Freelancing with Drupal
In the last Drupal Camp London (March 2017) I organised an impromptu BoF on the topic of freelancing with Drupal. We had a dozen people turn up, which was quite unexpected as it was quite last minute and clashed with a lot of good presentations.
As we went round the table introducing ourselves, I was pleasantly surprised by the range of skills, experience, demographic, and level of interest in Drupal. From backend developers with years experience to someone who just picked it up by himself.
Also present was a director from Code Enigma. I bumped into him and invited him along to help us understand how a company hired freelancers. He gave us lots of great advice and insights from his own experiences as freelancer and now a director of a company with a distributed team.
We covered quite a few topics but here were the highlights.
Should you present yourself as a solo freelancer or as a company?
When pitching for projects, freelancers come up against this question a lot. It’s a question of trust and confidence. It’s fair for a client to question whether “one man and his dog” can deliver on an important project. Some commented that it shouldn’t matter while others have experienced loss of opportunity from clients that preferred to hire a company with an established office. It comes down to having a proven track record and finding the right type of clients (ones that are happy to hire solo freelancers with proven track records).
Do you prefer to work from home or in an office?
Some of us like having a dedicated office to go to for work while others prefer the comfort of home. What we can all agree on is that whether it’s home or office is less important than having the choice of using either to get work done.
Selling time vs selling value
This was raised a couple of times but it felt like this topic alone could take up a whole session. There’s a natural upper limit to how much you can earn by selling your time on an hourly or daily rate. To some, it is also more fulfilling to be able to consult with a client to deeply understand their needs and then deliver a solution that is highly valuable. This is the sort of engagement that doesn’t fall neatly into an hourly-billing arrangement. There is potentially a lot to discuss here, on how to switch from the natural tendency to sell our skill by time slots to selling a solution based on the value it delivers to the client.
What does a client pay for really?
There may be demand for help to design or build websites but there are hundreds of thousands of web designers and developers worldwide. Most of them are cheaper and better than you and I. So how do you set yourself apart. It’s by specialisation, by having specific API experience (e.g. knowing how to build on top of Drupal) or domain knowledge (e.g. experience building CMSs for schools). When a school wants to extend its Drupal site, guess who they’d be looking for.
Would we work for equity?
Most of us are not closed to the idea of working on a client project in exchange for equity in their business. However, we all agreed that we wouldn’t work full time on it. It comes down to perceived risk over potential gains. Putting in a small amount of time into a business that we believe in would be fine, in exchange for equity. As one of us said, “if the offer came from someone/some company I knew, or that I knew of through the Drupal community, then I might look more favourably about basically going into a partnership.”
Those are just some of the highlights. There were a few other points that were brought up briefly in the short period of time that we had.
I think most of all we learned that what we really need is support. Support from our peers and from the community.
We were reminded that freelancing offers us not just an alternative to a 9-to-5 permanent employment but also the freedom to choose a lifestyle that best suits us. Sometimes these choices are necessary because for a lot of us, “normal” employment is simply not a viable option. Open source, and Drupal, have been an amazing enabler for these options.
However, there is lack of explicit support for freelancing in the community. For people new to freelancing it’s hard to know where to start. For experienced freelancers, there are issues specific to freelancing that only other freelancers understand. And we need to raise the profile of freelancing and make employers understand that the work produced by “one Drupal dev and his dog” is not necessarily inferior to work produced by a Drupal shop (and conversely, work churned out by expensive agencies aren’t necessarily better than what a single experienced, focused developer can deliver). Together we can also address the concerns of companies when considering hiring freelancers.
There were so many more questions and issues to explore and we only barely scratched the surface. We agreed that this is a good forum to keep alive, so I will try and find a home for this forum somewhere and will create more freelancing BoFs in other Drupal events.
We freelancers are our own best support network.
If you’re a Drupal freelancer, please join the Drupal Freelance Group at drupalfreelance.net. No recruiters please. Membership by approval only.
Other sources mentioned during the BoF: