I have been working as a full time freelance WordPress developer for the past few years. There have been many ups and downs and there have been many times when I considered seriously going back to be a full-time employee at a company again. Over the summer, when we moved to the Bay Area, I was kind of tempted again to go find a job in a company. But, after going through a couple of interviews, I realized that working in an office with fixed timings is not for me. It might change one day, but for now, I feel good about my decision.
So, as the new year approaches, and I look back at my year and see what I have accomplished and what I would like for the next year, there are a few things I am happy about and me staying a freelancer is one of them. Among the others are sticking with a productivity system for longer than a month and also diligently working on the Chamber Dashboard plugins. Those are topics for another day. Today I want to talk more about why working as a freelancer has been good for me, my family and my clients.
So, why do I like freelancing so much and why did I choose it?
To sum it up in one word, being a freelancer gives me the flexibility I need in my life. Flexibility with kids, with work, with my passions and hobbies and more importantly it gives me the flexibility to work the way I want to.
Everybody is different and they have their own ways of working and dealing with life. I am a morning person and I love to get up early and work. I like to be home when my kids come home from school and I like to volunteer in their school. Being a freelancer gives me the opportunity to do all this. Me and my husband don’t have to worry about who can take the day off if the kids are sick.
When I was working at a company, my project manager was the one who talked to clients and managed the schedules. She was awesome at it. I even learned a few tips and tricks from her. She would take care of handling the client’s deadlines and I only had to work to get things done on time. This sure is a nice setup, but I soon felt like something was missing. I always wanted to work on sites from start to end and launch them myself. There is a great pleasure in launching sites that I have built myself. In a company with other developers, websites usually get moved around between them depending on the need of the day. So, even though I got to work on some nice big sites until the launch, most of the times I only got to work on a portion of the website.
The other thing I felt I missed was talking to the clients directly. Many times, I felt like if I could talk to the clients directly, I would have been able to finish the work faster. I did learn a lot when I was working at other companies. I got to work with a variety of clients and most importantly, I was not the one worrying about how to get new clients and keep my business growing. But, as a freelancer, I realized I like doing all of this along with my work and three years later I still feel this way.
One of the best things for me as a freelancer is the ability to work on what I want to work on and when I want to do it. This does not mean I do not have deadlines or clients don’t need things done on time. But I get to plan my days. I talk to clients and plan my days and weeks ahead of time. I plan enough downtime to tackle any issues that may come up during the day. I have learned the hard way not to tell clients that all the tasks will be done ‘tomorrow’. I now tell them the date they can expect things to be done and I make sure I finish the work by that day.
How do my clients benefit from me being a freelancer?
Me being a freelancer helps my clients too. I am always the person they get to talk to when making decisions about their websites. I am the one giving them their estimates for time and cost and I am the one who is delivering the final project. So, I know exactly what is at stake. I strive my best to finish things on time because I want my clients to come back to me when they have more website needs. Since it is my business, I work hard to keep my clients happy.
I am usually the go to person for all their website needs. If I cannot do it for them, I give them guidance on the topics. Since most likely I would have coded their site, I know how to quickly fix things when needed. If I am maintaining their site on a regular basis, I know what plugins they use and what plugins might cause an issue or conflict on their site. I spend time to get to know their site thoroughly and that helps me make quick decisions when adding new features or making edits to the site.
I also get to know my client. I know their level of knowledge regarding WordPress, their budgets and over a period of time, I know why they make certain decisions regarding their websites. All this helps me help them.
What I don’t like about Freelancing
Along with the flexible times, choosing which clients to work with and many other glamorous things that come with freelancing, there is also a dark side.
I am (or I feel) responsible for everything that goes wrong with my client’s site. I have to be kind of on call in case their site breaks in the middle of my holiday. So, I am always carrying my laptop with me and hoping that nothing will go wrong while I am on the beach in Hawaii! There have been times when I was working from a hotel during a vacation as there was an issue. That sucked. But, it was just bad timing. I could have told the client that I was on vacation, and they would have understood. But, I felt bad that they were having issues and it was a quick fix. When you are running a business, you have to be prepared for these kinds of things. I do make sure I have out of office messages when I am not at work so that I can enjoy my time with my family.
