A year of freelancing: What I learnt

It was just after the Diwali of 2015 that I quit my regular job and started software freelancing. Since then, my life has taken a different turn. While at work, I have been coding, taking calls, documenting, improving, improvising and deploying projects. When not working, I am travelling, trekking, cooking, reading, watching documentaries, running, bicycling and learning a lot of new skills. It has been a wonderful year, one of the best in my life. In this post, I am listing out what I learnt while sailing through the year.

I. Really loving my skill and believing that it is the best for me

In India, at my age and experience (I am 33, with 10 years of experience), writing software code is looked upon as lagging several steps behind in one’s tech career. Most people with 10+ years of experience have partially or completely given up coding in favour of architecture design and other higher level tasks, while delegating coding to the freshers or less experienced engineers. I love architecture design, but I also love to lay down the bricks myself. That is why freelancing is a great fit for me. It reasserts just how much I like the software industry and the art of coding. I have actually learnt many new coding techniques as software has evolved immensely over the last one year.

II. Believing in abundance

I am from Mumbai. Software engineers from Mumbai generally pack up their bags and leave for more lucrative locations like Pune, Bangalore or Silicon Valley. However my experience has been totally different.

I have always known Mumbai as a business-crazed city with huge pockets of Gujarati, Marwari, Sindhi and Parsi communities. The youngsters in these communities are increasingly making their own tech startups and trying to become the next big tech giant. This leaves a huge window of opportunity open for software engineers in or around Mumbai. I have carved out such a niche for myself, by becoming a tech enabler to some such companies. This also makes it easy for me to hang out with my clients personally more often and build better relations with them.

Initially, I took projects immediately as they came to me, thinking that if I missed the opportunity, another one might be a long time coming. I failed to see that I was doing too much work for too little pay. But soon I started attending startup meets and conferences, mostly in IIT Bombay. This made me aware that Mumbai has hundreds of companies and opportunities are abound in almost every suburb. I started screening my projects more carefully and reaped great benefits out of it.

III. Having multiple skills and staying updated

I am proficient in more than one particular area of software. I can work on mobile apps, servers and embedded systems. This has helped me get a very good variety of projects from different clients. I also make it a point to stay updated in as many areas as I can, learning what the latest is and which way the industry might move. This requires a lot of reading and keeping myself consciously tuned to industry news. That said, I can read news and articles about software for as long as 8 hours a day. This is because I am genuinely interested in the field and never tire of it.

IV. Work seems like play

As a freelancer, I get to choose my projects and the technology to work on. This makes me love what I work on and it doesn’t seem like ‘office work’ anymore. I enjoy my work and this means that I am fully engaged. I do not have ‘Monday Morning Blues’ and do not find the need to have seperate ‘work’ and ‘play’ times. I work when I want to and take breaks when my mind loses its focus. During my day job, I used to stop work because I felt like I had enough of the work that I had to force myself to do for a day. That’s not the case anymore.

V. Using it as a leverage for the way forward

My wife, Priya and I have a shared dream of being entrepreneurs together. Implementing that needs a lot of time. It also needs us to figure skills out along the way. Talking directly to clients, adapting to new situations, managing crises and building new systems. Freelancing is a good way to learn to build those skills at a smaller scale and use those learnings later when we step into our world of business.

VI. My earnings increased substantially

My cashflow was not impressive during the first three months of freelancing. I even lost clients after not doing well on their projects. However, since February, I have seen a steady increase in my revenue and it finally overtook my last job salary by a big margin. Happily, I have been at that level for the last four months.

VII. It can be a full time profession and clients take you seriously

Before last Diwali, I was working on side gigs to test if freelancing as a profession would really work for me. Some gigs failed and some were successful. After doing a financial review (see how to do a review here and here), we were convinced that I could take up freelancing full-time even it meant not earning well during the initial months.

The best part was when I announced to my clients that I would be a full-time freelancer. They were thrilled and were more eager to have me work on their projects.

Conclusion

The last year has been exciting for me. It has seen its share of highs and lows. I have learnt plenty and have come out of it a completely new person. In the end, it has been well worth it. I have been rewarded with more satisfaction, more productive time and increased earnings. Have you ever dabbled with freelancing? What did you get out of your stint? Let me know in your comments.

This post also appears on the blog ‘We Are The Living’ here. We Are The Living is a blog co-authored by Priya (my wife) and me. In this blog, we treat our life as a laboratory to experiment with the best ideas shared by the most effective people in the world. We share what we learnt from each of those ideas, so that you can put them to use in your own life and be a better person.

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