9 things I’ve learned in my first year as a freelance developer

I graduated from coding school a year ago today. I quit my day job as a graphic designer at the Vancouver Public Library a few months earlier and aimed to freelance full-time. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Here are some things I’ve learned in my first year of freelancing.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Of course ask Google first. Check stackoverflow. Look in the codex. Look in forums. Put in a support ticket. And if you still can’t figure it out, ask twitter. The developer community and in particular the WordPress community is lovely and helpful and inclusive. I’ve asked a question on Twitter and had a developer from California email me a detailed description of what I should do to sort out my problem.

2. Don’t let imposter syndrome stop you

This is a big one both for new developers and women in tech. So if you’re a woman and new to development be prepared for a double dose of imposter syndrome. I don’t remember who said it, but I recently heard someone explain development as a continual cycle of feeling stupid, figuring it out and moving on to the next problem only to feel stupid again. Imposter syndrome makes me think my questions are stupid. They might be. But usually they aren’t. Google answers 90% of the stupid questions. If I still can’t figure it out after checking all the sites, it’s time to ask the peeps on Twitter.

3. Get involved

Yeah, but how do you find your people on Twitter?

I started tinkering with code a few years back when I needed a website and wanted to figure out how to build it. It wasn’t until I went to a Ladies Learning Code workshop that I really got interested in learning development. That sent me to HackerYou last year. I mentor from time to time with Ladies Learning Code and every time I go, I add everyone I meet on twitter. That led me to Meetups. I particularly love the WordPress Meet Up Group and Style and Class for web designers. And of course, WordCamp. In fact, I’ve got a problem I can’t figure out and I’m going to a WordPress Help meetup group tonight to get some advice.

4. Charge more

I’ve been told many times to add 20% to any proposal because projects will always get more complicated than you can predict. So I do this dance: write down a number I think is fair. Add 20%. Feel uncomfortable. Let it sit. Come back and take off 35%. Feel better. Second guess myself. Sleep on it. Send the low quote. The project becomes more complicated than I could’ve predicted. I end up working about 1/3 more hours than I bill for. Stop the dance. Charge more. I’m working on it.

5. Yes you will lose some clients

This will give you more time on the projects you really love. Or it will give you more time to go on bike rides and work in your garden. Likely all of the above.

6. Don’t take a day job if your heart’s in freelancing

This one’s obvious right? I had to figure it out the hard way. It’s so tempting to say yes to a predictable paycheque.

7. Have a fall back plan

I got a line of credit to cover my salary and expenses when work is low. That way, no matter what amount is in my business account, I get the same paycheque every 2 weeks. Helps me pay the rent and sleep at night. Helps me not take on projects that aren’t a good fit.

8. Things will break or Other people’s servers are a nightmare

There are known unknowns and there are unknown unknowns. I usually find these in other peoples server set ups. Last week a client’s email stopped delivering and I got a panicked text at midnight on a Saturday when they realized they hadn’t got any of their mail for days and they were working a conference that weekend. I rolled back to the old site as a quick fix. Note to self: when forwarding a domain, don’t forget to forward the email. The email can be set up at either the domain registrar or the hosting service – check where it’s set up before flipping the switch on a site launch. Which leads me to lesson 9…

9. Don’t launch a site at the end of the week

Unless you want to fix things on the weekend. Yes, Thursday counts as the end of the week.