My Name Is G. Jason Head.

A few months as an indie web-developer.


| 5 Comments

I made the decision to be an indie web developer late last year, and now that I am about a handful of months into it, I thought I would share some of my experiences so far. I’m by no means an expert at this stuff yet, but post this as a way to organize my thoughts, share my experience so far and maybe even get some good feedback to help along the way.

Managing Workloads
I have years and years of experience managing web teams, timelines and expectations. Almost none of that matter much when you are a team of one person.

As an indie, you only have one schedule to manage, and it’s yours alone. You also need to attempt to keep a few month’s worth of work scheduled out. If a client’s schedule moves – you don’t really have any other resources to use to get your other work done. I can’t call a staff meeting to review my teams schedules. It’s just me. If a project gets bumped – it effects *everything*.

This is also tough to manage when signing new projects. Clients have timelines in mind when they come to you with a new project – but these change a lot before you get the signed work agreement. When you are negotiating – or simply just “waiting” – for a work approval, there are other projects also coming in the door that you can work on too. This has been the trickiest part to manage for me – when to say yes or no to a project. The best advice I got on this was from my friend Jamie who gave me a great rule to follow: “A signed work agreement trumps everything.” This is the truth – and is currently the number one rule I follow. Or, well, try to at least.

Work/Life Balance
I really have to work on this one. One of the biggest advantages of being an independent worker is that you have much more control of your work/life balance. This sounds great on paper – but it’s much easier said than done.

I’m still not sure how to best deal with this one yet. I really like what I do, so it doesn’t feel like “work” in a traditional sense. I still need to try to separate the two a lot more. I think the best way to do this is *for me* is to find office space soon. A co-working space may do it, but I’m leaning towards not working at the home office as much and getting out and following more traditional hours.

Modern Web Development “Workflows” Suck
There was once a time that all you needed to make a website was your trusty code editor of choice, and a good graphic design program (yes, Photoshop.) You could work on any project for any company or any other co-worker and it was just you and whatever language/technology you were using. You just downloaded the files, opened up your editor and…. get this: started working on the code immediately.

Now? Frameworks, pre-processors, compilers, static site generators, a million cms’s, grunt, gulp, whatever “tool of the moment” etc… these “tools” have made collaborating with new people a freakin’ nightmare. It takes just a day or more just to get your machine setup to follow a workflow with the new dev team you are working with. I understand why people like these tools. I really do. I use them – I have my *own* workflow I use. But when you are an indie dev and you work with different web teams at a different company or a different agency: IT’S ALWAYS SOMETHING DIFFERENT. Every. Single. Freaking. Time. This is worth an entire blog post of it’s own as I see this problem getting a lot worse before it ever improves (and I don’t see that happening any time soon.)

Other Stuff
I have a bunch of other thoughts, but I’ll save them for other posts. So far, I’m enjoying being an indie. Like anything, it has it’s own sets of challenges. But at this point, I’m glad I made the decision to do this for a while.

I’m finding that the work I am doing is a lot better. I seem to be able to concentrate really well these days and create code and develop stuff that I am quite proud of.

I’m collaborating with people who are amazing and I’m so thankful to be able to work with them.

I’ve worked on projects for brands that are just as impressive – some more so – that when I worked for huge agencies.

That said, my future plans are to re-evaluate my circumstances every 6 months. I don’t want to get complacent and I want to make sure I keep my options open. There are some things I miss from working at an agency, but these days I think I found a good path to follow for a bit.

Are you an indie web dev? I would love to talk more about these things.

| 5 Comments

  • Brad Colbow

    Awesome, thanks for sharing, love hearing this kind of stuff. The bad news is that scheduling never gets easier. I’m fighting that beast off with a sword right now. I’m only working 2 days a week at the moment, and I have a huge new project that wants me onsite for 3 weeks full time. Do I take the new project and try my best to still serve the old or do I turn down the full time gig so that I don’t do anything to upset the current good client?

    Also, Jamie’s advice is awesome here. I’ve been burned waiting for a signed contract to come in before.

    • Brad – I 100% agree. I ran into this once when I turned down a project I really wanted to take on because i was *pretty* sure another project I had would overlap. The overlapping project ended up getting delayed, and I missed out on the project I wanted when it turned out I could have taken it on with time to spare!

  • leaf

    ‘Now? Frameworks, pre-processors, compilers, static site generators, a million cms’s, grunt, gulp, whatever “tool of the moment” etc… these “tools” have made collaborating with new people a freakin’ nightmare.’

    I think about this almost on a regular basis, I almost feel at the time of writing this were in a ‘framework bubble’. Everywhere you turn it’s ‘Oh well you should use this framework for this.. But with how your architecture is shaping up you will also need framework X,Y,Z to accomplish that. Let’s also not forget framework Y has a few drawbacks/gotchas that don’t work relatively well with framework Z. Then when you finally have all this in place you’ll be the only one that knows how to work with it.’

    Job security? Sure.. But in two weeks a new framework will come out that encompasses all your frameworks. Or better yet framework X will change it’s entire syntax in a version update, leading to countless hours refactoring because well your the only one that knows how it works.

    GO TEAM.. YOU! (/rant)

  • Rich Hauck

    Congrats. I wonder how you’re doing being that I’m commenting on an old post.

    I’ve been self-employed for 10 years and found that I often overbook myself out of necessity. Naturally, I hate it when I’m holding things up, but I’ve found that I need to have ongoing work as a cushion when clients delay the schedule.

  • Nathan Swartz

    When it comes to timelines and when clients hop on board, I’ve had a great rule that I put out there right from the beginning: “I need a signed contract and the deposit made by XX/XX/2015 to secure your place in my schedule.” Usually I give them a week to make the deposit, and doing so locks in a specific start date. No other timeline other than “about a month” or “about six weeks” needs to be given because I just try and explain to all clients that getting something good isn’t about getting it tomorrow. The old mechanic shop sign, “Fast, cheap and quality. You can only have two.”

    As for frameworks, blah! Frameworks are just bloat. They might save time once you get to learn them, but they’re just a ton of extra stuff most sites don’t need. Code from scratch, stick to Photoshop + your code editor. That’s the way to go.

    Ten years in though and my schedule still goes from easy design weeks where I’m out the door at noon because I’ve got everything done to crazy hectic week-after-weeks where every design project is now at the coding stage and I’m burning holes in my fingers trying to get everything done. I don’t think many people know how to avoid that and not go broke.