The Freelancers’ Show 080 – Our Stories

00:00
Download MP3

The freelancers talk about how they went freelance and some of the mistakes, struggles and triumphs they experienced.

Transcript

[Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at bluebox.net.] [You're fantastic at coding, but do you have an action plan to take it to the next level? The upcoming book, Next Level Freelance, will help you optimize your freelance business for happiness. The book is packed with actionable steps to make more money, case studies, tips to find more clients, and exercises for you to establish your desired lifestyle. Extras include: 9 interviews with freelancers who make great money while enjoying great work-life balance, videos on strategies to find quality subcontractors, and videos on making more free time by outsourcing your daily tasks. Check it out today at nextlevelfreelance.com!] [This episode is sponsored by Planscope. Planscope is a project management and collaboration net built for freelancers in the way they work with clients. It makes it easy to price out new estimates and once you’re underway and help answer the question, these get done on time and under budget. I’ve been using Planscope to do my estimates and manage my projects and I really, really like it. It makes it really easy to keep things in order, and understand when things will get done. You can go check it out at Planscope.io.] CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to Episode 80 of The Freelancers' Show! This week on our panel, we have Curtis McHale. CURTIS: Hello! CHUCK: Ashe Dryden. ASHE: Hi there! CHUCK: Eric Davis. ERIC: Hey! CHUCK: Reuven Lerner REUVEN: Hello! CHUCK: Jim Gay. JIM: Hi! I feel like I should have a longer intro since I really did one word things…so welcome to The Freelancers’ Show! [Laughter] CHUCK: I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv. Before we get started, I just want to make a quick announcement. This Friday, which by the time you get this will be last Friday, is my ‘Freedom Day’. It’s the day I got laid off from my last fulltime job, and went freelance. In honor of that, I am putting up a video, and it’s going to be a video kind of explaining how I got started with freelancing and some of the lessons I learned along the way. I’m hoping to pack you with a bunch of good advice for people. You can go get it at GoingRogueVideo.com. You can pick it up there and, hopefully, it helps you out. CURTIS: Are you going to us your happy dance when you got laid off and started freelance? REUVEN: [Laughs] I don’t know if you could dance that day… CHUCK: That’s kind of the topic of the show – it’s talking about how we wind up going freelancing and how things got started for us. And yeah, I didn’t quite do a happy dance. My work history basically went, though, that I had a job that I love, they got acquired to become a job that I hated, and went to another job that I enjoyed. They ran out of Ruby work and laid me off, so I went to another job, I hated them, I work for them for a year and just couldn’t take it anymore, and went and got another job that I loved, and they laid me off. I figured that the jobs I loved, I’d either get laid off or they changed so I hate them, and the jobs that I hated, they would try and give me a guilt trip for leaving. So I was being really picky when I got laid off from that job. And by the time I found a job that looked like it might work out and not totally suck, I was making in a freelancing to pay the bills. So I didn’t do a happy dance that day. But over the course of the next 6 months, things worked out. And it also helped that I got enough of a severance and a bonus when they laid me off that I could live on that for a month or two. ASHE: Nice. CHUCK: I’m a little curious how the rest of you went freelance; if you quit a job, or got laid off or fired, or what. Let’s start with Reuven, I’m kind of curious to hear what his story is. REUVEN: I worked for HP as a student, like during a summer when I was in college, and then just afterwards for about a year or two. I did this normal student thing, which is not that much work, but you feel like it’s a lot of work and you’re learning how work works. There was a guy in our group who was a contractor and I was like, “Oh, what is that?” He said, “Oh! It’s the best thing ever! You go from company to company, and you make tons of money, and you go to meetings.” I was like, “Okay,” and I absorbed as much as of 19 or 20-year old really can of this, which is almost nothing. And then fast forward a few years, after HP, I worked for Time Warner, and that’s when I was planning to move to Israel. I knew like I was going to get to Israel at some point, after about I guess 8 or 9 months there, when I talked to them about this, that I was going to be leaving, they said, “Well, what are you going to do?” that sort of when this guy’s story came back in my head, I said, “Well, I thought maybe I’d try consulting.” And they said, “Oh, well if you’re going to do that, would you like us to be your first client?” and I said, “Sure!” This was more or less all I knew about consulting, that I now was going to be doing it and that I had a client. [Laughter] CHUCK: That’s all you need… REUVEN: But I had never done billing, I had never ran a business, so I ride in Israel, my bags and my computer, and more or less started working with Time Warner right away on their project. I didn’t know like should I show myself employed, should I incorporate. Israel has different laws in the US where you don’t file your own tax forms in Israel, unless you’re either a business owner or wealthy – everything is taken out at source. If you want tax exemptions, you have to file special forms for that, but it’s pretty rare. So if you want to be self-employed, you have to actually be registered with the government as self-employed like basically as a business. So I went to an accountant and I told them I wanted a separate business. He said, “Well, have you ever done this before in the US?” and I said, “No.” He said, “Great! You’ll think the weird way we do it in Israel is normal then.” [Laughter] REUVEN: And to this day, I’m basically seeing like the Israel way of doing business is totally reasonable. And when we ran the US for here, I was like, “Oh my god! These people are crazy!” you have to sign the tax form before they do the boat or something. Anyway, my work with Time Warner was about 20 hours a week, and I worked with them for I think about 2 years or 3 years, maybe a little more…I think it was like 4 years or something. I decided early on that if I was going to try this consulting and if it was going to work, I really needed more than one client. I understood, at least enough, that if I had one big client and they decide to leave me at some point, then I was going to be stuck. So I really made an effort to try to leverage the steady income they were giving me, which was basically retainer, into getting more clients. So I spoke at a bunch of