Uncharted Waters

Mar 21 2016   11:36AM GMT

Going Freelance – One Year Later

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman


I left my full time job to go freelance (or independent if you prefer) full time on April 1 of last year.

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to shed the traditional employer / employee relationship and strike out on my own. I wanted to build something for myself instead of someone else, and more importantly wanted to jump in to projects and add value now instead of waiting for permission to start. With some help from Uncharted Waters co-blogger, Matt Heusser, I was finally able to take the jump around this time last year.

It has been a great adventure so far and of course with a little experience now I have a different view on independent life.

The ‘independent’ label sounds stranger and stranger as I go further into independent life. Leaving a full time launched me into the tech community. Rather than something I could pay attention to in passing, reading an article here and there or catching up on conference happenings, I was actually a part of it. Being independent introduced me to the Wendell Berry concept of a community. One where I need my neighbors, and my neighbors need me because we offer skill and value to each other. I never felt that when working for a company, and that is by design. Companies can’t need people. Companies that need a particular person put their lively hood at stake. What happens when that person leaves for the next company?

The partnerships I have now are like a warm blanket. I have two main skills — writing and software testing — and am slowly working on developing my ability to teach and do consulting. Partnerships help propel that diversity forward and filter out the stuff that the market doesn’t care about. Once in a blue moon I’ll get an email from someone I don’t know that says something like “Hey, I read your work on Uncharted Waters and would like to talk about how you could write for us”. Those emails are rare. What happens more often is the connections economy in action.

On a Wednesday morning I’ll see an email introducing me to someone that is interested in some writing about software testing. The week after that, the three of us talk on the phone a little bit to get to know each other and talk about what we can do for each other. Maybe the next month I write an article or two and if the customer is happy, we do more as long as we like each other.

Initially when I went independent, I thought it would be a nice excuse to work 4 days a week and hang out at the family farm a little bit more. That was true for the first month. Starting in month 2, I was working a full work week plus some and I owe that to partnerships and the community. I could probably do that at a regular day job too, but now I’m actually getting paid for my time so that’s nice.

Last week I talked about the three corners of customer service — good, friendly, and on schedule. It was really tempting to focus on the illusion of professionalism — business cards, a clever name for my company, contracts and agreements and clauses (oh my) — in the beginning. I mean, that’s how people get hired, right? Professionalism was the first thing to go. I tend to start emails with “Hey <name>” and include the phrase “no worries”. No one cares, shocker. I do put a lot of focus on the work though. Being good is so much more important to me than giving off the image of being good. Being good also keeps me in the community.

It has only been a year, and there is a lot more to talk about. I’m going to stay independent as long as I can, so there will definitely be more to come.

5  Comments on this Post

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  • Matt Heusser
    that's awesome Justin! I don't have much to add, but one thought: Most of the gurus, like Jerry Weinberg, suggest that you hold a bit back. Give yourself a break. Reserve some time.

    The reason to reserve time is because you will occasionally have high-value, short term projects dump in your lap, and if you are cranked to 110% capacity, you won't be able to take them.

    Honestly, that is advice I have struggled to follow, and I've only missed out on a few opportunities because of it - but it would have meant more time with family this week. 

    Also: Ask me why I'm not in spain this week ... ;-)

    4,710 pointsBadges:
    Hi Justin, I just happened to find you through one of my daily emails, but I think it will be worth following you going forward.

    How exciting to go out on your own.  I would like to do that myself, but have always been intimidated by the prospect.  My concern is getting that first 'customer'.  I will go back and read some of your other blogs, but I am wondering how you set yourself up for the jump.  A year's salary in the bank?  Already doing some consulting while still employed and built from there? (That was my idea) Or something else? I have always been an employee ~ save a couple specific engagements I was asked to do ~ and not sure how to get started in consulting.  I look forward to learning more about your journey.
    10 pointsBadges:
  • rmelich
    Excellent thoughts and the Seth G. share is terrific.  Have shared it with a new team I'm leading starting next week.  Needed some inspirational content, you timed your note well.

    40 pointsBadges:
  • BigKat

    I split the differences for almost 19 years.  I worked for a consulting company.  They handled setting up the assignments and I did the work.  Benefits of working for a company - salary, insurance, vacation; benefits of consulting - paid for "overtime", distanced from office politics.
    9,420 pointsBadges:
  • Justin Rohrman

    That is a long conversation. I'm pretty risk averse, so I spent a long time preparing. Having a savings account was an important part of that. I was also doing writing at home, in the evenings and weekends after work, for more than a year first so people would know that I exist. There was very occasional contract and consulting work, too. Eventually the right gig came along at the right time and I took the plunge.
    2,130 pointsBadges:

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