David Anderson Freelance Rails Developer
Learn how David changed his hourly freelancing business into a monthly flat fee service that brings in $3000/month.
What's your background and what type of services do you offer to clients?
Hi, my name is David Anderson, and I'm a web developer that primarily works with Ruby on Rails. I've been a Rails freelancer/contractor for the past 5 years and have worked with a variety of businesses. As of 2 years ago, I started working as a full-time employee for a long term client, so although I'm no longer actively seeking large projects, I still offer a service that provides small updates and maintenance to already built Rails apps for a fixed monthly cost.
When I started to contract with my current employer, I had less and less time to work with additional clients. At the time I had 2-3 long term clients that routinely came to me for "hour here/hour there" type jobs, but with less time these jobs were becoming more difficult to support and weren't really worth the hassle. I'd spend about one hour on the job, charge roughly $100, but end up spending 1.5-2 hours when all was said and done between emailing about the job, invoicing, getting payment, etc. I had also been working with Einar Vollset from http://www.productizedconsulting.com/ on strategies to "productize" my consulting, and with his help I came up with a fixed monthly cost service for already built Rails apps. I provide support, maintenance, and will take care of small updates on existing Rails apps for $1000-$1500 per month (billed automatically through Stripe). So when I had defined that service and the price, I offered it to my existing clients and two took me up on the offer. It was great! I still had to take care of the hour here/there tasks for the clients, but I had consistent recurring revenue.
At this point, I have 2-3 clients on the fixed monthly service which brings in $2500-$4000 per month, and my full-time position.
What motivated you to start your freelance career?
In the fall of 2011 I went through the Starter League, which was one of the first coding bootcamps in the country. By the time I finished the course I knew that I really enjoyed web development work, but I still didn't quite know enough to get full-time work at an established company, so I started applying for smaller jobs/projects I found on Authentic Jobs. I originally was just looking for projects that I could work on to continue to learn and simply establish a portfolio of work, in the hopes of ultimately landing a full-time job somewhere after a few months freelancing. I ended up finding some ongoing hourly work for $40/hour on Authentic Jobs, and I built a full website for a guy I ended up meeting at a networking event. I think I only charged the guy $2000 for the full website! These initial projects obviously weren't that lucrative, but it gave me confidence that I could find and deliver good work, and it kind of opened up my eyes to the possibility of actually making a living on my own without needing a full-time position.
How do you typically charge clients? Hourly, weekly, monthly, fixed price?
When I was freelancing full-time, I mostly billed at an hourly rate. I started at about $35-40/hour but gradually increased my rate to $100/hour. I also did some fixed price jobs, ranging anywhere from $2,000 to $40,000. For the most part, the fixed price projects worked out okay, but I did get burned on one where the project was initially for about $5,000. It was more my fault than the client's. The client continued to want changes, new features, and support after the inital specs were finished, and I did that work without objection for way too long. You should definitely talk about how you'll handle app upkeep/new feature requests if you're offering a fixed price project.
After about two years working mostly at an hourly rate, I started to charge a weekly rate of $3000. I landed one job which was $3k/week for an indefinite amount of time, and I landed one fixed price project for $18,000 by saying that the project would take roughly 6 weeks at a weekly rate of $3,000. That particular project worked out to nearly $200/hour given the amount of time I actually used to complete it.
I would definitely suggest moving to a weekly rate if you can! My $3,000 per week rate was actually lower from an hourly rate perspective ($75/hour) than what I had been charging ($100/hour), but the work I got by offering a weekly rate was much more valuable. They were longer term and bigger projects rather than the 5-10 hours/week work I had been getting at $100/hour. I was able to use my time much more efficiently by charging weekly and subsequently my earnings increased dramatically.
What advice would you offer other freelancers that are just starting out?
Don't fret too much about your initial portfolio website or even your rate. Just do what you can to get your first job! You'll learn a lot about writing proposals, finding clients, managing clients, etc. by just taking on those first projects, and you'll continue to gain confidence to go after bigger and more lucrative gigs.
After you have some projects under your belt, I'd recommend, at least for web developers, charging a weekly rate rather than an hourly rate. It's so much easier to manage your time when you have at least a week commitment from the client versus trying to work on 2-3 projects each week for 3-4 hours at a time.
What are the top tools and/or services that you use and would recommend to other freelancers?
If you're just starting and don't need much, I recommend Toggl for time tracking since it's free to use. I use Quickbooks for my accounting, and I recommend that simply because most accountants that you may work with will absolutely know how to use it.
In terms of finding work, I was one of the first subscribers to Workshop and found it to be really valuable. I got a couple of great jobs through that, and if nothing else it's easy way to always have a few irons in the fire in terms of finding your next gig.
Do you recommend any books or online courses/tutorials to other freelancers?
I took Brennan Dunn's Double Your Freelancing Rate and would absolutely recommend it to fellow freelancers.
Where can we go to find out more about you and your business?
You can see more about my fixed monthly cost Rails support service here: Everclimb
And you can follow along with me as I build up Everclimb's freelancer interviews by checking out this site's blog!