user conferences and I got my name out more and more – friends and acquaintances got my name out – and it just sort of moved on from there. I was always doing web stuff, but I was originally doing Perl and database things, and more and more, I moved sort of away from the Perl for Python and then Ruby, and less and less sort of SysAdmin stuff, and more and more software development and architecture and consulting. At some point down the road, someone said, “Well, would you be interested in teaching classes about this?” I said, “Yeah! I can teach…sure!” I’m sure if I really look back at myself teaching 10 years ago, 15 years ago – this well of 1995 when I started by the way, so it’s sort of been this long evolution – so I’ve been teaching that for 15 years or so also, and hopefully getting better at all the time. Anyway, I’d basically like, for 17 years now, my sole income has been through freelancing; through some combination of consulting, programming, and teaching. And when my wife and I got married, she was a little sort of surprised/putting off by “What do you mean you don’t know what you’re making each month?” [Laughter] REUVEN: And we still, though. Now, we’re like she sees it as normal, and she’s also doing some contracting work in her line of business, which is not high-tech at all, and it just really worked. I just totally enjoy it. Every so often, I’m offered a full-time job, and I think of myself first of all, “Wait, that would mean me just getting a paycheck from one place. Oh my god! That’s so scary! What happens if I get laid off?” And the other thing is, I just love the variety; I love talking with new people all the time, new challenges, and on and on. I can’t imagine sitting in the same place every day with the same people anymore; it’s kind of anathema to me at this point. CHUCK: I think we all feel that way to one degree or another. I’m going to switch cares because I want to get through all of our various backgrounds with freelancing and how we got started, and then we can kind of talk about some of the lessons we’ve learned. Ashe, how did you go freelance? ASHE: For a long time, I helped start some of the web development user groups in Milwaukee. And for a long time, people would come up to me and ask, because I was so passionate about it, “Do you do this full-time?” At that time, I was doing more of like software development and software support, but I wasn’t doing it for myself, I was doing it for another company. And although I could use the extra money so I would work on things on the side and I was working with quite a few marketing and advertising agencies after a while, I was basically working 18 hours a day, which sounds as horrible as it actually was. I would get up and go to my regular job, and then I would come home and work until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning on all of my freelancing stuff basically just to pay the bills and be able to put away money and that kind of thing. After a while, I was starting to make more money doing the freelancing stuff than I was at my day job. This is like January, 4 or 5 years ago, I decided, “I’m just going to quit,” and I worked for myself and I was terrified because there is a lot of money mismanagement in my family like it kind of like bankruptcies run in my family and that kind of thing. So I was really worried about not being able to eat; I was very concerned about not being able to feed my cats, that was probably the biggest thing. I was very worried that these little creatures that I was supposed to take care of I wouldn’t be able to feed. I thought about it in January and I decided in 3-4 months, I was going to quit and I was going to work for myself. I spent some months going out and telling people, “Hey, I’m going to be going freelance, I’m working for myself. If you think of anything, send it my way.” But in the meantime, I stocked up on stuff at home. I was like a doomsday preparer at that point, like I went to the store and I bought like 10 tubes of toothpaste, and tons of cat food – everything that I could think of that I might possibly run out of so I wouldn’t have to worry about it if things got lean. REUVEN: [Laughs] ASHE: So I [unclear] my house and I had all of this stuff I piled, and 3 or 4 months later, I quit. And about a couple of months into it, somebody asked me if I would come on as a co-founder of a startup so I did that for about a year. But outside of that, it’s just been people asking me, “Is this something that you do?” or talking to me asking if I speak at conference or write blog post about the kinds of things that I do. I’m very lucky that I don’t have to do a lot of marketing for my work; it just kind of comes my way. I have lean times just like everybody else does, but for the most part, I really don’t struggle just because of the way I’ve set my stuff up; I do consulting with a lot of marketing and advertising and dev shops. Basically, they just throw me work whenever they don’t have somebody in-house that has those skills, or they need some kind of team direction, or they have too much work and not enough people to do it. So they just say, “Hey! Is your August busy? We would like to pay for your August if you want to work on a project with us,” which works out really nicely for me. CHUCK: That’s really cool, kind of some funny points in there, but really interesting. I wish I had the guts to quit, but my wife would not let me. Jim, what’s your story? JIM: It’s funny; I kind of have 2 starting points. I looked back, I see I have 2 starting points because I was in college and I was getting a Craft Design degree. In that program, I knew a lot of graduating in the class ahead of me, so I was a junior. The people who were preparing their portfolios and were worried about getting jobs, they had all been running around like crazy worrying about interviews and making their portfolios looking good. I would hear people comment, “You know, we should just start our own consultancy; we should just start our own studio.” At the time, I was actually doing a little freelance work on the side for my father’s company doing flash design and web design which was like brand new at the time back in the late 90s. So I heard all these people complaining that they were worried about getting jobs and I was like, “How hard could it be?” So I went home one summer and I registered a business in my hometown. It cost me like $35 to fill out some form and pay a fee, and I had a business license. So that was kind of the start. I had done some freelancing on the side. I think probably what a lot of people who have not really done it full-time worry about is the point where I got was, “Now I’ve done a little bit, and I’m struggling and I’m staying up late and I’m losing sleep,” or “I’m not giving enough time for my spouse or my kids,” or whatever it may be, and I hit a point where my wife and I didn’t have kids and it was something I wanted to do – to leave my job and start my own company. We