Year 2016 Review from Freelance Web Developer Perspective

It has been one year since the last review, and it is once again a good time to reflect on the things I liked and disliked about this year. Going over achievements, failures, and the people you worked and interacted with helps me figure out what to do more of and what to do less of in the upcoming year.

Freelancing - What I did

These are the client projects I did in the year 2016:

  • presented workshops on C#
  • rewrote the user interface of a business software
  • delivered features that had been promised to investors of a startup
  • together with an exceptional team, wrote a new partner portal from scratch
  • provided consulting to other freelancers

This year proved that agile companies that are focused on providing value are best fit for a freelance software developer.

By "agile" I mean organizations that make decisions fast and don't have many layers of abstractions. Trying to find the right person to ask why payment isn't in your bank account (this often happen in a large organization) is a life-quality–decreasing experience.

I really enjoyed giving workshops. It is very pleasing to see interested people absorbing new concepts, and you can almost see light bulbs shining on top of their heads. In the year 2017, I should learn how to market training sessions and whom to market them to. If you know your company would like web development training, let me know!

Things I liked and would like to have in the year 2017:

  • good relationships: mutual respect and trust
  • trust that led to freedom (remote work, unusual working hours)
  • learning a lot by working with smart people
  • satisfaction from getting things done
  • quality projects: professional teams, proper funding, opportunity to provide value to users, etc.

What I disliked and would like to do less of in the year 2017:

  • on a few occasions, I had to go into "crunch mode" to deliver what had been promised
  • sometimes the project didn't have a clear scope, which led to scope creep

To avoid scope creep, I'll try to discuss more thoroughly what we want to achieve. Compared to making changes here and there, having a clear scope of what to deliver helps to provide measurable value.

Freelancing - Time spent

This year, I worked 1142 hours. Each year, I decrease how much I work. For example, from the 2015 review:

...worked 1229 hours, which is 101 hours less than I worked in 2014. That's a 7.59% decrease. (To give some perspective, an average Finn works 1645 hours per year.)...

I have increased my hourly rate each year to compensate for the decrease in hours worked, so my income is about the same each year.

A former colleague asked what a work hour is; whether, for example, writing this blog post is work.

Depending on how you define work, the numbers can be drastically different, so the question has a point. My time tracking system currently tracks only billable work, and I don't track other work related tasks. These activities include dealing with bureaucracy, keeping a steady flow of quality clients, billing, posting emails to my email list, and writing these blog posts.

In my experience, people often think very negatively about freelancing and work hours. They assume that I work a regular workweek (37.5 hours in Finland) and then do "the extra work that employees don't have to do." In my case, at least, that is far from the truth.

For the past three years, I have done 4 days of billable work per week and had only a few exceptions when I had to do five-day work week.

I have outsourced accounting and most of the monthly non-billable work tasks, so I spend a maximum of 1 hour per month on mandatory paperwork. That's 15 minutes per week.

Depending on the business, keeping a steady flow of clients can take a lot of time. For freelance software developers, demand is high at the moment. If people know you exist and have some idea what you do, then you'll receive plenty of leads. Pick the one you can deliver the most value on, have a few discussions with the team, and you'll be on the project before you know it.

I spend about 1–2 hours per week writing emails and having lunches and other informal meetings.

In summary, I spend less time on work-related things than I used to spend as an employee, yet my salary is higher.

Blogging

I wrote 35 blog posts in 2016, which is fewer than what I aimed for. My target was a blog post per week, but the weekly email list took a bit of time away from writing. More on the email list in the next section.

The most popular blog post (with 66968 unique page views) was I Was Wrong About TypeScript, Here is Why.

Unique visitors: 75402
Page views: 102991

These numbers are truly staggering, and I am grateful for all the readers that showed interest in my content. Thank you!

The TypeScript blog post was translated into Japanese and re-published (with permission) in several websites and email lists, such as JAX. It is very exciting that content gets translated as information therefore reaches a broader audience.

Big thanks to all of you!

Thank you gif Game of Thrones

Email list

I started an email list for web developers who are interested in freelancing or want to be better at it. As I am writing this blog, there are 267 subscribers, many of whom I have had interesting email exchanges with.

The email list was started because I had spent countless hours optimizing my solo business and still had all the learnings, mistakes, etc. fresh in memory. These emails will help people to find their first clients, avoid many (expensive) mistakes, price their services, market themselves, etc.

It is very motivating to give back to the software development community because I have gotten so much from other developers and freelancers. Also, I have learned a lot about my audience and already have some product ideas that could be useful for those who are just starting freelancing.

Conclusion

Despite negative news ranging from Brexit and Trump to celebrities passing away, the year 2016 was good for business. It is hard to predict the impact Brexit and Trump will have in upcoming years. Currently, there is plenty of work for web developers, and success is just a matter of picking projects that will allow you to deliver the most value and enjoy the ride at the same time.

If you have written your 2016 retrospect, I would like to read it! Send me a Tweet with a link.

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