26 September 2007 - 13:04Becoming a Freelance Programmer (Part 1)
Three years ago I dropped out of being a paid-employee and switched to being a consultant. I’ve had a number of people ask about my experiences as they’re interested in following a similar route. I’m going to write a short set of posts on the subject and I welcome questions.
Why did I quit my job?
I was well-placed in the UK office as Senior Programmer and I ran projects between the UK and French offices, met clients and planned the technical future of our operations. Life was fun. I had however always wanted to be my own boss…
During the last year of my employment the company changed direction and the UK office was bought-out by my direct boss – the new focus wasn’t so much fun for me. The company had a tricky time figuring out who it serviced and what it offered and after a year I chose to resign and start my own consultancy.
The move was somewhat risky as I had no prior experience at being a contractor, no track record for agencies and no private client list for consulting work. I took out a Â£7,000 loan – enough to cover several months worth of mortgage payments, and resigned. I had no savings as I’d just bought my first property.
Lesson – you need several months worth of living expenses if you’re going to switch to selling your skills. You either want money put aside or a loan which you’ll need to repay. I opted for a 7 year repayment term to give myself plenty of room (I repaid the loan inside of 2 years) .
Freelancing as a Consultant A.I. Researcher
Founding the company cost Â£250 via an accountant, for note my yearly accountancy fees are roughly Â£500 (paid after year-end accounts are completed).
My accountant (Bristow Still) made the process super-simple, I had no prior experience in founding a company yet the process was painless and completed in a few weeks with just a few things to sign. Having an account in the same town as you is convenient – visiting them to ask questions and sign forms makes life easy.
Spreading your Name (Marketing!)
The hardest things I found were the fact that nobody knew that I was:
- Skilled in certain niches (programming, artificial intelligence, leadership)
The solution was to talk to all of my friends and past associates and let them know about my change in status, my new availability and what I’d be interested in doing. Each email was hand-crafted, targeted towards their business (for past associates) and personal. Never spam your friends.
The response was very helpful and quickly I was offered various pieces of generic contract programming work, often for short term jobs (1-2 months each), all local to Brighton.
The Sussex Innovation Centre is a great example of a useful hub – 70 tech companies, all small, most hungry for extra resources. You can visit lots of related companies and obtain friendly referrals with a minimum of effort – maximising your ability to search for new work.
Spreading your name and skills around is likely to be the most important thing that you do whilst you get established (which could take a year). It is also the most time-costly – I spent 2 months spreading word around before interesting A.I.-related things came my way.
At first I had to be liberal in what I accepted – anything coding related that paid the bills was useful. Quickly I worked to accept only A.I.-related work as that would help to build my reputation, from there I never looked back.
What do you want to know?
If you’ve read this far then you probably have specific questions in mind. Do leave me a comment, I’m interested in answering questions.