I recently decided to start interviewing freelancers from all around the world who want to share their work experience and knowledge with others. After a couple of weeks of getting things situated, I’m now ready to share with you a short interview with our first guest.
This week I am introducing a freelance web developer from Chernivtsi, Ukraine and owner of RubikLabs (www.rubiklabs.com) – he was kind enough to take the time to chat with me and also write about his work experience. I specifically asked him some questions that our readers would find useful and could be applied in their own lives – things like how he began his web development business, and also about his daily experiences in dealing with projects and working with clients.
So let’s get to it! Read Alex’s story and please feel free to share your comments afterward.
How long have you been working as a freelance web developer?
Alex: I have been working for more than 2 years now as a full-time freelance web developer. The type of work I do – it’s mostly custom WordPress development (back-end) and web design (front-end).
How did you get started and what did you do to get your first project?
Alex: Actually the idea of becoming a freelancer came to me during my full-time work as a front-end developer for a big company. My friend came to visit me from Canada and eventually we began discussing our jobs. He mentioned that he knew of a company in Montreal, Canada that was looking to outsource their development work to Ukraine. I decided to apply for the job and was hired. Fortunately, my friend Vitaliy was able to help me get this together so I’m thankful for his help.
It wasn’t long after that when I created my first freelance website. That company liked my work and promised to give me more. And I didn’t wait long at all – they gave me plenty of work in both front-end design, and in back-end development with some consulting.
During that winter it was crazy – I had to manage my full-time job in addition to the freelance work, plus I was taking French language classes at a local university, so I decided to leave my primary job and start working as a freelancer. Our first contract was with that Canadian agency and it was a good start for me.
Were there any difficulties in getting started?
The only difficulty I found was setting up all the legal paperwork as a self-employed contractor, and all the other paperwork such as invoices and contracts – all this stuff had nothing to do with the real work although you are required to do it anyway.
Please tell us about your work schedule. Do you work a normal set of work hours during the day?
That’s one of the most difficult parts of being a freelancer – work schedule. Because I live in Ukraine and most of my clients are in North America, we have a difference in time. And although emails are a great way to communicate, they don’t work when you need to make a quick decision.
As a result, I always try to work mornings when my head is fresh and full of ideas, and in some cases I will work until 2-3am if there is anything urgent and my client needs to communicate online during a project. After these late nights, I’m unable to wake up early so I simply adjust my work schedule for the next day and work a different set of hours.
Also, I could work nights if I wanted to, but I don’t recommend this to anybody. I’ve tried many times and can definitely say the productivity is lower than working mornings or even days. You can spend hours trying to fix a programming “bug” at night – but when you’ve had good rest you can work it out within 10 minutes during morning hours.
And I usually try to work not more than 8 hours during the day, even though I used to work 12-14 hours each day in order to get my business up and running. That’s now in the past because I have built up my business.
How do you deal with sitting at a computer all day? Do you experience any pain from working?
When I work, I sit down in front of my computer and when I’m not sitting – I don’t work. And working at a computer doesn’t bother me overall – even bank clerks sit at the front of the computer so it’s common in our modern world.
Physically, I do experience some discomfort from sitting for many hours, although I do have a very comfortable chair that helps some. It still doesn’t help all that much when you work all day though. And I often experience wrist pain, so I switched to a large ergonomic mouse after using a smaller one for laptops about a year ago, and it helped me a lot. I notice that a small amount of pain still comes back, so I’m thinking about switching to a trackball mouse – I’m hoping that it will help.
What do you enjoy the most AND the least about being a freelance developer?
The least enjoyable aspect of freelancing is paperwork. Although I try not to focus on it while working, it is one of those things that all of us have to do as freelancers. All of those invoices, determining hourly rates and cost estimates – it shouldn’t be a primary part of the developer’s job, but it really takes focus and time.
The most enjoyable aspect of freelancing is the schedule. The big advantage is that I am king of my time, I can do whatever, however, wherever I want. And this is a bigger advantage than you would think if you’re used to working for an employer. You can go to another city to visit your friends with your laptop, or you can start working in your garden with a cup of tea or in a cafe – that’s what makes freelancing so good.
What makes Ukraine unique in web development/design compared to other countries?
Ukraine is a great country to live in, it has a beautiful nature and friendly people. Initially, the only problem I found for myself was the laws and the bank structure. You need to submit numerous documents before you can become a legal business. But this is in the past, so now I just enjoy.
As for Ukrainian developers – most of them have the same skills overall compared to anywhere else in the world. Although in my own experience I’ve worked with developers from India who aren’t quite as responsible in writing clean programming code compared to some of the developers I’ve seen in our country. Of course, that is my own experience, and it could have been a case of working with the wrong people.
Do you currently work by yourself or do you have employees? How do you see yourself growing?
I currently work by myself. Although when I do have too much work, I share it with my other friends who do freelancing. In this way I switch to work as a project-manager.
If I do decide to grow one day, my focus will shift to more of a focus on quality. I would likely hire full-time developers and testers so that I could offer more high-quality services.
How many hours per week do you work? How do you get paid?
It can be up to 80 hours per week working at the front of the computer which is really hard. This does not happen very often, so in most cases I’m working 40 hours per week.
Can you tell us about how you approach working with your clients?
I love clients who want to improve, learn and go further. And I don’t work best with those clients who are concerned only with money.
As for communication, I work mostly though Skype conversations, chat, voice or both. I also work with Skype to do screen-sharing on my projects. I track my project time with the “On The Job” app for Mac. To manage all of my work tasks, I use the task management area in Wunderlist which also synchronizes with my phone. I use Skitch for screenshots. If I’m not using any of the above programs, I ususally just communicate by email, so I never lose any of my work.
What advice would you give to those people who want to start their own Freelance business?
Just be honest, be on time, and try to be a good web developer, web designer, or freelance writer. Just give 100%. Also, keep in touch with clients and never think of money – the money will come automatically when you’re not focused on it. And be aware that some clients will try and avoid paying you, although most of them do, in fact, appreciate the work that you do.
Hopefully you were able to collect some important information from Alex’s work experience. Again, Alex has been working as a freelance developer for over 2 years now, and you can obviously see from his occasional 80-hour work weeks that he lives the true lifestyle of a freelance developer. He obviously can shed some light on the realities of freelance work.
And I’ve also experienced many of the same type of situations regarding things like work schedule or different types of clients, and I fully can tell you that these experiences are real life. So I urge you to use all possible resources you can to get your business up and running, then refer back to our site from time to time in order to share your experiences or learn something new.
Thanks again for reading.