If you are an IT Contractor working on-site and would like to become a full-time Microsoft Freelancer, you might need to think differently to succeed.
Note: I started to write this post as a response to a couple of comments on Ant Clay’s Employers: Are you prepared for the IR35 ticking time-bomb?, but decided it was probably better as an article…
If you are currently serving clients as an independent contractor, by working on-site, then you are likely to be the main product of your business. The downside is, if you’re away or off sick, you won’t get paid. As you can’t scale or clone yourself, it also means you are limited by what you can deliver on any given day.
Changing to the freelancer model, there are ways to not only get paid but also solve that “scale” problem.
In this article, I want to share what I would do if I had to become a freelancer on a platform like Collab365 MicroJobs.
First let’s be straight, if you quit today (maybe due to forced changes like Ant describes), and want to earn the same as a Freelancer (immediately), it’s going to be really “challenging”.
You might get a few sales if you market yourself, but it does take time. You firstly need to be offering what people want and at a price they are willing to pay. Instead of an agent bringing you large contracts every 6 months, you need to learn how to market yourself to many clients across the World.
However, if you can make the transition, freelancing offers many benefits:
1. You get to work from anywhere and enjoy great freedom.
2. The number of potential clients you can serve will expand to the entire world, not just somewhere within a commute of your home.
3. You will get more job experience, variation, and hopefully more enjoyable experiences because you will work for clients in all forms of industry.
4. You no longer have to travel to work. Let’s assume it takes you 1 hour to get from your office desk to your home. That’s now nearly three weeks you get back over a year (or two years over a 40-year career).
How good does that sound!
Anyway, let’s get back to what I’d do! Hopefully, it will give you some different ways and ideas to think about “going for it”.
What are my goals as a Freelancer?
First up, I’d take a step back and set myself some goals:
– I’d want to be able to earn money on “auto-pilot”, meaning not everything I sell should require “oodles of my time”. This will protect me against sickness and allow me not to stress while on holiday. (I always detested not earning while sat on the beach!)
– I’d also want to specialise in “one thing” and become an expert in it. Why “one thing”? Tbh, I learned many years ago; it’s both impossible and frustrating to keep up with everything Microsoft has going on. SharePoint was hard enough. I would want to become a master of one tech/area and not have to think, “Oh great! MORE stuff to learn”.
– I’d also want to be able to set prices for what I was worth, rather than race other freelancers to the bottom price.
– And, most importantly, to ensure that whoever paid for my MicroJob, received an amazingly successful outcome. Ensuring customer success would then give me positive reviews and a great chance of repeat business.
How on earth could I fulfill all those goals?
Step 1: Pick a specialism.
I’d pick something I enjoy doing and learn that well. I would find an online training course, attend a conference such as GlobalCon1, and also get someone on MicroJobs to help me level up and mentor me in those early stages. Getting paid help means I can shortcut my route to success and also build a good relationship should I ever need to “buddy-up” on a Gig. (Some Freelancers are already doing this).
Step 2: Do some research.
I’d then begin doing some research on tech forums, vendors sites, app stores, conference agendas to discover what’s in demand. Doing this research would give me a good indicator of what kind of problems people are struggling with.
Step3: Build something to sell.
Now that I’ve learned something well enough to offer to others and also got a clear picture of what they are asking for, I’d create a pre-canned solution. The solution should take me 1-3 weeks to build and be good enough to sell to thousands of customers.
It would have to be a small, “granular” solution as I would want to price it in the range of 200-500$. Something cheap enough to be bought on a credit card but good enough to supplement my daily income and eventually even become my main source of income!
Going small offers these advantages:
– It means if no one wants what I’ve built, I’ve not wasted months of effort.
– It means I am more likely to be found in particular Google and platform searches. People don’t search for a “Power Apps Freelancer”, they search for “Time Recording Power App”.
– It means I can create lots of solutions to granular problems, increasing my chances of sales.
– It also means I don’t have a support nightmare on my hands, as my solutions are simple.
As an example, if I chose “Power Apps” as my specialism, I would find out what’s always coming up in forums like on Facebook groups.
Anyway, for this example, let’s say my research ended up in me deciding to build a “Time recording” Power App.
