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The Developer's Guide to Managing Your Business: Part One

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Are you thinking about venturing out on your own to start a software development or contracting business? Then it occurs to you, “How the heck do I go from idea to service or product?”

It’s a challenging journey, and not for the faint of heart. It’s also not nearly as hard as you think. Instantly you’ll start dreaming about that big exit. But seriously, stop that now!

You don’t have to be the next Bill Gates or Sergey Brin. But it’s not as easy as just hanging up a digital shingle and going to the ATM.

The truth is, with a small investment and the right motivation, you can easily be making twice your day job salary. And you’ll make your own hours if you’re savvy!

The journey of 1000 miles starts with one step

Whether you want to do freelance work as a ronin IT pro, or finally commit to your software solution, just start! The best advice any entrepreneur ever received was to simply get going.

Everyone has an idea for a book, movie, or app that they want to create or write. But the reality is, not everyone has the growth mindset (or energy) to start down that path.

No one ever said being your own boss would be easy, and it won’t be. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Here’s a brief guide to help you get started on your journey.

Why start freelancing?

With over a decade of expertise helping businesses and brands connect with talented contract developers we’ve seen the benefits firsthand:

  • You can make more money and have work-life balance
  • Work on a variety of projects to build your resume and street cred
  • Control your own schedule
  • Quit your day job
  • Build a brand, or small agency
  • And create an exit strategy as a “producer”

Know your intended niche and market

Out of the gate, you’ll need to find out if anyone really wants your offerings. And by digging down into your unique selling prop as a developer you’ll be able to differentiate your skillset.

“Did you know that GitLab was built for the specific needs of one of the cofounders and he had no intention of turning it into a business?” — How to start a business as a Software developer

If it’s your services you intend to hawk then you’ll want to make sure they’re in demand. And if it’s a product solution for the open market, you’re going to have to research your competition.

And I don’t mean do a few Google searches. You’ll need to get in the trenches and get boots on the ground intel.

Research your intended target market well ahead of any wireframing or launch. You’ll need to dig deep into the specifics of why exactly your service or solution is something people will pay for.

Developers are natural problem-solvers, so this is ground zero for any serious business venture.

Learn how to sell yourself

Some of the best advice we can give freelancers is learning how to market yourself. You’ll need to learn a few basics to get your services in front of clients.

  • Outbound activity on LinkedIn, phone calls to those that might consume your services
  • Define deeper niches (non-profits, agencies, government)
  • Target your most excited, qualified, profitable leads and customers

Understanding the Pareto Principle – that 80% of your revenue will come from 20% of your customers – is a natural law and a proven business tactic. We swear by it.

Target audiences will help you zero in

Once you’ve done your research and learned the ins-and-outs of your niche market you can get building. If you’re venturing out as a freelancer you’ll need a few basics before you go where the jobs are.

Establishing your minimum viable business (MVB), or product (MVP) will let you move ahead with less friction and investment of time and money. The leaner the better at the outset.

For developers who plan to sell their coding expertise as a service, you’ll need to network with like-minded professionals. Join networks and go to coding events and camps to rub elbows.

“Know, like, and trust” is how you’ll build your reputation as an authority in your niche. From there you’ll be able to leverage your relationships into a viable service or product people really need.

  • Demand outpaces supply, don’t undersell yourself;
  • Listen to what the market is doing via recruiters;
  • Set a rate range, low to high;
  • Define the type of work you most enjoy, and are best at;
  • Pick and choose contracts based on timing;
  • It’s best to layer at least 2 contracts for “insurance” purposes.

Keep the passion alive!

You have to make sure that this is something you’re passionate about for the long haul. Burnout is a real thing in our industry, and you’ll be putting in some serious hours to launch.

But never be afraid to ask for help. Especially from a trusted community of like-minded professionals.

As you begin to formulate the thesis for your business, don’t forget the basics:

  • Research, research, research
  • Narrow your MVB or MVP based on feedback
  • Find your service or product-market fit through iteration
  • Wash, rinse, repeat

Forward progress always means learning from your mistakes and becoming slowly better over time. With a minimal investment and a head of steam you can be making money from clients in no time.

Just having your LLC designation and working for a few clients can be a dream business or a solid side-gig. But we’ll dig into more specifics that you’ll need to really get rolling in Part Two.

Never doubt that a small group of committed coders…

Can change the world. As a community that promotes ongoing education, support, and prosperity, we only go as far as you do.

That’s why we’ve created a community of like-minded problem-solvers with a commitment to excellence. We’re always here to lend a hand.

With the right help, you can take on projects, make a profit, and not have to stay at your day job, or make more money than you think!

Stay tuned for more specific resources and tools in The Developer’s Guide to Managing Your Business: Part Two. We’ll talk about specifics of launching your business and how to keep the work coming in.

Category: Contracting Tips