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Be Your Own Boss

By dannygene in Technology
Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 07:30:30 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

How would you go about soliciting your technical services to the local masses?

In the current state of the economy, finding a job in the tech sector is difficult at best. Many unemployed, or soon to be unemployed, visitors to k5 may be interested in working for themselves, on their own time and by their own rules. Below I present an overview of what needs to be thought about, as well as a brief discussion on freelancing websites.

The problem with this is, how does one get the ball rolling? Its easy to look at a consulting firm and see their diverse array of clients and say, "Hey, I can do that. And it would pay the bills, and it might even be fun!" But what we need to know, is how is that client base built?

The first thing that has to be decided is what sort of services would be offered? For someone like me, and I'm willing to be many of you, I have experience in Linux/Unix and some NT systems administration, programming in C, Pascal, PHP and ASP, in adddition to the skills and knowledge I acquired due to the fact that I have a degree in Audio Electrical Engineering. That opens the door to web design jobs, setting up networks, building specialized programs for a company, etc.

Once the task of deciding what services to offer, the next (and hardest) task is to make these services known to the world (or at least the local area). Obviously the first route would be newspaper advertisements. Where do you go from there? Your business or personal website are excellent promotional tools, especially for website designers.

I guess the real question that should be answered before any of the above is: Is any of this even feasible? Is there any sort of market for someone to basically whore themselves out like this?

One thing that looks very promising at first are sites like elance.com, where you can bid on projects of all kinds, including web design, programming, and even art. But a little digging around usenet and you will see that all is not happy in elance world. Taking a quick tour of the site, you'll see dozens of projects open for bidding, and what seems like little competition, especially if you're willing to bid low. But from reports on usenet, many of these 'companies' which post these jobs are nothing but kids playing around, or companies 'feeling' out the market. Many people post hundreds and hundreds of lowball bids, and win perhaps one every six months. Add that to the $25-150 monthly fee, and the 7-10% kickout to elance on each project you accept, and it doesn't look so attractive.

I discovered this helpful guide on about.com referencing freelance web design sites. But the first site listed is elance, so I'm wary of the validity of the other sites as well. Sites like programmingbids.com, projectspring.com, and guru.com look promising, but there seem to be few listings. Webprosnow.com appears to be legit, since they screen the buyers and sellers, and do the matching themselves. But I've had no luck finding any info on the success people have had with them.

As evidenced by the top "Ask Kuro5hin", I don't have a lot of answers, but many questions. Many of you have experience as consultants, or hiring consultants, so your advice is welcomed.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Is there a market for freelancers or consultants?
o yes 33%
o no 8%
o maybe 26%
o eat my shorts 30%

Votes: 68
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Kuro5hin
o elance.com
o guide
o programmin gbids.com
o projectspr ing.com
o guru.com
o Webprosnow .com
o Also by dannygene

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Be Your Own Boss | 17 comments (12 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
Contacts (5.00 / 2) (#2)
by cameldrv on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 05:06:13 PM EST

I'm sure you've heard this before, but the best way to get this type of work (assuming you do a quality job that you are proud of), is to put the word out with your contacts, who will hopefully know someone in need of your services. If you don't know many people in business, try meeting some at various places like the chamber of commerce. It is much easier to work for someone with whom you have a previous relationship.

Text ads! (4.00 / 1) (#5)
by seebs on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 05:23:22 PM EST

[editorial: I posted this on the previous story, of which this is a rewrite, too.]

Text ads are fairly cheap, and I've been reasonably happy with the "results" so far - meaning, some nibbles, even though I haven't sold anything on my first $24. Still, better responses than I got for $500 in local papers a while back.

Get together with friends, form a consulting company. There's lots of work to be done, it's just a question of being in the right place at the right time.

caveat emptor (none / 0) (#6)
by jayfoo2 on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 05:57:14 PM EST

I guess I feel kind of bad for throwing eLance out there. whoopsie ;)

The other thing i'd suggest is stragely enough a temp agency. I'm not talking programmer temp, I'm talking secretary temp. I did that for about 3 months after I graduated college and before I got a real job. It wasn't the most interesting work, but i got $13 an hour and the only necessary skill was using MS Word. The best part (well for me) is that a good bunch of my coworkers were ladies about my age.

