Freelance Developer in the COVID Era: Mission Impossible?

4 min read
Mar 4, 2021 11:12:00 AM

Freelance Developer in the COVID Era: Mission Impossible?

(SPOILER ALERT) The answer is NO! Steve Umuhire, a Luxembourg-based freelance developer, provides evidence.

The year 2020 has proven to be a challenging one for everyone: companies, employees, citizens, each of us has had to rethink many processes to balance professional and personal life. The tech recruitment industry, like many others, has experienced many upheavals. Companies and candidates have had to readapt their organization to adapt to the situation.

Among all these professionals are freelancers. How did those who’ve shifted to this riskier category fare so well?

nexten.io investigated the case of these tech freelancers who took the gamble of going solo despite the crisis. Steve Umuhire came back with us on his journey. On the agenda: advice for those who want to go solo, the mindset to adopt to succeed, and the qualities you need to arm yourself with to take up the challenge.

nexten.io: Hello Steve! First off, thank you for giving us a few moments to look back on your journey! To start, can you take us back to your beginnings? Why did you start off as a freelancer? How did you land your first clients? What challenges did you encounter?

Steve Umuhire: My pleasure! To be honest, I fell into freelance and development a bit by chance, driven by an opportunity that life put on my plate.

In 2018, I took a training course to learn how to code. At the time, I was setting up a start-up and a tech team, and I wanted to remain “operational” so that I could talk to them about technology without getting completely lost. At the same time, a friend contacted me a few weeks later to ask me if I could help him with creating a website. Then came the real revelation: I discovered I loved it, that I find a lot of pleasure in building sites from scratch. Back-end, front-end, you name it: I’ve been able to grow in several areas like PHP, Symfony Framework, JS, Vue.js, and the more traditional CSS and HTML.

nexten.io: Okay, your first customer’s a friend, so what’s next? How do you combine your start-up, your clients, and your prospects?

S.U: I’m lucky to have a very dynamic direct environment. So, I didn’t need to do any prospecting to find new clients for the moment, word of mouth being sufficient. I currently have about ten clients in my portfolio, all from different backgrounds and fields. Generally, I start my collaboration with the creation of a website, and then propose to accompany them on the evolutions to be realized progressively.

nexten.io: So you set out freelancing a year and a half ago, and despite the crisis, you’ve managed to grow without even setting up a commercial strategy! How do you explain this?

The crisis has inevitably slowed activity down a little. However, we notice that online presence is increasing. Most companies have been forced to completely rethink their online identity, as well as their commercial strategy. Obviously, these adaptations imply evolutions and thus additional missions with my customers. I think that it must mainly depend on the market, and that the needs in the IT sector are only increasing and are not about to stop!

nexten.io: What qualities do you think you need to become an entrepreneur?

Undoubtedly, perseverance! And don’t forget that being a freelancer requires versatility. Prospecting, customer service, production, accounting — you have to know how to juggle everything and keep a very complete profile. Perseverance is required in each of these fields, and you should remain patient and methodic at each step.

Curiosity, as well — the desire to understand the client’s market to better understand their needs and truly respond to each situation. There’s a genuine satisfaction I can feel when a customer is delighted with a new feature, I was able to add to his site to address an issue!

Finally, I’d say it’s important to estimate one’s own value on the market. Initially, I had a little trouble budgeting within the market averages, but I quickly realized that it was important that I be compensated for the fair value of the work performed.

To make my clients better understand the work to be done, I divided the time to create a website into two activities: realization and integration of a design on one side, also called the front end, and development and integration of functionalities, the back end. These two tasks take me about 8 hours of work, but it depends of course on each project.

I’d say the important thing is to make your customers understand the benefits of developing their online identity. Websites, branding, content, and marketing strategies all serve to reassure by demonstrating you’ve understood clients’ issues and can deliver them concrete solutions.

nexten.io: What advice would you give to a young development enthusiast who wants to freelance?

For me, it’s ideal to start with a training course to learn how to code, establish a solid foundation, and start off on the right foot. Personally, I followed the excellent WebForce3 training course through NumericALL.

Afterwards, it’s more about experimenting with new methods and issues and not hesitating to carry out numerous tests. To become a blacksmith, you have to work with the metal!

Depending on the current context, I also advise all who would like to get started to go step by step. The market is currently in crisis, so it would be better to be cautious, and start a few projects on the side before leaving a position, for example. This allows you to get a first idea of what it’s like to be a freelance developer. Finally, I would say that the network counts for a lot. For the moment, I didn’t need to register on platforms that connect freelancers and companies to prospect, such as Malt. They are now flooded with profiles that play the unfair competition card.

nexten.io: The only remaining question is about the biggest advantage for you as a freelance developer.

S.U: Freedom, of course! On average, I work about 25 hours as a freelance developer, which gives me the flexibility to work on my start-up on the side. It all depends of course on each period.

I can work wherever I want, whenever I want, and this allows me to adjust my schedule accordingly. Since I’ve been a freelancer, I’ve obviously worked from home and from my coworking space — but also from the terrace of a Parisian restaurant, while skiing, in the sun in Aix-en-Provence… It’s the “digital nomad” generation; morals are changing, and that’s fine with me!

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