My advice to most freelancers early in their career: don’t do it long-term. There is a definite long-term limiting factor when it comes to freelancing that impacts your professional (craft) and career development. This is particularly true in any industry where it takes a team deliver a product or service.
Freelancing is a tremendous learning experience. I freelanced throughout most of college and was able to put into practice what I was learning on campus and in the classroom every day. After college, I did a stint at small software firm and then a start-up. With leads from my previous freelance work, I started out solo again after the start-up was acquired. For nearly the next two years, I worked for myself, doing hourly work and managing a few small fixed-bid projects with some other freelancers that brought in a nice profit. Making the equivalent of someone with a ‘salaried’ job in my industry with 10 years more experience, I was fortunate with the opportunities given to me.
I was billable 60% of my time. I had a 30 hour work-week. I technically had more capacity, but I took Gerald Weinberg‘s advice to do client work for three days a work-week and use the other two days for learning and getting more business. It was a great lifestyle.
I had also matured through personal experience and with the encouragement of others to realize that my calling was to build software. I love building software. Freelancing has many connotations and meanings, but it is not a vocation. It is not a calling. (Neither is “working 9-5″.) The real reason I left freelancing was the answer to this question: how do I build better software?
I realized it takes a team to build good software. I saw my limits. So, I decided to join a team (turned out to be a great team). Measuring my decision financially, I took a drastic cut compared to my freelance income (but I’m still thriving). However, there is no doubt that what I’ve gained in experience, knowledge, and opportunities for investment and growth in my craft and professional community have been incomparable to anything I could have achieved on my own.
I’ve left out many “why’s” and “how’s” of freelancing or what it’s been like since I’ve joined Pariveda Solutions or why I chose consulting – and Pariveda – in particular. Perhaps I will post further, but feel free to reach out if you have any questions.
I discovered there were natural limits to what freelancing has to offer, along with a realization of the doldrums and danger of blind self-reliance that working on one’s own can bring. While we have the rare luxury of a profession that can give us financial and ‘lifestyle’ success on our own, pursuing excellence in our craft will ultimately raise the level of commitment and community with those that we work with and for.