Harmless advice of an electronic engineer freelancer. What does our brother do today and is there light at the end of the tunnel?

    In my first article of the cycle, I told that there are places in Russia as if specially created for an electronic freelancer. The second article tells about personal experience in the role of a freelancer for five years. The rise and fall of my microbusiness in this area. I specially singled out the third part of the story in a separate post - for those who do not have time and desire to read stories, who value only specifics.


    So, despite the fact that today my business has clearly come to a standstill, I venture to give some advice to an electronic freelancer. By the way, many of them will be useful in other areas of activity: (unfortunately, I did not find structured lists in the Habr interface, so I had to portray the attachment as ___)

    • During the development of an electronic product, one has to deal with a large number of very different operations, therefore it is better to work with a small team of two or three permanent employees. The efforts of a larger team in this mode will be difficult to coordinate, it will be necessary to change the structure of interaction and it will be difficult to call it freelance. In my case, the team consisted of two people.
    • Most of the working issues can be resolved in remote access mode. For the organization of collaboration, free funds are enough. We used Google Drive for storing and co-editing documentation, for communication and screen sharing - Skype, in special cases - in order to explain the subtleties of circuit tracing or to help install / configure Teamviewer software. Nevertheless, from time to time to meet and maintain personal communication is simply necessary!
    • Be sure to make plans! Without a detailed plan, it is impossible to determine with sufficient accuracy the time and cost of work. It is easy to get into trouble with very unpleasant consequences. Especially necessary are plans when you are simultaneously conducting several projects at different stages of implementation. We used an old version of Microsoft Project in our work. It helped a lot, especially Gantt Chart. The development process is described clearly and in detail, it is a pity only to print it can be difficult. Do not take the time at the initial stage in order to correctly associate tasks with each other, this in the future will allow you to simply make adjustments to the plans, taking into account the shifts of the subsequent stages. Remember, even an inaccurate plan is better than its complete absence!
    • Never forget about advertising. Even at times when things are going well and you are completely busy with work. Try to use various means to advertise your services. Personally, we used the following:
    • ___ Presentation telling about our opportunities for showing to potential clients and partners.
    • ___ Advertising using your own site. To maintain interest, the site must "live." At least monthly, supplemented not only by news, but also by information. And of course, promotion will not hurt.
    • ___ Mutually beneficial cooperation with partners. In our case, it was a collaboration with a contract manufacturer of electronics.
    • ___ Promotion of their services through personal connections.
    • ___ Presence in thematic forums. As a search for clients, forums work poorly, but allow you to expand the circle of communication, which subsequently can be very helpful. The world is closer than you can imagine!
    • ___ Yes, I understand that the list is not complete and now I am working on expanding the channels for promoting advertising of my own services, I will be very grateful if you suggest in the comments how to expand it.
    • Never work with a client without drawing up a preliminary detailed Terms of Reference. In most cases, when applying for help, the client is very poorly aware of what he really needs. The elaboration of the TOR is very important, at this stage the following may emerge:
    • ___ There is already an analogue of the product and the development simply does not make sense.
    • ___ For unique one-time orders, you should not design everything from scratch, but it is better to act as an integrator and develop only individual elements.
    • ___ The idea is not feasible within the budget.
    • ___ The client has laid down clearly excessive requirements for parameters and individual nodes. If you abandon them, you can greatly save on the cost of the device and development.
    • Personally, I adhere to the following financial scheme for working with a client:
    • ___ Depending on the complexity of the work is divided into several stages.
    • ___ For each of the stages, an advance payment of 30 percent is set, I will start the implementation of the next stage only after paying the previous one and an advance for the next. In case of delay in payment, the term of work is extended by the term of payment.
    • ___ First, I conduct a free examination of the project, during which I name the approximate price and the deadline for the work with an accuracy of no more than ± 30 percent. I give exact estimates only during the development of the ToR and the schedule. Work on the terms of reference is paid - with a 50 percent advance. If during the discussion of TK the customer refuses further work, the advance is not refunded. As practice shows, if a client with a more or less serious project does not understand the need for TK and that the work on its preparation costs money, contacting him is more expensive.
    • With some exceptions, it makes no sense to work with projects with a sales price of less than $ 1000. As practice shows, this is unprofitable. Below is a list of exceptions:
    • ___ Maintenance of previously developed products.
    • ___ Requests to help from good friends.
    • ___ A sequence of small projects connected by a common goal, which periodically come from one customer.
    • ___ Perhaps you should start your activity with small projects in order to gain confidence in your own abilities, build a portfolio and work out the technology of communication with customers. Personally, I did just that.
    • Try to perform only those jobs in which you are a specialist, or those that expand your professional experience in the desired direction. If the project has a part of the work in which you can’t do it too hard or are too routine and uninteresting, but you don’t want to refuse it, you should resort to outsourcing. However, lay extra time and money on this. Communicating with freelancers and even familiar developers is not easy. Getting the desired result from them is even more difficult. Do not buy too tempting offers to solve your problem. As a rule, deliberately low prices are offered by those who do not represent the amount of work and do not have the proper experience. As a result, in addition to unnecessary problems at the most inopportune time, you will not receive anything.
    • I’ll be commonplace and repeat the hackneyed phrase - you can’t put all the eggs in one basket! Do not get hung up on one client, no matter how attractive cooperation with him seems. Everything can end very quickly and in a completely unpredictable way. The client may have financial problems, another partner may appear, after reaching the next stage he may decide to create his own development department, in the end a pot of violets may fall on him from a height of 22 floors. Even when you have a lot of work, do not stop searching for it. In the end, you will have plenty to choose from.
    • Try to use ready-made libraries to the maximum, not invent your own exchange protocols, no matter how the customer insists on this. Agree to such actions only as a last resort and for a special mark-up, otherwise, then grief, the inventor of the next super-cheap protocol in the implementation of the multimaster protocol will commit serious violence against your brain and most likely as a result you will say that, having done everything wrong, ditched his idea in the bud.
    • Look for the optimal components for the implementation of the order, but ceteris paribus try to give preference to those that have already worked.
    • Do not forget to explain to the client that you do not guarantee on the go the development of a device ready for mass production. First you need to make a prototype, then an experimental batch and only after its testing run the series. Moreover, EVERY stage costs money.


