Lance sent me an e-mail and asked, "I've been thinking of asking you about running your own business. How do you find new contracts and manage your time?" I replied to his e-mail and before I knew it, I had a story. I tend to enjoy weblogs that talk about their experiences and history, so here's a little enjoyment.
In the fall of 1998, I was working as a contractor for IBM Global Services at CoBank. I worked with a guy who wanted me to help him write a ASP-based dating application. Since I was fluent in ASP, we negotiated a rate and began moonlighting on the project after work. To facilitate me working on the project, I had to purchase a computer (Compaq Presario 5020, 64MB RAM, 300Mhz Celeron), and after the first few payments rolled in, I figured I'd better start a company for tax purposes. The project ended up fizzling out halfway through when the guy decided to re-write the whole thing in Servlets/JSP - probably a good decision, eh? With the income from the project, I was able to pay for the computer, file the paperwork for the business, and start Raible Designs, LLC.
In the midst of that project ending, someone at CoBank knew someone else that needed a website. So my first website (www.ccasla.org) for hire was born. I left CoBank for eDeploy.com and worked there for 2 years (through May 2001) as Director of Web Development. I kept doing Raible Designs stuff on the side for about 5-10 hours per week. You can find some early examples at Karen's Discount Bridal, Raskin & Makofsky and The Swan Ecosystem Center. In mid-April 2001, on the same day that I received my shiny new Dell P4 8100, the 2nd round of layoffs happened at eDeploy. There were only 3 rounds (of layoffs), and they announced the doors would be closing 2 weeks later.
So after frantically searching for a job for 2 weeks, I met with Chris Buzzetta from ICSynergy. Funny thing is that a co-worker of Julie's actually hooked me up with the interview - and everything went smooth at pie. One of ICSynergy's suggestions was that you have your own company - or at least work as a 1099 - so having Raible Designs was a big bonus at this point. I started a project with ICS at Douglas County and found myself in the world of Ant, CVS, Javadocs, and all kinds of other good stuff. In early June, I was tasked with developing a UI Framework for the County's J2EE projects, and thankfully stumbled upon Struts. In July 2001, I converted Raible Designs to an S Corp because I was now doing it full time and needed to enhance my company benefits. The DC project ended in late October. BTW, if you need a great accountant for your business, I highly recommend Lisa David of L & B Accounting.
After leaving Douglas County, I searched like a madman for weeks, but to no avail. I sent out resumes, attended User Group meetings, and e-mailed all my friends looking for a new client/job. I wanted to stay working for Raible Designs, but also needed to keep the income flowing. After finding virtually nothing, I hunkered down and satisfied a bunch of certifications (MCSE/MCDBA 2000, SCWCD, BEA Developer). In mid-December, my e-mails to friends paid off and the former CEO of eDeploy (Robert Gadd) sent me an e-mail. He said he was starting a new e-Learning company, needed a developer to produce their web-based product, and that he wanted to hire me. So it's been 11 months now, and I'm still working for Robert's company. He's been the best client in the world, and the relationship is half the fun. I've kept a close relationship with ICSynergy in the meantime, and they've helped me to get certified as a J2EE and Portal Instructor for Sun. I talked with Martin (ICS's head honcho) today and they might even have a new project for me soon.
So to make a long story longer, I find new contracts the same way that most folks find new jobs. I send out resumes (this hardly ever works), I talk to friends and I talk to old co-workers. I think the best way is to get your name out and get people familiar with what you do. Hopefully, blogging will help facilitate this even further. My partnership and friendship at ICSynergy have certainly helped a lot, and I'll be very grateful if I get my next project through them. I think more partnerships like this are definitely needed. Attending user group meetings certainly doesn't hurt. I've found that my domain name is too hard to remember though, so I bought javawebapps.com (pointed to raibledesigns.com) today. I doubt it's up yet.
As for managing my time, it's now getting very difficult with Julie and Abbie at home with me. It doesn't help that my office is in one of our common rooms, and privacy is not possible. My father recommended to spend as much time with my kids as possible, so I doubt I'll move out into a real office, but I should get my own room - with a door that closes. For the most part, I've had great success with early mornings (4 a.m.) and late nights before a release. I definitely manage my time best when I'm working on something I really like. Of course, then I work too much, and maybe that's not good time management either.
Hope this helps. Feel free to post comments or ask me any further questions.
Update: One important thing I forgot to mention. While I was working at Douglas Country, the Tech Lead on my project was Brian Boelsterli. Brian was a Principal of ICSynergy at the time, and has always been a great friend. He and I used to carpool to Castle Rock everyday, and I learned a ton from him about being an Independent Consultant, a good programmer and a good father. I eventually asked him to be my Mentor, to which he kindly accepted. I couldn't ask for a more valuable resource - he's always been full of great advice. So I encourage you to get a mentor if you know of one - all you have to do is ask.