Going Independent – Part 2

January 31, 2013 · Posted in advice, indie, work 

In the first part of Going Independent, I talked about my day job, and my first year on my own. To recap, I made next to nothing but lived to fight another year. Which brings me to the second year of being independent. This is not a story about getting rich quick, or how I made several million dollars selling software (because I didn’t). It’s a more realistic story of struggle, failure and clawing and fighting my way to every dollar I earned, how I did that and the hope I see for the future.

Starting Over

I ended up starting a new LLC based on this website’s name, something I’ve been running for years. I registered another web domain name, setup another website installation, bought a theme for the website and filled it with content and portfolio items. Within a few months, we ranked #1, #2, and #3 (#3 was this site) when you searched “Mobile Development Boise.” The calls and emails started coming in. Some people just wanted to know how much it was to develop a mobile app, others were testing the waters, and still others had already committed, one way or another to having an app built and were just looking for the right people to do it.

That was as much marketing and advertising as we did. We didn’t cold call, we didn’t mass email. We simply had a product and service that people were interested in, and wanted to find out more. Surprisingly, more people have called than have used email to contact us. The calls are about 60%, direct email 15% and using the contact form was about 25% of our incoming inquiries. All forms of communication have resulted in very good clients so I can’t really say which one was better for us.

We picked up some web development jobs to pay the bills while we worked on the good ideas for client mobile apps. We didn’t take on every project that came our way. Some thought our prices were too high. Some were expecting the development to be only a few hundred dollars. And some just had bad ideas that either couldn’t be executed, or we didn’t want to execute them. You don’t want clients that have bad ideas or won’t pay you what you’re worth. When clients understand the cost, you know they’re running a good business themselves because they know what things are worth. When clients have bad ideas, they usually don’t have a proven business model to support it, or they simply aren’t familiar with the technology.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve done our share of low-budget apps, just because we liked the people who came to us. We have a soft spot for startups and people just trying to live their dream. Most of the time, these people already want a working business model and just need a solution to their mobile needs. We try to be fair, we’re always honest, and hopefully that builds better relationships.

Anyway, we picked the right projects and the money started slowly trickling in. We got some large projects where we threw every resource we had at them. We hired a bunch of great people who did great work, and we accomplished a lot of things. We paid them fairly and we paid them on time. If I could help it, I paid them up front. I trusted all of them, I had worked with all of them before and everything went well. Luckily. I’m a firm believer in, “It’s who you know.” And if you know great people, they’ll enable you to do great things.

Don’t get jealous of people’s abilities and talents; get inspired.

Success Depends on Reach

How many people or businesses do you know that can send you $30,000+ projects? If you were to get said projects, how many people do you know that can help you execute on those? You need to get to a point where you’re doing less of the development, and more of the management. Everyone knows management does nothing and gets paid the most; so why wouldn’t you want to be in that position? But the worst managers are the ones who couldn’t do your job if the company depended on it. I’m not sure why non-technical people are hired to manage programmers, but the best ones either know how to do the jobs of the people they supervise, or they admit they don’t and instead listen well and take their advice to make the best decisions. Be one or both of those things, but most importantly, have people working for you that can give you good advice.

I built up that kind of network over the years by staying humble, listening and always remembering that I don’t need to be the smartest, best person to be successful.

How Successful Was It?

I technically started up the new LLC in March so it hasn’t exactly been a year. Remember that ten thousand dollars of income I made the first year? Well that LLC made a lot more than that, but that’s pretty much all I saw. This year, the company is projected to be almost a magnitude greater than that, for a period 12 months. Ok, so I’m playing with numbers and dates a bit for my benefit, but you get the point right? I’m making a decent, living wage after a year below the poverty line (although my wife made a decent salary, so technically as a family we weren’t).

I could have gotten a “real” job and made 2 or 3 times what I did. Sometimes, I’ll admit, when the bank accounts were getting low and I didn’t have any outstanding invoices due to me, I wish I had. But because we built a solid foundation with the website and our portfolio, the next call or email would come in, and off we’d be rolling again. A bit of a roller coaster, ulcer causing existence sometimes, but having retained earnings, diligent savings and always looking ahead, ensured we were always busy.

Looking at 2013, while we have a ton of things and ideas in the pipeline, to potentially grow the revenue even more, I still think: “Would it be better to just give it all up, get a ‘real’ job and not have to think or work so hard?” I think anyone trying to run their own company who thinks they’ll become rich overnight should take a long hard look in the mirror, and then laugh at themselves. While overnight successes happen, sort of, it mostly takes a lot of hard work, good decisions and a lot of talent to become rich. Sometimes it just takes a while to get all those things right.

Doing this kind of thing is not for everyone and there’s no shame in that. But regrets are a lot harder to justify than failures.

Post in the comments below about your successes, failures or questions and make sure you subscribe below.

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