Forgive my scattered thought. I know this blog post is not as polished as I would like it but it covers some things that I thought needed to be said to a few folks that need to hear it.
This morning I was having a conversation with someone (who shall remain nameless) and they said to me "My father still thinks that I'm playing at this business thing". I tried to let it go but even several hours later I'm still sitting here thinking about that statement. As an owner of a small business I think at times we all hear that we're just playing at this business thing. But it really gets under my skin.
I started to think about what that statement means. If you look at the way businesses were started previously it took a lot more effort. In previous generations there certainly was a build-up to starting a business. You would identify a need, build a business plan, and then (more than likely) you would go to a bank for funding. Ultimately going to a bank for funding meant having to put something on the line whether it be your house, retirement, or some other financial asset. Once financing was secured you would start to actually build up the company. This typically meant that you would have people marketing, selling, you might have administrative staff for HR, and let's not forget about the workers that actually do the billable work. So I think this is why the unnamed person's father used the word "playing".
Many of us in the ExpressionEngine community work for small companies. And by small companies, I mean companies that are five people are less. In my largely unscientific mental poll, a large percentage of folks are working by themselves as Freelancers. The conversation I had earlier made me stop and think about that. Many of us that are or have been Freelancers recognize the ups and downs that go with having a single person wearing all of the hats. You focus on trying to find work, and then execute the work, and then focus on trying to find work, then focus on some administrative tasks like taxes, then focus on the work. It is a draining cycle. I did this for years and it ultimately leads to frustration and a lower salary than what I would've preferred for all the work that went running a small business.
The current trend in the web community is to build a product. Many Freelancers have thought romantically about what it would be like to create a product where you only have to work four or five hours a day a couple of times a week in order to make the necessary income. Maybe this is the remnants of the 4-Hour Workweek talking? I imagine many of us in the tech industry have read Tim Ferris' book and thought "Man, that would be nice!". But the reality is that the 4-Hour Workweek mindset is one in which your expenses are extremely low. You're only having to provide for the basics of necessity. The truth is that many of us still have lives. We have families. We have kids. We have houses. We have cars. And those are all things that when added up are quite expensive. Sure, there are a few random folks that do make it big. They create that one product everybody must have or the one product that has such a large market that even if they only gain a fraction of a percentage somehow they manage to make a living. But what about the rest of us? Are we really just playing at this thing called business?
The problem is that the word "playing" has some really negative connotations when used in this context. I don't feel like I'm playing when I show up to work at my office every day and try to provide my customers with the best service that I can provide. I don't feel like I'm playing when I'm called upon at all hours of the day and night to handle things that have gone wrong that I was not responsible for. I don't feel like I'm playing when I don't get to take vacations like most normal folks with day jobs. So I wouldn't use the word "playing" when referring to how I run my business.
There are easier ways to run a freelancer business though. Last year, working for EllisLab, I realized that I really like working with people. I vowed that when I left EllisLab that I would do whatever I could to have someone or some people working with me. It is impossible to master all of the skills necessary to build a website and so it is important to have folks that can round out your weaknesses. I've noticed over the last year that many ExpressionEngine freelancers are teaming up, so I gather that many of us are realizing the same thing. I went the route of finding someone that would want to
What I've realized is that I fill the important role of Business Development / Project Management (on top of meddling with design). Every webshop needs someone that can handle the conversations with prospects and customers. That can make sure that they're being taking care of. That can communicate anything that needs to be handled for the project and follow up on items that might be needed from the customer. They are also primarily responsible for making sure that a steady stream of contracts are being signed. They should also be making sure that there's enough marketing taking place through blogging and social media that people are aware that you're in business and available for hire (Call us :). In my personal experience it is impossible for one person to fill all these needs and still be able to focus on design, front end development, custom programming, administration of the business and maintain any healthy sanity.
So all this to say… Freelancing is not "playing". It is damn hard work. But because it is so hard I would probably suggest working smarter. Team up. Figure out a way to make working with other folks work. Ultimately this will make life easier and more enjoyable.
To the person that sparked this blog post. I don't think you need to hear me say this but... You are one competent developer/designer and you run your business in a professional manner. Keep it up. There are many of us out here in the big wide interweb that know just how hard you work.