5 Things I’ve learned about being self employed.


What would you do if someone told you that being self employed was the hardest way to make a living?

I’ve been 100% self employed for about two months now. For the past 12 years I was gainfully employed as a web developer with experience in various PHP frameworks. At about the same time as I began writing my first bits of PHP code, I started helping my wife (then my girlfriend) run her family business. As time progressed, we got married, took over that business and started a family.

Seven years on (and two boys later) the pressures of working 2 jobs took it’s toll, so I resigned from the world of salaried employee and moved into the world of the self employed.

Last week another web developer I know asked me how it was going. Truthfully I answered, ‘It’s hard’. The reality is, it isn’t easy. You may think you have amazing skills, talent and a can-do attitude but all that pales in comparison to the most important skill required: getting paid.

So, after a mere two months of going at it alone, I thought I would share 5 things I had to learn the hard way, in the hopes of saving someone else the heartache of finding out themselves.

1.Have all the pieces of the puzzle.

Last week I quoted on a project for a new client. It was a two page job, I had the brief and the designs so I knew exactly what would be required. All I didn’t have was the mobile designs. In the words of Jeremy Clarkson “How hard could it be” I thought and quoted 2 hours per page for the mobile changes.

8 hours of development time later I realised my mistake. My assumption that the mobile layouts wouldn’t be much more different than the desktop ones caused me to have to rewrite parts of the templates, wasting my own time. It’s my own fault, not the client’s, as I should have asked for the mobile designs before quoting.

2.Clients expect more.

This was an interesting lesson, one that I’m still not sure I fully understand.

I had private messaged a prospective client about assisting her with some development work. See was looking for someone to help her with some small tweaks from time to time. I sent my relevant details and a few days later she came back to say that she had gone with another developer.

I politely asked what the reason was and her response was that, during initial conversations, the other developer had offered a possible solution to one of the tasks she was wanting help with.

The lesson here; go deeper than just providing your credentials, show prospective clients what value you bring to the table. In the words of @alclunnie, ‘if it takes you 5 minutes to drop a value bomb on them and prove you’re a great developer / consultant, then you will reap rewards’.


You’d think this one was obvious, wouldn’t you?

As a developer you get used to putting in the odd late night/early morning stint to get a project done. I’ve forgotten how many 1am/2am bed times I’ve done over the years. Once you get into ‘the zone’ its hard to stop.

But try that every night for two months. Eventually it catches up to you. After spending a day with what I can only imagine was either a migraine or exhaustion I’ve promised myself I will get at least one good night’s sleep a week.

4.Set your goals but be prepared to change them.

When you are self employed its really easy to come up with the next big money making idea. I’ve probably come up with 4 this week alone. But trying to make every single one of them a reality is just not physically possible. So I’ve had to learn to focus on one or two at a time.

The downside to this, the two I choose might not be the ones that make it big. The upside is that by focusing on only two at a time I can quickly tell which one is doomed to failure, discard it and move on to another.

5.If you are doing your best, you’re doing enough.

My biggest problem is my lack of self confidence in my skills. I’ve been developing software for over 12 years and I still see myself as a junior.

So I am always worried that the client is unhappy with my work/delivery/communication. Every email I send, every piece of code I deploy means that I spend hours worrying that ‘this will be the one that makes the client unhappy and I loose the project’.

The reality, I’ve had one 5 star review and two pieces of very positive feedback from clients already. One even commented on the professionalism of my work. I guess I must be doing something right.

So I’ll go back to my original question, what would I do if someone told me that being self employed was the hardest way to make a living?

Last year I would have possibly told them that I can see how that could be but I really would have no idea. This year I’m writing it here, publicly, in black and white. It’s the hardest I’ve ever had to do.

Theodore Roosevelt said it best though:

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.

I’d much rather lead a difficult life but lead it well.

written by Jonathan Bossenger

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