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The Internet has become the new land of dreams where anything can happen. Many of us flock to make a living online as tales of people making bank emerge in the suggested and recommendations list from the rubble of survivor bias.
But living online isn’t a get rich quick kind of scheme and requires a particular kind of personality and follow through to make it work.
Everyone has their reasons for going remote and disconnecting themselves from the office. Mine is to cut out the commute, spend time with the toddler, and have more control over the type of work that came my way.
Here is a definitive guide to starting a remote year as a developer.
Start with the why
When you make the decision to go remote, you need to start with your reason for doing so.
Over the past few years, I’ve attempted to go remote as a developer but failed because my why was not strong enough. Sure, I certainly disliked the commute but it wasn’t quite enough to push me over to the other side.
After I had my baby and decided that a 7–7 kind of day will no longer work, that was when I took the leap into the world of untethered work.
In truth, I’ve always wondered how digital nomads do it — globe trotting around the world whilst making a living online. It seems too good to be true. Yet, it is more possible to do so today than at any other time in history.
The Internet is a wonderful place and if used correctly, the entire world is your oyster for making money to cover, at the very least, your basic income needs.
Figure out your skills and value proposition
The issue that many have when they jump into the world of remote work is that they’re unclear about what their skills and value propositions are.
Just because you’ve decided to disconnect yourself from the traditional modes of working, it doesn’t mean that work will automatically find its way to you.
In a way, remote work is part and parcel with the booming gig economy. From what I’ve learned during my personal experiences, remote work is like running a one-man band agency.
Like anything, you need to figure out a way to sell yourself — except this time, there is no 2-page resume involved. Your value is based on the past projects you can show, current work in progress and any side projects you can muster up in order to convince potential clients to hire you. Alternatively, you can sign up to agencies or apply for an actual job that accepts a remote set up.
Whichever route you want to go down, your value proposition is as important as when you are hunting down a local 9–5. You need to define yourself so you know how to effectively pitch to potential customers and clients.
How are people going to find you?
Your online visibility is akin to networking in the digital age. Your portfolios and social presence also determine how successful you may be in the world of remote working.
If you’re applying to a traditional company that pays a salary but with the option of working remotely, their evaluation of your competency and total team fit can be determined based on what you present them with in terms of your online presence.
If you’re going down the client gig route, your online portfolio and presence may be a way for them to discover you. It also lets you set up shop as a remote freelancer and predetermine, to a certain degree, the conditions of your work. Timezones and exchange rates become part of the equation and your clients enter into a relationship with you knowing what to expect.
Be clear on the services you offer. Front end is a lucrative business but also a highly competitive one. If you want to remote freelance front end, you’re going to need a design portfolio that isn’t made from Bootstrap. Being able to do backend and infrastructure work can also leverage your game as some clients are looking for a one-stop-shop kind of developer.
This isn’t about being a unicorn. Rather, it’s about being to pitch to your clients and fulfill their wants and needs in one go.
What’s your price?
When it comes to the remote gig economy, always know your worth and ask for a price that works for you.
I’ve seen a lot of people sell themselves short because they’re afraid to ask for a higher price. Always ask for a higher price. Backend tends to pay more for front end. But if you market yourself well as a full stack developer, it’s easier to command higher prices from clients.
From my experience, it gives you and the client wiggle room to negotiate it down. When you pitch a price for a particular set of services, clients tend to also have a price in mind as well.
They’ve got a high and low band for what they’re willing to pay and you need to set your own zones of acceptability as well. If you don’t have one, then you could potentially be undercharging for your services.
Don’t worry about what others are charging. Create your own prices and keep shifting it up as you become more experienced in the art of negotiation.
Time management is still required
Just because you’re not working a 9–5, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need some sort of set hours to work with.
When you start working from home or disconnecting yourself from the office, you need to set your boundaries and figure out a schedule that works for you. With great flexibility comes the potential for great procrastination.
Be focused on what you want to achieve in the day and work ruthlessly towards it.
You can still hit the office in your pajamas if you want — when it comes to time management, you need to be disciplined enough to meet your own deadlines and requirements in the same manner as you would in a traditional 9 to 5. You’re still working, even if your hours aren’t as traditional.
For example, I work between the hours of 10:30am to 2:30pm and then another round at 8pm to about 10pm. It may seem like I’m working all day but I have my mornings and afternoons free to spend time with the toddler during her waking hours. The flexible hours are a perk of remote work and one needs to treat it with respect in order to make it work.
Don’t forget your finances
When it comes to remote work, especially with the gig set up, it’s easy to see the big paycheck from clients and forget about how it fits in your overall big picture.
There are still taxes to pay, bills to deal with and any additional living costs to cover. It’s good to have a financial runway to cover any unexpected delays in payment and figure out what your long term financial goals are.
From my experience, America and European countries tend to pay a little bit better than Asian based countries. It’s not always guaranteed but it seems to be the general trend for me.
When it comes to remote work as a developer, the rates you can command fluctuates depending on what country your client is based in. This is because the client is still looking for a bargain through exchange rate leverage. What they’re able to pay is often proportional to their own costs of running their business.
Passive income isn’t that passive
The common adage goes that if you ever get into remote work, you’ll need to build passive income streams. While this is very sound advice, it can also detract you from what you’re trying to achieve — building a remote gig that works for you on a financial, emotional and physical level.
As algorithms and people change towards content and is more active and informative, figuring out how to establish a passive income stream actually requires active involvement. There is an initial time component that goes into it and passive income isn’t a set and forget kind of gig.
Yes. You may be making money while you sleep — but you also still need to do something about it when you’re awake.
From my experience, the idea of passive income is a bit of a ruse. We often don’t see the work and hours involved to get it to the state of earning as much as it does.
Informational products, for example, tend to be the most common route when it comes to generating passive income. But you also need to remember that there is the marketing component to it if you want to actually make money from it.
What kind of remote are you looking at?
There are multiple kinds of remote available and development isn’t just limited to code.
Depending on the niche path, you can either become very good at a particular space or diversify to keep your work varied and different.
Personally, I’ve gone down the diversification route as I find it easier to connect with potential clients who are looking for a set of specific skills. Diversification allows me to swap and pick the most relevant knowledge points and present them to clients.
From what I’ve experienced, if you’re going down the gig route, you’re going to need to be a chameleon to a certain degree. Single client gigs tend to want more than what an agency would expect. You become the project manager and advisor, in addition to the developer.
If you’re going down the agency or remote company route — this tend to be fully managed for you but requires a bit more competition to get in.
The vibe is also different when it comes to own gig vs company/agency based.
This is because when you’re doing your own gig, you become your own boss and require a certain level of hustle to gain clients. On the other hand, working with an agency or company is more akin to a 9–5 — but with your own hours that suit and in a location that works for you.
Working remotely as a developer can be both rewarding and stressful at the same time. There are no sick days unless you financially provide for it. There are no paid days off unless you have your passive income streams sorted.
The risk of working the gig economy as a remote developer is as risky as a 9–5, except in a way, you have more control and say over what kind of work you allow yourself to work on.
Finding clients can be a challenge at first, especially when you’re starting to establish yourself in the community and make connections. But once you’ve got that engine rolling, life does get easier.