Want to be your own boss? (1.33 / 12) (#7)
by spacejack on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 06:30:10 PM EST

Figure it out yourself. I'm not going to tell you all my secrets.

new wave of dotcoms...? (4.00 / 1) (#8)
by dazzle on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 06:47:10 PM EST

This is akin to dropping out. The first wave of dotcoms were all approaching the web from a 'traditional' point of view and trying to persuade people to go onto the web because it's great and revolutionary. The new wave of 'dotcoms' - kuro5hin, being an example - are popping up as personal / hobby sites which have grown and are offering a pure service industry product.

It could be slow going but trying to make money from a website will gain in popularity and acceptance...

the internet: a global network of small minded people

eLance experiences... (none / 0) (#9)
by schwardo on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 06:51:40 PM EST

I have to agree with the eLance comments. It seems easy to pick up clients via eLance but it's a lot harder than it looks, and certainly not worth the monthly fee unless you're willing to work very cheap and spend all of your time posting bids.

Actually this is timely too (5.00 / 2) (#12)
by tzanger on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 10:13:03 PM EST

I'm projecting that I'll be jumping off the corporate ladder in about 3 months' time. It's not that I don't like the company I work for, it's that I can't stand their parent company and all of the political bullshit that ensues.

I'm actually holding down three jobs currently. My full time job which actually pays the bills and keeps my family fed, clothed and housed is fun when it's not drowning me in bureaucratic bullshit from the parent company. I'm the "resident smart guy" for a mid-size ISP in my town; this job gets the "want to do web/net stuff" out of me. I could not do it full time but it gives me the opportunity to really help out a small company and see my work have a dramatic impact. Besides that, where else can I actually provision a DS3 and configure access servers without actually doing it day in, day out? :-)

The third job, which I can only afford 2-3 hours a night on, is contract electronic design. This is the job I'm hoping to swap for my day job, while keeping the "resident smart guy" stuff interspersed. This is the stuff I want more of at my day job, and the idea of being a contractor is appealing since the types of design work and opportunities aren't limited to the power electronics industry, although since working at Benshaw I've got a real desire not to let my work return to the dreary single-phase, sub-120VAC market. :-)

Most people here have it right -- the key is in the contacts you already have. It's the same as finding a really decent job in the corporate kingdom; it's not the headhunters and the want-ads which will get you there, it's the people you meet and greet in the industries you currently work in. I am particularly fortunate, as one of the companies I do this work for now is a contractor himself with too much work. With luck and determination I should be able to take 40-50h/week from him until I build up my own base. He's been doing this stuff for 13 years now and is only too happy to let me subcontract under him. He gets an administration fee for finding the contract and handling the details such as billing and so on, and I get the varied design work and knowledge that he has gleaned over the years.

Back to contacts though: I may be able to play off of the political crap that the parent company spews for my own benefit: I can design subassemblies and modules and sell it to them (relatively) easy compared to trying to convince them to allocate time and resources to do it in-house like I've been trying to do on and off for the past 6 years. I don't know why, but that seems to be the way; they'll pay someone to bring something in and make it work instead of doing it from scratch the way it needs to be.

Anyway I just wanted to say that this article is quite timely. Like the "code commando" article last week, I feel a certain synergy or timeliness to this career move. Fence-sitting has always been something of a sport to me.

Just started myself (5.00 / 1) (#13)
by Quixato on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 05:18:57 AM EST

I'm fairly new to the self-employed contracting world, but I've got a few tips for anybody interested. Start small, and let all your friends know what you're doing. It's almost like having a small sales team, if they see something that you could do, they forward the info to you.

As I'm just doing web design, finding the right clients for what you're best at is also key. I'm fairly good at setting up webpages that have web admins behind them so that the client doesn't need to know html, etc, so I go to small shops and businesses that want a web presence but don't know the first thing about it. I re-use code, try and keep it simple, and charge a decent price, as a lot of these companies can't really afford too much.

