Coding with Jesse

Freelancing: First two months

October 8th, 2006

It's been two months now since I announced I would start freelancing full-time, and hardly anything has gone the way I expected. Here's a little list of some of the things I've learnt or found surprising:

  1. You don't work as many hours in a day as you think

    Originally, when trying to figure out how many hours I'd be working per day, I just figured I'd do the same I did at my day job: 8 hours, from 9 to 5.

    The first time I tried to work that long, I realised it just wasn't going to happen. I discovered that it takes me about an hour of checking email, reading news, etc. to wake up enough to start working. Then, I can only work about 2 hours straight before my mind turns mushy and I have to take a break.

    I quickly realised that my prime working length was around 5 hours in a day, spread out over a period of 7 or 8 hours. But when you're billing by the hour, you really should only charge for the time worked, not the time eating lunch or surfing the web. This is a major difference between freelancing and a regular job.

  2. Scheduling can be very hard

    Scheduling is a juggling act based on a few difficult tasks: estimating how long it takes to do something, and figuring out when you'll have time to do that work. Multiply these simple looking problems by the fact that you'll occasionally be stuck waiting for something from clients. This can create these weird bubbles in time where you have nothing to do, but know that a few days from now you'll have way too many things to do.

    With web development, the size of projects can vary from an hour or less to over 400 hours of work. It's especially hard to deal with very large projects. You can say it'll take 100 hours, and that it'll take a month to work those hours. What do you do while you wait for the client to get back to you - tell everyone else who asks for work that you're all booked up? Then what happens if the project never happens? You get screwed!

    I'm starting to figure out I have to just explain my situation to my clients, tell them I don't know exactly when I'll have time, but that I should be able to finish within the next month or two. I'm also being careful not to commit more than maybe a third of my time to any one project, because anything can happen. The more flexibility I can work in, the better.

  3. Freedom isn't free

    Probably the best part of freelancing is the freedom to work when and whereever you want. While this is true in theory, when you schedule work for yourself, you have to make the commitment to actually work those hours. If you don't, well, you'll either have to work extra hours later or else deliver things late. These are the only stresses that really force you to work, but I'm glad that they're there, or else I would probably be taking off way too many days.

    Freedom also gives you the opportunity to find your own rhythm. I'm starting to think that I may work better in the evenings, though my girlfriend isn't so excited about that idea. It's actually not so easy to figure these things out, something you don't have to think about when you're told exactly which hours you have to work at.

  4. No time for blogs

    When I had a day job, and I wanted to take a little break, I just loaded up Bloglines and tried to catch up on the 200 or so feeds I subscribe to. Now, I can say I haven't read any of them since I went completely full-time. You may also have noticed that I've hardly blogged at all during this time, either.

    The reason is, now that the computer at home is where I work, when I take breaks or stop working, I want to get as far away from the computer as possible. It's like blogging and even reading blogs is a part of work that I need to schedule in or make time for, except it seems like the least important thing I have to do, so I never end up with time for it.

  5. It's not so hard to find work

    I once told a guy who worked at a web development company that I was about to start freelancing. He said, "That won't work. When will you have time to find clients?" I haven't had that problem at all.

    Okay, I do have the advantage of having this blog. Nearly all of my clients come from my Hire Me page. But I'm not scared that this will stop. I know that I can easily find more work through sites like Rent A Coder or Guru, even if it pays a bit less than I prefer. I could also step up my marketing efforts at any time (which means doing any, since right now I'm doing practically none).

    Okay, it's true, I don't have a lot of time to go find clients. But if I ever ran out of work, I'd certainly have the time to find new clients. It should balance itself out quite well.

So there's some of the things I've learned. Do any other freelancers out there have anything to add to this list?


1 . Joe on October 8th, 2006


Hey Jesse,

Welcome back. Personally, time is my biggest concern, I either have too much, or not enough.

I think you are finding the same thing from what you wrote.

I am running a Working at Home Blog Carnival on Friday's. Something like this would be perfect for it.

I know your time is tight, but you may want to consider joining in for a little more exposure.

Just a thought.

Good Luck,


2 . Ryan on October 8th, 2006


This is a hilarious read...because I could have written much the same thing, if I had any time. I went full time freelance in April 2006, and can match you almost point for point above.

1. I used to think I did 14 hour days, etc etc but it turns out that a very long day is actually only about 7 or 8 billalble hours. Most days I do 4-5 billable hours. Is that good or bad? I don't know. I'm still too new at this. The rest of my time is administrative stuff, billing, proposals, etc.

2. Yep...I've had a couple months with nothing to do (relatively), and a couple months where I though I was going to lose my mind I was so busy. I'm finding that when it rains, it pours. I'm about to have more work than I can really handle at this time which will lead me to points 3 and 4...

3. I work 7 days a week, whether it is only for a couple hours or from dawn 'til dusk. The upside is that I don't really consider it "work". The downside is that I'm always working, or thinking about working. People don't get that if I don't do the work, the work doesn't get done, so , I'm sorry, NO I can't go golfing this weekend...

4. I used to read Digg at lunch every day. I used to have a million RSS Feeds in NetNewsWire. I used to write blog posts. Not any longer. Who honestly has time? I've unsubscribed from almost everything, and haven't been on Digg in months, and haven't written anything about anything in weeks. And you know what? I don't think I - or anyone who ever reads my stuff - have really missed anything. I agree with you - when I relax, I want to get away from my machine.

5. At the rate I've gone, I'll never have to spend a dime on advertising. Word of mouth works wonders. Clients have not been a problem so far.

Good for you for striking out on your own, and good luck!

3 . Brett on October 18th, 2006


I love freelancing, i'll never work for anyone again (at least i hope not). My only problem is not having a fixed paycheck. Some months i do extremely well, and the next i almost starve... not a good thing when you're trying to support a family!

But, i wouldn't have it any other way. I would rather have an unlimited upside then a minimum floor.

I stopped using Rent-a-coder (and similar sites). They take too much in commissions. Most of the job/project posters have NO idea what a project entails and have unrealistic expectations of time and cost.

I have a core group of web designers that forward work to me (as well as clients who need only development work). I've thought about expanding the list, but then I worry about getting too much work...

At least i'm never bored!

Good luck!

4 . Jim Callender on December 1st, 2006

Jim Callender

yes, i can see a few of the pros and cons about being a freelancer here. defintately i think having a blog is an asset, and a good list of clients on your resume.

i think if you can set a daily schedule and get 5 or 6 tasks completed each day then great, however some days phonecalls and emails may take all your time.

ive only been freelancing 1.5 years now, and i am loving the freedom and the perks of working locally and networking with other freelancers in Brighton and London.

Comments are closed, but I'd still love to hear your thoughts.