I have roughly 6 months of runway funds…
In short, I’m going to do the things that I enjoy doing, full time. Hopefully, it’ll turn into something that can fund itself. But if not, the most important things are that I enjoy myself, and I learn interesting things.
– Me, 9th November 2013
I admit it: I failed.
Seven months ago, I was newly unemployed, fresh from my last full-time job, where I’d learned so much, and made many friends. I was nervous and excited. One night, I published a blog post which struck a chord with hundreds of people and attracted the attention of thousands.
How I failed
Confession: I haven’t been unemployed for the last six months and sadly, I didn’t (strictly speaking) end up doing what I enjoy full-time. I’ve been self-employed, working for paying clients. I’ve had two software contracts with different startups and now I’m starting another.
You might say that this is still stuff I enjoy, and you’d be right. Yes, I enjoy writing software and yes, I’ve enjoyed working for the clients that I’ve worked for. But that wasn’t what I had in mind when I said what I said back in November 2013. So, I consider this a failure, but that doesn’t mean it’s been a negative experience; far from it, in fact.
Things don’t have to be black or white
Being hired or employed doesn’t mean having to fall back into the same routines as before and working the same hours as before. It also doesn’t mean having to stay in the same place.
I’ve manuveured myself into jobs which gave me freedom to work where and how I like, with a lot of flexibility and free time. The contract positions I’ve had have either been 3 days or 4 days a week, which has done wonders for my productivity on my own projects and hobbies.
My second contracting gig happened to be based in Chamonix, in France. Chamonix is a ski resort, which really sweetened the deal. I was there over the winter months and got a lot of snowboarding in.
It wasn’t all fun and games, though.
More responsibility is a good thing and a bad thing
There are now a lot more things that, as a self-employed person in the UK, I need to do. I need to file my own tax return, for example, and keep my own tax reserve. I can’t just receive a paycheck and know for sure that all that money is mine.
I actually like this part of it. I like knowing where my money is coming from and why, how my taxes are worked out and where the money is going.
I also have more power over how I spend my time. I find myself spending less time working on individual projects but the time that I do spend is much more effective. The subtle kind of resent I felt by being bound by the rules of my employment no longer exists.
Naturally, however, the freedom has it’s downsides. I’m on my own now in so many more ways. Now, when I’m stuck with a problem I can’t typically turn around and ask a colleague to drop everything and help me.
I can’t have things bought for me anymore, such as conference tickets and software licences. All of my work expenses are my expenses, so the opportunity cost when buying things is a lot higher.
For instance, if I decide to go to an expensive conference there’s a chance I won’t get much out of it, and as a result may not be able to upgrade some hardware in a few months time or, in fact, go on a personal holiday. Before, my employer had a much larger budget for this sort of thing and didn’t have to worry about it so much, and if I didn’t get much out of it then it wouldn’t have affected how I spend my money on personal holidays and hardware upgrades.
I also don’t get company lunches anymore, or health insurance, or paid holidays, or nights out with the company card behind the bar, or anything like that. Sometimes I can get a little envious of my employed friends when they do all these team-building-moral-improving-bonding acitivities as part of their working lives.
However, the responsibility of being in charge of my own income and my own time (to a much greater extent, anyway) outweighs all of that.
Price negotiation isn’t as bad as it looks
Now that any work I do is billed with invoices instead of paid as a salary, I can negotiate my own rates much more freely. At first, I thought it’d be difficult to do this, and in typically British fashion, awkward. The truth is, if you’re up front about what you’re doing (e.g. “I’m looking for a short term contract”) it’s a lot easier to let go of your inhibitions and be honest about what you think you’re worth.
Tell someone what you’re willing to work for. If they accept, great! If not, they may have a lower offer. A lot of advice says to only accept jobs which are willing to pay the rate that you’re offering, but I’m not yet convinced by this rule. Look at each job individually and you may find that you can gain more from a lower-paying job than a higher-paying job, in non-monetary terms.
For instance, one of the jobs I accepted in the last 6 months I took for a rate lower than one would expect in London, but the location was at a ski resort, and they were extremely helpful in terms of getting me settled in. Another job had me in charge of an API written in NodeJS, which gave me my first bit of experience writing and maintaining production-level NodeJS applications.
Plus, there’s something to be said for the feeling of creating an invoice and sending it off to a client. There’s something very empowering about that.
