The Back Story
In the final year of my Engineering degree, my Head of Department summoned my friend and me to his office. Both of us were not the highest scoring students but we were the most active ones. For our major project rather than building just anything, he wanted us to build a PBX software that our college needed and was already paying for to an outside vendor.
It was a difficult one, we didn’t know it was possible to make Phone calls from the browser. My friend and I spent the next 3 months researching and building the software. When we were about to deploy it, we realize that the software won’t talk to the driver of the PRI card. Only 15 days were left for the final exams and if we didn’t build the project on time, it would never see the light of the sun.
We spend every waking hour on the software for the next 7 days and made it work. When it worked, our HOD used that software to call the Chairman of college, he congratulated us and we got the best project award for that. It was the moment when I said to myself, if I can pull this off, I can do anything and promised myself to do something significant in the world of computers.
It was 2012, the time when Web was taking over the World, desktop applications were being replaced by websites, and HTML, CSS and jQuery were becoming more and more powerful.
I would spend hours and hours sitting in front of my desktop learning and playing with these technologies. My parents used to think that I was always wasting my time all day.
My dad was convinced that I’d join him in his business because I wasn’t good enough for anything else.
One day, I saw a post of my Facebook Friend. He wanted someone to build a website for him. I contacted him and gave him an estimate, he agreed and that was my first web project. The project was completed successfully and I got the payment. My confidence was in the sky.
Fortunately, I got another project. This time it was a big one, an ecommerce website. I spent 4 months working on that and completed it successfully but I realized it was a lot of work and the pay was not good enough.
I didn’t know WordPress back then but I knew there would be something that would make developing websites easier. A few months later when I checked WordPress, I was blown away to see the capabilities of this CMS. Adding features like Login with Facebook, Shopping cart, Contact Form, Captcha would only take a few minutes. The things which would take a day or even a week were as simple as installing a plugin and configuring the settings.
I realized that the e-commerce project that I built on core PHP could have been done within 15 days if I had chosen WordPress. It was a win-win for me as my clients. Since then, WordPress is my de facto choice for all web projects.
I’m an Independent WordPress contractor. I work on designing and implementing web pages, themes and plugins for WordPress, helping clients to troubleshoot and fix their WordPress websites, designing themes that are as functional as they are beautiful, working with startups to quickly set up their MVP, and developing websites for corporates which reflect their brand.
I’m leading a happy and balanced life. I’m content, I have a great set of customers. I have the liberty to change my working hours to manage time for my hobbies and family.
Sure I don’t make as much money as a CEO but I do have a balanced and happy life. And it does sound exciting but the path wasn’t all easy. In this article, I try to give my best advice which I learned the hard way and I so much wish someone had told me about all this when I was getting started.
1. Be a specialist
General Physicians don’t make as much money as specialists make. The world is huge, even a small field like Software Engineering is too big that you can’t master everything in it.
You have to be the greatest in your field if you want to charge a premium amount. You need to be someone who has encountered and fixed every possible problem in that field. You should know your thing like the back of your hand. AND to be able to get there you need to find your thing and be very specific about it. You need to say NO to everything else.
It sounds obvious and easy, right? It isn’t. I can bet that 90% of the people out there are not doing this. I’d say It is not their fault. We, humans, are curious creatures and we get bored easily, that is why when we see a new shiny technology we want to learn that.
This is in our nature but our nature is keeping us from achieving greatness. You want to be great at something, be ready to embrace boredom and put in thousands of hours of practice.
“Pick your niche and say no to everything else”
2. Understand that not every job is for you.
Someone on amazon is selling 1500 Live Ladybugs and what shocks me more is the fact that someone is even buying them. But, we shouldn’t be all judgemental because everything has a buyer and everything has a seller.
When I had started freelancing on Upwork, I’d also get in the race-to-the-bottom along with the other freelancers who were willing to work for literally $3/h. I’d think that it will never be possible for me to get away from this race and making good money.
It took me years, I had to work with many bad client projects for peanuts to realize that I’m a different product and I need a different buyer.
I increased my rates 8 times and dedicated myself to give the best possible service I can to my clients. What happened next shook my whole belief system. Not only people were paying me the premium amount, I was getting more customers. As you go up there is lesser competition.
3. Not everyone who gives you money is your client. Some client might suck the joy out of work. Stay far away from them.
Let’s be honest, there are some people that we don’t like and there are some people who don’t like us. If you were in a job, there would be no choice but to bear with the irrational and arrogant boss of yours but thank god, you are a freelancer. You have the liberty to choose the people you want to work with.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is say NO even if that means you have to lose money.
4. Know your worth and charge that much:
Imagine, if you are in a public place and a stranger comes up to you and asks you to buy his $5 bill for $1. What would you think? Most of us will not buy that $5 bill even if it is a great deal, you are getting an extra $4 in the exchange. Because we are hardwired to believe that all too-good-to-be-true deals are scams.
While setting your hourly rates, it is important to make sure that you are charging a correct amount. Lowballing isn’t helpful for those clients which you want to work with. The right clients are the probably the businessmen who know that to get good work you have to spend good money and they are there to spend the money. Are you able to do the good work?
5. Experience what your client is experiencing; think what your client is thinking
I’m a web developer and I do need help from other freelancers at times to deliver my project. I hire the best freelancers on Upwork for my job and I notice everything that they do. I notice their way of sending the proposals, their way of presenting the work, their way of negotiation when I, as a client, ask for more free work.
This activity will help you learn that there are so many things which you think are right in your head are so incorrect and can be so much better.
6. Don’t sell technologies, sell solutions
“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”
Don’t be a React Developer, Photoshop Designer or Final Cut Pro Editor. Be a problem solver. Nobody hires a writer because he can use MS Word, a writer is hired because he can write persuasive writing. The copy that can convert visitors to customers. You need the ability to sell solutions, not technology.