We interviewed freelance rookies and a few freelance veterans. But what happens when a successful veteran is ready for something more? Freelancing doesn’t have to be a lifelong career, but sometimes moving on can be overwhelming.
Today we talk with veteran developer Jared Atchison. He used to be a freelancer. We’ve talked with him before about getting started in freelancing (parts one and two) and his best and worst clients. But since then Jared had moved on from freelancing and co-founded WPForms. So this is a great opportunity to talk with a successful freelancer who still transitioned out of freelancing.
“Once growth stagnated, I started to get bored. Part of the challenge and enjoyment I got out of running my own business was growing it.” -Jared Atchison
We talked with Jared about why he moved out of freelancing, how he knew it was time, and what he’s still learning.
What prompted you to transition out of freelancing?
It was really a combination of things: growth, boredom, and competition.
After successfully freelancing for over half a decade, it got to a point where growth was getting stagnate. I was making a very good living and definitely had no complaints, but I was hitting a ceiling. Meaning I got to a point where I couldn’t realistically keep raising my rates and I can’t add hours to a day, so the result was—without a massive amount of work (hiring others, doing big retainer/maintenance contracts, etc)—I was out of runway. Now don’t get me wrong, this is a good problem to have. In fact, I suspect most people who run into this issue don’t see it as an issue at all, but for me personally, it led to the next factor: boredom.
Once growth stagnated, I started to get bored. Part of the challenge and enjoyment I got out of running my own business was growing it. In addition to that, from a technical standpoint, I felt that all my client projects were doing the same things over and over again. New projects started to feel like a “grind,” instead of exciting. I started to gravitate to side projects where I could do and learn new fun things.
Lastly, as WordPress has grown, the competition has continued to increase. There is no barrier to entry to throw up a site and start marketing yourself as a WordPress developer. So tracking down and fostering leads became a lot more work.
How did you know it was time? Was it hard to cut the strings and be done with freelance work?
Toward the end of my freelancing journey, the majority of the projects no longer excited me. Converting a PSD to a theme—check. Add a blog—check. Sprinkle in some custom features/functionality—check. Rinse and repeat. I know other very successful WordPress developers who are completely happy (and very successfully) maintaining this routine. I, however, learned I am not one of those developers and I need to keep learning and taking on new challenges to feel productive. So after much self-reflecting and realizing this, I knew it was time to consider a change.
How did freelancing prepare you for this new venture?
A big part of freelancing, or at least successful freelancing, is running your business. Doing all the things outside your code editor—marketing, leads, writing pitches, wrangling budget/finances, etc. These all were items I really enjoyed doing freelancing and thankfully these aspects all translated over to WPForms. If anything they became even more important!
What’s been the biggest difference since leaving freelancing and starting your own venture?
I work more but am much happier. Seems weird, I know. But with WPForms, our work is high impact—we’re used on over 1 million sites right now. So I really feed off of that and get up in the morning energized to get to work. The other thing is WPForms is a rather big, and in some places, complex plugin. As a result, I’m constantly pushing myself to learn more, which gives a real sense of self fulfillment.
How did you break through and become successful with WPForms? What strategies or approaches seemed to work best?
Hands down the best and most important decision was not going down this journey alone. I co-founded WPForms with Syed Balkhi (WPBeginner, OptinMonster, Monster Insights, etc.) and definitely credit that to much of our success. Specifically, choosing a business partner that compliments your own skill set. While I was familiar with running a business, marketing, and similar from freelancing, my strong points were around writing code. Syed is a marketer at heart, so we were able to combine our skill sets and it turned out to be a real winning combination. We work great together, push each other, and I think it’s reflected in the product customers use every day.
The other important thing is very early on defining your audience and your goals. Instead of making a contact form plugin which simply copied existing solutions out there, we examined the market to see what the pain points were and what was missing. We were able to correctly identify that most existing solutions were actually quite difficult to use for “normal” users. So instead of being worried about feature parity against others, we looked at how can we make things super easy to use, because at the end of the day most users are not power users. That approach really resonated with users. If we look at a feature and determine there is no “easy way” to execute in which our parents could figure it out, there’s a good chance we won’t include it.
As a veteran in the tech space, there are always areas where you can learn and grow. Where do you think you still need to improve?
WPForms continues to grow at a healthy pace and at this point I spend less than half my days writing code. Instead I spend time executing marketing plans, helping our support team, doing peer reviews for our developers, and things of that nature. Frankly, I really enjoy it. But these are not all areas I’m well versed in coming from freelance. So my top priority is putting in time to be the best manager and team player I can be.