Do you feel like you’re at the top of the ladder you’re on? Meaning you don’t feel like you’re learning a whole lot. You don’t enjoy the environment. You feel like you’re missing out on things you dream about.
Have you thought about taking your career to a different level by going independent?
There could be several more reasons for thinking such a thing. Perhaps you’re looking to build iOS apps, but you’re with a company who needs you as a PHP or Python developer. Maybe your company has a crazy amount of red tape. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that red tape it’s just tiring to think about. Ultimately, there could be so many reasons in your mind that is pushing you to consider moving off on your own. In the world we live in this is becoming increasingly easier to do.
Fewer companies care where you’re located as a developer–they want skilled people.
One of the more frequent questions I hear is how someone can move from being full-time to independent. I’ve been around the iOS since 2008, so I’ve had the luxury of seeing the evolution of everything in this space. After a short stint with a Disney studio from 2009 to 2010 I went independent.
A lot of what paralyzes us from taking action is scary unknown. Our minds are magicians when it comes to imagining the worst case scenario.
In this post i’m going to shed light into those dark corners of of your mind. I can’t assume to meet all your concerns so be sure to write me via the contact area. I’d be happy to share more insight.
Finally, join my newsletter. The first guide you’ll receive is all about entrepreneurship as a mobile developer so it would be worth your time to scan.
Not for everybody, but you will not know until you try
Going independent can be a scary jump. How will I earn enough money to pay the bills? What will my spouse think? Do I know enough about development and business?
Let’s tackle those questions independently.
Paying the bills will be tough out of the gate. There’s just no getting around it. This means that you have 2 options available to you. Start saving money you’re making at your current position that gives you 6 to 12 months of living expenses. Or moonlight in the evenings on small contracts (what I did, hence the name Moonlit Technology Solutions).
Like all decisions, you need to make sure your spouse is on board with this one. The last thing you need is more stress, and money can be a massive stress point in a relationship.
Finally, there are a wide range of needs out there. Some companies need developers to come in and maintain or update an app. Others need full-blown services from design, development, and strategic advice. For your first few clients you can expect to simply be a code monkey. They bring you on because they may not want to deal with bringing on someone as a full-time employee. So they’ll contract you to handle a short-term task.
The business knowledge will come as you gain more experience. Learning how to sell yourself will become one of the more critical aspects to all this. Speaking confidently, understanding needs and where you fit into the picture, and working through contracts are all things you’ll have to deal with. The more projects you do the better you’ll feel about all these points. Experience pays here.
Just try it.
Often the biggest bottle neck to moving independent is having no clue how to find people to work for. My first few contracts came to be from the developers I met. They were able to put me in touch with companies needing a contractor and from there I had to sell myself on being a solution for them. The first few contracts were basic. Emergency memory management fixes during the time before ARC. Design updates.
Recognize that not all contacts are equal. You need to lean on others influence and experience. Networking with a senior developer opens many more doors than a junior developer.
Additionally, spend time networking with companies in your city. When you’re just starting out this can be a great way to meet local needs while building up your skills in this arena.
Take the time to learn how to use Twitter search to track needs. Companies are tweeting the need for developers—especially startups. I’ve landed multiple $50k contracts by simply responding to an individual on Twitter. Don’t underestimate the power of this platform.
Pretty soon your portfolio, Github account, client base, and reputation will grab hold. When this happens finding projects will become less of an issue. It’s a great problem to have but it’s one that you earn with experience.
Don’t give up.
Establish an online presence
So you’re not on Twitter? You don’t have a Github account? No website?
These are all problems. They’re fixable problems, but they are problems. You need a site that showcases the apps you’ve worked on. It doesn’t have to be wildly epic. Find a theme on themeforrest.com and build a simple site.
You want a Github account exposed so the technical individuals you speak to can see that you’re not talking out of thin air. If you say you’ve coded in Swift then you should have some random open source projects available.
All of this will help ease concerns from the people who approach you. The more they can see out of the gate the easier your “selling mode” will be.
Form an entity to protect yourself
Let’s face it. Just as the internet has it’s fair share of trolls, so do companies. There are jerks from other worlds out there and they are often deadly chameleons. The person you talk to today may have something crazy happen in their life and turn sideways. This is often out of your control.
In the event that this happens you want to be protected. Form an umbrella entity and sign every contract under it. Companies are contracting your company, not you as an individual. You work on behalf of the entity you’ve formed. This way the mess you may encounter stays isolated to the realm of your company.
Go around town to locate a law firm who has the expertise for dealing with technology companies. It will pay to have someone who understands law by your side so network and make a new friend. You don’t have to spend an insane amount of money out of the gate. But make sure they help review any crazy-sounding contracts that may float your way. As you get more experience you can start requesting that companies sign your contract.
It’s a sad reality that we live in a sue happy environment. Protect yourself as well as you can. You know the companies hiring you are doing the same.
Set your rate accordingly
Know what you’re worth. If you’re starting on your first contract and you lack a solid portfolio you’re not going to lock down deals at a $300 per hour. Yes, I know iOS developers who charge this much who have no problems with scheduling. For the most part you’re going to be slamming keys down on a keyboard churning out code. Out of the gate you should consider charging around $50-$60. You don’t want to go too low because you do need to factor in several things:
You are now responsible for buying health insurance, which can be a steep expense for families.
You are now responsible for self-employment tax, which is an additional 13.3% (10.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare).
You now have to consider lag time between projects, where you may have work from January to March, but may not find work until June.
You now have to consider that an employer is not providing you sick or vacation days. Nor do you have anyone providing benefits.
As you earn more experience, and have a deeper desire to do more than just pound code, then you can begin raising your rate. Just remember that the more you command the more difficult it will be to sell yourself.
Have a non-negotiable expectation of excellence
Work hard? No, work harder. You should attempt to go above and beyond with everything you’re doing. Find opportunities to show the person who hired you that they made the right decision. Hold yourself to a higher standard and strive to make a statement impact as soon as you can. Remember that your clients become a resource for you in the future so long as you take care of them.
There is so much more to talk about here, but this should give you a nice and clear base to move forward from. We’ve discussed a few things that will help you transition from a full-time developer to independent. It goes without saying, but the freedom earned from making such a move is priceless.
Don’t forget to join my newsletter to get the free entrepreneurship guide I wrote for mobile developers.
You’ll never know until you make the jump. You don’t have to be reckless about the decision by throwing your current job away. Get a feel for the life by taking small contracts in the evening.
Do you have any advice for people wishing to make the jump from full-time to independent?