realized, at a certain point, it was never going to happen until I just did it. So we decided, “Okay, 6 months from now, you’ll quit, we’ll have enough money, and we’ll just see how it goes.” That’s pretty much it. I was in the workforce for like 5 or 6 years or something until finally, I decided, “Alright, I’ve got a handful of clients,” but I would sneak out of my office to take a phone call and pays around the parking lot of my building because I had terrible cell signal there, and I try to have meetings like at lunch time on the phone and try to keep my clients happy – it was just a disaster. So once I finally quit, then I had all the time in the world to follow up with people and get connected and I basically didn’t turn around. Though it’s funny, as soon as I decided I was going to put in my notice and quit, the next day we found out my wife was pregnant [laughs], so I was like, should I backtrack so I come back to my boss and say, “Actually, I think I still want my job.” REUVEN: [Laughs] JIM: But it’s worked out ever since . CHUCK: That’s pretty amazing. Curtis, what’s your story? CURTIS: I kind of started as a web out of a psychology degree because I decided that was more fun anyway. So I worked at 2 different places in-house, one was more of a paddling – it was a kayaking shop where part of my job was to do their web; and the second one was a Christian Ministry, and my fulltime job was to do their web. But I chafed under I guess the leadership and have many jobs anyway so my wife and I decided that it was a good idea for me to start my own business. I already ran a bunch of other ones like in construction and a bunch of other stuff; I’d always worked on the side pretty much, framing or doing whatever else I did basically since I was like 18 really. We set up a plan, like we set 3 months of income that we just have to save up. Once that was saved up, I gave my notice. I found out we were pregnant one week after I left. CHUCK: [Laughs] CURTIS: [Chuckles] It’s like I left on a Friday, and it fall not the next Monday, but I guess the next fall Monday, after taking like the whole weekend off, basically. That took like a 5-day weekend for my first weekend of freelancing, we found out we’re expecting our first child as soon as that happened. That’s a short version of my story. My wife was on board with it right from the beginning as long as we had our income setup and we just set up a plan. She said, “Go for it,” and she always says, “I’m way happy you’re doing this,” and she’d way rather have me doing what I’m doing than go back to a job even working remotely, I’ve tried that once, and she’s like, “But you didn’t like it, remember?” “I didn’t like you then either...” [Laughter] CHUCK: Nice. Eric, what’s your story? ERIC: In mid 2007, I guess actually early 2007, I was working at a software company, a real small local one, we were in California and decided like, “Let’s move to Oregon,” I don’t remember the reasons why. I think because all of our family was in California… [Laughter] REUVEN: I was expecting you to say, “Obviously, there were in Oregon…” [Laughs] ERIC: Yeah, I know. Well, actually, a lot of our family has kind of followed us up here since we moved up here, so we’re [unclear] at Canada now, but that’s a different story. [Laughter] ERIC: I got a call from like an apartment up here and they’re like, “Hey, we actually have an apartment,” and I think in this course of like a month or 2 months, we decided to pack up and move and just lead up state. I basically put on my notice at the company I was working at. By that time, I actually at hired there to do tech support even though I knew programming and stuff, and by the time I left, my job title was like tech support, testing automation person, web master, building Rails web apps, building desktop programs, doing mobile stuff, and then running all of their servers. I was like a Jack of all Trades at that point that’s just because I have this tendency to just jump into things and just be curious and learn. So when we moved up here, part of it is I had to sell my car, which is an old 80s Volkswagen Jetta, so it wasn’t worth that much. But I was like, “I really don’t want to buy another car,” so I was like talking to my wife and I asked that I didn’t want to go to out to an interview so I decided like, “Hey, why don’t we take like $800 and $900 from the proceeds of the car sell and try to start my own business to do whatever?” if I can get it to work, then I keep doing that. Otherwise, I’ll just have $800 or $900 to kind of go run around do job interviews and find a way to bring in some money. I think we took about maybe a month or so, I started booking work, and then finally like I got just a basic static HTML website design project that I think it’s like $2500 or something. It was a pretty decent amount for kind of how much I thought I would get paid, and that basically just started kick starting my freelance business and I just started doing more marketing, picking up clients here and there. In fact, probably about 4 or 5 months after I started, I picked up a client that I’ve worked with for about 5 years afterwards. It was kind of very haphazard way. Like I said, it’s actually almost a bet like, “I bet I can get this business started. If I can’t, then my wife, you get something out of it. If I get it started, then I wouldn’t have to go find a job,” it was very much just on a whim thing. But sometimes, I say, I also kind of started, and never really actually made any money, but I started 2 or 3 businesses in college, so I kind of have this itch of entrepreneurship back then. I think that’s kind of what helped drive me in the first few months. CHUCK: Awesome. I kind of want to go into now some of the mistakes that you made early on freelancing. I’ll go ahead and start with one. I had a pretty good platform for finding things and I knew several people like here in the community. But again, I was being picky about which job I took since I had gotten laid off from pretty much every job that I loved, and they wanted me to stay at the jobs that I hated. Anyway, so I was being picky and I talked to few people and I heard about a contract over here in the town just south of the one that I live in. So I went in there and then interviewed, and a couple of other guys that I knew that were doing picking up contracts when then they’re interviewed. Amazingly, I was the one that they hired! It turned out that if you go and bid yourself at $65 an hour, and everybody else bids themselves out $120 an hour, you’re going to get the contract. REUVEN: [Laughs] CHUCK: That was the first mistake I made. I probably could have gotten that contract for $100 an hour pretty easily. I worked it for a few months, and it did kind of help me figure out how to run my business and things like that, but that was one major mistake that I made; I left a ton of money on the table doing work for way too little. That’s one mistake – don’t sell yourself short [laughs] and