How To Become a Freelance Software or DevOps Engineer

career freelance Nov 18, 2019

Your first steps

Getting started freelancing is one of those things you can google for the rest of your life and it will just leave your head spinning. I know this because I've been working towards being my very own Jillian Inc for the last 6 months or so. Here are a few straightforward tasks you can set for yourself in order to get started.

Register a Business

I got a lot of mostly wishy washy advice on this. There are people out there that say if you're not making much just don't bother. That may be a fair enough point, but I would say if you truly want to pursue freelancing, even on a moonlighting basis, to just register a business.

First of all, you can expense stuff to your business (legit business expenses only!) and it will probably save you the cost of registering the business. It will also make your taxes a lot more straightforward. Being a software engineer who likes open source this felt a bit too beaurocratic for me, but seriously, just do it.

The easiest way to do this is to just simply go to Stripe Atlas and pay $500. There are probably cheaper ways to do it, but using Stripe Atlas is just extremely simple. You get all your papers, numbers, and a bank account setup for you. You can register a CCorp or an LLC. If you don't know the difference between those just get register an LLC.

This will take around 10 days to a week, maybe more if there are any holidays thrown in there. While you're waiting on that you'll have plenty of time to get everything else done.

Create a Website

Do not, and I mean, DO NOT, jump down a rabbit hole of custom developing your own site if you want to have actual time to freelance. Especially if you are still working! It will be a major time sink. 

What platform should I choose for my website?

I plan on writing more about this in another post, but what I would say for now is if you just want a blog, or a blog plus digital products (ebooks, SOPs, project guides, downloadable templates, etc) go with Squarespace. If you only care about creating courses, or creating courses plus digital products go with Thinkific.  If you want a blog, website, and course platform all in one choose Kajabi.

Optional - Consistent Visuals

Plenty of people have completely plain text websites with no images or shininess. I myself like the shinyness. I decided to go with sparkly space and robots. Why, you ask? Mostly because its fun, and if I'm running my own business it had better be fun! Also, I've wanted to be able to project documents more pink and sparkly for years, and just kept getting shot down. So this was my big chance!

If you go and look at my visuals you will notice I use a few different colors, mostly black, turquoise and purple. All my featured images and whatnot are sparkly space with some text and a robot head. That's it. Pick a theme for yourself. Maybe you like those network diagrams, or DNA helixes, or maybe you want to pick a color and just have pictures of your face on it. It really doesn't matter. Just pick something that's easy to do so you won't get sick of it.

Sort of Optional - Security Scanners

I say this is optional, but it's really not if you chose to go the WordPress route. If you get some sort of malware injected into your site google will SHUT YOU DOWN.  This is also why, for anyone listening, that Wordpress is not the cheapest solution. When you create a website you will have the chance to sign up for security measures. Sign up for them! Then make sure that you pay attention to those security alerts and plugin updates, because they are not messing around. 

If you go with a hosted solution, such as Medium, Squarespace or Kajabi you won't need to worry about this.

Don't stress about it

You don't need to have the most high ranking website of all time, or even have a ton of content to start landing gigs. Your goal here is to look legit, and this is 2019 here. You need a website to look legit, and it should look reasonable. There are plenty of themes and templates out there to make you look reasonable. 

Sign up for Zoom

Zoom is a free way to video conference or even just call. It's like skype for the modern age. Best of all it's FREE!

Create a Mission Statement

Hahaha ok not really a mission, but you should be able to state, in 4 sentences or preferably less, what you do and why that may help someone. 

Create or Update your Social Media Account

Find out where ever your potential clients are hanging out. For me this is LinkedIn. Take some time into prettying up your profile, and putting a decent looking picture of yourself on there. People like seeing other people, so be sure not to skip the picture.

You will also probably get people asking for your resume, so it's worth it to spend some time updating that too.

Demos

Being able to get demos out has done more for my career, and now business, then any other single action I can think of. This is going to be very dependent on what you do, but for me, this is packaging up my applications into Docker containers or AWS AMIs and making them accessible to the world at large. Then I write about them or more recently make YouTube videos that demonstrate the awesomeness. Lastly, I make sure to tell people that I can package thing X for them too!

Start Reaching Out

First try to connect with people, on whatever platform you are using. If they accept your connection then send them your mission statement. This was all pretty scary for me, but most people are nice. They don't mind getting a few sentences saying "hey I do this do you need any help?", and if they do mind they'll just ignore you like we all ignore 99.99999% of the internet. Just be sure to keep it short.

The vast majority of people are going to ignore you. Don't take it personally. It's like if someone wanted to sell me a totally awesome sports car. I don't even have a car, and if I did it would be a minivan because I am constantly shuffling around my kids. Someone could contact me about the most awesome sports car ever and I just wouldn't care, because I don't need a sports car. Get it? It's nothing personal when people don't respond to you, really. 

You can also just start googling potential clients or industries, and seeing if you can get any emails. 

Eventually, you will get someone at the right time. Then you can offer to talk with them through email or Zoom depending on whatever they want. Listen to them, see what's costing them money or causing headache, and tell them how you can help. 

If you can help, great! Hop on over to google docs and start outlining the goals and deliverables. There are, of course, much fancier solutions, but just make sure that you have something in writing.

Prosper!

Once you have an agreement in place head back over to Stripe, send your invoice, and get working!

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