Making the Switch to Freelance & Contract Work w/ Dan Mall

I know I say this all the time, but we’ve got a great show to cover this week. We’re talkin’ layoffs, career changes, contract and freelance work— all the things you want need to know with the infinite wealth of knowledge that is Dan Mall.

You asked, I listened. GC 2.0 episodes are now back to streaming live on YouTube. Let’s start with watching the full episode with my man Dan.

Ain’t got time for that? Here’s the highlights:

Let’s start with layoffs. We’re seeing them in the thousands these days, and if that makes you feel a little panicky, that’s the correct response. Literally two major tech layoffs happened while we were filming this episode. So what can you do to prepare (because we all need to prepare). Here’s Dan’s advice: build leverage. No, we’re not talking about blackmailing your boss so you can keep your job. Dan’s talking about building up your personal security to leverage the personal loss. This can be something obvious as regularly contributing to an emergency fund or getting in the habit of always sharpening your skills or learning new ones.

A more emotionally complicated way to leverage a layoff is to always have a worst case scenario backup plan in the back of your mind. Odds are, once you get laid off, you’re not going to jump right into your dream job where you love what you do AND the salary. So make those compromises with yourself ahead of time. Don’t wait until your picking your next career move from a place of desperation. If you have to take a big pay cut or even switch career paths, you’ve already made that decision for yourself.

What I’ve seen a lot of in the past two years are people that are just downright not willing to compromise. It’s fair to want a better situation than what you had previously, but the reality is that the perfect role you have in your head may not be out there. I mean, the market isn’t anything like it was a few years ago. And to top that off, you’re going to be competing against a lot more people that may be a lot more qualified. This can be summed up in the proverb Dan mentioned, “The man who chases two rabbits, catches neither.” Understand the areas you can compromise, because odds are you’re not getting it all.

So if you’re looking at the market and thinking about switching to freelance or contract work, we have some words of advice. Let’s start with not quitting your day job. You should still work full time while starting to build your client base. Yeah, you’re going to be really tired, but having that financial security is everything. If you’re already out on your own or thinking about trying it out, one of the hardest steps is just finding clients. Dan recommended starting with your friends, and I can’t agree more. You already have a built in level of trust that you’ll never get from a cold call or a flier you leave on a board. Even if your friends don’t need work, they probably know someone who does.

Speaking of accepting work, the first things you take on are probably going to be some bottom of the barrel tasks. Not everything you do has to be exactly what you want to do forever. When Dan started out, he was just taking overflow projects and making the most out of them. Sometimes you have to do a project that shows up in your bank account not necessarily in your portfolio.

If you’re still struggling with finding those first contract jobs, don’t be afraid to reach out to recruiters and look at talent marketplaces. I’ve placed the same developer multiple times for different companies. If you’re good at what you do and great at communication, it’ll really take you places. Speaking of building relationships and a reputation— if you feel you have to do something for free to start out, consider doing it for a testimonial. You can even go as far as writing it and then posting with client approval once the project is finished. Don’t forget, no one knows how much another client paid. But having a great reviews can always give you a leg up in charging correctly.