get started. ERIC: Yeah. I think my first contract was like $35 an hour, and I even just count on it because it was like my previous employer. I was making more than my salary, but barely. I had no idea about all the taxes and everything else. I think the contract just ended up being 20 or 30 hours total, so it wasn’t even like volume. ASHE: It’s so hard when you’re first starting out. They do nub, but when I started, people really didn’t talk about how much they charged so I have no idea, so I did the same thing. I just added 50% to what I was making per hour at my last job and that’s what I was charging. I was so surprised when people will be like, “Yeah! You won this!” and I’m really, “Yeah! I must be super good!” Come to find out, I’m bidding like a quartered of cost of what everybody else does. If it wasn’t for a friend of mine that took me aside and said, “Hey, you need to be charging more like I’m going to be paying you X dollars per hour because this is ridiculous; you can’t charge this little because I had no idea. I didn’t have the confidence in my abilities back then either to feel like I could command the rate that I should have been charging. So it took a while to kind of fell into that. CHUCK: Yeah, I looked out and wind up spending time with Eric and Evan and some of the other folks there, and they set me straight pretty fast. ASHE: Nice. Good friends! REUVEN: I really had no one to talk to about setting rates, and I had to also juggle rates in Israel where consulting rates are way, way lower than the US, and then in the US because I was doing work not only for Time Warner, but I picked up a bunch of clients abroad as well. But I did have a good friend, and still a good friend, and colleague who’s a graphic designer and we did a whole bunch of projects together. My rule of thumb was basically, “Whatever he’s charging, I should be charging more because programming is harder.” So basically, that was sort of my rule of thumb for it, “Oh! He’s charging $50? I should really charge $65; that sounds about right to me.” That’s more or less how I sort of set rates for a long time. Now, I sort of try to push it, I think like many of us, most of us in the field, try to push as high as possible without of course losing things. But it’s not unusual for me to sort of talk to someone and say my rate. And in Israel, they sort of fall off the chair and turn pale. CHUCK: [Laughs] REUVEN: And then 2 months later, they’ll go like, “Actually, we would not mind working with you a little bit,” if they hired someone in the middle who they didn’t like. ASHE: I have a friend who’s a designer who I asked to design some slides for me. At first, she didn’t want to charge me. I’m like, “Hey, I really want to pay you for this,” and then gave me her hourly rate, and I paid her double back. I’m just like, “Look, everybody has had somebody at some point in their career say you are charging too little and I’m the first client that’s going to pay you with a correct rate. Now, you should feel that now you’ve paid what you should be paid, that you can go out to the rest of your clients and also demand that same rate.” CHUCK: And the other mistakes that you guys made, because I’ve got plenty more… [Laughter] ASHE: How long do we have? CHUCK: We could probably talk for another 20 minutes… [Crosstalk] CURTIS: I didn’t save my taxes one year… CHUCK: Yeah, I did that, too. CURTIS: So I had to pay that at the end…not fun. CHUCK: [Laughs] You wind up coughing up a whole bunch of money…whoops! ERIC: Yeah, I did that, too. ASHE: Not having people sign contracts. REUVEN: Oh, yes. JIM: [Laughs] ASHE: We know it’s funny because I had to make the mistake more than once [laughs]. JIM: Yes! CHUCK: I made that mistake a few months ago. It’s like, “Oh, he’s a friend of mine. He’d totally not screw me over, and he told me that he had money in the bank,” so I’m like, “Okay, this is totally going to work out.” I’m still harassing him to pay me. I’m just like, “Oh, I totally lost a friend over this deal.” REUVEN: I got a call from a friend, not a close friend, but a friend like I guess it was about 2 or 3 years ago at this point who said, “Oh, I know this guy, he needs his web app, and he’s really great,” and on and on. I was like, “Great!” So I met him, super impressed me which it turns out it’s not so hard I guess, so everything sounded great. Somehow, we never signed a contract. But that was okay because when I said I wanted to get 25% upfront – and truth be told, I rarely ask money upfront – but I figured, “Okay, he’s offering, why not?” We were sitting at a café, he takes out cash [laughs], and puts it on the table, and I’m thinking, “Oh my god!” this was like hundreds and hundreds of dollars. CURTIS: Wait, on top of the table or under the table? ASHE: [Laughs] REUVEN: It was on top of the table. Whenever I walk with cash, I sort of feel like everyone can see it and it’s burning a hole in my pocket, and there’s like a big, big thing on the map saying, “Reuven has cash, come steal it.” So I basically drove directly from there to the place where I can deposit the dollars easily. Of course, fast forward several months later, he pays. Second time, he pays me. Third time that I do a ton of work, while he’s paying me, “Oh, you did a terrible job!” [laughs] and I was like, “No, you have to pay me.” “Oh, no! You did a terrible job!” So basically, I called my friend. He was like, “Well, I’ll try to convince him, I don’t know. It sounds like he got a good case.” I finally went to a lawyer, and the lawyer said, “Oh, you didn’t have a contract? Let me look this guy up.” And then he said, “Oh, this guy is a known fraudster. He was on the national news for the defrauding a whole lot of people. Let me show you.” And that’s when I realized, I was probably not going to be paid very soon. Just a quick follow up, the friend felt terrible, and he told me a few months ago – first of all, this guy has now become his brother in law – [Laughter] REUVEN: And second of all, my friend’s father was also duped out a whole lot of money from this same guy. So he was like, “Well, I feel bad for you, but I also feel bad for my dad,” and the lesson boys and girls is always have a contract. CHUCK: Oh wow! ASHE: Oh man! JIM: I remember when I was starting being scared about that type of thing because by the time I was doing graphic design work and I was a member of the AIGA, they offer a sender contract and it is massive compared to what I was used to doing; I found some small little contract that was like one maybe 2 pages. This thing had everything you could think of for interactive work, for brochure designs, annual reports, and publications and all kinds of stuff. I had actually sent that to a potential client and they were like, “This is ridiculous. We just want a small little website done,” or whatever it was (I don’t remember) and they walked away. I was afraid at the time because I thought that the contract was the thing that pushed them away. But