It’s a bit early for new years resolutions, but I don’t believe in new years resolutions anyway so oh well.
I’ve been self-employed for nearly two years now, and an ongoing question is whether I should stay that way. I keep moving the goal posts for when it’s time to quit and get a day job, so this post is my attempt to fix a set of goal posts (or, well, to fix the derivative of the goal post’s position over time. More on that in a bit), as setting concrete decision criteria is the best way to deal with the various biases my brain throws out.
First, cards on the table: The reason this is a question at all is that from a financial point of view my attempts to go it alone are so far a failure. I am currently earning significantly less than I did in my first year as a software developer.
I didn’t go into this for the money – instead I wanted the freedom to work on things like Hypothesis, which I genuinely think makes the world of software development a much better place but nobody would pay me a salary to work on – but unfortunately I do still need money to live, and the financial aspect has become a significant enough source of stress that it’s come to dominate my decision making around this.
Additionally, I have the major problem that none of this is recurring – everything I’ve earned in the last year has been the result of artisanal hand-crafted contracts, largely of a form which have not been amenable to repeating. On top of that, there have been a number of potential contracts which I sunk a lot of work into getting that ended up not panning out, which is extra depressing when it happens.
The result is a weird sort of boom and bust cycle where when things are going well I’m making a tonne of money, but things are not going well often enough that it adds up to doing well in aggregate, and I can never count on any of it until the money is more or less in the bank.
Some/all of this is because I am bad at sales and marketing, and i should learn to do better at sales and marketing, but my track record so far does not suggest that I am going to do that at a rate which is sufficient to help.
The result is that this is all significantly more stressful than just earning a salary would be, and that it sucks most of my desire to do this because as well as making the whole process unenjoyable it also causes me to significantly doubt that what I’m doing is worthwhile – if people tell you that they love your stuff, but that the price they’re willing to pay for it is £0, is that really a worthwhile thing to be doing?
So it’s time to refocus. If the problem is this boom and bust cycle, the solution is to get a steady baseline. As you have probably guessed from the title, my goal for 2017 is recurring revenue.
The following are the rules that I’m setting for myself:
- My goal is £2000/month recurring revenue.
- My base deadline for achieving this goal is end of December 2017.
- Every £5000 of non-recurring revenue allows me to push the deadline date back one month (but I should think long and hard about whether it’s worth doing so).
- If things look obviously hopeless before then I may quit early.
- If by the time the deadline arrives I have not achieved the goal, I am going to go get a normal person day job (though I won’t abandon the things I’m doing to get the recurring revenue).
This isn’t a lot of money. £2000/month is still less than my first year salary as a developer (which was £27.5k / year + a bonus scheme), but the important thing about it is that it’s more than enough to live on, which makes any revenue I make on top of that a nice bonus and makes money stop being a source of stress.
Note that the goal is recurring revenue, not passive income. I’m not looking to earn money for doing no work, I’m just looking to reliably earn money. Retainer schemes where I do, say, a day of work a month for a company sound great.
Concrete planning and how you can help
On my end, I have two or three possible projects – one in the works, one in planning, one in a vague concept stage – that should help with this. I don’t think between them they’ll make £2000/month by the end of 2017, but they might get me a decent chunk of the way there. I will promote these heavily to you when they are in a suitable state for that.
I now have a Patreon for this blog. I don’t expect it to be even close to enough to achieve this goal on its own, but in my most optimistic moments I think it might maybe get me a quarter of the way there. So if you enjoy my writing and would like me to continue it at my fairly prolific rate, please do consider becoming a patron. Note: This Patreon will self-destruct on the recurring revenue deadline date if it has not reached $500/month by then.
Finally, if you work for a software company (or any other sort of company!), do consider if there’s some sort of way I can help you on an ongoing basis – from a corporate point of view, £2000/month is peanuts. If I can get, say, five companies who are interested in paying for a day of work a month from me on an ongoing basis then I would immediately blow this goal out of the water and I could go back to worrying about more interesting things. So, think about it. Email me if you want to discuss how I can help (with no implied commitment on your part – I’m happy to just talk about it) – it doesn’t have to be Hypothesis related at all. It turns out I know quite a lot about this software lark and I’m more than happy to help people develop it in any way they’d find useful. I’d also be happy to help with mentoring new developers if you want someone to take the load off your existing senior developers.