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30 Comments

Freelance VS Saas?

Hi IndieHackers,

Have you considered the trade offs between freelancing vs building a Saas Product? If so what have you found?

I like freelancing but I want to start building a product that I can work on for many years, as opposed to a freelance projects that only last a few months at most.

  1. 7

    I freelanced for a large portion of my career. I've also worked at a number of software consultancies (including my current one), which is basically a business that acts as a group of freelancers working together, in a manner of speaking.

    I can say that for myself, as well as for many consultancies and freelancers just like I was, shipping a SaaS product is a preferred goal.

    When freelancing, or working as a consultant, you're trading time for money. Sometimes you make more money per hour or week. But you're still giving your time to get that money.

    Time, unlike money, is a non-replenishable resource. Once you spend it, you never get it back. So for most people, the idea of making more money while spending less time is very attractive.

    Owning a SaaS (or multiple) has the potential to make that possible. Whereas in freelancing, your money is dependent on your time, owning a SaaS (or any other distributable product) means that after a certain point it's possible to make money with less work...sometimes even no work.

    So that's a long-winded way of me saying that owning effective products is my own goal, and I think it's a great thing to do in the long run.

    1. 2

      Thanks for the answer! I think you're spot on about the benefits of being able to sell a product as many times as you possibly can VS selling your time.

      I think there are areas that freelancing has advantages:

      • not having to validate an idea.
        You could work on saas for a while and not be profitable
      • clear cut objectives
        defining a set scope for a client's project means that you know when it will end. Sass is more open ended.

      With that being said, owning products is my goal as well. My biggest obstacle has just always been picking a product to try to build.

      1. 1

        I highly recommend checking out the book, Start From Zero by Dane Maxwell. Second half of the book in particular, but it's all useful. It's all about finding a valid, profitable problem to solve before building anything.

  2. 5

    Freelancing will mean income stops when you stop. While very lucrative a successful SaaS will eventually surpass freelance income and give you more free time (if you allow yourself to). At least that’s how I view it, I switched from freelancing to product development five years ago. Only now income from products has surpassed my freelance income five years ago.

    1. 1

      @rikschennink
      what were the top things that helped in the transition mate?

      1. 2

        Full-time freelancing and developing a product isn't gonna work. So try to find projects that don't take up your entire week. Save up some money. Lower living cost. Build small products to get a feel for what works and what doesn't.

  3. 5

    SaaS is often the dream, but often it can take a long time to get to profitability. Freelancing is a great way to fill in the gap, to have flexibility and income whilst also working towards a SaaS.

    1. 2

      Seconding that! Many people overlook the insane amount of time it takes to build and market a product. Freelancing you can just pick up (if you have the skills already), and make money from day one.

  4. 4

    I'm trying to build my own product while also freelancing.

    SaaS is so f***ing hard. Especially for someone like me who loves writing code but hates writing copy, emails, and articles.

    I thought breaking into freelance was hard but SaaS is just on another level :)

    1. 1

      Dude I am having the same thoughts. Freelancing is hard when you start, but saas there's just so much more to do and know and understand

    2. 1

      Ditto on the hating all the other stuff that ISN'T building code.

      What are you building man?

      1. 1

        I'm talking from experience I had working on my clients projects.

        I'm building Django/Vue SaaS template.

    3. 1

      Yo Adem, I loved the project you've done on your website. Especially that Pequity one.

      However, I'm building a service for SaaS founders and nocode makers. I'm validating the idea, and your years of experience in the SaaS industry would help me whether it's viable or not. Can we talk? Just followed you on Twitter.

      1. 1

        Sure, you can DM on Twitter.

        Thanks, but those are not my projects. All of them are for my clients.

        1. 1

          It's strange, DM option isn't showing on your profile.

  5. 3

    I think the way to go is probably to do both until one strikes out as a clear winner.

    I used to talk about this with other freelancers and agency owners all the time. We all agreed that it would probably go a lot easier for us if we had some sort of product online that was our own. First, it's a second source of income. Second, it's a great way to get our name out and generate leads.

