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#AFtalks: Working for Yourself: Balancing Freelance & Indie App Development with Brett Terpstra

Welcome to our #AFtalks recap!

This week we caught up with one of our members to discuss the pros and cons of working for yourself as a freelancer/consultant. We looked at time management, how to differentiate yourself from competitors, and what a typical day can look like.

Our guest this week was Brett Terpstra, a freelance turned indie developer behind the Marked 2 App. We asked Brett to share his experience and decisions on this topic with the questions below. Included are his answers:

Q1: What is the most difficult aspect of finding work as a freelancer/consultant in the app industry?

A: Learning when to say NO to a job. Taking the wrong gig leaves you drained, possibly broke, and rarely turns out well for the client, either.

You work too many hours on something you may or may not be happy with, the client either isn’t paying you enough to feel ok about the hours, or they’re expecting more than was contracted for.

Finding clients and jobs that are rewarding is tough starting cold. You have to learn to predict exactly how wrong a job could go, and how to tell if a client is going to be willing to pay when they start creeping the job scope.

A bad gig leaves you with no new word-of-mouth credibility and likely a shortage of time and money. It can be a hardship beyond just a few hours of work you didn’t love to begin with.

Q2: How did you price yourself?

A: That’s the second hardest part of freelancing for me. Set an hourly rate too high, you fear you won’t get clients. Too low, you end up overworked with little to show for it. And too low always attracts the aforementioned “bad gigs.” And being the “bargain” does not lead to more valuable clients in the future.

So the formula is different for everyone, I’m sure, but basic idea starts with your minimum financial needs for an average month. That’s $BASE.

Calculate how many hours you’re working (or planning to) per month. That’s $TIME.

$BASE/$TIME * 3 (or more) = hourly rate.

If it seems too high, it’s likely a good start. Rarely offer low rates to someone on a low budget. Sometimes that works out in the long run, but rarely. If they can’t afford you, you can’t afford to work for them.

Q3: How did you distinguish yourself from other freelancers/consultants?

A: Communicate effectively, whether via your website, marketing materials, or one-on-one chats. Communicate your skills, and your ability to listen and make a client feel comfortably heard and cared for. Demonstrating you can listen is not something you can put on a web page, so get some practice.

Followup: Are there any hacks for getting yourself noticed?
A: I’ve heard viral video stunts are super effective.

Just kidding. Depending on the work you’re doing, getting press on large blogs can make or break you.


1. Do something interesting.
2. Learn to write PR and develop relationships with interested bloggers.

Q4: What is the basic marketing material every freelancer/consultant should have to help find work?

A: I can speak to this better as an indie dev than a freelancer these days:

  1. A concise description of exactly what your app/service does/provides.
  2. A press kit, up-to-date, with descriptions, customer reviews, images, and all pertinent links.
  3. A growing list of press contacts

When you give your “elevator pitch”/description to someone, note what questions they ask. If you hear the same question a few times, you probably need to modify your synopsis.

Q5: Companies often have multiple people to fill specific roles for a project. How do you manage your time efficiently between all the roles you have to fill by yourself?

A: OmniFocus and the Pomodoro Technique have been working well for me. That, and I automate everything I can.

Also, hire an accountant.

Q6: How do you manage your time between consulting work and working on your own apps?

A: I suck at that. I can manage one or the other just fine, but client work is an unpredictable time factor. It’s why I do much less of the former and spend my days almost entirely on the latter.

Q7: What are some good practices for communicating with clients?

A: Learn to explain yourself in their terms. Hitting clients with your own industry vocab is rarely helpful. Be gracious, especially when dealing with critiques and requests, but don’t be a pushover. If you believe something is not in their best interest, don’t let them change it without understanding the potential downsides. I recommend building a schedule for communication. Don’t be on instant-response 24/7. Train them to wait, because you’ll eventually get a response that’s just infuriating. Sleep on it. Understand it from their point of view before replying.

Check out the rest of the insights we heard today on the #AFtalks hashtag!

Huge thanks to Brett and to all those that were part of today’s discussion! Join us for our weekly Twitter chat every Tuesday at 1pm ET (bring your friends!). See you all next week where #AFtalks about Selling Paid Apps.