I’d go and build that, record a great video on how to use it, do awesome screenshots and provide a compelling overview for it.
One I have it built, I have 2 options:
I could put it for sale on my own website. However, then I have to worry about building and marketing the website, plus payment and more importantly, I would find it harder to do the “real kicker” of this idea (coming next).
As I am biased and my solution is Microsoft-based, I would place it on Collab365 MicroJobs (as a MicroJob) and then add extra’s that buyers can add to their order.
Against My MicroJob, I would offer these extras:
– blocks of time to customise the Power App to meet the buyer’s requirements.
– a block of time to customise it further over X weeks.
– Include extra documentation on how it works.
– “handover training” so the buyer can maintain it themselves. (I would probably have this as a separate MicroJob.)
Doing the above, now means that people could buy my Power App, while I sleep and I’d only need a small amount of my time to deliver it. On top of that, a certain percentage of my extra’s would be purchased increasing my sale value and allowing me to charge more premium rates as the customer already wants what I have.
As I ensured customer success, I would then get great reviews on my MicroJob encouraging others to purchase as well. (This is why I wouldn’t bother with my own website approach).
The example I used is around Power Apps, but you could relate this to anything you can package:
- Short training videos,
- Tools / Utils, etc.
The result of this approach is that I am now able to sell something simple to multiple clients that doesn’t cost lots of my time.
The buyer will want my solution because people always go for the quickest shortcut to success.
For example, if I offered a MicroJobs that gave the same outcome such as:
- “I will build you any Power App in 3 days”,
- “Buy my Power Apps Time recording App”,
Which one do you think they would buy, (assuming they were hunting for a time recording solution on Power apps)? Which one is most likely to come up in a Google/Platform search?
*Update*: I got a couple of messages back about this being great for developer-focused people but I am not a developer or Power User.
If you specialize more around user adoption, frameworks, project management, governance, compliance, it’s harder, but not impossible.
A few examples of would you could do:
– Think about 2-hour training, videos, ebooks.
– In-depth guides, reports, research, analysis (e.g Gartner reports)
– Create mini frameworks, processes to sell.
– Hook up with other developer-minded freelancers and get a tool that you could sell (which leads to your expertise consultancy).
I agree it’s a bit more of a challenge but you must create something that’s both highly congruent to your specialism and valuable enough for people to pay for.
Example: Assume I was a “Scrum Master” and wanted to help others set-up great processes around their Microsoft-based projects.
I would create an offer such as the “Ultimate Scrum Masters Kit”, which includes:
- explainer videos by me
- branded planning cards
- guide: how to setup planner, Teams for tracking
- guide: how to find and engage with short-term experts on Sprints
- [more… (hopefully you get the idea.)
Create enough value in your “kit” and niche it by technology and/or industry. It’s a good idea if you angle it towards a niche as this will allow you to stand out from competitors and also makes the potential buyer feel like you’re so much closer to their current problems.
Why do I need to target a niche?
For example, if your BMW 5-Series kept cutting out and if both cost the same, would you prefer to send it to a general car mechanic or an engineer or who builds the exact model of your BMW?
Anyway, once your Kit is put together, your custom extra’s (“Upsells”) could be:
- “I will sit in and advise on your Sprint planning sessions”.
- “I will run a retrospective for you”
- “I will run your stand-ups for 1 week”
- “I will give you one-on-one training”.
Do ‘Expert Calls’ to learn more about your customers
To supplement my income and get a good feel for what people are struggling with, I’d also offer a MicroJob to book an expert call with me. This is actually something new and we’re running a pilot now. Not only would I learn much more about “simple solutions” I could build, but this would allow me to earn extra and timebox how long it’d take. (Great if you’re transitioning from full time to freelance).
Take a look at the “Expert Calls” we’ve got in our pilot.
There’s plenty more I could do to improve this, but I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Happy to answer any comments.
BTW, If you need some inspiration, some of our existing Freelancers are already offering MicroJobs similar to this idea:
I will provide and set up a PowerApp Holiday App for Office 365
Make your SharePoint migrations easier with this Script Kit
Anyway, hope this gives you some food for thought!