Be happy working on your own

Easy, peasy but not measly

I have heard among colleagues, and also among some people I follow online, a bunch of grumpy talk about how freelancing and independent work is doubtfully a progress, about how working from home makes you not leave the house at all, or about how hard it is to have a stable income as a solo worker. Indeed not everyone is cut out for this choice.

However, reading and listening to all sorts of complaints, I have identified some confusions that could keep the young or inexperienced from embracing the freedom of going solo ☺ and I want to clear them up, as best as I can, because for the ones that are cut out for this choice it’s a shame not to choose it:

  1. Make the difference between working from home and working remotely
  2. Work on the difference between outsourcing and freelancing
  3. Cover the difference between feast and starve and business

Here is an explanation for each of these differences that we solo workers should pay attention to.

Make the difference between working from home and working remotely

On one hand “home” is not remote. Because people are way too optimistic about how good working without socks on really is, home becomes very often just another cubicle; and in such situation it can be even more deranging: alone in a huge but empty cubicle is worse than sticking with some brothers in arms in an undersized cardboard-walled “workspace”.

On the other hand, “remote” means location independent. You can certainly choose to work from home, but consider more options. Remote means you can do the work anywhere you choose, on any given day, in Indonesia or in Germany and not actually live in any one of these places: location independent.

Ideally home should be the place to come back to, not some extended client presence in your private space. Nevertheless, what I find striking is that not all professions contaminate the home in the same manner or extent. For hundreds of years, writers, musicians, poets, translators, architects, lawyers and critics have worked from home and none has ever had a whole complaint list like the relatively newfound profession of programming that I am so in touch with. I wonder what makes programmers more prone to convert their home into a dreadful place to work from? May it be bacon?

Just noting that at home is a better way to put it instead of from home and the reason is that you do not work from your bedroom in your pajamas, from your kitchen or tool shed, except maybe occasionally, but have some kind of desk and section of the living room to use for work, right? Right? At home is a choice, while from home it’s like you had no choice.

If anyone asks, it’s even better to say “I have a home office,” and end it there. Why this chatter about how to talk about it? It’s because these things — at least so says Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) — the way we talk about what we do, and about what we are, shapes our behavior. I think there is some truth in that and you don’t want your client to picture you in your underwear, eating chips, while coding their precious landing page.

Consider this approach: based on the differences above, the solo worker should strive to diversify his or her work environments as much as possible financially and emotionally. If travel is not an option, maybe a shared space, a coffee shop, a park or even the beach given its warm and close enough are also valid options. Whatever you do, be sure to invest in a change of scenery. You might find yourself inspired by your new surroundings, be more productive, or even meet someone new who turns out to be just the person you needed to meet!

Work on the difference between outsourcing and freelancing

Independent development work has these two aspects that are many times confused: outsourcing and freelancing. An outsourcer is an externalized asset of some company, while a freelancer is an expert, a helping hand that supplements a team, someone whose portfolio and know-how diversify the possibilities of some project. You don’t want to be seen as an outsourcer because there is far, far, less consideration that you’ll get. For the outsourcer all discussion is based on volume: how much — how fast. And how cheap. If you want to be seen as cheap, then sell yourself as an outsourcer.

It does not matter that you do amazing Ruby work or outstanding Big Data algorithms: if you are an outsourcer you are a disposable resource, an overqualified mechanical turk. Some people have no option but to start as outsourcers, maybe most of the people in emerging countries, but the best approach is to strive for evolving into a freelancer. As a freelancer, your time is valuable, because you become an asset and not a disposable resource.

The fact is, having an account on Odesk, Elance or even does not make you a freelancer by default. What does is your worked and trained hours, your work stories, your participation and presence in your work, your image too, but, more importantly, the expertise that you can put into a project that others can’t. Find niches and do side projects — these things can pull you out of the horde of nameless “coder” folk.

For a piece of advice, as someone said: the blog is the new resume, but for independent workers it’s the ticket to the upper class of actual freelancers, charging by the day not by the hour and having to choose between projects to bid on, not being chosen on projects they have bid on. So learn to write adequately (you don’t have to be a writer) and start sharing with the community the slew of things that you find out about every day. It’ll probably be one of the best things you’ve ever done for yourself.

Cover the difference between feast and starve and business

One other thing that has been also covered numerous times: insecurity. If you are in your early twenties, being also a coder for rent could be a match, however, later on, the two — the age and the “rental resource” status — will conflict heavily. Ever since I was a kid, there were these guys that could fix things (like TVs, refrigerators, vacuums , etc.) and these guys had no full time jobs. They were usually men, in their 40s or 50s, hanging around for gigs and living from one fix to another. That’s what I envision when picturing the 40 years old “coder”.

Financially, as a coder for rent, it is very often that you’re found in either a forced diet, because of no work, or some sort of greasy state of immersive desk clutter, because of not getting up the chair for 1001 nights in a row.

The solution to this is to continuously converge efforts towards evolving into a business. A business has a business plan, a cash flow, an accountant, staff and so on. It can be very well a one man business, but you have to regard yourself as such and approach like a business would both clients and work in general:

  • Do not quote hours only, you have more overhead than you are aware of: the uber chair you bought, the latest gazillion core workstation, even the coffee should be billed.
  • Do not estimate time or costs on the phone, on the spot, on the go, etc.
  • Do not start working before signing a contract, unless it’s your childhood friend, relative or you can simply afford being stood up.
  • Do not assume you’ll do all the work!

Do not assume you’ll do all the work! I think this is one of the main problems that solo workers are faced with: networking and teamwork. Anecdote: many times on auction sites what usually seems to be some person who coded a thousand web sites in 5 years of activity, guess what, it is actually a team of five to ten coders and the guy is their client service team member.

Let me say it again: do not assume you’ll do all the work! Have some freelancer friends already! And start giving normal deadlines without working nights and weekends! Invariably, more than 30 hours of work a week is gonna produce bad results. Invariably, there are freelancers or outsourcers who would kill for some work. You just have to connect your sudden huge project to their availability. That won’t make you their boss, nor will you have to employ anyone, just let them help you and pay them back. The apparent reduction in income will be supplemented by more sanity and much more happy clients, which on the long run means much more money that what you spend now.

All in all, try to be a freelancing expert, having a freelancing business, with long term clients that have punctual projects not maintenance, some awesome workspace and gear and one who has contracts for all the work . Oh yeah, and do enjoy the new and good life of being on your own, as it is so much better that what you may read or hear ☺