A few tips for aspiring freelance developers in Montreal, part 2

This article is the second of a three articles series. If you haven’t read the first one yet, it is recommended but not mandatory to do so before going on.

One year ago, I left my full-time job at Ubisoft Montreal and became a freelance developer. In this article series, I share my experiences and a few concrete tips on how to switch to freelancing. It is, of course, targeted towards aspiring freelance programmers, but other freelance workers will hopefully also find a lot to learn. Some of the information presented is also specific to Montreal, but the overall step by step process can be applied elsewhere.

This series is composed of three articles. Each article covers a stage of your progress towards your goal of becoming a freelance developer. They are presented in a chronological order. Last week, we went through the preparation stage: before you left your current position and could position yourself as a freelance developer.

This week, we’re presenting the following stage we call transition. At that point, the switch to freelancing is done, but no contract has been signed yet. Finally, next week, the execution stage will help you keep your business healthy while working on your first contracts.

A career is something very personal, and it is very likely that people have different views about what becoming a freelance developer means. This series is not about answering all questions to everyone. It’s about sharing my experience with other newcomers so that they can benefit from it. Any question or remark is more than welcome, please share them in the comments at the bottom of this page.

Transition, or what to do before you sign your first clients

At that point in your move to freelancing, you left your full-time job or occupation. Thus, you can advertise yourself as a freelance developer. It’s also a time when you generally don’t have any contract to work on yet. Because you’re ready to work on a project anytime, It is a great opportunity to use that free time to network with potential clients and sign your first contract.

Leverage social networks to announce your new status

It is very important to make your switch from employee to freelance clear to your professional network. Post on your Linkedin wall, twitter feed and any other network. Make it clear that you’re available for contract hire. Mention the skills you chose during your preparation.

You will also want to avoid receiving messages from recruiters about full-time job opportunities. Make it clear in your profile that you’re offering your skills as a contractor, and that you’re not looking for a job.

Attending developer meetups and conferences

Now that you’re officially a freelance developer, it is much easier for your potential clients and your peers to understand how you position yourself. It will be much easier for them to see the value you can bring to their business. Other freelance developers will see you as a potential partner or collaborator, and potential clients will know that you’re available for contract work.

Montreal has a lot of events going on all year long where you can meet friendly and talented developers. Montreal Tech Watch has lots of information about next conferences, meetups and hackathons. I also invite you to subscribe to their calendar so that you can receive notifications before each event.

Notable events include the Confoo conference, MTL new tech, Big Data, JS Montreal, Montreal.rb and MontrealPython meetups. Some of these events are hosted at the Notman House, which is a hub for people interested in all things related to technology.

Networking with potential clients

Conferences, meetups and hackathons are great to meet fellow developers, but some events are even better if you’re looking to meet potential clients. For instance the AQIII, for “Association Québécoise des Informaticiens et Informaticiennes Indépendants”, organizes monthly meetups where independent software development consultants can meet potential clients or recruiters. They also run a monthly newsletter with tons of interesting information about all things related to running your personal business like financial or legal tips. You can consult a directory of professionnals offering services to freelance developers, like independent insurance providers, accountants or financial counselors. Being independent themselves, they are more likely to understand your needs.

Recruiters are also very helpful to contact businesses you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Feel free to connect with them on profesionnal networks like LinkedIn: it’s in their interest to connect with you, and they will send you contract opportunities sooner or later. As mentionned earlier, make it very clear that you’re a freelance developer and that you’re not looking to work as an employee. You should have enough recruiters in your professional network who hire for contract to that you receive contract opportunities that fit your skillset at least once every month or so.

Subscribing to quality job posts websites

Jobs posting websites can feel old, confusing and targetted exclusively towards full-time employees. Moreover, there is not much variety in the opportunities that are offered in terms of skills and industries. Often, you’ll find opportunites for developers with an expertise in established technological stacks, like Java or PHP. What if you’re looking for a part-time freelance gig to work on a cool Node.js back-end using Redis, all of that running on Amazon Web Services?

Smaller jobs posting platforms exist that have these opportunities. As an added bonus, their user experience is often much better than the other ones. I personnally use Gun.io and Authentic Jobs, but I’m sure that more exist out there.

Pricing strategy and working schedule

Last but not least, you will need to plan your pricing strategy and working schedule before contacting your first potential clients. Their first questions will likely be: “When are you ready to work?” and “How much is it?”. Usually, they expect your answers to be “Right now!” and “A small amount of money.”. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The important thing here is to make up your mind regarding your availability and pricing before you meet a potential client. During the negotiation, it will be much easier if you know what you’re ready to give up and what you want to stand for than if you improvise on the spot.

The questions you’ll have to answer for yourself are:

Next week

This concludes the transition stage. This week’s article was a bit shorter than last week, but we presented some crucial topics:

Next week, we’ll present how to keep your business healthy while working on your first contracts. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

See you next week!

Julien Gilli 01 October 2013
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