I have a lot of marketable skills. At least I think I do. I've never really sold them on the open market. That is essentially what freelance developers and consultants do. I want to. So what's stopping me?
During the cold winter months, I catch a ride to work with Mr. Peterson, an older (experienced) gentleman who has worked in various types of work. He now works for BYU as a heating/cooling technician (for a salary) while also installing and repairing heating and cooling units in homes and businesses (self-employed). He works hard, but he is well compensated and enjoys his work in both forms of employment.
We have talked about his side business and how he could easily support himself full-time with its income. However, he prefers to freelance after hours, while keeping the benefits and stability of his salaried job. This is a compelling arrangement that I could imitate with my work-at-home skill sets.
In fact, I've long dreamed of starting a business, or freelancing.
I have tried to add in some freelance self-employment before, but it hasn't taken off—for one big reason. I'm conflicted. I'm fighting with myself on several points:
- Am I decreasing free time (quality of life) for non-essential material compensation?
- What to charge, amateur or professional rates?
- What are my motives and objectives?
- Is this worth the risk?
Can I Sacrifice My Free Time?
I don't have all that much free time any more. After 10 years as a bachelor, I really miss it too. True discretionary time is exquisite and selfishly guarded. And that's part of my dilemma; should I give up my limited, casual, relaxing free time for money? Would it be worth it? If I'm really willing to give up that time, shouldn't it go to my children, or my wife?
What will I (and my family) gain from dedicating more time to self-employment? Mr. Peterson demonstrates the perks of a personal business, including:
- career flexibility and self-determination
- income for any purpose: to pay down debt, save, donate, enhance life style, etc.
- increased self-reliance and self-esteem
- broadened experience
- decreased idleness
But his life is all labor and little play (surprisingly, he's not all that grouchy for it)! I like to play. I also like to read and think for hours at a time. Granted, some of my free time is used idly, to my detriment, like playing computer games, aimlessly web surfing, or watching movies in excess. I could give those up, I guess.
Another part of myself declares, "This is the time in my life is when I need to work hardest, to get the power of compounded interest going in my favor!" On the other hand, casual play time with a young family is essential for a healthy, cohesive, obedient family later in life. I could give up all my idle time for more family time.
Overall, I still feel that I should dedicate more free time to self-employment, starting a business, or otherwise diversifying my income sources. If I can find something to replace only the idle time I have, I'd be better off with minimal sacrifice.
What Should I Charge?
So what is my time worth? For example, I'm very interested in doing some freelance Drupal development on the side, for a few hours a week. But I'm frustrated about one question; what is a fair market rate? It's tough to determine, as it varies by location, skill set, and demand.
Well, both demand and my skills are increasing all the time. I just don't know how relevant my location is. "Local" is a minor factor for web development—one that is decreasing in relevance. Does it really matter? I also struggle with my own extreme frugality diminishing my rates. I wouldn't pay someone $50/hour when I could do it myself (thus I do nearly everything myself). So I fight with myself about my fees. What's fair; $35, $50, or $80 per hour? Why? When the professional me computes my rates, I come up with about $80/hour. Wow! Then the amateur me doubts that I'm worth that. Then again, I'm very talented and capable and innovative and, well, professional!
So this has me hung up right now. LinkedIn has a conversation about Drupal development and consulting rates which brought all this back to my consciousness again and spurred this post. There, I see that $50 is about right. But that could cut out a lot of small businesses, and hobby web sites that charitable me wants to help. So I have to analyze my motives.
What Do I Want to Accomplish, and Why?
This topic needs a post all to its self!
Why do I want to work at all? I want greater flexibility, resources and security for me and my family while continuing to challenge myself, to learn, and to expand my ability to serve and uplift others. Being able to accomplish this through my work is a bonus. That's one benefit for working at BYU; I support my family, learn and grow on the job, and help students and faculty as well. Sadly, it doesn't pay nearly as much as I'm worth in other markets and I'm starting to feel that discrepancy keenly with my growing family. I also want more discretionary resources (money) for my own needs and interests.
So how would extra freelance work improve this situation? I could round out my skills and experience, I could meet other, entrepreneurial-minded people. I could work on more engaging problems, with fewer bureaucratic road blocks to my innovations (yes, read a little frustration there). I could earn more money on the side for a house, business seed money, new and interesting tech toys, a trike, and other life-long dreams I've still never had money for.
Or am I fooling myself? What do I stand to lose here?
Is Self-employment Worth the Time, the Labor and the Risks?
I don't know. And I doubt I can find out with mind experiments.
Starting a small web consulting and development company. Is not all that complex. The financial risks are minimal. The time investment is variable and only really threatening to my "idleness monkey".
One real concern is my commitment to clients and the relationship struggles it invariably brings. I don't look forward to billing them for work I like to do. That's a new reluctance I feel. I love helping people and charging them just seems callous at times. As people invest time and money into a web site, I'm taking on real responsibilities to keep it running, or fixing problems. I take that seriously—maybe too much so. These commitments could easily balloon into time sink-holes!
That's where I need more experience and will benefit from real freelancing work. I will learn how to set and maintain healthy boundaries.
So what do you think of my ramblings? I do feel a need to pickup some work on the side. I really want to start a full-fledged company some day, so this is a start. I also just need to change up life a little. Adding three children in one year is bound to crimp anyone's style!