I am a freelance Android Developer and I enjoy being one. But it would not suit everyone. In this non-technical post I’ll explain a bit about what that mean. I’ll also consider the good and the bad of what that entails.
Let’s begin by defining precisely what I mean when using the term ‘freelancer’. I have my own company and I am also an employee of that company. Other companies contract my company (and therefore me) to perform Android Development work. I am an employee of my own company rather than an employee of the company for which I perform work.
I started as a freelancer in May 2014. I almost started a couple of years earlier but the contract I had fell through at the last minute. Another contract position didn’t arise, so I accepted a permanent position instead. That false start was almost enough to put me off the idea for good but I decided to retry it a couple of years later.
What prompted me to take the plunge in to freelancing was that I’d had a run of permanent roles where it became apparent after I started that it really wasn’t a good fit. I had a run of three consecutive permanent roles on my CV (some will call this a résumé) where I had moved on after a relatively short period. So I was getting concerned about how this might look to a prospective new employer and I was desperate to avoid a fourth.
I decided that I would give freelancing another try because freelance contracts tend to be short. It is not considered a negative for a freelancer to have a run of short contracts. I could transition back to permanent if I were to find a freelance role was a good fit. While I have had some most enjoyable roles, I have found that I really enjoy being freelance. Although I still would not rule it out in the future.
Another motivation for trying freelance work as that I had and still have a reasonably high profile within the Android dev community. I reasoned that this would make finding new freelance roles much easier. This has certainly proven to be the case. In over 6 years of freelancing the longest spell I’ve had between contracts was around four weeks.
One of the things that attracted me to freelancing was the money. I earn significantly more than I did as a permanent employee. I’ll be honest: Having a high profile has boosted my earning potential. That is a consistent motivation to continue publishing weekly blog posts – to maintain my profile within the community. That said, I wouldn’t continue writing if I didn’t feel that I could produce content that is useful to the community.
I also enjoy the variety that freelancing brings. Over my time as a freelancer I have worked on a wide variety of different types of app. I have also been lucky enough to work with some very talented people from whom I have learned a huge amount. This aspect of freelancing may not suit some people. I know people who like to see the app they are working on grow and evolve. But I don’t tend to get that level of continuity although I have had a couple of contracts which ended up running for an extended period – almost two years in one case.
I also enjoy being my own boss., and am able to chose contracts which suit me. For example, while I live relatively close to London, commuting there takes be between 2 – 2.5 hours each way. I do not feel that I can perform my best work if my working day is bookended by that commute, so I only accept contracts which permit a degree of remote work.
The single worst thing about freelancing, for me, is the periods toward the end of contracts. Finding new contracts is be stressful because any business requires income. As a business owner, the responsibility to generate income streams is on me. I try to reduce the stress by keeping enough funds in the business to be able to pay me as an employee, even when there is no income.
Another negative is that the company does not receive income for time I take off. As I result I tend to take fewer holidays. And in my six years as a freelancer I have only taken two sick days – and I was really sick and physically unable to work for those!
That’s certainly one thing that I have found – my business head tends to rule things. I always dislike taking time off because I consider it as losing out on potential income. So I am much stricter on myself than any other boss I’ve ever worked for!
Another thing worth remembering is that one must invest time in the running of the business. That might be in keeping the company accounts up-to-date, filing tax returns, or any one of a number of small tasks.
Whenever I’ve left a permanent position it has either been because I’ve needed to move on, or the company is struggling and either making or about to make staffing cuts. In neither of those cases does one feel particularly fondly toward the company one is leaving. There is often a degree of sourness even if there are people that you’ll miss.
I experienced something for the first time at the end of my very first freelance contract: I was leaving a company that I liked. I was genuinely sad to be leaving. And I had never experienced that before, although I have since. It’s a very bitter-sweet thing. It is sad when you leave something that you have enjoyed, but it is very nice to leave on good terms. But there is always the possibility to return later on when circumstances permit. That is certainly something that I have enjoyed doing.
Probably the most important thing, in my opinion, is that as a business owner it is vital to manage your finances well. I have already mentioned that I try and keep money in the company to continue paying me between contracts. It is important to keep your personal finances separate from the company’s finances, I think.
Another thing worth remembering is that companies have tax liabilities. A nightmare scenario would be to have insufficient funds to pay the company taxes when they are due. The way that I manage this is to have two separate bank accounts: The main business account; and a business savings account. Whenever I receive payment for an invoice, I transfer at least enough to cover the taxable portion straight to the savings account. The only reason for taking funds out of the savings account is to pay taxes. This gives me the confidence that I’ll always have enough funds within the company accounts to cover its tax liabilities, and I’ll never have to cover them from my personal finances.
As I said earlier: I enjoy being a freelancer. It gives me variety in the work that I do, and I feel much more in control than I ever did as a permanent employee. But what works for me might not work for everyone.
Hopefully sharing my experiences will give anyone thinking about going freelance some insights which may help them to decide if it is the right path for them.
© 2020, Mark Allison. All rights reserved.
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