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I have a full time job as a senior software developer. It pays well but the work is unsatisfying for many reasons. I often daydream about going freelance but don't want to throw away a stable paycheck without dipping my toe in the freelancing water first.

I have recently developed a commercial-grade application in my spare time so have a healthy respect for the kind of lifestyle having two jobs can lead to but the experience has also given me the confidence that I can pull it off, at least for a while.

I joined eLance but was quickly disheartened by the number of bids at very low prices by well established studios and teams of programmers with good ratings.

How can I compete with other freelancers if I am only willing to work evenings and weekends? I can prepare a solid portfolio which will certainly give me an advantage over 'sweatshops' in third world countries but I still struggle to see why anyone would employ me when they could get their project completed in less time by employing a full-time developer or a dedicated studio.

Should I 'fail to mention' that I already have a full time job? This doesn't seem honest though, and I don't want freelance contractors phoning me while I'm at work.

I'm willing to work for cheap at first.

Contracting and travelling are out of the question. Where can I find part-time programming work from home?

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closed as not constructive by gnat, GlenH7, Martijn Pieters, Glenn Nelson, jmo21 Mar 5 '13 at 13:39

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check this post out: programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/51591/… –  The Bojan Nov 3 '11 at 16:11
@BojanSkrchevski Archived –  bobobobo Jun 30 '13 at 16:29

5 Answers 5

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Note: This post is solely derived from personal experience (there are no studies backing it up), so take it with a grain of salt :)

You might want to possibly think about going a different route altogether...

I went down the same path that you're going down now a while ago and ran into the same low-balling issues. The amount of time that you'd have to invest in building relationships for relatively low paying jobs just didn't seem worthwhile to me. Most developers on oDesk and freelancer.com seem to be from third world countries and who are happy to work for peanuts. A large chunk of the other developers on those sites are most likely hacks who can get tasks done, but to low quality (and again, are happy to work for low bids) - but what does the end user care? If their problems are solved, that's all that really matters.

After looking at freelancing for a while, I reduced my options to:

  1. Become a consultant. I honestly don't know much about the implementation details of setting yourself up for success here, but I have a few personal friends who are very successful consultants who I could milk the knowledge from.
  2. Become a freelancer, working with multiple local (to my home area) businesses solving their technical problems (desktop/web software or otherwise)
  3. Get a startup going.

To me, the first two options didn't really stand out for a few reasons. The biggest one was, being employed full time and being a husband and father, I simply didn't have the time and/or energy to build relationships that possibly wouldn't pan out (I've dealt with non-technical clients in years past and it's not something that I'd really want to put myself through again).

Becoming more of an entrepreneur appealed to me. Not only could I work on applications at my own pace, but I could work with tech that I don't get to work with at my day job. Whenever I actually get something done, I have a few options to generate income: either develop something as SaaS, using third parties such as SaaSy for subscription management, or look for an investor once I got a prototype up and running.

Sure, there's a high likelihood of having to build a number of apps before figuring something out that actually takes off (and there's even a chance that nothing I build will ever catch wind), but at least I can work on stuff that excites me and has the potential to gain more income than freelancing through the aforementioned services provide.

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Huh. Downvote? Explanation would be nice (was simply sharing my own experience as it seems quite similar to the OPs).. –  Demian Brecht Nov 3 '11 at 18:17
+1, thanks for the well thought out response and I have no idea why you got downvoted. –  Sam Nov 3 '11 at 18:22

Patience will be key - it takes time to build up a steady base of quality clients who trust your abilities, and it takes longer when you're not able to devote full-time hours to it. Many successful freelancers begin this way, in their spare time while working a steady job to pay the bills until they are able to hit critical mass.

As for accepting reduced pay; I wouldn't advocate that. Yes you are competing against developers willing to work insanely cheaply, but a good client understands there is value in getting an experienced and skillful programmer to do the kind of work that you do and will pay going rates for it. Many clients on those sites are looking for the cheap labour - I say let them have it, and while your competition is toiling away working for people like that you will find and maintain relationships with clients who will respect the services you provide.

Be sure to check your current employment contract if you have one; some companies don't like their employees doing this kind of work especially if your activities are seen to compete with their business. The last thing you want is for your steady paycheque to disappear because you weren't careful enough with your freelancing.

Best of luck!

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+1, great answer! Particularly the bit about not sacrificing what you believe you're worth just because other people are working for peanuts. People will be willing to pay for the service you provide (assuming you're able to provide a service that's worth the extra cost!) –  Dean Harding Nov 4 '11 at 12:04

I was a freelancer to begin my career and dropped the other way back to a pay-check job. With me were others who could manage to survive for some more and that become their way of life for long. So i know what you are thinking and it is the best approach.

Today, I recruit people as well as assign work contracts to outside companies. In general, for any software job -where i can always dependably employ someone dedicated full-time the savings in total time and reliably achieving deadlines i would still pay higher but do that because product deliveries are tough and i would never want to invite a known risk. So by being cheaper, one would still need to be very lucky to get assignment.

But back then, when i left freelancing, i would still continued to get offers by some people knowing that i have switched jobs. They were happy to give me work for week-ends for few critical reasons.

  1. When people know you well and trust you - they might want to work with you even if you have overall lesser times. So when you start off, if people in your relationship might want to explore this more than a rather unknown person.

  2. Sometimes, for specific people and specific projects (specially the exploratory and experimental ones)people prefer freelancing work rather than assigning that to a "process driven company". This is not counter intuitive as it may sound. The simple reason is to avoid bureaucratic checks and clauses on how contracts can get executed; and also that how much exploratory work can be done.

  3. The last and most important thing (that worked for me) is to have a significant mastery over a particular art. Most of my clients would want me for my specific knowledge on compression etc. rather than just programming and they knew i was much above their average level in their organization and people similar to my profile were mostly never been in freelancing. (All those who were, were my friends!) So they had limited choice for my niche talent.

If you cannot manage to get contracts for time, the most important thing is not lose your stamina to pile up things over week-end and to keep increasing your reach and visibility of your work. So for both shots, it is best that you make visible contribution to some popular open source project.

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I suggest you try to reach the top in your day job and gain the most experience in your field first before spending long hours on jobs that don't pay much. Also, overtime work could affect your day job without you feeling that until it is too late.

As per your question:

but I still struggle to see why anyone would employ me when they could get their project completed in less time by employing a full-time developer or a dedicated studio.

The answer is that not every employer on freelancer sites have the budget for a full-time developer and not every one of them is in a great hurry. To some people, if it would take you 2 weeks to build me a good site for $50, that is a great deal.

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In freelance world average employer look for ratings you have on that particular site , but serious employer look into your profile and search for your experience skills etc , so you have to patience enough until you get correct employer . And as you said at first go for tasks with lower pay , it will increase your value.

i heard many good things about odesk.com ,so take a look at it :)

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