Before I start throwing a few suggestions on how to jumpstart your freelance programming career, let me share bit of my own experience on how I started and became a freelance programmer.
The End is the Beginning is the End
Allow me to begin at the end. Circa April 2004.
The American founder of the Web Development team that I helped organize decided to call it quits… and it’s final. With about 13 months of existence, we are finally closing shop. All four Filipino programmers are forced to ask the inevitable question: What will you do next? It’s a question we keep asking each other. If you happen to be involved in such a situation, you would naturally ponder on that question, too.
To make the long — and boring — story short, all three programmers went to Cebu and became happy Delphi programmers. One guy remained in Davao and started a freelance programming career armed with nothing but a second-hand PC plus the belief that he can make it through. Obviously, that conceited guy is me. 😉
I became a freelance programmer out of an accident: the closure of the company I was working with. Some people started differently. How you want to start will depend on the circumstances that you will be facing and your willingness to take the plunge. And no, you don’t even have to experience company retrenchment, closure, reorganization or any of that sort to start dreaming of a freelance career. There is one thing you have to keep in mind: Freelancing is not a joke. It is a career path that requires serious decision. If you are not ready yet, don’t jump.
My Personal Art of Start
If you are familiar with my other articles, by now you should know that I usually speak from personal experience. This article is no different.
I can’t think of other suggestions to give you on how to start with your freelance career other than the ones that worked for me when I started. Here are some of them.
1. Be Technically Prepared
Whether you like it or not, programming is a technical work that requires a lot of brain power. It is not just brainless encoding, my friend.
You have to be an expert in your field. But if you are one of those jerks who just pretended to be experts, be very sure that you can tap expert talents who can do the job for you. Nothing can be more frustrating than closing a software project and not deliver it as agreed on the contract. It is a sure way of ruining your freelance career.
2. Be Financially Prepared
You need some form of financial fall-back in case the worst will happen. You don’t want to go back submitting your CV to headhunters when the business is not in your favor. My favorite freelancing mantra is: “Plans change. Decisions don’t.” I can’t recall where I got that one, but the idea stays with me it eventually became a guiding principle. Freelancing is not a plan. It’s a decision.
Just how much your financial backup will be depends entirely on you. Consider your lifestyle, your spending habit, periodic bills that need to be paid, etc. If you can survive in six months without any project coming your way, your financial reserve is healthy. You are ready to go; financially, that is.
3. Generate Startup Capital
I don’t mean raising funds by borrowing from your friends, your sister or your mama’s retirement and pooling the money into your Savings Account. My personal opinion is that the best source of startup capital is your own pocket. When you are just starting out, you don’t really need that much.
Consider your startup capital as your play money. Watch it grow, but don’t be too attached to the point of being discouraged when it is lost.
4. Look Around
Opportunities are all around the place and the Internet provides the best platform for it. “Ask and it shall be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will blah, blah, blah.” That part is taken from the Bible, except for the last three words, which I just added to give you a hint that I am really lousy when it comes to quoting the Scripture. My point is, it is part of your job to do the asking, the seeking and the knocking. Don’t ever think of going freelance if you don’t know what that means.
At some later point, you will notice that the wind direction will be reversed in your favor: your clients will come asking for you, others will seek you, and still some will come knocking on your door.
When that happens, I hope you will let me know. Just drop me a simple message or write it on your blog. I never grow tired of hearing inspiring stories such as yours.