I would give it all up though to get a 9-5 job, and a steady paycheck. I'm not motivated enough to do this job properly, but I see no alternatives. I think that anybody could do a good job at working on their own provided they're not lazy, as I am.

"People are like smarties - all different colours on the outside, but exactly the same on the inside." - Me
"Learn to question, question to learn." - Sl8r

User groups and SIGs (none / 0) (#14)
by twikham on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 05:52:35 AM EST

Im currently looking into doing simular things within the next 3-6 month time frame(maybe a little longer as I am also a little busy arranging my marriage :) One thing Ive been doing thats proving quite effective in making contact in the industry is to attend user group and SIG meetings. Often they are full of contractors, developers etc.

It's all about networking (5.00 / 5) (#15)
by radghast on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 08:58:24 AM EST

Back in my self-employment days (did that for 10 years), I found that the most important networking style for drumming up new business was:

- Produce a quality result
- Visit your clients often to "see how they're doing"
- Don't price gouge or try to "put one over" on them
- Ask for referrals

If I produced quality at a competitive, reasonable price, my "stock" went up with the people I worked for. This helped me network within the company -- I helped people achieve their goals, and they would recommend me to other people. Eventually, I would run into someone who had a friend that worked somewhere else with the same types of needs, and that would help me expand my client base. I also made it a point to visit my clients often to see how they were doing, and while there would knock off a couple 5-minute fixes for free. Sixty percent of the time, these visits were good enough to get further requests for larger projects -- it would build goodwill and keep me in their minds as a person who was available for them. I kept busy with only this type of "word of mouth" advertising -- never did any print advertising or anything like that.

However, I did bail on the self-employment world when I got married. You'll work a lot harder than if you were employed -- you not only have to do the work, but you have to find it, bill it, and (don't forget) collect payment, which is a lot of extra stuff to be doing. Plan on 18-hour days for the first couple of years. Tack on health insurance for the self-employed, taxes, and the inevitable peaks and valleys in work, and it makes for a lot of effort and uncertainty. You can certainly try to plan around the uncertainty -- make sure that you don't live paycheck to paycheck; hold back profits for the dry periods, for example. But you'll take a bath on taxes and social security, since as a proprietor (rather than a corporation) you'll have a hell of a time finding writeoffs. And dealing with that first 180-day aged invoice that just can't seem to break free from Accounts Payable will up your Rogaine/Grecian Formula costs, too. You really don't want to be self-employed -- you want to start a business. Check out Cash Flow Quadrant to understand the difference.

"It remains to be seen if the human brain is powerful enough to solve the problems it has created." -- Dr. Richard Wallace
networking (4.50 / 2) (#16)
by mattw on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 10:25:03 AM EST

A key to getting into any business is networking. This won't be an easy one for geeks. My last company I worked with more than 400+ clients, and I wish I'd put them all in a rolodex now. Even without being thorough collecting contact information, as I go out on my own, the people I know are one of my most valuable resources. One thing you really want to do is to try to stay in touch with people over time -- especially people who've been very pleased with your work. Over the years, people get promoted, transferred, and so on, and the good work you do is your ticket to more work later. The best thing is, someone who was very pleased with work you did before on one sort of work (say, security consulting), might be inclined to let you take a project where you claim the skills but your resume doesn't make it obvious (say, a coding project), because they believe in YOU, because they know you, rather than just your resume.

Getting work this way will result in premium pay, more often that not, because they know you can get the job done, as opposed to other consultants they might hire from outside, where a consulting firm might just send anyone.

[Scrapbooking Supplies]
Its fun (none / 0) (#17)
by r00t on Mon Mar 25, 2002 at 12:47:25 AM EST

I currently run my own busienss and am in the middle of designing an online store using and selling products using only open source software...hopefully this will bring me some income, but I am not pinning my hopes and dreams on it. I also network houses, build computers, etc... So far "word of mouth" has done the advertising for me and that is the way I like it.

-It's not so much what you have to learn if you accept weird theories, it's what you have to unlearn. - Isaac Asimov

Be Your Own Boss | 17 comments (12 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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