[Baypiggies] Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Elizabeth Leddy eleddy at umich.edu
Tue Jun 22 21:30:49 CEST 2010

+1000 on the health and taxes part. If you aren't into learning all about
taxes, get an accountant. Whenever I get money in I immediately put 50%
aside for taxes. You also should get your estimated tax payments set up if
you have any kind of guessable income.

Oh and be prepared for people to not pay on time. I've had clients that were
on the mark and paid days later and others that dragged it out for 6+
months. Really business/money saavy clients know how to string you along.
Keep a keen eye out for these types and make sure the payment terms are
strict and clear, with penalties.

I just started working with freshbooks.com and I like it way better than
stuff I've used in the past. I also use mint.com to manage which items are
tax deductible - they make it really easy.

As for health insurance, things have dramatically changed and are still
changing with the new legislation. I saved a lot of money (monthly) by
switching to basically a catastrophe plan ($250/month down to $52) but I
have a high deductible so if you can have that money in the bank shop around
on plans. I really like this health insurance search engine and check often
to see if I can get better rates: http://www.ehealthinsurance.com/

I just switched over to full time contractor after doing it on the side for
many years. I'm incredibly happy with the freedom that comes from it so keep
that in mind when you read about all the work that comes too! :)


On Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 11:07 AM, John Withers <grayarea at reddagger.org>wrote:

> I can handle a couple of these, others I don't know so much about.
> Note that I have been w-2 for the last 7 years, so my thinking might be
> somewhat out of date.
> 1. Hook up with a good designer who understands code and dealing with
> clients. This a must or you are going to severely limit the range of
> your possible contracts. In my experience about 50% of the people you
> run into are going to need the whole shebang. Or, as I have seen more
> than once, they start with a designer, realize they don't actually like
> what is happening, and start casting about. If you have one in your
> pocket, your stock shoots up. You can email me personally if you want a
> reference to someone I think is quite good and have worked with.
> 2. Healthcare and taxes are brutal. Spend some time getting to know
> about these issues. Then sit down and start drawing up how many hours
> you have to work at what for you seems a slightly low rate, a medium
> rate, and a high rate. Then compare your rates with others who are
> working as freelancers and see how they stack up. Too many people don't
> do this before they leave a W-2.
> 3. Attracting those first few clients is a pain, in my experience. After
> that, it just kind of rolls on its own if you do good work. Being good
> at speaking and promoting is a definite plus. Donna, on this list, is
> really exceptional that that. I don't know if she still does, but she
> used to speak at the drop of a hat.
> Speaking and writing for groups that aren't all tech heads brings in
> money. In an entirely different field, I once wrote a set of articles
> taking down pretty much verbatim some stuff from a guy who was good at
> sandblasting. Got them published in a sign magazine. I rapidly became an
> acknowledged expert in the field of sandblasting signs. I didn't know
> crap about sandblasting; I knew about writing. But that exposure and a
> couple of grants put me through college. I dropped the whole thing once
> I was done with school, but I could have made a whole mediocre career as
> a writer/expert in the sign trade.
> 4. Managing client relationships is a nightmare, period. Scope creep
> happens. Random crap happens. I have been on both ends of this. Right
> now I am being a nightmare client for a designer/developer team. It
> isn't really my fault and more the organization I am embedded in, but it
> is ugly. A two month project has stretched to almost a year. And my
> developer is handling it brilliantly. He blocked the time at the start
> of the project, charged a low amount for blocking it, and then when we
> ran over, he allowed as how he was still on it, but that he couldn't
> guarantee turn around times anymore and very nicely made it obvious that
> was on us. And kept billing in dribs and drabs as we actually made
> decisions. By being flexible and chill and putting up with our crap, he
> is going to end up making at least half again what was originally
> spec'ed.
> Moral of the story from me watching him handle this better than I used
> to: be totally flexible, but when the project goes sideways require your
> clients to go to some kind of regular hourly billing and a lowered
> turnaround expectation. Put this in your contract and everyone ends up
> happy.
> Hope this random rambling spew helps.
> -john
> On Tue, 2010-06-22 at 10:35 -0700, Stephen Lacy wrote:
> > Hey all,
> >
> > I've been a software engineer for well over 10 years, mainly C++, but
> > Python for about the last year, and I'm really enjoying it.
> >
> > I'm getting more and more interested in transitioning from a
> > full-timer at a large company to being a Python+Django freelance
> > consultant.  My background is mainly in engineering, not design, but
> > of course I'm fully versed in HTML+CSS, I'm just not the best person
> > to be designing interfaces from scratch or doing complex visual design
> > & graphics.
> >
> > Has anyone here made this transition before?  How did it go?  My
> > biggest fears are:
> >
> > - How am I going to attract clients? (Although this list, and sites
> > like djanggigs.com seem like pretty good sources to start.)
> > - Am I good at managing client relationships?  How hard will this be?
> > (billing, scope creep, missed deadlines, etc.)
> > - What about the graphics/visual design side of things?  What do you
> > usually do for this, or has the client already outsourced a design and
> > they just need implementation?
> > - Maybe I just want to get a FT position with a web design&build firm
> > instead?  What are the pros/cons of that approach vs. freelancing?
> >
> > Any thoughts or experiences from people who have done this transition
> > would be great.  Thanks!
> >
> > Steve
> >
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