27
45 Comments

Freelance work is so dangerous for Indie Hackers

  1. 10

    To me freelancing is what actually helps me. I am freelancing 1 day a week to stay financially healthy. I see no other way how I can achieve this since my own startups are not getting me enough money to live from.

    1. 7

      If you have stable 1 day freelance work and that can support you that sounds amazing.

      Most require 3-4 days of freelance work at least.

      That work is inconsistent and often goes from 0 days (where most of the time is spent procrastinating looking for more work or) or 5-6 days to make up for lost time.

      1. 1

        Yes actually I am already looking around for new freelance jobs.
        It is very hard to find something for just 1 day/week.
        I think 3 days/week is more acceptable to most companies, as you stated.

        I think the only reason that I can come around like this is that I am all alone.
        I have no kids, no mortgage, no car... Just a laptop, and a suitcase with essentials.

  2. 9

    Damn straight. I quit my full-time job a few years ago and moved into part-time freelancing for 10-15 hours/wk so I could focus on building my own software. Long story short, after 3 years I still don't have a successful project and I am still freelancing part-time. I wish I had instead saved up enough money to take a couple years off work.

    Bouncing between a business and freelancing It's excruciating. I feel like I'm being pinned down. I really hope one day I can make the meagre amount I need to quit ($2k/m). Until then, onwards! Can't stop, won't stop.

    1. 2

      Yep, no one told me about the dangers.

      I just see so many smart people doing it :(

      Wish there was an easier way but the best solution if you don't have kids is to save some money and live cheap until your product grows.

  3. 5

    I went in it with the intention to save money for my side project. Otherwise I might have stuck around because the pay was so good.

  4. 5

    I'm one of these and fortunately, I didn't waste 5 years. After 8 months I woke up and start building projects and grow more as a Product Designer.
    Sometimes, it's better to get a day job and build side projects. END.

    1. 1

      Nice!

      My hope is to help at least one person not fall into the freelance trap.

  5. 4

    Totally agree. I think many would like to build their own products. But at the same time many want to have a stable income. This can more easily obtained with freelance work. Which can be fun as well, even though product development is more fun.
    I started as a freelancer a few years ago having the idea to start working more on my own product. But in practice it is tempting to keep making billable hours. Perhaps I should determine when my capital/income provides sufficient security before I allow myself to do start working more on product development.

    1. 2

      That is why I said freelance is dangerous!

      "But in practice it is tempting to keep making billable hours"

      You can't do that with a full time job.

      I just wanted to make folks aware of the decisions they make even if they did it unconsciously.

  6. 2

    100%

    However, running my small agency gave me the resources to fund the build of my product so kind of a catch 22. It most definitely extended the time frame, though. Took me about 8 months to build http://scopeconcierge.com/

    What helped me was creating a dedicated daily routine for how I was going to divide the work up, and then to stick to that routine aggressively.

    1. 1

      +1

      Nothing is impossible, I just see so many freelancers regret it and I no one talks about it.

      An agency can be different, if you can free time from money.

      Productised services if done well can be a cash cow that require low maintenance.

      1. 1

        Yeah I agree. On the hole you are probably right most of the time.

  7. 2

    Majority of my money comes from freelancing. I look at it this way, my products doesn't need to get me money directly. My products greatly help me get work, I am fine with that.

    1. 1

      Do you enjoy freelancing? Do you enjoy it more than working on your own products?

      1. 2

        I enjoy working as a freelancer. Guiding large teams, working on complex systems is a pleasure in itself ( I can't do that with my own products ). My own products are no match to the kind of products I build as a freelancer architect.

        I can say working on own product is a different kind of pleasure, I have full control over my own products.

  8. 2

    Yeah I've decided to focus on building my products BEFORE doing freelance work. As I'm hoping to make passive income on the products first, so I can then be pickier about what companies I offer my consultancy/freelance services to afterwards.

    1. 2

      Why would you work for people when you have a product?

      Also products are very hard do you have a long runway?

      1. 2

        Because I believe its always better to have more than 1 income stream. So I wouldn't want to rely solely on the revenue made from my products (Notion Templates) Plus, as my products are templates they're a one off purchase so my income from them would vary every month, so not having a MRR means I need to diversify my income.