There are also no paid vacations. There is a good and bad side to this. Since I don’t have a set number of paid vacation days, I can take any number of days for my vacation. So, when the kids had a week off for Thanksgiving, we went to LA to visit my sister-in-law. It was fun and I did not have to worry about not having enough vacation days for Christmas break. But, I also did some blogging and got some pending work done while my kids were playing with their cousins. So, it was okay.
The worst part about working for myself is dealing with procrastination. When you don’t have a boss watching over you every day, it is very easy to spend half a day browsing social media, and watching YouTube videos. But, eventually the panic monster wakes up and everything gets done and shipped off to the client. I have been much better at dealing with procrastination lately and I feel a lot less stressed about my work now. Honestly, I did take awhile to get to this place.
Freelancing Tools I cannot live without
Freelancing is not easy, but there are many tools that help me every day from keeping my focus to making sure I don’t screw up my taxes. Here are some of them:
- Toggl – This is a time tracking tool that I use every single day. This is the first thing I open every morning.
- WaveApps – This is an accounting and invoice software. They offer a free version with a lot of features. I have been using it for 3 years and I like it.
- OneNote – After trying many different project management tools, I finally decided that OneNote is the best for me. I have to thank my blogging buddy Nichole Betterley for showing me her workflow on OneNote which helped me to create my own. I have been using it for the past 6 months and it is working well for me.
- Dropbox – The best way to save both personal and client files without worrying about losing them.
I have learned a lot in the past three years about organizing my work, dealing with clients and more importantly managing my work and personal life. Since I work from home, my work and personal life blend sometimes. It is interesting to see how much my kids notice when I am working. Sometimes, I casually tell them that I have a deadline coming up and they should probably leave me alone for a while so I can work. Turns out that my kids remember my deadlines better than their stuff. My 6-year-old woke up one day and suddenly asked me “Mom isn’t your plugin due today?”. That totally made my day 🙂
In the future, I might go back to working for a company, but for now, I love working for myself and the days I get to work in my pj’s are the best!
I finally made the time to bring this site and blog out of its long slumber and hibernation. When I started working for a small web development company, I never spent time on this blog. I had so many things to write here – but I never made the time to do so. Now, as I am back in the freelancing world, I have decided to bring it back to life.
When I started my career as a freelancer a few years ago, I did not have many clients. I realize now that I was not confident enough to quote the right price for the projects that came my way. So, I had very few projects that did not pay well.
I admit that I was scared to take the step and was not sure if I would do any better this time. But, I stuck with my decision. The first step I took was to attend the WordPress women’s meetup here in Seattle where I met Morgan Kay. That was the best step I took. Morgan is a fabulous web developer who specializes in custom WordPress themes and plugins as well. She passed on my information to many people who contacted her and gave me a good recommendation. So when I got emails from a couple of people asking to talk about projects, I was more than excited. When I went to meet my first few prospective clients, I was a nervous wreck. I kept telling myself not to blow this opportunity. I am now happy to say that I did well and now have a bunch of projects in my hand keeping me busy and my clients seem very happy too 🙂 A very big thanks to Morgan who helped me with the first step of my freelancing career.
In the past one and half year of being a freelancer, I realized that I like all the work that comes with freelancing – like finding clients & marketing as much as I like to sit and hand code websites. If I am continuously writing code for the sites, it feels monotonous after a while. Now, I have to focus on a variety of things during the course of the day which includes making calls to clients, taking care of finances, keeping up to date on latest design and web development tools along with actual designing and coding. It made me realize that I am a very good project manager.
So, as I go further along in my freelance career and make my presence known through this blog, I plan to write more about my experiences of being a freelancer and also about WordPress, CSS and jQuery. So, be sure to come back and check out this space!