5 tips for being a successful Rails consultant or freelancer

From time to time I get emails from people asking for some lessons I've learned in my time as a Rails freelancer, so I thought I'd jot some notes down for all to enjoy. Despite the title, these tips aren't really Rails-specific. :)

  1. Marketing: One question I often get is "how do I market myself?" The short answer is to just get your name out there. I have found that my blog, my hosting of the Rails plugin directory, and my Rails guides all help clients find me and become aware of my experience and expertise with Rails. So, the first tip is to create visibility for yourself by adding to the conversation. If I had more time, I would contribute more to open source Rails projects (or Rails itself) too, and I'd recommend that to anyone.
  2. Pricing (part 1): Everybody wants to know how they should set their rates. I'll leave to another post my thoughts on hourly vs. fixed-bid pricing, but here is the best tip I can give on pricing: if you are billing by the hour, set your rate so that you can profit on billing for just one-third of your working time. I can almost guarantee that you will spend the other two-thirds of your time on non-billable work such as finding work, tracking down payments for work completed, worrying about your bank account balance, etc.
  3. Pricing (part 2): Be confident in your pricing. If you don't believe your time is valuable, nobody else will either. You will have to answer the question about your rate time and time again, and how you answer it will definitely play a role in whether the person asking the question will accept your answer. Obviously the experience and skills you bring to the table have a large part to play in the rate you'll be able to get, but don't ignore the power of self-confidence.
  4. Stress Management: Leaving the comfort of a full-time role to join the ranks of the self-employed can introduce you to a whole new world of stress. Though of course your full-time salary isn't guaranteed, and can disappear at any time, that income is a lot more reliable than the one that will come from your almost non-stop efforts of trying to find the next gig. So, find a way to manage stress. It may be a supportive spouse (highly recommended!) or a favorite sport, but find a way and make the time to preserve your health, so you can continue the "good life" of working for yourself.
  5. Always be selling: You are the product that needs to be sold, and you are the one that's selling it. You should always be selling yourself. Whether that takes the form of looking for gigs, or networking in your local business community, or writing blog posts -- you'll need to experiment to find what will be the best use of your time. But you must continue to spend the time to sell yourself, to keep your sales funnel full. Keeping the top of the funnel full with prospects is essential to keep money flowing out of the bottom of it.

I hope that list is helpful. There's nothing revolutionary there, but it is indeed a formula for success. Have fun!