really, they were never convinced that I was going to be the person anyway, like I didn’t do a good enough job, showing them that I was the right person for the job. I think it’s important for anybody starting out that if you have a rock solid contract, you should be confident in your rock solid contract and you should be focusing on building a relationship so that they trust you to do the job because if anybody walks away and blames a good contract, then you probably don’t want them as a client anyway. REUVEN: I’ve never ever had a client say, “What? You want us to sign a contract? There’s no way I’d work with you.” On the contrary, I found that it only commands respect and negotiating the parts that everyone disagrees with other contract, that’s normal. I love when people say, “Well, we’d just have you sign our standard contract,” if any of you don’t realize this… CHUCK: [Laughs] REUVEN: There is no standard contract, everyone should just contracts, it’s totally fine, you can totally change it and you should, but they’ve always been extremely open and reasonable about it. At the end of the day, when we sign it, I didn’t feel confident I will get paid and they will get their work and we can both be sure that’s going to happen. CHUCK: Whenever I hear standard contracts from a client, I always hear sucker contract. ASHE: I kind of told this story on the show before, but I had a very large national hardware chain come to me, and they wanted me to do some work for them. I was pretty excited because it’s a national brand and that’s nice work that would be nice to be put in my portfolio. But they had in their contract that if I work on this app that they wanted, that I couldn’t produce any web app in the next year that had any kind of catalogue in it; I couldn’t have anything that had categories, I couldn’t have anything that was eCommerce. [Laughter] ASHE: I’m like, “Well, this is our standard thing and I can tell you that nobody worth their beans is going to sign in this contract,” and they’re like, “Well, it’s your client,” and I’m like, “Well, I don’t care. You have to find someone else [laughs].” I have no idea if the project ever got done or somebody got suckered into that, but it’s just so ridiculous. Knowing what I know now that a lot of non-competes are easily defeated in court, but also the fact that it didn’t have money to take a national chain to court over something like that, I probably would have done it and then just violated the non-compete and take them to court just so I could be like, “See, I told you… [laughs]” CURTIS: I actually had someone with a very similar contract setup. I looked at it and I said, “I’ll sign that,” and I up the rate like $30,000. They’re like, “What do you mean?” CHUCK: [Laughter] CURTIS: I said, “Well, that’s all the work I can’t do that I did last year.” [Laughter] CURTIS: “What do you mean?” “You want me to not do the work; you have to pay me for it anyways.” They said, “No, way! What’s your contract?” [Laughter] ASHE: That is an awesome idea! REUVEN: I just literally today got a contract from a potential client in the US where they said, “These are our sort of overall contract,” I forget what it’s called, but the over one as opposed to a statement of work. I was sort of scheming through it before the show, and there’s a paragraph in there that says, “You will not use any open source software for anything you do with us.” [Laughter] REUVEN: Well, that might limit my ability to do web development in Ruby and jQuery I think [laughs]. [Laughter] ASHE: I thought you want this to work on a computer? [Laughter] REUVEN: Right. Right. That electricity, that you might be a little tricky, too. ASHE: [Laughs] CHUCK: No, the electricity is an open source. ASHE: [Laughs] REUVEN: Oh, that’s right. That’s right [laughs]. But I have a strange feeling that I’ll be the first person to mention this to them that, “Maybe we should get rid of that paragraph.” So I usually just send people my contract, like I have a contract that I put together over the last few years, different revise, different [unclear], and so forth, and I pride myself on being really short and really readable. So far so good, but it’s sort of who moves first. If I say, “I’ll send you my contract,” they’re usually okay with it. But if they say first, “We’ll send you our contract,” then I’m going to stuck with theirs. CHUCK: Now I tell people that, “I prefer to use mine, here it is.” REUVEN: Oh, I should try that. CHUCK: [Laughs] Yeah. ASHE: Well, I just charge more. Just telling them that I charge more is enough for them to be like, “Well, okay, I guess we’ll use yours.” CHUCK: So any other mistakes that you guys made over the first little while? ASHE: Accepting any job that comes along. REUVEN: Yes! ERIC: Yes. REUVEN: I was just going to say that, too. ASHE: It’s a huge thing. For a while, when I first started, I was so worried like I said about like any lean times, that not having any money coming in that I would accept any job, I would discount my rate. If they would talk with client into doing something, it was like always the worst client, it was always the worst project, they were the worst people to work with, they’d never paid on time, and I was always sad that I did it. Now, I learned definitely from those times that I won’t compromise on any of my work on the time that I think it takes to complete something on the amount of money that I’m worth because I always regretted it every single time. CHUCK: Funny that you mentioned that. Next week, we’re going to be talking to Michael Port about ‘Book Yourself Solid’. ASHE: [Laughs] CHUCK: That’s one of the first things he talks about – develop real policy. I listened to that like 3 times because I’m like, “I need to sink this in, [laughs] I need to sink this in,” because he make such a great case for this, so absolutely. REUVEN: Look, to be fair, I think it’s a great policy to have like only work with high-paying clients or nice clients and that’s great when you can, but I’m sure there are times when it’s either that or not having enough money to pay the bills. But I read that if you can hold out for better clients, that’s definitely the best way to go. CHUCK: Yeah, don’t starve, please. REUVEN: [Laughs] Right. ASHE: Yes. REUVEN: Do nothing as if it’s endorsement of starvation. CHUCK: [Laughs] Yeah. REUVEN: I’ll just add to one Ashe said that like when I first started up in consulting, there was this lawyer I met who’s at the same city I was at. He was like, “Oh, you’re going to business. Let me give you some great advice: Never turn work down,” and that was such terrible advice… [laughs] CHUCK: Oh, yeah… REUVEN: Of course, I held on for a few years thinking, “Wow! He really helped me,” and now it’s like, “No, he actually did the opposite.” CHUCK: Yeah. ERIC: You get what you pay for. ASHE: Well not to mention exactly, it’s really empowering, too, to know that you can walk away from any deal. I think that it’s probably one of the better lessons I’ve