But—this does mean you need to become proficient at every aspect of running a small business. From creating an ongoing pipeline of work to making sure you get paid on time, working for yourself involves much more than the skills for which your clients are paying.
Being an excellent developer can only take you so far. The path to success also involves knowing how to run your own business.
Marketing and Outreach
Marketing and outreach are essential to your business plan when you’re self-employed or working as an independent contractor. It’s important to build a consistent pipeline of upcoming projects, so you never get that sinking feeling when you realize there isn’t anything booked for the next month.
The marketing and outreach plan for individual developers will vary, and you’ll work out what tactics are best for you. For example, you may decide to create profiles on job sites like Upwork and Freelancer, set up alerts for employment websites, or maintain an active profile on LinkedIn, highlighting your thoughts on web design trends or showcasing recent work.
Another strategy that can be very successful is outreach. Getting in touch with the right people at relevant companies and asking if they ever need a freelance developer can result in some lucrative contracts.
Lead generation marketing can become your primary marketing tactic as your business grows. You’ll find people reach out to you to connect, rather than vice versa. Networking is a great way to make relevant connections, especially with other developers.
As your work becomes better known, referrals from other developers can become a significant percentage of income. Remember to ask for testimonials from previous clients and use these to demonstrate your skills when bidding for new projects.
It’s not always the most enjoyable part of anyone’s day, but your business won’t last long without effective accounts management. You should first register as self-employed or as a sole trader with the IRS or other tax authority in your country. Then, set up a business bank account separate from your regular, day-to-day checking account.
Working for yourself provides a huge sense of freedom and autonomy, but there’s also less of a safety net if things do go wrong. It’s a good idea to set aside a percentage of each invoice as a ‘rainy day fund in case of sickness.
Creating, tracking, and processing invoices can become a huge timesuck unless you build strategies to help manage these. The earlier you implement these strategies, the better. Using invoice management software can help streamline the management of your accounts and reduce the time it takes to process invoices.
Time and Team Management
Whether you’re a team of one or ten, it’s important to treat yourself as a business. You may decide to bill your clients per project or hour, but you’ll need to consider what internal hourly rate you need to hit to turn a profit. Remember this rate needs to consider taxes, retirement contributions, and any ongoing monthly payments—and that’s before you break even, let alone start to make a profit. Tracking time is one of the best ways to ensure you’re running a viable business, not a hobby.
If you’re adding new members to your team, you’ll want to find people who are as motivated as you are. Looking for people with the same growth competencies as you — like curiosity, resiliency, and outcome-focus can help you identify potential candidates who could be a good addition to your team. No matter how motivated your new employees are, you’ll still need to manage time wisely if you want to meet project deadlines successfully.
Using an agile time tracking system can help you control the amount of time each project takes until completion. In turn, this can help you provide more accurate and precise estimates and quotes for future projects. There are even time tracking systems built specifically for developers and software teams.
Maintain a Work-Life Balance
When you work for someone else, the division between work and home life is stark. But when you work for yourself, those lines can become blurred incredibly quickly. Try to maintain balance by carving out enough time for your hobbies, family, and downtime. Without this balance, it can soon become easy to resent your work, and before long, you’re in danger of burning out.
Decide what you want your working day to look like, and create your version of the traditional 9 am-5 pm. If you work better late at night, make sure to allocate some earlier hours for free time. Take one or more days off each week.
Many self-employed people prefer to work a condensed four-day week, which is completely possible when you work for yourself. Saying no can be a valuable skill. It’ll be tempting to take every project offered, but that doesn’t mean you should.
If your diary is full, say so and offer alternative dates instead. If you find working from home a struggle, and plenty of people do, look at hiring a desk at a coworking space to help create more of a distinction between your home life and your work life.
Plan to Succeed
Running your own business as a developer can be incredibly rewarding, not to mention offering a competitive salary and the freedom to work from where and how you choose. But make sure you also focus on all the other skills you need to create a successful business. Knowing how to market yourself, manage your accounts, and accurately track your time will help you achieve that elusive work-life balance where you really can enjoy being the master of your destiny.