The Roller-Coaster of Contract Work

Ben Buie | 8/12/15

It’s been six months since I changed my LinkedIn job to “Freelance Web Developer at A Computer.” In a blog post at that time (about starting as a contract developer), I mentioned the roller-coaster of entrepreneurship. I knew what I was getting into, I have launched several successful and not so successful businesses over the years. Now, looking back six months later, the ride has been a little different than expected. This is my opportunity to reflect.

I feel like my work at Voltage (my last job) was the initial ramp up the roller-coaster, the day I put in my two weeks was the crest of the ramp, and my last day was that point where you’re hanging on the other side of the crest but haven’t started moving because you’re in the front cart.

The free-fall (not billing hours while launching) was intense, filled with all the usual and uncertain emotions that come with setting prices, getting the word out, and landing clients. Most of my freelancing friends told me that I should expect about a three week decent. That made it all the more unnerving when I was ending week 3 and 4 with nothing! Finally, week 5 brought my first client, an acquaintance of someone I gave a card to at an event.

For the next five months, I never had a day where I couldn’t bill hours; surprisingly, it has been the least frightening roller-coaster ever. It has also been the most enjoyable.

I absolutely love what I’m doing. I love Mondays (can you believe it?), sometimes I even hate Fridays (yes, I probably have some issues I need to figure out). Here are some reasons why:

I Get to Choose the Technologies

My rate fluctuates a little based on technology. I charge less for a project where I learn something that interests me. Right now, I’m really interested in JavaScript, and specifically Angular, React, and Node.js. In addition, I’d also like to get some more experience with Laravel. This rate fluctuation is justified because I provide slightly less value when I’m learning. I also get more value out of the project because it works well with my resume.

The rate fluctuation generally keeps my projects interesting and every once in a while I have to turn down a project that too far outside what I want to be doing.

I Have a Truly Flexible Schedule

Lots of companies brag about flexible schedules, but then you find that most employees end up working the same hours anyways. This is because there is social pressure to be seen doing your part, even if you’re not.

Working remotely, and for myself, prevents any social pressure. I send my clients detailed outlines of how I spent my time and they don’t care if I slept in, or if I have to leave early for a camping trip. All they care about is that my projects are done well and under budget.

I Have More Time with My Family

Most days, I have virtually no commute. My wife jokes that the walk from my room to my office is pretty tough. It is great! That extra twenty minutes to an hour is valuable when I’m already stretched thin with work, church, and family responsibilities. I also eat lunch at home giving me more time with the family (and more money).

That said, I am willing to work on-site for the right opportunity.

I Get More of the Value I Provide

My freelance rate is much higher than I could get in a full-time job. There are good reasons for this, I pay my own taxes and provide my own equipment, benefits, and office. I also assume the risk of consistently providing my own paycheck. Even with all that taken into account, I am still better off financially if I can keep a constant stream of work. This premium is the reward for the risk.

Although my clients pay more for me per hour, most of them value that I’m a resource they can turn on or off at a moment’s notice. This often saves them money in the long run by not paying someone to twiddle their fingers.

There’s Only One Problem

Despite its benefits, contract work is not without it’s challenges, it is, after all, still a roller-coaster.

I recently finished up a long Angular contract and have been on a short free-fall again. The trouble with this type of work is you have to keep looking for new clients constantly, but new clients always need someone yesterday. So, when I have work I’m loosing potential clients and when a contract ends I’m likely to free-fall for a bit.

I was talking about this problem with my mastermind group and one of my peers mentioned that I should start targeting a particular technology. He asked what that would be and I mentioned JavaScript or Angular. He did a quick Google search and found Toptal’s Angular developers list. Surprisingly, I had never heard of Toptal, but he had and recommended I apply. I did and am hoping they’ll make this free-fall much shorter.

If you have any thoughts on other ways to soften the roller-coaster, leave them in the comments below!

About the Author

Ben currently works as a contract web developer and business consultant in Boulder, Colorado.

His passion for entrepreneurship led him to study business and learn to code. Although he never anticipated working on the web, Ben has spent the past 9 years learning everything he could about building and operating websites and web assets.

When not at work, Ben spends a lot of his time with family. He is married to a “beautiful” woman and they are raising 4 energetic boys. In his spare time he loves keeping up with technology, playing guitar, eating Sweet Cow ice cream, and painting (although he has very little time for painting these days). Other than that, Ben is a supporter of freedom and liberty, a fluent speaker of Russian, and he tries to be a humble follower of Jesus.

Read more about Ben.