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The 14 mistakes that will kill your independent development shop

Steven A. Lowe | Oct. 15, 2014
Deciding to go it alone as an independent software developer is a liberating experience. The thrill of being your own boss cannot be denied -- neither can the fact that being your own boss means building a business. It's no longer simply about the code. Everything is your responsibility, from paperwork to partnerships, and with this increasing burden come greater pitfalls that can sink your business.

The more specific you can be about your work and what you stand for, the easier it is to distinguish yourself from others, and the easier it is to identify and locate potential clients. More important, establishing a clear brand makes it easier for potential clients to identify and locate you.

Indie dev mistake No. 3: Trying to be everything to everybody

Customer satisfaction is essential to your success as an independent developer, but trying to please everybody can sink your business quickly. It causes you to spread your resources too thin, in the end pleasing no one.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't go the extra mile to serve clients to the best of your ability, or never take on work outside of your comfort zone. But pay attention to the limits of your abilities and resources. Overcommitting or signing up for work you can't complete to the level your customers expect can quickly poison your business.

Instead, be diligent about logging your work, so you can be accurate in estimating your bandwidth when special requests arise. Increment your experimentation into new areas rather than promise to deliver big, merely because you know you can learn new tools quickly. Remember — you have a business to run, and mastering tech to the level of your brand takes time away from paying work.

Indie dev mistake No. 4: Targeting the wrong market

Small businesses struggling to grow out of manual systems may seem like the ideal client for your fledgling independent software business; after all, they stand to reap the greatest benefits from automation. But they can also be the least trusting of technology and outsiders, and their cash flow may not be consistent enough to afford your services.

Targeting the "right" market is more art than science, but one vastly oversimplified maxim is to seek a combination of fit, finance, and fearlessness. Finding the best fit for your services is a complex, volatile process of ambitions, problems, needs, skills, gaps, benefits, and timing. There is likely to be no external signals for these, so you have to talk to a lot of people in various industries and organizations to find out. As you are doing this, you can assess the financial issue — if an industry or organization can't afford your services, the whole process is pointless.

Gauging "fearlessness" is more of a gut instinct. Do the players in your targeted market have the organizational courage to see your partnership through? Software systems change business operations; for many industries, and many organizations, change is scary. Don't get lost chasing timid leads.

Indie dev mistake No. 5: Failing to identify the true project "champion"


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