Been a freelancer for 10+ years, thinking of quitting
I have been doing freelance web development for over 10 years. Before that, I worked as a software developer. My specialty has always been making database driven PHP based websites to meet small business solutions. My best year was in 2007, when I grossed over $120,000. I had clients begging to work with me - I was booked up for months in advance. Ever since then, I've noticed a slow decline in demand for my services. Clients are increasingly unwilling to pay what I am charging. Cheap overseas competition has driven down prices for web development in recent years down to levels that have essentially priced me out of work. I have also found that many web solutions that small businesses need can increasingly be met by a growing number of templates and plugins with content management systems like Joomla, Drupal, and Wordpress. It's gotten to the point where most of my work consists of making a Drupal or Joomla website for someone, and simply customizing the PHP code of certain extensions. The problem is that this doesn't take very long, and so I don't get as much from the project as I would have gotten years ago. It's looking like this year I will have made less than $60,000, which is about half of what I made six years ago. I also find myself working an extra 20 hours a week just doing marketing to attract new clients. I used to have clients coming to me - now I have to actively seek them out. It seems like the world of freelance web development just isn't as lucrative as it used to be. Is anyone else having this experience?
I'm really considering giving up my web development job altogether, not even doing it on the side anymore. I just got a job offer with a company doing PHP programming. They would pay me $70k a year which isn't as much money as I used to make freelancing, but I don't have to deal with constantly finding new clients anymore, and I get to actually specialize in PHP coding rather than trying to do everything from marketing to graphics design to SEO to billing. If I drop all my current freelancing work and just focus on my new $70k a year job, I will also be working about 20 hours a week less, and I will never have to deal with phone calls and emails after 5 pm or on weekends. I also feel like I'm getting older (late 30s now) and don't have the energy I used to... and any successful freelancer needs a lot of energy to find success. I feel like I'd be selling out and turning in some of my independence. I used to be proud that I was running my own business. But the times are changing and it just doesn't make sense any more for me to be a freelance developer... I have heard of some freelance developers here in the United States that are still doing well because they have managed to establish themselves in a niche market, but I never did that. I've always been a generalist, catering to the general small business market. I had a lot of success as a generalist years ago, but that success is quickly dwindling. My kids are growing up and I want to be able to retire... I just don't want to work 60 hours a week anymore if I'm making less than $60k a year. I'm tired and worn out and frustrated with the way the market is shifting away from skilled developers and towards cheap overseas labor. I want to spend more time with my family. At the company that wants to hire me, they said if things go well that they could bump me up to a $90k a year salary after six months... it would be database programming, stuff I've always been good at.
I'm really starting to regret ever taking the freelancing path. I wish I had just gone to college like everyone else and gotten a normal job. I'm now almost 40, have no college degree, and am making less than $60k a year, and going broke because I have a wife and kids to support.
This is a major issue for all sectors of the web development industry. The overseas outsourcers are charging 1/10th or less for a low quality product and businesses go for it. This is the main reason I'm getting my CS degree; I have no plans to continue doing web development (I'm going towards systems programming).
They would pay me $70k a year which isn't as much money as I used to make freelancing, but I don't have to deal with constantly finding new clients anymore
You also won't have to deal with the additional taxes which freelancers pay, you won't have the enormous amount of non-billable hours freelancers deal with either.
Web design/development are not the only places where this problem is taking place: pretty much any type of work that can be outsourced within the global market is experiencing similar problems.
clients who are more concerned with price than quality or service
clients who aren't interested in becoming educated about the work they need
"me first, to hell with the rest of you" attitudes among freelancers
The Four-Hour Workweek
So, would it be possible to this job and do college, too? You might still get to see your family more, plus you'd be preparing yourself for a more corporate future as most of those places will require an under-grad degree for advancement beyond a certain level.
I don't see getting my degree as really an option anymore. I looked into it, and I'd basically be going to school part time at night for upwards of 10 years. I'm not spending the majority of my weeknights in my 40s at a university. I'd rather be with my family. Plus, the only companies that really care about a college degree for PHP programming when someone has as much experience as I do are the large corporate companies that I'd rather not work for anyways. I can make over $100k easily with only my highschool diploma. I don't really need to make more than that; I don't need to be rich to be happy. Most smaller companies don't care about college degrees if you have lots of experience.
I went ahead and accepted that job, and started today. This stuff is amazingly simple compared to what I'm used to doing as a freelancer. I'm already helping the project manager with PHP and CSS questions that nobody else in the company knows the answer to.