freelancing series I: the good parts

why freelancing is good

why this series

I have been interacting with a lot of students for the past one year. And some of them are really smart. Many times they get a gig and ask me whether or not they should take it. Other questions which keep coming up are: how to get clients, is this a good career option to pursue out of college?

I personally feel that answer to any such question has only one answer. "It depends". Whether something is good or bad for you depends on where you're in your life. And where you want to go next. So, instead of taking or asking for advice, ask for perspectives. Ask for the story and the framework with which the other individual makes decisions.

This series, thus, will be around the framework of freelancing. These are all personal opinions based on my personal experiences and from what I have heard/seen other people from this domain. Take it with a pinch of salt, if you disagree, don't bother fighting it. Make your own way. And with that out of the way, let's start.

let me tell you about my experience

I have not worked as a freelance 100% of time ever. I have worked from one job to another. Once when I left a job at a startup to join Microsoft, I took a break for two months. Those two months, I went home and the only thing which I did during that time was freelance. I was living paycheck to paycheck (coz I had just bought a flat on a massive loan) and needed that money to pay my EMIs and rent during the break.

Before that, I had been freelancing on the side I guess since 2014. It started small with few websites for a real estate company, then a restaurant and then some more. It was going well, so I asked my wife, who was then my girlfriend to leave her job at Cognizant and work with me full time as a freelance. This was in 2015, she was into manual testing then and didn't like her job much. She quickly picked up the skill and became the primary face, we registered a company. She didn't go back to work full time for the next 3 years. We were comfortable!

So, 2014-18 was my freelancing journey. After I joined Microsoft, I stopped doing freelance. The money at MS was too good already and I felt like it was time to give back more to society and spend some time on my personal growth as well. BTW during the time I was freelancing, I had written several answers on Quora too, I was one of the top writers in IT, second to Balaji V (people from Quora would be able to relate to my big moment!). After that, this newsletter is my return to writing long form. Please do reply or tweet if you like it. Let's go ahead.

During this journey, and before and after that too, I have been in touch with the freelancing community. Some of my friends from college went ahead to establish big service firms. You would see a lot of founders from MIT(Manipal, have to clear this up), neck deep into this business and making real good money out of it. Even a lot of people in the JS community are paid a lot doing this gig. This series will draw from my personal plus from the experiences of these people.

freelancing for some confidence

When you're starting out in a new career or technology. You never know whether you're any good. I was deep in Cyber Security and picked Web Development as a hobby. I was a really bad Web Dev in college. Barely passed with an E grade. So, when I started, getting the first 2K for a Biryani website, or 10K for a real estate website was a good boost. This wasn't a lot of money to act as a stimulus, as I was already working. However, this did help me think, "I am good enough to get paid!", that too with minimal effort. Looking back, I think that was a major boost.

fights the procrastination habit

Again, when you're learning something on the side. Say after office hours, or college hours it's hard to find momentum and motivation. Finding the time to sit and work for 20-30 hours on weekends would seem exhausting. If it was just for learning purposes! All through my career, I grew fast, faster than my peers because freelancing on the side pushed me. Even when I was doing AI/ML as the core job, I didn't lose touch with web dev. And to learn the tricks of the trade, I remember sitting hours after office work, treating weekends as regular office days and working.

This did two things. One I learnt a lot of things. Became a problem solver. In the freelancing world there's no senior or manager to go to. And Second, I got out of the habit that weekend is to "take a break". I took a break, yes, from my regular work. This habit and mindset has helped me now when I am doing the same amount of work but for community. Getting out of the habit of watching TV, going on endless trips, or catching every movie in the theater helps!

freedom

This is a double edged sword and I will talk about the other edge in the next issue. However, if you can do it right, freelance gives you a great deal of freedom. My wife got the freedom from manual testing and got into development. I got the freedom to take a long break before joining Microsoft, while I worked from my hometown, on my convenient hours and schedule.

However, people get attracted to freelance only for this reason. The point that you’re your own Boss etc. I feel that it’s a little hyped. I wouldn’t suggest making that a goal. Coz even in good product companies you’re kind of your own boss. If you’re good at programming, don’t compare a service job to freelance. That’s cheeku to apple comparison, I mean who likes Cheeku anyway? Except my Mom! :P

you make some money

That too while doing something you love. I love to program. Even when I am not working, I like to code. Coding is my game. Just need to change the scene. If you do freelancing right, you can make good money. When I started out it was enough that my wife could leave her job and help me full time. But those were not the best years. Later in the career, I made good money with freelancing. So, much so that I was able to do parts of my down payment for the new flat, bought two cars and financed parts of my wedding. Having an extra income boosts your financial capability for sure. Even though all of this wasn't planned, it didn't hurt to get some extra cash in pocket. :)

you pickup other life skills

If someone asks me, "how many languages do you know?", I would say, "Seven! JavaScript, Python, C/C++, Java,....".

Even though this was intended as a joke, you got my point. As engineers, we can communicate well to a machine. However, when it comes to communicating with people, with stakeholders of a project, we do lack a certain interpersonal skill. Even our interviews for jobs are technical.

Freelancing is different. The client doesn't know about NodeJS, (s)he cares about the end product. So, you have to educate and convince. You need to lay down the basics of the project. Structure the delivery yourself. And make it sound complicated enough that he/she is ready to pay your price. Also, understand the market to quote right so that the client doesn't take work somewhere else.

In just one paragraph, I summarised the skills needed to do: pricing, marketing, product management, project management and effective communication. It's hard to learn these things on a daily tech job. And of all the things I have listed till now, this part of freelancing is the second most favorite thing on my list. Let's go to the (first) most favorite!

you learn end to end dev

This is the most important. When you join a company straight out of college, you are a cog in a big big machine. For example, engineers working in Microsoft or Google wouldn't know how Authentication works. Coz their app starts after the auth part is already taken care of. The backend devs don't have a lot of ideas about FE. The FE wouldn't know how to configure a server (an EC2 instance) from scratch and make it a web server. It's easy now when private Github is free, when I was starting, I had to learn how to host a git server, email server everything. And I do cherish all that learning! Coz if I see a SaaS startup now, I know exactly how it is built and what went behind the scene.

My point is that when you're working in a big co. even though you get a lot of depth, you don't get a lot of breadth. Working as a freelance would help you fill these holes in your knowledge. Here's a personal thing: my aim is to create and lead a big badass team someday somewhere as a CTO or VP Engineering, and thus, I felt that freelance prepared me for that role a lot.

until next time

Now, maybe after reading all this you're feeling that you should start doing freelance immediately. I would ask you to sleep on it. The next issue of this series will cover how we can go wrong with freelance. And the issues after that will have practical tips.

Treat the part one as the 5 star reviews of a product. I generally read the 1 star reviews as well before buying a product. So, be ready for that in the next issue itself.

Until then, if you liked this, reply to this email (or email directly on tanay.pratap@live.com) and let me know. If I missed something, definitely let me know. Share this with your friends. The best thing you can do for this series is put up a story on Instagram or a tweet and tag me (@tanaypratap on all platforms). Looking forward to hearing from you.