Dealing with old code, learning multiple languages and more… freelancers meet 12th June 2024

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On the 12th June, 14 freelancers met in the Battle of Trafalgar to talk tech and self employment.

This is some of the many conversations I noted down:

  • Balancing work and health
  • Old PHP in the wild
  • Finding clients with old code – not as lucrative as hoped
  • Moving to a full time job
  • Work/life balance – a four day work week or a four day weekend?
  • Hiring newly graduated people is harder than you’d think
  • Learning from the good parts of various programming languages
  • The code readability of various languages
  • The surprises of American gun culture as a Brit
  • Taxes on private schools
  • Moving from a very, very complex setup to a better, more sane but still complex setup
  • Correct communication in a project (especially an Open Source one)
  • Vicarious gaming
  • Moving WordPress to static sites
  • Learning what to listen out for in a client meeting in order to ask useful questions

Highlight: Finding clients with old code

I was talking about fixing an old PHP website which had out of date code on it, out of date in a way that becomes a security problem. One of our members had for a while targeted finding clients who had old code running on their websites and attempted to get work updating their site. On the face of it, this is a good idea – it helps the client as it fixes potential security problems and may speed up their website too, and it’s good for the freelancer as it’s a route to work, and he hoped to get further work adding features to their existing site and so on.

What he actually found is… clients who keep around a site that’s old tend not to also be people who want to spend out on new features or a whole new site.

If you reflect on their situation, this is not a surprise. These are not clients who are trying to drive business through their website, it is more of a peripheral thing for them. If it wasn’t, they’d be naturally updating more as they replace the old site with a new version regularly to fit with their changing business. This does not preclude them from having old tech behind the scenes, but it is generally more hidden away and harder to detect.

The problem with selling to people who have old code is you’re often trying to educate the market. They don’t know they have a problem, and have to be taught why it is a problem in a way that the convinces them it is worth fixing.

Educating the market is expensive. In this case you have to get a technical matter through to someone non-technical who is also busy on the central parts of their business. Then once they’re educated, you have to sell them on the idea that you’re a better hire to fix their problem than their existing supplier. In general, finding a client who is looking for help and becoming their help is quicker and easier than educating and then selling to a client who doesn’t know they have a problem.

The exception to this is a company for who the old tech has become a direct, obvious problem, e.g. someone whose website has been hacked. This shifts the situation from being peripheral to being urgent. As a freelancer, this is a much better person to find as they need help immediately, not educating.