do everything a client asks, set clear limits, proof read every contracts and requests.
Don’t jump on already existing projects
I’ve learned this the hard way… twice.
I got into two projects that were already in place and well advanced. Both situations were pretty similar: I was hired to fix broken things and finish the latest features. But when you get in a two years old PHP project that five developers have worked om (everyone off them in a different way), you don’t want to be there to patch things up.
If I would start again, I would do simpler projects, but do them from start to finish.
Don’t get into oversized projects
Don’t get into a project that would require 5 developers if you’re alone. This might seem obvious, but you should know your limits and therefore, refuse to work on projects that are bigger than you.
A finale note
Freelancing is great but it’s a lot of “Die and retry”. You’ll get bad clients but also very good clients that you’ll love to work with. You’ll get bad projects with unrealistic deadlines and features but you’ll also get great and challenging projects. Take time to detect which projects and clients will be a good fit for you, don’t hesitate to take time to discuss a lot about every projects and don’t forget to get some time off, your brain will thank you for that.