Do you want to become an independent developer? Weigh these 4 factors
Freedom has a price, but for many it is a price worth paying.
If you are knowledgeable, respected among your peers, and good at software development, you could make more money if you pursue a career as a freelance freelance developer. However, to succeed as a freelancer, you will need to learn soft skills that may at first seem unrelated to writing great code.
To be a generalist developer or a specialist?
A mistake many independent software developers make is to impose a specific technology solution on customers — the proverbial solution in search of a problem, said Charlie Morris, president and owner of CDM Agility Consulting in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Instead, the best freelancers focus on the business problem they’re tasked with solving and then figuring out which technology to apply.
“They weren’t dogmatic about the technology solution – it didn’t have to be Microsoft, Google or open source,” he said. “It was ‘Let’s figure out what works best for you’ versus ‘I’m a Microsoft expert, so everything looks like a Microsoft solution.'”
Morris is a mentor with the Score Association, a national organization that mentors and educates small and medium-sized business (SME) owners. Previously, his 40-year IT career spanned software development and various management positions, including that of CTO. During this period, he preferred to work with generalist software developers rather than specializing in a specific coding language.
“What we were looking for were generalists who might or might not be the best experts in their field in a certain technology, but who were expert problem solvers,” he explained.
Know your audience and speak their language
One of the challenges technologists face is learning to convey complex technological concepts to laypersons, Morris noted. Freelancers must master this skill to communicate effectively with clients, including members of the C-suite.
“It’s really important for a freelancer to know the audience they are addressing and know what [that audience is] listening,” he said. ” It is [about] understand your audience and be able to speak in at least four different languages.”
Morris explains how to approach such conversations:
- CEOs want to know the role of software in achieving overall business strategy;
- the primary concern of the COO is how the software project contributes to operational efficiency;
- CIOs and CTOs need to know how the solution in question aligns with their overall technology strategy; and
- the CFO focuses on how the proposed solution affects revenue or bottom line.
Good communication skills are essential in setting customer expectations. Morris often advises small business owners who hire independent developers to create software for their organizations. These owners generally know little about software development or even about questions to ask freelance developers in the early stages of a project. This forces the freelancer to educate the client before diving into the job.
“The worst thing you can have is ill-defined expectations,” Morris said. “This is one of the sources of problems with software projects – an uneducated client expects one thing, and the developer hasn’t set their expectations.”
Project confidence in your skills
Many budding freelancers don’t know how to approach and market themselves to potential clients, and they may need to build their confidence. Attending tech meetups is a way to hone those skills and network at the same time, suggested Nick Janetakis, freelance developer, consultant, and trainer in Holbrook, NY.
“If you live near a big city, there are a lot of great dating places to go,” he said. “Try to mingle with people and see how things go with those people.”
Another way to attract customers, Janetakis said, is to post about your software projects and experiences, or topics related to software development. These mediums can be effective inbound marketing channels: a potential client searches the web related to a project they have in mind, reads your article, identifies you as an expert, and contacts you. The same principle applies to YouTube channels and podcasts, he added.
know your worth
Once a freelancer progresses through negotiations with a potential clientthey need to think about what kind of relationship to build with the customer, said Leon Brown, a freelance developer and trainer based in Liverpool, UK, and author of Going IT Alone: The Handbook for Freelance and Contract Software Developers.
If the software project is a one-time, short-term arrangement, it might make sense to charge a high rate, Brown said. However, if the goal is to nurture a lasting relationship, it may make more sense to negotiate a lower fee and generate more revenue from that client over a longer period of time.
The most successful freelancers have the communication skills and emotional IQ to understand and deal effectively with clients. “Sooner or later you’re going to run into a customer,” Morris said.