The grass is still greener, sometimes
One of the lessons I’d learned before which has been solidified is that in a given situation, the opposing situation still has it’s draws. Full-time employment has it’s perks, and sometimes, especially when talking to my former colleagues, I look back on those perks and feel a little bit of sadness that I don’t get to enjoy them, too.
There’s a particular aspect of being part of a company that I really miss. At 26, almost 4 years into my career, I still feel like it’s nice and helpful to have a mentor. I had plenty in my last permanent role, and although there are still people I can turn to for advice, I don’t feel like I have a mentor out on my own. This is a problem I’d very much like to resolve somehow.
A net gain
I may not have totally succeeded with my initial goal (yet!) but I think I’m on the right track. The time I’ve spent being self-employed has so far been enlightening, exciting, and very freeing.
Like many, I’ve always been striving for more independence, and the move I made to leave full-time employment has given me that in a number of ways.
I’ve gained a greater understanding of my finances, gained a better feel for running a business, and understood what it’s like not to have a regular, consistent paycheck coming in.
I’ve represented myself on stages and at meetups, made decisions which formerly I would’ve asked of someone else, and I’ve been approached for advice by strangers.
I’m not saying that I’ll rule out full-time employment in the future - I’m always keeping an eye open for the company of my dreams - but for now I’m very glad of the decision I made, and I’d recommend it to anybody who has become disenchanted with their job.
So, what about the projects?
This blog post wouldn’t be complete without a peek into what I’ve done with my free time during the last few months. I’ve done a lot of little things here and there and I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved. However, there are three projects which I’d like to talk about here.
What started as a small project to create mocked APIs for iOS app tests became my most popular and contributed-to GitHub project yet. Interfake has become a very useful tool to quickly spin up fake APIs, which I hope is now a part of many peoples’ prototyping or testing toolkit, and I have partly-realised plans which will make the process even easier: fluent API creation on the command line.
Pub Crawl: London
Back when I released StreetScout I had a very strong sense that it would make a good tool for planning a pub crawl, but I wasn’t satisfied with the kind of interactions it provided for something like a pub crawl. Too much tapping back and forth. My idea was that it would be much nicer to swipe from one pub to the next. Simultaneously, I wanted to use this same interaction to navigate the London Underground, and so the idea for Pub Crawl: London was born.
It’s an app which allows me to explore and experiment with UX, app marketing, in-app purchases, and has created some pretty good Dribbble fodder. I don’t expect to make a lot of money from it, but a few quid would be nice. I’m pretty pleased with how it has ended up and it’ll be on the iOS App Store very soon, once beta testing has completed.
As you may remember me mentioning in a previous post, I began busking on the London Underground last year. Sadly, I haven’t had the chance to busk lately, which I mostly blame on a tumultuous housing situation, but it has been a great experience so far. If you’d like a taste of what it’s like, I wrote about it on Medium and there’s a pretty good YouTube video which I recorded at Southwark station.
Live music is something I don’t do anywhere near as much as I want, and I’d like to remedy that. If you have an open mic night which needs a half-arsed English folk musician who sings silly songs from his silly face, let me know.
I’m still flying solo, for now. As I’ve alluded, I do enjoy many aspects of working on client work. Ultimately, though, I still want to create my own things and deliver value to the rest of the world with my own creations. I’d like to open a co-working space and build a software development studio. I’d like to help others get their ideas off the ground and come up with ways to work with friends and people whose work I admire. I’d like to do more public speaking, and encourage people to get involved in the open-source community. I’d like to play more music. I’d like to live abroad again.
There’s a whole load of things I’d like to do which I think are easier to do when I’m not attached to an employer. I could be wrong, but there’s only one way to find out.
Oh, and I’m well and truly back in London now so I’d like to start getting involved with the tech community again. If you fancy a chat, get in touch.
To everyone who read the original post: thanks. If you emailed me or encouraged me in the comments: extra thanks. If you followed up in an email within the last month: even more thanks.
To all of my former colleagues, my friends and my family, and my wonderful girlfriend, who all humoured me at the beginning and supported my decision to go into the unknown without trying to scare me with talk of losing pensions, job security or free food: maximum thanks. You’re awesome.
Feel free to discuss this here, or on Hacker News.
Heckle me on Twitter @basicallydan.