WHOA! I’ve Been A Full-Time Freelance Web Developer For Four Years

That’s a crazy statement. I’m still not sure what my thinking was back in March 2008 when I first decided to leave the comfort of a full-time job for the risks of being self-employed.

Working from home: could I really do that?

Make enough money on a single income to pay for a mortgage, health insurance, and feed our family of four (now five)?

How would I drum up enough business on a regular business to make ends meet for more than just a few months? Where would these “clients” come from?

What did I really offer to clients? Was I a web designer, or was I an ASP.NET web application programmer?

One day you realize you’re just doing it.

I don’t know that there was ever a moment where all of the above questions had definite answers or affirmations, but looking back at the last four years is almost mind-blowing to me.

When I first started, I was taking any project I could get just to keep things going whether it was a simple static website, a custom web application, an email design & campaign, or even videography. And I think that was okay. Though at times things got really, really tight, we never missed a mortgage payment or had to sell a kid.

Now, my business has become so much more focused. I am a front-end WordPress developer. That’s what I do. I’m perfectly comfortable turning down projects that don’t fit into my “ideal” mold. The more projects I take that fit this mold, the more of those I’ll get in the future. (Shameless plug: I just launched my new website – Feedback welcome!)

I’m starting to understand cash flow and the ups and downs of a really good month and a less-than-ideal month – it all averages out.

I’m comfortable having potential clients say “no” to a project they feel is priced to high. In fact, if I don’t get rejected from time to time it tells me I’m charging too little.

I understand that I can go a few weeks without any new business but then four new projects might come in on a single day. It’s zero to sixty in no time.

Four years in, I’m still figuring this thing out and nothing is guaranteed (except death and taxes, right?). However, I’m happy to do what I do and earn a living doing it.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer and unclear on your direction, that’s okay. Keep pushing forward and working hard. Look for opportunities. Try new things. Ask lots of questions. Blog about your experiences – the good and the bad. Someday it will be fun to look back and see just how far you’ve come.

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14 Comments

  1. Congratulations Dave!

    It’s a fun life we lead. I’m about 2 months ‘older’ than you in the full-time sense and feel this post could have been written about me.

    It’s certainly something to be able to say you’ve been open for four years when the ‘failure rate’ of new businesses is much less. Here’s to many more successful years!

  2. During the week I full time in a cube doing ASP.NET, but this past summer I started listening to Freelance Jam. Now I still work my day job but I have a dream that someday I will tread my own path. I am only fours years behind you thanks for the tips and encouragement.

  3. Congrats on the 4 year anniversery Dave!

    Going Freelance (also 4 years ago) was the most life changing turning point in my life so far and I have zero regrets.

    I had an interesting thought recently… At the time I left my secure, FT job, it was early 2008. I was single, renting, no kids. I felt it was it was a good time for me to take a risk and quit my job. The economy was still strong at this point (this was about 10 months before the crash of 08).

    I wonder had I stuck with my FT one more year, and see the economy crash, would I ever go freelance? Would I still be employed today? Life would be so different. Its crazy to think about the timing of it all…

    Of course, I soon realized that despite the recession, and despite some hard times, I was able to make it through (and thrive) on my own, regardless of the economy.

    We’re incredibly lucky to do what we love to do, on our own terms.

    Heres to many more years to come!

    • Thanks, Brian. You’ve been a great peer and example for me along the way. Man it is totally crazy to go through the “what ifs.” We are VERY lucky! I still go back and try to process my initial decision to make the leap. Mortgage, married, kids…what was I thinking?!

  4. This more-or-less mirrors my exact same experience, though instead of transitioning from a full-time job with some company, I went straight from college to freelance. I was engaged at the time, and was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to make enough to support my new wife when we got married in 6 months. I made the leap to full time freelance over the summer between my junior and senior year at the University of Kansas, and had decided that if I could make it through the summer, I would probably be okay.

    Like you, I tool every project I could get my hands on, but now I have no problem turning down several projects every week, both large and small, and I get to focus purely on what I like to do: WordPress plugin development, with a touch of front-end.

    The only thing I would change in my freelance career is making the move from working at home to working out of a community office.

    Keep at it, Dave!

  5. Matt Christy

    Hey Dave, Congrats on the 4 year anniversary. I had one question and you might have mentioned it in the past but how old are you know and where you when you went full time freelance? I am guessing if I get one or the other I can figure it out 4 years difference. Just wondering. I am looking for get started but sometimes I feel I am too old to do something like this, go freelance that is. Thanks and Congrats again!!

  6. Danai Panagiwtopoulou

    I’ve been a freelance web designer for about 3 years now(currently working at http://www.peopleperhour.com), and i’ve never been more satisfied with my life… My work and life are finally well-balanced! Best decision eveeer! :D

  7. Robin Ong

    Hi Dave. I will be handing over my resignation this coming december and you guess it, without any solid backup plan. I’m 40 and I’m planning to venture out as a free lance sales for small and medium business owners who want a representative in my region. Scared but i think i have to take the plunge. I’m currently a Business Manager and thinking about it, I’m doing quite well you know. Am I too old?

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