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“I worked 100 hours a week and earned up to $30k monthly”: a story of a Ukrainian freelance programmer

AIN.UA collected the main insights of a story of a Ukrainian freelance programmer Oleksandr Kyetov, posted on DOU. about how he could manage to have two jobs simultaneously and work 100 hours a week for a couple of years.

“If you think that working 100 hours a week is impossible, you are wrong. But if you still think so, better even don’t try it. I do not believe in depressions, burnout, or other crap. There is a weakness, and some people don’t have it,” wrote Oleksandr.


A story of a freelance programmer

Oleksandr started his IT career in 2009 as a full-time QA. Soon after that, he learned to write a code for his mini-projects. In 2012, he moved to Kyiv and got a Java Developer job.

To be productive during the out-of-office time, he created accounts on oDesk, Elance, and Freelancer. Sometime later, the first two platforms merged into Upwork, and it became the main Oleksandr’s workspace. As a newbie, Kyetov could not get orders from potential clients for several months. Then he set filters for the RSS feed using keywords and started to apply for jobs as soon as they arose on the platform. And it worked: a week later, he has got his first $50-order after he spent four months almost without getting answers from potential clients.

“I’ve taken the sick leave at my full-time job to make everything perfect and not to kill my profile with negative feedback from the very first client. After that, all went fine, and I started to get small jobs regularly,” wrote Oleksandr.

This is how a story of a freelance programmer begin.

How to earn freelancing for a programmer

There are two ways of freelance cooperation — a fixed price for a project and an hourly rate. Working in the Ukrainian IT business means that if you earn $5,000 a month, it is about $30 per hour, without including vacations, sick leaves, insurances, etc. There are no such bonuses for freelancers.

“I think fix-price projects make sense only from $50,000. So, I prefer hourly-rate contracts.

A big minus of the hourly-rate contracts for many freelancers is that platforms use time-tracking applications to know how long did you actually work. And generally, it means that a software randomly takes screenshots every 10 minutes (it can vary from 5 to 30 minutes),” concluded Oleksandr.

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All images in the article by the author. Image credit: DOU

At the beginning of 2017, Oleksandr received a contract at the rate of $30 per hour for 40 hours a week from Crossover. And it was already more than he earned at the office. After a few months, his rate at the same project increased to $50. But shortly, he decided to leave it for a client from Upwork who was ready to pay $29 per hour because he didn’t like the Crossover project anymore.

How to combine? Daily routine of a freelance programmer

The time management of Oleksandr became strict — he almost did not watch Facebook feed and YouTube. Here is how his daily routine looked like:

  • “I woke up at 6 a.m., did breakfast and other stuff,
  • from 7 till 9 a.m. — freelance and traveling to work. I switched to a taxi and started working during the drive. Before I arrived at the office, I earned 4 to 5 times more than I paid for the cab.
  • From 9 a.m. till 1 p.m., I worked at the office;
  • from 1 till 2 p.m. — back to freelance and had lunch when writing a code.
  • From 2 till 5 p.m., I returned to my “lovely” outsource.
  • After 5 p.m. till 8 p.m., I continued to freelance, had meetings with guys from California, wrote the code, waited until all who liked to spend a part of their lives in a traffic jam were away, and went home with a cab sitting on the back with my laptop.

That is how I managed to work 8 hours for my full-time job and 6 hours as a freelancer during an ordinary workday from 6 a.m. till 8 p.m. Remaining 10 hours of freelancing have been worked out at work or on the weekend when I relaxed at home,” told Oleksandr.

He took the laptop almost everywhere and could work from any place at any time.

At that time, Oleksandr always had at least two full-fledged contracts and no vacation without freelancing. Often, he managed to earn on freelance more than he spent for the trip.

“Every time I tried to do nothing, I caught myself by thinking: Do you wanna check Instagram? Better write a code — at least they will pay you for it,” remembered the programmer.

Is it that bad?

Someone would say that the whole life of Oleksandr turned into his work. Nevertheless, during that period, his wife bore a child; he learned English to C2 level, passed IELTS with a score of 8.5, co-founded an English Speaking Club where he led two meetings per week, and finally, in the middle of 2019, his family moved to Canada. A good story of a Ukrainian freelance programmer continued.

“There were always new projects; my rate was growing; during short pauses between the contracts, I even could take a short breath and look at the sun.

Then I started to think that it would be not so bad to end “all that crap” and return to my calm 40 hours per week. But suddenly, the COVID-19 happened, and we all were closed in our tiny apartments without pools, gyms, and restaurants. I’ve got a bit more free time, and my fingers wanted to write an offer to the potential clients. Soon after that, I found a customer from Europe who was ready to pay €45 ($53) per hour and work directly without intermediaries,” wrote Kyetov.

As of mid-2019, Oleksandr had three full-fledged contracts:

  • The first from Europe, €45 per hour;
  • The second from the West Coast of Canada, $50 per hour;
  • The third is from a private customer from California, $40 per hour.

The monthly income of Oleksandr increased to $10,000-30,000.

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He also needed to write codes in different programming languages. Thus, he learned much quicker.

“When you work 100 hours per week, you are learning 2.5 times faster than with normal 40 hours,” wrote Kyetov. “And there are more advantages.

By freelancing, you must learn how to sell yourself. And it is good. Even the best technical programming skills are worthless if you cannot sell yourself,” added the developer.

The minuses are that you need to:

  • have a well-planned schedule
  • refuse of social media
  • refuse of spontaneous meetings and offers “to go for a beer”

Ten pieces of advice for those who want to freelance

  • If you don’t know some technology, don’t decline an offer. You can always google it. I would never try so many new things without freelance.
  • Start freelancing as soon as possible, better right now. Even if you will not like it and go to the office (but you will like it and won’t go), your experience of how to sell yourself will be yours forever. For my bad, I started to freelance only after 5 years of my office work.
  • Being a freelancer, sell your friends to the customer and convert them into a business as soon as possible. It will give you more opportunities and more money. I have had such an opportunity, but I refused and decided to move abroad.
  • If a client offers you a project with a fixed price, for example, $300, ask them to create a contract with the hourly rate of $100 and promise them to work only for three hours on it. For the client, it will cost the same 300 dollars, but you will have several pluses. First, you will get a rate of $100 in your order history, so it will be easier for you to demand $50 per hour from another customer. For example, you may say: “My hourly rate is $100 for short-time jobs and $50 for the long-time ones”. Second, Upwork ensures that freelancers get paid, even if a client will not. Because Upwork charges money from clients every week, and if the payment is not successful, the platform will pay from its own funds. But it only works if you have hourly-rate contracts.
  • All the guarantees that Upwork provides will cost you at least 5% of your income. On the way from the platform to your bank account, you will lose about 2-3% more. And I don’t mention that there are taxes. So, start ‘leaving’ the platform as you enter it. I am not saying you need to steal the clients from the platform because it is against its rules. I am offering you to sell yourself via different channels. There are rumors, for example, that JavaScript Developers sell themselves to California for $10,000 on Djinni.

Conclusion

Now Oleksandr is working less. In the last few months, he has been busy organizing his move to the USA. But that doesn’t mean that a story of a freelance programmer ends here. Now he is looking for other income sources.

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