Developers: David Colgan helps you escape 9-to-5 employment by building an effective freelance business you'll love to run.

Your Own Little Utopia: Freelance From Scratch Part 1

We got into this because we weren't satisfied with employment, so make your business how you want

Welcome to part 1 of a 10 part series! If you are new, see the intro: Let's build a freelance webdev practice from scratch.

  1. Planing out your own little utopia (You are here)
  2. Becoming a purple cow
  3. Creating your online dating profile
  4. Increasing your luck surface area to get lucky
  5. Fishing for compliments
  6. Covering your butt with lawyers
  7. The fine art of receiving money
  8. Constructing your home recording studio
  9. The feeding and watering of leads
  10. Actually doing the work

Build your own little utopia

The book Anything You Want by Derek Sivers is a strong inspiration for my whole approach to business. He suggests that one of the best parts about running your own business is that you can make the rules.

Derek saw back in the early 2000s that there was demand from indie musicians to sell their music online. And being a musician himself, he asked, "What would my ideal arrangement with a music seller be?" As he says in the book:

I wrote down my utopian dream-come-true distribution deal from my musician's point of view. In a perfect world, my distributor would...

  • Pay me every week.
  • Show me the full name and address of everyone who bought my CD. (Because those are my fans, not the distributor's.)
  • Never kick me out for not selling enough. (Even if I sell only one CD every five years, it’ll be there for someone to buy.)
  • Never allow paid placement. (Because it's not fair to those who can't afford it.)

And as he found, those four little rules became the guiding principles for his business, and he attracted customers who also wanted to join his little utopia.

Otherwise you might as well just get/keep a 9-to-5 development job

Sometimes people advise, "You should sacrifice now and take whatever gigs you can find." The problem with this strategy is that if you take on freelance work you really don't want to do, one of two things will happen:

  1. You'll do a bad job, and that will hurt your reputation.
  2. You'll do a good job, and you'll be rewarded with more of that same kind of work.

Programming is a very in-demand skill right now. The salaries are large. A competent developer can do very well, and if you are an employee, you don't even have to deal with all of this marketing and sales stuff.

And so I say, if you aren't working towards building a business you actually want to operate, you should just get a job. If you aren't the one setting the rules, that's literally just a crappier version of employment.

And, this is why I emphasize, don't quit your dayjob immediately!

You might say, "Well David, easy for you to say don't take work you don't like having been established as a freelancer already."

This is exactly why I strongly recommend not quitting your 9-to-5 right away. If you slowly make freelance income a larger and larger part of your income, you can take a lot more risks, refuse clients who aren't a good fit, and make sure your business is developing in the way you want. Not being in a frenzied panic over rent is the best way to make business risks way less stressful.

For those following along at home, I present The Less Boring Freelance Utopia Planning Guide downloadable PDF document of destiny (and an offer to you)

If you are serious about wanting to quit your job and bust out into freelancing, I encourage you to download these questions of ponderance, go to a coffee shop or other place you can think without internet access to distract you, and write down your answers.

Download The Less Boring Freelance Utopia Planning Guide

(No hoops required to jump through, this is a direct link to the file.)

Here's my offer to you: If you put in some real effort into answering these questions, send me your answers to and I'll get on a video call with you to discuss them and flesh them out further.

Here are the questions in the document. I'll post my own answers to these in a future email.

1. What is your grand overarching goal in life?

I did this only relatively recently. After brain dumping onto paper, I suddenly realized that everything I was working on had a common theme. Making that common theme front and center has given me a real focus and allows me to ask of any opportunity, "Does this help further my grand overarching goal in life?" If yes proceed if no then don't.

What idealistic aspirational end goal do you want to further? The most fulfilling business usually have an aspect of "mission" that helps people solve a grand problem. Do you want to do such things as:

  • Help entrepreneurs succeed?
  • Help reduce corporate waste?
  • Help save the bees?
  • Help people enjoy their work?
  • Help your family grow and thrive?
  • Help reduce corruption in your city?

2. What do you want your day to day activities to look like?

Instead of only focusing on the end results you are trying to achieve, consider what the day to day and even minute to minute aspects of your work will be. Make sure you are actually willing to do these things.

Some possible day to day activities to consider:

  • What technologies do you want to use?
  • What hours do you want to work?
  • What kinds of coding problems do you want to solve? Number crunching, UI, CRUD, visual, etc?
  • What team size do you like best? Solo? Large teams?
  • Do you want to do more code writing, more advising, more writing?
  • How many hours do you want to work? When do you want to work?

3. What end results/business outcomes are important to you?

Someone will always tell you that your goals are wrong.

Ask 20 people what you should do with your life and you'll probably get 20 different answers, some held very passionately. But often this is more of a reflection on the person giving the advice than your own situation. Advice often reflects the giver's experience without taking into account what you actually want and will do well with.

So what is important to you? What are you working to accomplish?

  • Money?
  • Prestige?
  • Free time?
  • Flexibility?
  • Time spent with family?
  • Travel?
  • Using new tech?

There are no wrong answers here!

4. What slog work do you hate the least? What slog work do you hate the most?

When I was in college I thought about being a graphic designer. Then after one "digital tools" class, and finding myself staring at the same image for 30 hours drawing little circles, I promptly changed my major back to computer science.

Another person might look at me staring at the same black screen with colored text hunting bugs as even more horrible. But, I love programming and can push through the difficult parts.

The Slog happens in any project. Which type of work's Slog can you best deal with? Which Slog can you absolutely not deal with?

All jobs are a Slog sometimes, but the Slog you hate the least may be a good direction aim for. The slog you hate the most will kill your motivation, so make sure to avoid creating a business around doing those things. So what are your acceptable and unacceptable Slogs?

Backend dev? Or, frontend dev? Design? CSS? Heavy duty algorithmic coding? Or, building CRUD apps? Public speaking? Writing?

5. Extra credit: Read Anything You Want

Read Anything You Want by Derek Sivers. It's a lovely little book and very short and easy to read. Does anything from it stand out to you?

Complete The Less Boring Freelance Utopia Planning Guide and I'll get on a video call with you to discuss your answers

If you go out on your own, you are going to have to make decisions, and it's sometimes difficult to believe you can actually choose these things. I know it's been hard for me, and I've been independent for 10 years now. And as we said, someone will always be willing to tell you that everything you are focusing on is wrong. And that's fine.

Download The Less Boring Freelance Utopia Planning Guide

Send me your answers to and I'll get on a video call with you to discuss them and flesh them out further.

I first sent this article as a letter to my mailing list. New letters go out each week!

Learn to Freelance from
The Less Boring Letters

Learn freelancing from someone who's gone down this path before. In the the Less Boring Letters, I'll teach you everything I know about ditching the 9-to-5. Build a profitable new business that you love, benefitting from all of my trial and error.

"I send all my newsletters straight to an email box I almost never read... except David's! Insightful, honest, sometimes downright hilarious, and truly helpful even after years of freelancing."

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