        My ultimate goal is to have 3x income streams:

        1. Consulting
        2. Templates
        3. Courses

        This article might give you a bit more insight into what I'm talking about :) https://www.supercreative.design/blog/hyper-freelance

        1. 2

          Multiple products can mean multiple income streams. The smart thing to do is spread those products over multiple, preferably evergreen, industries and even businesses.

          I've freelanced for the better part of a decade and it is without question the worst investment I've made.. all that time for what? I don't own anything that I've built.

          1. 1

            Yup thats what I was thinking to do: To do personal and business templates. With one of the business templates being generic & the other being specially for organisations in the not-for-profit sector. As they will be my consultancy demographic.

            1. 1

              Sounds like a great strategy! Good luck with it.

              1. 2

                Thanks! Best of luck on your endeavour to $2K p/m

  9. 2

    Is there a suggestion of another way to do it?
    Many have great ideas, few have a large cushion that can support them

    1. 4

      Save 2-3 years worth of runway then quit your job/freelance. (Products take a very long time).

      Work on the side at a day job where less energy is required to maintain it and you can focus all your spare time on the product. I count spare time as

      168 hours - 40 hours work - kids - wife - gym - life - etc.

      There are also investments, but they require $5k+ MRR and at that point you don't need the money.

      1. 1

        Interesting strategy by committing to a day job that requires less mental energy.

  10. 1

    as a freelancer and an entrepreneur, let me know what you think of https://www.aforceof.one/?

  11. 1

    I think it depends on the kind of freelance work you do.

    If you do freelance work that overlaps well with the product you are building, it could make a lot of sense. For example, freelancing as a designer makes sense if you are building a design tool or building a design course.

    In my opinion, freelancing should allow you to:

    1. Get insights about your target users for your product.
    2. Build an initial following/user base in your freelance business that you can convert to your product users.
    3. Deepen your brand and thought leadership by focusing on that industry.
  12. 1

    It sounds like your experience with freelancing is the typical feast/famine cycle of trying to juggle the effort of doing work and getting work, so I totally understand where this comes from and how frustrating it can be.

    But if you're open to hearing it, I'll offer a different analysis of the situation that I've observed across thousands of creators & indie hackers:

    Most people treat freelancing like it's just a bunch of tiny commitment-free jobs, instead of treating your freelancing efforts as a business in and of itself.

    This is a super common mistake because most people have only ever had jobs, or been shown how to get and hold a job. The job-like path seems obvious: find someone with an open opportunity, apply for the opportunity, and if you're picked you work for them until the work is done. Rinse, repeat.

    This is not the way to succeed as a freelancer, and as a result, is unlikely to be a reliable or sustainable way to support yourself while building a product.

    The REAL danger, in my opinion, is that this approach to freelancing ALSO never helps you learn the critical business skills that you'll need to succeed with products:

    • Identifying potential clients/customers before they're even looking for you
    • Listening and researching client/customer problems, so you can understand their challenges in their own words
    • SALES: instead of a fully reactive approach, creating an opportunity for yourself.
    • Follow-through and repeat business with the same clients.
    • Raising rates to either reduce the amount hours worked without reducing income, or increase the income from the same amount of time, so you can invest that time
    • And speaking of investing, investment mindset. Doing specific, strategic things that might earn less short term but make it easier to earn more over time, and with less direct time invested. (You can do this with freelancing too, not just products!)

    Once you graduate beyond clients who are only looking for a specific task, to clients who trust you to solve problems in their business, you can begin looking for and anticipating problems that your client wants before they ask for them, and offering a value-priced way to solve them. This means that the end of one engagement with a client can turn into multiple engagements with the same client, or even retainers.

    All of this is not to say that a cushy full time job is a BAD option for some people, since it may be an easy way to maximize the time you have nights/weekends to work on your own stuff. But I've also seen the cushy job do just as much damage by making someone feel too comfortable, and undermine their motivation to really do the work it takes to make their product business succeed.

    My point is that I wouldn't be so quick to demonize freelancing. It's totally normal to be bad at freelancing if you're new at it, and don't treat it like a business skill. Same thing is true with creating and selling products. Same with a job, really!

    The hidden difference between a job, freelancing, and selling products is how often you get to practice all of these skills:

    • With a FT job, you only get to practice selling yourself once every year or two (depending on how often you change jobs)
    • With freelancing, you get to practice selling yourself 4-10 times a year. WAY more chances to learn and improve.
    • With selling products, you get LOTS of opportunities to practice...but the feedback loop can be so slow that it feels impossible to know why anything is working.

