Tech Career Spotlight: Freelancing

Achieving a work/life balance can be a difficult task in the tech career. That is a big reason why the tech field has the highest turnover rate of any business. Burnout is common in a field where 24/7 availability and high pressure projects are the norm. 

One of the ways in which you can avoid this burnout, while still enjoying the career you love, is to embrace freelancing. A freelance career in technology allows you the freedom to set your own hours, take off when you need to, and cut back or add on when necessary.

It can also feel intimidating. Going from the security of a corporate job to the uncertainty of finding your own work can feel a bit scary at first. For burned out professionals, or for those who want to prevent burnout to begin with, though, the risks can be well worth it. 

Freelancing, while a lot of work, is also a viable long-term option for lots of skilled tech professionals. If you want to join them, you simply need to be prepared. Here’s a look at freelancing and, in particular, the steps you will need to take to achieve the work/life balance available in a freelance tech career.

Network, network, network.

Your clients are going to have to come from somewhere. Don’t just sit back and expect them to flock to your doorstep. 

Instead, plan to invest time into networking. This network is where you will find most of your clients. It will also be how word about you spreads: One contact tells their network about you, or a satisfied client leaves a positive Google review and that way you start building your client base. 

How do you network? Try a few of these approaches:

  • Tell everyone you know about your freelance plans.
  • Encourage professional contacts to send you work and clients.
  • Attend meetings and workshops where potential clients may be.
  • Provide free workshops or webinars.
  • Write for relevant publications.
  • Offer incentives for referrals to your business.
  • Introduce yourself to local businesses that could benefit from your services.
  • Create a compelling website, and invest in some digital marketing.

Don’t wait until you are on your own to implement your networking plans, either. Start building a list of contacts, and start accepting small jobs now. Then, when you do take the plunge full time, you will already have a base of clients upon which you can build.

Establish a fair pricing structure.

The whole goal of a freelance tech career is to get paid while achieving a work/life balance. That means that you need to set up a pricing structure for your work that reflects your skills and fair market value. In other words, do not sell yourself short. 

You should be making at least as much per hour or per project as you did before you began freelancing. Realistically, however, you will want to make more because taxes, health insurance, membership fees to professional organizations, ongoing education, advertising, and more will all come out of your own pocket. 

You may also want to set up certain packages or pricing structures for commonly requested projects. For example, determine ahead of time how much you might charge for app development, quarterly website maintenance, or specific coding projects. Listing these pricing structures on your website will help ensure that customers know what to pay before they approach you about a project.

Always use a contract.

You want to protect yourself legally before undertaking any project. A case of he said/she said can make it difficult to defend yourself, or recoup unpaid fees, in court.

To that end, you will need a contract for every project you undertake. While the contract itself can be pretty basic and straightforward, it should include the following:

  • Scope of work
  • Timeline
  • Rates
  • Allowable changes
  • Ownership of the work
  • Deadline for payment 
  • Acceptable payment forms
  • Expected level of communication
  • Stance on changes/revisions
  • Any guarantees or warranties for the work 
  • Liability

Make sure you have the contract in writing, and that you and the client review and agree with it before signing.

Establish a routine.

The beauty of a freelance tech career is that you can create a work/life balance that is meaningful to you. What it does not mean, however, is making good money while watching Netflix every day. If you want a successful career as a tech freelancer, you will need to establish, and stick with, a routine.

What this routine is is your decision. You can stay up late writing code and sleep in. You can spend most of your time networking online, or commit to attending in-person events once a week. You can work for a few hours early in the morning and finish after your family settles down in the evening. You can work part-time or full-time. 

The key is that you have a schedule that allows you the balance, the hours, and the networking you need to enjoy freelance success.

Treat your freelance tech career like a real job.

Many freelancers also find it helpful to treat their careers as a real job (because it is). This means (1 Dressing professionally and (2 Separating your work life from the rest of your life.

Dressing professionally, even if you do not plan to meet in-person with clients, can help to switch your brain into “work mode.” It also prepares you in case unplanned meetings (or video chats) pop up.

Separating your work life from the rest of your life can also help you get into “work mode.” Just as importantly, doing so can eliminate the temptation to work all the time. Your freelance tech career is supposed to prevent burnout, not encourage it, remember?

Try setting up a home office, having set hours to work, or going to a coffee shop or co-working space. The physical separation will create the mental separation you need as well. 

A freelance tech career can be a boon for helping you achieve a work/life balance. Embrace it with a commitment to networking, fair pricing, clear contracts, routine, and separation. And enjoy the opportunity to carve out the work/life balance you want and need.

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