    Now many electronic engineers with rich experience, who work as freelancers or have their own small businesses, either move to the rank of wage workers or migrate to China. There are very good reasons for this (I have to repeat this part of the text from the previous article):

    • In recent years, funding for development by various state funds has decreased. As a rule, it is difficult for a freelancer to receive a grant for a multi-million dollar order, but to participate in the development of individual nodes is quite realistic. So, for example, I had to develop laboratory equipment for projects utilizing money through the Rusnano line and there was an offer from the Glonasovites, which, however, I had to refuse - they managed to waste too much time and money while they came to me.
    • The development of devices that they plan to produce in large print runs in China is usually given to the same Chinese, since they often agree to compensate for its cost after manufacturing a certain number of devices at their own enterprise (usually from 10,000 pieces). This does not always end well for the customer, but most understand this only when they themselves step on the rake, often more than once. I had to bring to mind the electric meter board. This is a rather complex digital-to-analog device, which the Chinese kulibins seem to have wholly parted in autoroute mode, without bothering with creating trace rules. The result was deplorable.
    • Even a couple of years ago, you could earn money by working with offices that work for the state, or military customers. It was possible to act as a consultant and developer of individual blocks. Now, nuts have been tightened in this area, a terrible secrecy has been built and our brother has nothing to catch there today. My old clients now offer only permanent work, but since there are problems with traveling abroad, even on vacation, as a free application, I still respond with a polite refusal.
    • It affects the overall deterioration of the investment climate in Russia. Domestic investors prefer to withdraw money from Russia, while foreign investors are wary of investing in it.
    • Recently, a huge number of ready-made solutions have appeared - demo boards and various universal programmable modules at affordable prices. Assembling a ready-made solution to a unique problem from them is often easier and cheaper than developing a special device. The development of electronics itself is reduced to the creation of a construct, and simple motherboards and matching boards.

    What remains to be done in such conditions for a freelancer?


    After long and hard deliberation, I decided to suffer a little more, at least until the New Year, while not all the fat was eaten. I launch crisis management, namely:

    • I am tied to the policy of working for one client. He returned to contractual relations with his strategic client.
    • He was engaged in a serious revision of his personal site.
    • I am expanding the range of my services:
    • ___ I purchased a three-dimensional printer, which will allow us to quickly create not only prototypes of cases, but also quickly implement complex constructs.
    • ___ I had the opportunity to organize production not only from a Russian contract manufacturer, but also in China.
    • I am conducting an experiment with job search sites for freelancers. While I am collecting information, but in the future I am going to try my hand at the implementation of the projects exhibited there and use the work of freelancers to solve certain problems in my work.
    • I’m trying to take part in organizing a design studio to launch projects on Kickstarter.

    Let's see if this will bear fruit.

    In conclusion, I want to express my gratitude to the habrosociety for my unexpectedly warm attitude to a series of my previous articles. In the near future I hope to continue this series with more substantive articles. I allow myself to run a couple of polls in order to find out which topic is of the greatest interest and what, in your opinion, to do in the current situation.

    Only registered users can participate in the survey. Please come in.

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