It’s Dangerous to Go Alone
There are a few things I feel like I absolutely needed before taking the leap.
I knew I’d need some savings to get started – and I’ve confirmed that in practice. The thing about working for clients versus a normal job is that money flow is way different. While most people are very prompt to pay, I still may be getting money for work I did two months ago. I’d strongly recommend having at least three months salary saved up so you can get started without mounds of extra stress.
My original plan, when I earnestly began working towards starting Guerilla Labs, was to work on some side projects until I built up about six months of savings. Eventually, I found this to be really difficult – for two reasons.
First, it’s just difficult to get the type of work you’d really like to be doing when you aren’t available during business hours to talk to clients. Second, working every evening and weekend to get to this amount was going to completely burn me out. Burning myself out didn’t seem like the best way to start a new business that would need a lot of my attention.
So, I realized I just wasn’t going to get to this goal (not in one piece, anyway). There came a point where I realized that I had about three months of savings (at my minimum pay amount) and I wasn’t going to get any closer. And it finally hit me that it was plenty to get started. If you can save more, great, but there also comes a point where you just have to start.
I highly recommend you try to line up a client or two before quitting your day job. It’s important because you’ll want to get the cash flow rolling as soon as possible, and because it’s easy to get discouraged when you’re talking to people and just waiting on a job to come through. Also, a lot of this industry is built on “word of mouth” advertising, so you’re going to need clients to get more clients.
Before I left my old job, I was fortunate to get on a project with the awesome team at Crush & Lovely. I actually applied to a job posting for a front-end developer and after a couple of discussions it became clear that working for them on a contract basis was the best thing for them and me.
I also lined up three months of contract work with my previous place of employment. Now this was tricky, since I couldn’t really pitch the idea without telling people I was leaving, so it was an “all in” kind of move. I was a manager of eight designers and front-end developers with a lot of domain knowledge, and my leaving was really going to sting. Understand that I’m a very loyal person who hates to let anyone down, so this was very much an attempt to do the right thing while finding a mutually beneficial solution. A contract period made a lot of sense for both of us – it gave me some runway while giving them a generous period to transfer knowledge and get the team set. It was important that this not take up all my time, as I needed availability to work on and line up other things, so I ended up working for them two weeks a month during that three month period.
If at all possible, you’re going to want some trusted people you can work with. I was fortunate and already had several people in place who I could call on if I needed help, but if you don’t, then I’d highly recommend going to some meet-ups, shaking hands and trying to get to know some talented folks.
From the beginning, I was worried about losing out on work because I was already booked. This scared me because I knew doing a good job on a project would lead to other projects, so I didn’t want to pass on good opportunities. My “team” turned out to be invaluable in this area. When a project came in that I couldn’t handle on my own, I would ask if any of them could help. Their availability during off hours was fine since I was the point person on each project.
This arrangement worked well for myself and my clients. My clients were more than happy for me to bring in extra help, as long as I reviewed and vouched for the work (since it was my reputation that established the relationship initially). For me, it meant that I got to turn down a lot fewer projects than I would have on my own.
And for my team, it turned into a lot of lucrative side-work for them. I really want to be as fair as possible in this work. So, for each project, we simply divvy up the pay by how much time each team member worked (you have to really trust each other for this to work). So, I don’t make a higher percentage than they do (which is really helpful when an estimate isn’t super accurate and we end up making less an hour than we would like – because we’re all in the same boat). We’ve also all agreed to take 2.5% out of everyone’s checks to pay for business operations and to spread that load around as much as possible.
In this business, you’re also going to need some gear – computers, testing devices, software, services.
So, I said I had three months of pay saved up. That’s true, but I also had a bit more, and I knew I’d need it since I was turning in my MacBook and iPad when I left my job. Here are the things I ended up needing to buy:
- MacBook Air
- 27” Dell Monitor
- Magic Trackpad
- Logitech K760 Keyboard
- iPad Mini
- Adobe Creative Cloud (complete)
- Github (organization bronze)
- FreeAgent (for invoicing, time tracking and accounting)
- Domains (guerillalabs.co, guerrillalabs.co, gorillalabs.co)
There are other things I’ve purchased since then. Things like: fonts, new software, a CodePen account, additional devices, more domains, hosting. The point is that you’ll have expenses – maybe a significant number – so make sure you have the money (and monthly budget) to cover those things.
Continue A Field Guide to Self Employment with chapter 4: Finding Clients.