learned in the past 5 years, like I don’t have to do this. If something feels not right about this, I don’t have to do this; there’s nothing saying that, “I’ve gotten into this, and I’ve been talking to these people for a few weeks that I can’t just be like, “Hey, I’m not the right fit for you. I’d be happy to recommend you to somebody else, or here are some suggestions, but I don’t think that this is going to work.” This is also why I write kind of an escape clause into my contract for both parties because sometimes it just happens, where people don’t work well together, or work philosophies are different, and it’s nice to have that out without burning a bridge. CHUCK: I have to say that it also helps, along the same lines – and this parks back to something that Curtis said earlier – if my wife is much more interested in me being happy than me making money. So if I turn away a client, she’s not angry with me because she’d much rather see me working with somebody that I’m happy to work with than see me totally worn down or whatever by a client. Even to the point where – and I haven’t tested this – but it really seems like even to the point where we miss a few payments on things. ERIC: My wife has actually told me to fire certain clients, and I [unclear] about it, then I ended up firing them and I’m like, “Yeah, you’re right about it.” REUVEN: My wife tells me not to take certain clients. I’ll cover all what I’m talking about, she’ll be like, “You should not work with these people,” I said, “Oh, I’m sure it’ll work out great.” Inevitably, the ones that she tags as “You shouldn’t work with”, just from the description that I gave her at home, she’s able to intuit that, “Yeah, these are people that I probably should not be working with.” CHUCK: It’s pretty amazing how people that are close to you can really gauge the truth about things, even though they may not know all the details. ERIC: Well, that can be part of this; you might be like seduced by the details and that’s why you want to work with them. But they only know about the summary, and there was enough in the summary to tell them that it’s not going to work out. So you’re kind of like convincing yourself that this would be a good thing, but it’s actually not. CHUCK: Your demeanor and things like that as well…”Well, I talked to them,” so you kind of shrug your shoulders down and, “Well, they kind of said this,” and yeah, you’re not seeing the red flag because your excited about some other aspect. ERIC: My wife doesn’t care anything about the technological aspect; she cares more about the business and how I end up feeling about it. So if the technology is like really cool and hot, but the business side and all that like it doesn’t seem right there, she notices that before I do. CHUCK: I have kind of another mistake that I made pretty early on and that was that I hired a subcontractor that I should not hired. He worked out great for a few months, but then I wasn’t watching what he was doing and he started to mess things up for my client. So that was the mistake. I guess the lesson was just that if you’re going to hire subcontractors to do work basically with your name, then you’ve got to keep close tabs on them and be involved. REUVEN: Right. It’s your name on the product or on the service that you’re offering. CHUCK: Yup. REUVEN: You can have as many minutes as you want working on it, but they don’t care. CHUCK: I wind up refunding some money back to the client. I was just like, “Yeah, that shouldn’t happened; here’s the money back. I wasn’t prickly worried about him leaving, I was just – he didn’t get the value that he paid for so he got the money back. REUVEN: Along those lines, years ago before the .com publics boat in 2000, I had a bunch of people working for me, and I had them working at fixed monthly salaries. And then the bubble exploded; what do you know I couldn’t pay the salaries. Or I could, but it may not be paying mine. That was a mistake I have not repeated since then. Now, basically, anyone who works for me either works on a subcontractor basis or I pay them like a variable salary; I pay them on an hourly basis. So if there’s no work or there’s very little work, then I’m not on the hook for paying their full monthly salary. Some people are totally not okay with this, some people are fine. So I just had to find people who are okay with it. CHUCK: Anything else on that? Or, any other mistakes that you guys made starting out? ASHE: I think giving too much away was one of mine. If I had a large contract with a client and they would say, “Do you think that we could do this?” and I would say, “Oh, yeah, we can do that,” and still trying to fit it into the deadline and say, “Oh it’s small enough that I just won’t charge extra.” It creates good role with a client, which is really great, but it hurt my ability to meet deadlines and I was working more than I was getting paid for. So that was a mistake for sure. JIM: For me, it was not being involved in the community. Like I was doing graphic design work and I was a member of AIGA, but that wasn’t enough; I wasn’t going and meeting people and being involved, I wasn’t blogging about what I was doing. So I really didn’t have any kind of social safety net in terms of my business like I didn’t know people who would say, “Oh, yeah, I can use you on this project,” if I didn’t have work. I think that was my biggest fear that like how am I going to get work, and I just wasn’t doing a good job of staying involved and being somebody who is just known. REUVEN: I think one of the mistakes that I made early on was believing that the most important thing I brought to the table was technical ability. My experience is, yes, obviously clients want someone who knows, if you’re in a technical field like doing software development, they obviously want you to know that. But I think they are slightly less interested in having a software genius, and more interested in having someone they can work with and communicate with and be reasonable in business life. Again and again, the ability to write, the ability to speak, has trumped my ability to write code I think. JIM: Yeah, I think so. I’ve often found that being able to at least – a lot of couple of clients, I had [unclear] doing web design for them – just explaining in the way they understood and being patient how certain aspects of their website worked, I don’t mean technically, but like what it is they’re writing and how it gets updated and all that kind of stuff, walking them through so they feel like they actually understand rather than just playing a guessing game and poking at different developers like, “Can you do this for me?” like “Sure, I can do it.” Or, “Well, here’s what I can do. This is why you want to do these things,” that I always found really helpful; people appreciated it. I wasn’t very good at turning that early on; I wasn’t very good at turning that into business unfortunately. I gave too much away, but at least people were comfortable