How a Single Freelancer Outperforms a Whole Team

Companies that want to hire you will often use an argument consisting of two logical fallacies, wrapped in a veneer of condescension. Specifically, they will tell you that you have to choose between security and freedom (false dichotomy fallacy). They will base their pitch on the presupposition that working in a team is more productive and more secure, and then proceed to ask you whether productivity and security are important to you (loaded question fallacy).

Let me tell you why they’re wrong, and why being a freelancer can provide the best of both worlds.

The lone rider

My experience as a software developer, having worked both in teams and solo for 9 years, is as follows. If there is a project that a single expert can complete in 6 months, a team of 3 experts will do it in 4 months. If everyone in this example makes the same amount of money, that totals to twice the cost for the client in the team scenario, and only 33% of time saved.

This happens for the same reasons that make a lone horseback rider cover a greater distance in the same time than a group of riders:

  1. There is no time spent on discussions.
  2. Only one person has to take breaks.
  3. There is no chance of riders going their separate ways mid-journey.
  4. The rider can focus entirely on getting to the destination.

In this example, these issues are offset by having safety in numbers. In the software development world, there is no danger to the rider. There is danger to the client due to having a single point of failure, but that’s a different story.

Avoid “meeting madness”

Anyone who’s been in more than one meeting knows how tedious and unproductive most meetings feel. In most meetings, there are one or two people who do all the talking. Then there are one or two people who snooze off if the topic doesn’t concern what they’re doing directly. Alternatively, if things aren’t going well, everyone suddenly has an opinion about things that they have little knowledge about because they want to seem proactive and on top of things.

Even Agile-style 15-minute daily meetings can be a drain of energy and resources. A 15-minute meeting isn’t 15 minutes of work. You have to think about what’s been said. Sometimes you have to prepare beforehand. Sometimes a decision is made to take the project in a direction that means you have to scrap a whole week of work.

You can work on getting better at the meeting game, but you can do better: come up with a game of your own, and play it yourself to your heart’s content.

Cherish responsiveness

Is it easier to turn an 18-wheeler around or a sports sedan?

That’s the difference a client feels when they suddenly have a change of heart about a feature or a module of your project. A freelancer is a sports sedan — reliable, responsive, and easy to work with. If a client wants to make a U-turn, all they gotta do is tell you; your tires immediately screech, and you’re headed in the client’s new direction.

Turning a team around, on the other hand, means negotiating, persuading everyone, holding yet another couple of meetings about it, aligning everyone’s work in the new direction, getting the version control in sync, redistributing tasks, and more.

Enjoy flexibility

Taking a break whenever you like and setting your own schedule is a pipedream in a team environment. In theory, it’s possible, but it’s complicated: other people depend on you to be online at certain times, their work depends on yours and vice-versa, and there are, again, meetings to be had.

Being able to structure your own days as you like holds tremendous value, both for you and your client. If the client needs urgent work done at an unusual hour, it’s much easier for you to find that time than for a whole team to coordinate. On the other hand, if you don’t feel like working in the usual hours some days, you can just shift your schedule around and nothing is lost.

Build versatility

A tough thing about being a freelancer is that you have to do everything on your own.

A great thing about being a freelancer is that you learn to do everything on your own.

Being in charge of communication, project management, planning, and resources (in addition to doing your main job) can be daunting, but aren’t most great things daunting at first? If you’re good at your line of work, most of these peripheral aspects will come naturally. For the ones that don’t, there are virtually infinite online resources that can help you these days. Lack of knowledge is never an excuse. Knowledge can be attained.

Attain freedom

The ultimate purpose of all this is freedom. Not the short-term freedom of choosing your work hours, but the long-term freedom of not having to do anything you don’t want to. Freelancing allows you to make time for new clients, your side projects, creating content, being with your family, and tending to your health. All these great things have a positive feedback loop and improve your life, as well as your future prospects.

After you let this positive feedback loop do its magic for a while, you will find that you have enough money, enough versatility, and enough sources of income that you can do what you want.

In my 9 years of freelancing, I’ve made time for major passion projects such as building my own company and creating a course on Upwork success.

Isn’t that what we’re all after in the end?

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