The Hidden Costs of Contract Work
So many people compare money made from selling a product to how much they could have made by consulting. It works something like this: a product made $10,000 and took 200 hours to develop, so the hourly rate was $50 an hour. Since the creator can bill out his or her time at $100 an hour, the time would have been better spent on contract work rather than building the product.
I hate this math.
For me it’s not the same at all. I enjoy time spent on my own projects far more than time building something for another company, so that alone makes it worth it. But for those who don’t care as much about whether or not they enjoy their work, think about these two words:
Visibility and Credibility
Nearly all contract projects are private. If you did work for an exciting, well known company, chances are you signed a contract saying you can’t talk about it. Even on the projects you can share, the best you usually get is a screenshot with a one-paragraph explanation in your portfolio.
Compare that to your own project, where you can talk about it as much as you like: explanation blog posts, case studies of your work in action, and breakdowns of each step of the process. The best part is that your name is prominently associated with it.
If the project helps a lot of people (as many open-source projects do), then others will write their own posts about it, further increasing the visibility.
That is worth so much more than the little extra you would be paid working on a contract project that no one has heard of.
The Long Term
Next you need to take into account the long-term revenue. The App Design Handbook (the less popular of my two books) will continue to sell copies for many months to come. It won’t be at the same rate as the first couple months, but it will still be several thousand dollars a month, all without additional effort.
None of my contract projects have made me more money after they were completed. Often I get another contract, but that requires additional time and work.
So when you calculate your time spent and money made compared to your hourly rate, make sure you factor in a long enough timescale.
Do you know how it is to design some of your best work only to have a client make some truly horrible changes? Then to watch your design devolve further after the client’s family and friends start giving feedback? It’s horrible.
At times it’s made me want to give up design entirely.
Then I remember that on my own projects I have creative control. I don’t have to deal with clients from hell who will make it so I can’t even feature a design in my portfolio because I want to avoid embarrassment.
Remember all the costs
So next time you find yourself doing the math to decide whether your time is better spent consulting versus working on your own projects, make sure to factor in all the costs. Even the hidden, non-material costs.
This is one of many reasons why I’ve chosen to work on ConvertKit and other projects on my own instead of doing contract work.
By the way, ConvertKit will be opening up to the public in a few weeks. If you want to get in before that happens (with a discount) preorder now.
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