    Easier said than done of course, but that was the idea that we all had in mind.

    Eventually though, there might be a fork in the road where you pick one or the other, but I think the two pursuits complement each other well.

  6. 3

    Great question, and that's something I've wrestled with myself.

    My goal is to use freelancing/consulting to build a reputation, network, personal brand, and skills.

    My goal would be to then turn that set of knowledge/resources into a profitable business.

    So for me it's freelance for a few years, then start a business. But, who knows, a lot can change in that time.

  7. 2

    Hi Ronnie 👋!

    I've been working as a (mostly remote) independent (essentially freelance) IT Contractor for the past few years and one of the largest benefits of freelancing as opposed to a traditional job is that I usually have the freedom to set my own hours and rates. Naturally, there are plenty of other pros and cons but that's not what I'm talking about right now.

    Working as a freelancer allows me to allocate and use my extra time to study, explore new technologies and work on new ideas! Recently, I've significantly reduced my client base so that I make just enough to cover my monthly expenses (with a little extra) and I pour the extra time into building SaaS and different startup ideas.

    In my case, freelancing is my primary source of income but if it's not like that for you,
    my advice would be to dip your hands into the SaaS world for sure!

    I hope that was the kind of conversation you were looking for otherwise I'm open to further elaboration 😊.

    1. 1

      Hey. Your response seems in line with a strategy I've been thinking of which is to essentially quit my full-time job and pick up freelance work to sustain me as I build a product. Any tips on how to get good clients. I'd appreciate any advice and resources you might give.

      1. 2

        Hello Lewis!

        Freelancing is notoriously difficult to break into from the start so my first piece of advice would be to make sure you have at the minimum, 2 clients in your pipeline before you leave your job because the engineering part of work can even be subcontracted if you're busy/ill but the sales or what I call the "YOU" part of the business is what one needs to work on.

        I checked out your website and in terms of your Django/Vue stack, there is a lot of opportunity for you to work with ML researchers - these researchers use ML and Mathematics to plot and work with data and they often need a "developer" to build the conventional parts i.e. CRUD and front-end. Given that many such researchers use Python, it should be trivial for you to expose the researchers' models using APIs and build the relevant front-end.

        Another route you could go, though this is somewhat of a debate, is to use a freelancing platform like Fiverr or Upwork.
        CONS:

        • You will need to go "above and beyond" to get the first few clients and critical reviews,
        • You will often be competing with MENA region developers and agencies who can offer services at super low prices notwithstanding what the quality of work is,
        • You have to be online virtually 24/7 to put in early bids and respond ASAP to potential customers in order to keep your profile active,
          etc.

        PROS:

        • Discovery through their platforms,
        • It usually gets easier once you have a few clients since some are repeat customers and some bring in referrals,
        • Platforms protect you from fraud especially when dealing with international clients,
          etc.

        You could also apply to curated platforms like Autolance or Toptal which are harder to get into but usually better for work in long-term.

        One more key piece of advice I can give you is to niche down. Rather than billing yourself as a generic Django developer, market yourself as, for example, someone who specializes in building front-ends for ML models (this is just an example).

        Hope some of this helps and if you have more questions, 🔥fire away!

        1. 1

          All of that helps!!
          I really appreciate the fact that you went through the trouble of going through my website.

          For sure, my strategy on selling the "me" part as of now has been writing dev related articles. Mainly stuff that I encounter on the various projects I've done. This has been fairly successful as the blog gets a moderate amount of traffic. But I'm guessing these are developers. I'd have to sit down and restructure my messaging right? To target business people or people in my target niche.

          I'm also highly sceptical of these marketplaces but I know people find success in them.

          Used to do some bit of data science and ml and up to now the people still practising don't like doing web dev stuff. So you do make a valid point there. I'll look more into this and try and find communities where I can find a clientele.

          My current workplace is a web dev workshop that picks up projects in many aspects so my portfolio is all over the place due to this. It's great cause I get to learn a lot cause of the changing nature of each unique project, and I don't get bored. However I feel this may not be sustainable long term and the burn out can get really bad.

