I wrote a post two years ago that I never published called “Goodbye Client Work.” It was my treatise against doing client work and freelancing. I included some really good links in that post. I linked to tweets/posts about the impossibility of estimating, the absurdity of customer requests, stories of freelancer burnout and even a Mad Men reference to Peggy’s conference room outburst about baked beans.

I never published the post because it never felt right and didn’t fit the normally positive outlook I like to keep on my blog. If I have something negative to say I try to not to say it online. So the post stayed in draft mode.

Evolving away from client work

In my mind a normal progression of my career would be day job, to freelance work, and finally to selling products. I had started selling products so that I wouldn’t have to deal with some of the categorical dysfunction that existed in the way I used to do client work. Then several months ago I started noticing something. Several of the product people I knew still do client work. This didn’t fit into my mental evolution map so I asked people why they did it. The answers were varied between ‘I only do it for some clients’, to ‘It helps bring in some revenue’, to ‘I enjoy it.’ Enjoy it? You enjoy it? How could this be?

As I dug in deeper with other web folk and did a better postmortem of past projects I realized that it didn’t have to be client work or no client work. There was a happy medium that could be found. I’m not going to harp on my sins of client work past, but rather focus on why I’m now taking on some projects.

Reasons I’m back into client work

Bootstrap product building

Since I no longer have a salary client work will provide some income to bootstrap new projects. My family is in a different place now than we were the last time I freelanced: we’re out of debt, we have very low monthly expenses and our kids are older so they are easier to parent. We’ve also got a little bit of a financial runway that should help me not choose projects based on money.  Freelancing will provide revenue for products by:

  • Allowing me time to build products
  • Allow me to hire someone to build products
  • Provide money to acquire products

Idea generation and validation

This is a big one. I can make plugins all-day, every-day, but if my products don’t solve a felt need for shop owners then no one is going to buy them. The feedback loop of client work is a great place to mine for product ideas. Listen to customers stories, watch their process, think up new ways to make their life easy and they will love you for it!

A good way to challenge yourself

I say this hesitantly because one sure fire way to dig yourself a freelancer hole is to take on projects and try to learn while you earn. You’ve got to know you can complete a project before taking it on. I used to be notorious at taking on projects I had no idea how to do. “Social network site with print media option and a content auto-generator? No problem!

Now I’m focusing solely on WooCommerce and Magento plugin projects because that’s my wheelhouse. But, there are still ways to challenge yourself within your specialty. Recently I did a project for a customer where I hooked into the WooCommerce add-to-cart functionality to show a message in a shortcode and widget. It was a simple plugin, but I hadn’t dealt with that bit of WooCommerce code before and it felt good to add it to my repertoire.

How about you? Do you enjoy client work? Are you on your own product person evolutionary path?

Photo Credit: Ulrik.S.C via Compfight cc

Posted by Daniel Espinoza

I'm a digital tentmaker, web developer, a native Texan, avid reader, and a wanna be polyglot. Follow Daniel on Twitter @d_espi.

Get a weekly digest of posts

* indicates required