    This is one of the reasons I really love freelancing/consulting as an interim step between having a FT job and selling products. Done well, it's the ideal balance of "more opportunities to practice core business skills" with a feedback loop that's much easier to learn from than products.

    The key, which I think is at the heart of your original point, is to treat freelancing as a path instead of something you just do to make money while you're waiting for your other business to succeed.

    If you just treat freelancing as a never ending series of commitment-free jobs, you're not going to get very far. But if you treat is as an opportunity to hone your core business skills, you'll not only make more money with less stress, you'll be able to apply those business skills to every kind of business you build in the future.

  13. 1

    I've developed systems to achieve both simultaneously:

    • Setup weekly sprints for both client and start up project work
    • Start the day in flow (up to 5hrs) where you do your most important task (MIT)
    • Don't do anything but that that task until it is complete
    • Compress all minutia into 1/2 hour blocks of each type (email+calls+msgs, socials etc)
    • If you don't get to reply... too bad - time's up!
    • Avoid meetings and keep collab time to minimum
    • Go back into another block of flow-state time instead
    • If all fails (sprint overrun) block off the whole Friday and just be inflow from the minute you wake until complete (even if that is 2am on Sat morning 😆).
    • Enjoy your weekend! repeat.
      Discipline to say 'no' and stay is essential to doing both consistently.
    1. 2

      That is such a great framework and I couldn’t agree more. Even with the ‘frustration’ from stakeholders in the short term (if in a FT job - meetings that you don’t attend, people you don’t reply to) it pays off on the long run to stay focused. And there’s also the emotional relief of feeling that you are actually getting things - important ones - done.

  14. 1

    So true @volkandkaya On top of that how much time do you spend onboarding a client, chasing payment and giving progress updates each day?

  15. 1

    So the main point is that you might spend time looking for freelance jobs and training your self. Both activities don't get paid.

    I don't see a problem if you have a stable part-time job or contracted job that last for like two yrs.

    I see doing freelance jobs as an opportunity to bring your mindset outside of your own company, refresh your mind and learn from other ppl too. And if it is non leadership role, it is kinda like taking a break from your stress (which is from your company)

    Things you could learn:

    • other tech stack and best practices
    • how ppl from other countries / expertise works
    • mindset of employees, esp if you start entrepreneurship right away after your study
    1. 1

      "I don't see a problem if you have a stable part-time job or contracted job that last for like two yrs."

      That isn't freelance work?

      "like taking a break from your stress"

      Freelance is extremely stressful, clients are much more demanding than a manager and usually have deadlines. That is made up by being better paid.

      "other tech stack and best practices"

      For freelance work to be paid the most you should focus on your most productive stack.

      "how ppl from other countries / expertise works"

      Freelance jobs are usually short and you're usually not part of the culture.

      1. 1

        You're right, thats not really considered as freelancing, more of independent consultation, which could be long.

        Considered me lucky then. In half of my freelance jobs I manage to learn new stuff, both technically and from the industry.

        If you get a freelance job and wants it to be chill, just make sure you hold your standards on the time commitment is fine. You also need to understand your niche in the game, e.g. quality work + good team player.

        I find it easier if the manager doesn't have tech related experience or if the company is a startup. The first don't understand how long time it takes so if you communicate well they would be cool with your schedule. The latter give enough freedom as long as you finish your job in the commited time. The key here is communication.

        I found these jobs from personal network and from angel.co, NOT from toxic places like Upwork which the supply of talent is a lot more than demand of work.

  16. 1

    I think my contrarian opinion is going to be unpopular considering how majority of IH folks who are pro side-hustle compared to quitting their job to pursue their business full-time.

    I think it depends on your product type. For B2B products, I believe that freelancing work is actually advantageous as you can choose projects that are related to your target customer/industry. It gives you way better value and data than sending out surveys/questionnaires to do market research. I think it's all about perspective and in this context, it's not freelancing; it's market research. Freelancing is also a way to build up portfolio (if you choose the right customers/projects).

    Some of the factors that helped me 'make it' as a freelancer to a certain extent was:

    1. Savings: I had saved up for more than 3 years of living expenses.
    2. Commitments: No kids, no wife, no debts - just personal expenses.
    3. Hustle Experience: I've had experience working on a day job while running another side hustle (music entertainment company) before quitting my day job.

    As a startup founder, the starting phases of your business are very important and time is your greatest enemy which is why you need to free up more time to work on your idea. If you are obsessed about your product/solution and how it is going to change the world, you will feel frustrated enough working on your day job to quit (if you have the means and no/little commitments). You will find a way (freelancing) to fund your ramen noodles lifestyle and that is a necessary 'training' phase that builds you up as a founder as well. If funding is a big issue, you can also try getting funding from VCs, accelerators etc. The key is to find that one idea that you cannot not do - there is nothing else you wanna do except that (Read 'Think and Grow Rich by Napoloen Hill')

    There is something fundamental/transformative about having an all-in-or-nothing perspective in entrepreneurship that trains you emotionally and mentally as a founder. If you are going to pursue a side hustle, it has a higher chance to remain a side hustle than to blossom into something big because you have created that limiting belief in your head when you say the words 'side hustle' in your head. Also, as you age, you will be older and may have more commitments piled up.

    Come to think of it, 90% of funded startups who work on their companies full-time fail - if you're not funded and doing it as a side hustle, the chances of your side hustle making it is even way lesser.

    1. 1

      Interesting points.

      "it gives you way better value and data than sending out surveys/questionnaires to do market research"

      Freelance doesn't prove you have a business/product customers want. It can be a huge waste of time. It would be better to get them pay for a trial. If they have a real problem they won't mind paying.

      "the chances of your side hustle making it is even way lesser."

      Most VC backed startups fail due to the added pressure and needing to build a "VC scale" business.

      "Einstein worked at the patent office for seven years, spending what free time he could muster reading scientific papers and working on his own theories"

      Having a job that you can just show up to is a huge advantage.

      Stress isn't a good thing long term and going "all in" doesn't magically make you succeed.

  17. 1

    100% agree. 2 yrs back started the journey of indie developer and start building product but soon realised I don't have fund to that for long. So started taking the freelance project, build the team and on the side started building my own product.

    But even after 2 yrs, I am not able to get any successful product, and also I don't have huge savings to focus on my own product even now.

    So now I have completely dropped the idea of building our own product (but that itch is there, every now and then started building the product) and now focusing on freelancing.

    1. 1

      That sucks. I'm in a similar boat. Spent a few years building on the side while freelancing and not really getting anywhere. I have considered throwing in the towel a few times but I keep reminding myself perseverance is what separates those who finally break through.

      I found part-time freelancing (10-15 hours/wk) @ 2/3 hours/day worked quite well. Not sure if that is viable for you. I now turn down any work beyond those hours to free up time for the business.

      1. 1

        I tried that too, but I have figure out whatever I work on I put a full heart into it or I completely don't do it. It's a curse or boom, I don't know.

        So I tried to put 2-3 hr/day freelancing gigs but sometimes that stretch to 4-5 hr due to some bugs or some other deadline, sometimes I feel like the product is growing as much it should so I start engaging more into that.

        So now I am completely focusing on freelancing and building a team for that. Leave building product on the god. If it happens, will happen otherwise I don't know. But for now 1-2 yrs, I am sure it is not going to happen.

        I am meeting lots of people in this time to understand them, their product, why they do what they do. I am enjoying it.

        1. 2

          Good to hear you at least enjoy what you're doing! I suppose creating a product of your own isn't for everyone and there is nothing wrong with that. It comes with many headaches and, as developers, we always have a great career to fall back on.

  18. 1

    I partially agree with this!
    A free mind is needed for creativity and that's literally so important for building products🤔

    But, I also think it depends from person to person in terms of what they want

    1. 2

      The tweet is based on a person wanting to work full time on product as quickly as possible.

      1. 1

        100% agreed with you then!
        Couldn't stress more on how important it is to focus. Especially for solo-founders

  19. 1

    It definitely can eb a major distraction from your side project. In the end, it depends on your ambition.

    Do you want to make some extra money and have some fun doing a side project? In that case freelancing to make a living makes sense.

    Do you want to grow your side project into your main thing? Why not take a few months off from freelancing and go all in your side project?

    I recently took the step to go all in on my side project: https://www.indiehackers.com/post/i-quit-my-job-to-fully-focus-on-my-startup-e321dc4648

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