with the work that they needed to do. REUVEN: I had a guy working for me years ago who’s very smart technically, but I actually got a call from a client saying, “Please don’t ever send him to us again because he’s just saying that all of our ideas are stupid,” and we should let him just go and sit and write code. I was like, “Okay! I don’t think I’m going to be sending that anymore.” And when the bubble burst very, very shortly after that, he was the first one showing the door. CURTIS: That’s a mistake in the business you think you’re in. Well, we may develop, but really in the business of customer service. REUVEN: Yeah. CHUCK: I had another subcontractor that he did great work and for the most part, he was a good guy, good subcontractor. My client was kind of learning Rails at the same time and he jumped in and “helped us out”; most of the time, his work was good because he take the simpler stuff. But the real issue was that the client sent a message saying, “This bug isn’t fixed, I can’t get it to work,” and this contractor just snapped at him. He got all over and about pulling the latest code and this, that and the other. And he wasn’t subcontracting for me after that. It really is about customer service; you forget that, and it’ll burn you. REUVEN: Absolutely. I think just yesterday, I was talking to a potential client and he said to me, “Tell me in a nutshell why you think we should work with you,” and that was all I told them about. I said “Look, we work for people for months and years, not for days and weeks, and we’d like to have long-term relationships and we care about customer service,” and I sort of figure the technical stuff are given, but what they need is to feel good, to feel that they’re in good hands, to feel that they can trust us with this very important work that they need done. CHUCK: I’m trying to think. I have a whole list of things, obviously, for this video. ERIC: There is one thing, we kind of mentioned it. When you get started, you really need to have focus and stick with it. For example, when I had started, I knew Rails really good, I knew PHP decently well, and the first year or 2 years, I did general Rails projects, I did PHP stuff, I did WordPress plugins, I did System Administration, I did training, I was all over the map, and it took me a while to really stop that and to kind of focus on one area. Once I did that, the business just blew up. I was busy all the time I was able to make double or triple what I was making in the beginning it’s just because I’ve stopped saying yes to everyone who’s tried to say no – that’s both clients, the type of work, all that stuff. So I think that’s the really important thing especially when you’re one person, you can only do so much, you can only be an expert at so many things. If you try to be everything to everyone, it really dilutes kind of what you’re trying to do and it can drive you insane like you’ll just get so stressed by trying to balance all the balls and it’s easier to just focus on the 2 or 3 up in the air that are the most important. CHUCK: Yup. I’m a little curious, I know we’re running short on time, but I’m a little bit curious, are there things that you guys had or did before or right when you’re at freelance that seem to make the difference in whether or not you were able to find work and make it work? ERIC: Regular marketing. ASHE: Being really well that worked with the local community so if they heard of things, they would send it my way. CHUCK: The other thing that paid off for me was that I had been doing TeachMeToCode.com so I had the video series and blog going. REUVEN: Oh you did that before you went freelance? I didn’t know that. CHUCK: I did that before I went freelance, yeah. I wasn’t actually doing it so I could go freelance either, I was just doing it because I liked it, but it paid off. CURTIS: All I can say is sheer luck, but we’ll call that networking as well. A friend of mine’s company was getting out of regular client work and moving towards a product so they sent me a ton of clients that was my first year. So, sheer luck or networking, whichever one you want to call it. REUVEN: The jobs that I had before I went freelance, I was constantly have to learn new stuff all the time, and I enjoy that anyway, but they would just constantly throw things at me, “Do this, do this, do this,” and I had to learn it quickly and use it. That’s been super, super useful in freelancing because I just always have to learn new things. So the ability to read, incorporate, and then tell people about it as if I’ve known about this for a long time and sort of integrate it and synthesize it into my explanations, that’s been really quite useful. JIM: For me, I was actually I think sort of destined for a terrible business early on because I wasn’t involved in anything really; I was just only word-of-mouth and that can only go so far if you’re not really turning out a lot of good stuff and making people really happy. What I didn’t know what I was doing, it was tough to really take the smallest little project and make people just gush about you. So once I got involved – I had this certain point switched over to doing more Ruby development than graphic design – once I started getting involved in the community, then I really saw benefits from that. It wasn’t even going to meet ups or anything like that; I hadn’t even started that. It was just contribution to open source and actively on a mailing list, and I could do that from my own desk. So that really solved the problem for me. CHUCK: Awesome. REUVEN: Jim, you said something like working from your own desk, I’ll just relate the anecdote that it’s probably about a year or so ago, I said to my kids as they were heading off to school, “You know guys, most adults actually go to the same place every day and work with the same people every day,” and they looked at me like, “Really?” [Laughter] REUVEN: Because from their perspective, both their parents are going off different places everyday and working with different people. So they’re norm and their expectation is, “Oh, yeah, having your own business and consulting and freelancing for people, that’s how it works; we’re the normal ones,” which is I think everyone gets adjusted to what they see and assumes that it’s the norm. CHUCK: I find that very encouraging, actually. CURTIS: Yeah. My daughter was talking with her friend about why her Daddy doesn’t work at home when my wife was over there with the kid last week, “Where’s your Daddy? Is he not in his office at home?” “No.” [Laughter] CHUCK: Alright, well, let’s go ahead and wrap this up and do the picks. Curtis, what are your picks? CURTIS: I’ve got 2 today. The first one is just the funny side called “Dev Best Practices”. It’s a chunk of animated gifs of funny development best practices, or not best practices anyways. The second one is my “Kata 467i Bag” which is awesome for travelling. It fits my camera, my laptop; I can travel 3 or 4 days with just that as well, and