          Is it bad to niche down on two areas? I feel like I enjoy marketing related stuff, building an effective online presence for brands be it in frontends, customer relations bots etc and seeing how these affect the business through data(actionable insight). so maybe that's a meeting point of what you suggested.

          I'll have to sit down and really think things through.

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            For your blog, I don't think you need to restructure anything because if you're targeting businesses, it's unlikely (though not impossible) that they'll find you through your blog so keep up what you're doing there - traffic is marketing in and of itself!

            You don't need to be skeptical of marketplaces at all - I briefly worked on Fiverr with 2 colleagues of mine and we had moderate success for the time that we put in and I know of at least 2 friends of friends who started freelancing on Upwork, built a client base, pivoted to opening their own agencies and now have comfortable incomes since clients discover top-rated sellers through the built-in platform and reach out automatically.

            I will say that when we started selling on Fiverr, I took an online course on Fiverr gigs and learnt a lot about the algorithms used therein and tools of the trade - that played a huge part in what success we saw.

            A Web Dev workshop is actually a great way to help out your freelancing; thought I bill myself as a full-service IT contractor, I sometimes take on work from agencies and web dev shops by negotiating that I can show the work on my portfolio - this has allowed me to easily showcase work for Fortune 500 companies on my portfolio legally and fairly. In a similar vein, you can use what you learn in your work to build out a portfolio (but be sure that the work does not classify as property of your employer) that best meets the demands of your targeted niche.

            Finally, having multiple niches, I would say that that's a great idea if executed properly! Using your own example, you could meet multiple demands by creating a front-end, offering to write blog posts for them and work on their SEO and help them market and use the analytics data effectively.

            There are many roads! Best of Luck!

            1. 1

              Thank you for all your detailed responses.
              They've been very insightful.

              Best of luck to you too :)

  8. 1

    You can work on both side by side. We had freelancers that worked for us that went onto raise millions of dollars for their product.

  9. 1

    If you think about choosing my advice up to this time, freelance is better if you know where to work. I was looking for a long time and accidentally came across copy trading https://1box.site/business-and-finance/best-10-copy-trading-social-trading-brokers-in-2021 and didn't fail. I work 24/7 and given that, I withdraw funds anywhere I am at any time without commission. I didn't know anything about trading and freelance at all before, and I thought it was very difficult, but with HotForex I was able to figure it out.

  10. 1

    There are pros and cons in both worlds. Building your own product means you have to deal with aspects which usually you wouldn't pick up as a freelancer. For example, if you are developer you will do same or similar nature tasks but not necesseraly mareketing, promoting, business development etc. Whilst as a product owner you have to act as jack of all trades. This is not necesserally bad, as you will be learning new things, but will take you away from the stuff you may love the most i.e. coding.
    However, I must agree with with others. Building your own product and consequently a busines is a much more rewarding excersie, then just selling your time.

  11. 1

    Why not both? I'm freelancing part time until my product's income surpasses what I make from freelancing, and is also there in case my product fails in the market.

    1. 2

      Ahh I guess I should have mention that I' also a full time dev :D

      If it was only for financial considerations, I would quit my job and do both freelance and Saas. But I think that I have a lot to learn from staying at my job, at least from an engineering perspective.

      What kind of freelance do you do?

      1. 3

        Full stack work, plenty of Wordpress/Laravel work out there, lots of ReactJs w/ NodeJS or C# backends, SQL or noSQL. I freelanced ~3years ago as a junior, then took some W2 full time work between now and then. Got in touch with my old contacts, much nicer to freelance as a Senior.

        If you feel you have a lot to learn at your job, I'd say stay there and soak up the knowledge well worth it – just means you have to poke at your side products at nights/weekends, which I also did the past 3 years. Tough, but one day it will all be worth it! :)

  12. 1

    Freelance is way easier to gain money. Only do a SaaS when you saved enough money to provide for you family.

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