… at some point in their career.
There is no better business training than actually running a real business. Sure, you could go get an MBA, run your parent’s company, take Peter Thiel’s course at Stanford, or freelance part time while making your real money at some 9-5. But none of that is going to introduce you to the hard-knock life that is running a business like while depending on that business for your income.
Let’s talk about what is involved:
1. You Learn About Sales
If you’re selling a product or consulting, a good part of your time is spent reaching out to prospective customers or clients. If you’ve never done this, you might be thinking: “All of my freelance work comes in by work of mouth, why should I have to take initiative?”
You might be surprised to learn that there is a world of freelance opportunities that don’t just fall into your lap. The more opportunity you expose yourself to, the more likely you will be successful. And when you finally freelance full-time, you are forced to sink or swim, because your livelihood depends on it. Pick up that phone! There’s nothing like a spouse, kids, or bloodthirsty landlord to motivate you to take shots.
2. You Learn to Deal with Business-Related Stress
Freelancing in general helps you figure out what your work capacity is. Do you mentally shut down after 8 hours? Can you cannonball 14 hours days, 6 days a week? At what point does it become too much to handle?
What I love about freelancing is how unpredictable it is. Clients can (and will) call you whenever they want. You’ll be forced to realize that you underestimated a project and you are personally eating the cost. One day you’ll have 1 project to work on, the next day you’ll have 5. Sometimes a client “forgets” to pay on time. When you need to crush it and work 8am to 10pm for days on end to keep your clients happy, you do what you gotta do.
3. You’ll See the Benefit of Having Multiple Revenue Streams
You know what sucks about a 9-5? For most people in the world, that’s their single source of household revenue. They sell their labor during the day and complain about it at night. And what happens when that source of revenue is cut off for some reason? All hell breaks loose. The house is in jeopardy or the rent can’t be paid after a while, they hop on unemployment, and start looking for another 9-5, a single source of income.
I think it’s fair to say everyone in the world wants to be financially independent. Nobody wants to be dependent on something, right? It’s actually sort of scary to say: “I wholly depend on my employer’s willingness to buy my labor to sustain my house, car, dog, wife and kids.” You’re life is dangling by a single string! The path to financial independence is through multiple revenue streams!
If you’re a freelancer, you have less of this problem. If you lose a big client, life goes on, and you can fill those hours with someone else (although you should seriously ask yourself why you lost that client, bozo). It plays into your stress management, an added bonus.
4. You’ll Get Familiar with Contracts and Agreements (& Collecting)
You only have to get burned once to fully appreciate the beauty of agreements. Smart freelancers always have a well-written, thoughtful agreement signed before they begin work with anybody. When you get that one client who doesn’t pay, it’s great to know you’ve got Judge Judy in your back pocket should the client keep his antics up. It only happened once, but sending along a copy of our signed agreement got a deadbeat client to pay up after 90 days of being late.
Where else would you get this type of experience?
5. Freelancing Forces You to Keep Up to Date
At a big corporate gig where things don’t change much, you can probably get away with learning 0 to 1 new things every 5 years. When you’re a freelancer, you should be constantly on the lookout for new tools and libraries that can make your job easier or the end product even better. When I’m using a particularly impressive app (more recently Asana and Close.io), I like checking the source code and figure out how exactly they did what they did.
By contrast, I know some design shops in my area that are still using Photoshop and Dreamweaver to build HTML-based websites on GoDaddy. Know when they opened their shop? When Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and GoDaddy were still cool. That’s not acceptable, and young whippersnappers in the area are on the creeping in with their fancy new WordPress installations, scripting skills, and jQuery, and grabbing new business. The moral? Learn or die.
And some of those whippersnappers are going to be rolling on the same technology stack 10 years from now.
6. You Will Be Dependent on Your Own Success
When you freelance, the amount of money you make and the size of your company are entirely dependent on your own ability to hustle. You aren’t kicking around some cubicle for 2 years waiting for that promotion to Software Engineer VIII so you can buy your momma a benz and your boo boo a jag. You don’t have to deal with the unfortunate reality of many non-cool workplaces, like office politics and favoritism. And if you fail at freelancing, it’s your own damn fault.
7. Conclusion: When You Freelance, You Are Training Yourself to Run a Product Business
Freelancing and consulting is easy money, but you won’t have a whole lot of leverage unless you manage to grab huge contracts which enable you to hire lots of employees. As the talented developer you are, you’ll inevitably have an idea for a valuable product that a lot of folks would be interested in buying. And all the wins, losses and lessons learned from freelancing will provide a sturdy foundation for growing that idea from a passing thought to a Google acquisition.
Note: As usual, I’m posting this a long time after I wrote the original draft (almost 1.5 years!).