my iPad and all my clothes and everything. It is a way bigger bag than you’d ever think it is for just a small normal around the town pack. CHUCK: Nice. Eric, what are your picks? ERIC: I got 2. First one is a blog post by Amy Hoy, it’s called “How do you stay motivated when you’re not making any money?” It’s not just about making money; it’s a lot about motivation. It’s really interesting. I’ve talked with a lot of people about this how some people are motivated by external stuff versus internally. It’s a pretty good post. She actually lines a different way than I’ve even thought about it. The second one is a book I read on a Kindle, I think it’s in the Prime library, it’s called “Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book”. Since I just released my eBook, I’m kind of get into the marketing stuff again. Those are actually probably one of the better marketing books that I’ve read. It really went into a lot about building your audience and helping them and doing all that stuff. So it was good; it’s a pretty quick read. But I think I’d like to highlight the entire book so I had to go through my notes later on. CHUCK: Cool! I have to look into that because someday, I want to write a book. Ashe, what are your picks? ASHE: I just have one this week, it’s “Ada Developers Academy”, it’s a programming school for women specifically. Right now, they’re running a fundraiser to be able to fund the school, but also to pay the students to be able to attend because one of the bigger issues with getting more people on marginalized groups into tech or going through these kinds of programs is that they don’t have the support network to be able to quit their jobs and do nothing for months at the time. So that’s on Indiegogo and it’s up for the next about a little over a month. CHUCK: Nice. That sounds cool. I saw that on Twitter or something the other day. ASHE: Yeah! And it started by a Ruby developer that actually went through Hungry Academy, the developer school for LivingSocial that was run by Jumpstart Labs. CHUCK: Oh, who’s that? ASHE: Elise Worthy. CHUCK: Oh! Awesome! She was on the Ruby Rogues podcast. ASHE: Yeah, she was! CHUCK: Awesome. Alright, Jim, what are your picks? JIM: I know I picked this a long time ago when I first got one, but I have the “Jawbone Up Band”, and I’d just give everybody a status on it. I’ve been using it to track my sleep. Freelancing can be fist or famine; in times when there’s a fist, that tend to have less sleep and stress over projects. What I’ve been trying to do is keep track of my sleep and breakup my days and I’ve been interested in studies that say that, if you nap, you can actually perform much better and your brain solves complex problems when you are sleeping better than when you’re awake and constantly analyzing data. Anyway, I’m using it to track my sleep and make sure that I get 8-hour of sleep or more. So I definitely recommend an app band. Unfortunately, I lost the cap, which is annoying; it’s kind of conversant to keep track of that I don’t like. And then I just recently joined a “CrossFit Gym”. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s an interesting workout regimen that allows you to use functional movements and builds strength and speed and agility and all kinds of things like that. I’ve just started that, I’m a couple of weeks into it. My wife has been doing it for every year and she’s actually interested on becoming a coach. Anyway, check those 2 things out for general health and well being. CHUCK: Nice. Reuven, what are your picks? REUVEN: I have 3 picks for today, all of them sponsored by the letter ‘U’. CHUCK: [Laughs] REUVEN: The first pick I think Eric recommended to me, I think that you might mention it today on the podcast. There’s a wonderful video called, FU, it didn’t really say FU but I think you could fill in the blanks, “FU Pay Me”, and it’s actually about contracts and what you should not put in contracts. It’s both extremely humorous and extremely interesting. CHUCK: I think you just rounded up the show because I think the rest of us will all pick that at one point or another… [laughs] REUVEN: Oh! [Laughs] It shows how much I’ve been paying attention. The second thing is the software called “Undercover” which is basically sort of like theft-prevention software for your Mac; you install it and you more or less never see it or think about it hopefully until or unless your Mac is stolen, and it sends an update of where it is to their central server every 30 minutes and you can remotely control your Mac then, take pictures. If things are really bad and the pictures aren’t enough, you can basically fake a crash of your computer. Basically, what happens then is the thief takes it to a local store, at least in theory, and you send the message to the local store saying, “Hey, this Mac is stolen, it’s not really broken. Please contact me,” so and so. So I thought that was very clever. Hopefully, I’ll never actually have to find out if it really works. The third thing is a new [unclear] called “Unlocator”, I think they’re based in Denmark. People who are in the US probably don’t realize this, but whenever you want to click on a video link, like to Hulu or something like that, very, very often it will not work and will give you this error message saying, “Sorry, you’re outside the United States and thus, we can’t show this to you.” It’s bad enough that Hulu and some other places do it, but Netflix and Amazon certainly enforce that. Unlocator, basically, assign your DNS servers to their DNS servers, and they then do some magic rewriting of Hulu and Netflix and Amazon such that you appear to be coming from the US. It makes my internet service a little slower because the longer resolution with their DNS servers, but it’s pretty amazing to finally be able to enjoy Netflix from Israel. So anyone outside the US, I’d probably recommend getting undercover a try especially since it’s still free until they’ve start up and start charging people. CHUCK: Awesome. Alright, well, I’ve got a couple of picks here. The first one is “Platform University”. It’s a membership site by Michael Hyatt, he wrote the book Platform. He was a publisher at Thomas Nelson Publishing, so he talks a lot about publishing books, but he also talks about building your platforms or having your homebase which is your website for your consulting company and then your outposts in social media and things like that, and all the strategies that come with that. He does a monthly Q&A, he does some undercover stuff, he reviews a member’s site every month, and there’s just a ton of awesome content there. So I’m going to pick that. So yeah, we’ll wrap this up. We’re going to be doing the book club, ‘Book Yourself Solid’ with Michael Port next week so make sure you listen to that, and go get that video at GoingRogueVideo.com. Have a great week!

Sign up for the Newsletter

Join our newsletter and get updates in your inbox. We won’t spam you and we respect your privacy.