Transitioning From a Freelance Drupal Contractor to a Drupal Shop

Web Development
Hi, my name is Jason Moore and I am a Developer here at Zivtech. I recently started working for Zivtech full time, helping their talented team continue to build and maintain awesome Drupal websites and applications for their clients. For the three years prior to joining Zivtech, I built a name for myself in the local Philadelphia Drupal community as a go-to “freelancer”, specializing in small to medium-sized projects that shops like Zivtech and Rock River Star couldn’t take on, for one reason or another. I held out for quite a while as a freelancer as things were going great. But then I got an email from Alex, co-founder of Zivtech, asking me if I was looking for full-time work. It was at that point I realized that my Drupal skills were in higher demand than I thought and that I might be selling myself short by doing it all by myself.
When I say doing it all, I really mean everything. I did all project management, billing, development, theming, QA, training, planning and deployment for every project that came through my pipeline as a Drupal freelancer. The only thing I didn’t do myself was design, so I partnered with a graphic designer early on to solve that issue. At first this all seemed easy, but as new projects continued to roll in and my schedule continued to fill up with actual development hours, time during my work day disappeared for doing all the non-development tasks associated with each client project. Being my own boss ended up producing some very long days and more stress than I anticipated.
Outside of actual time spent working on client projects and administrative overhead, I also spent a fair amount of money on the expenses required to run a small business. Many expenses were for services or other required components of running a successful Drupal development business. These included hosting costs, hardware costs and software that I needed for my day-to-day operations. The largest expense had to be my health insurance, which I paid out of pocket as an individual. My insurance premium nearly doubled during a three-year time span, starting at $151/month and increasing to $250/month.  Zivtech has a generous benefits package, which helps cover most of the cost of my health care plan. Now I am even able to cover my fiancé, which is a huge benefit since we are expecting a baby in June.
It might sound a little bit like I didn’t enjoy what I was doing as a freelancer, but that honestly was not the case. It really is a pure dose of freedom to live the American Dream working for yourself and actually succeed at it. It is the ultimate satisfaction knowing that you are making it all work without a college degree. That uncanny amount of freedom in my freelance work lead to both good and bad times during my freelancing days. It meant that I did not have a real start time to my day, which ultimately led to many late night development sprints. Many of my clients were based on the West Coast, so naturally I would modify my work schedule to be available during their work day. In the end, I believe my body thought I was located somewhere in the Southern Pacific, while my mind was busy building websites in Philadelphia.
The transition from a freelance Drupal contractor to a Drupal shop has really been quite seamless to this point, as I have been using many of Drupal’s best practices and helpful development tools for years. This general understanding of best practices and helpful tools like git helped me jump right in on Zivtech client projects and infrastructure improvements within my first few days. Generally, I had used git to control only my own code changes, but now I am working with a larger team at Zivtech. This is a bit of a change in workflow than I am used to, and it caused a few snags early on. Luckily there are great team leaders like Jody Hamilton and Howard Tyson there to point out helpful workflow best practices to make that transition less painful. There are also project managers on our team like Jeff Waldman and Michael Gubicza, who help keep the ball rolling by delegating tasks through Unfuddle’s ticketing system. This keeps us on track (and within budget!) during a particular sprint. The Unfuddle ticketing system is very similar to the Bitbucket repository and ticketing system I had been using for the past 3 years on my freelance projects. It seems I was meant to be in a team environment, rather than a solo career as a Drupal developer. Zivtech is definitely a well-oiled factory of machines compared to the small button factory I used to build sites out of.
The most noticeable change from freelancing to working in a shop is that I no longer have to follow up with clients for payment. There weren’t many occasions where I had to do this, but it was never a fun conversation and always led to some stress. Chasing clients down for payment is now ultimately not part of my daily tasks, which lets me focus on what I enjoy doing: building websites. It’s very nice to know that finding new projects is no longer part of my job description and the work just keeps coming in.
At the end of the day, my transition to working at Zivtech on a larger team of skilled developers has been both very positive and a great learning experience. It has put me in a better mood on a daily basis with less stress and I am definitely working in a more educational environment than working alone in my home office. If you’re a freelancer and can hold out until you find a great company that fits your needs, then don’t sell yourself short; see if making the transition to a shop is right for you!

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