The Gig Economy for the PHP Programmer

Image : The Gig Economy for the PHP Programmer

The gig economy is still emerging. It is really this silent phenomena that no one is aware of and is hard to track or measure. It is a shift from skilled labor being employed to being self employed. Think of this as skilled labor from film makers to accountants, to programmers and all the skills in between. Skilled labor is now becoming mostly independent – freelance workers that work on projects and independent contractors, working serial projects.

What is the Gig Economy

The gig economy is those who are self employed. The one man band. This excludes small businesses and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs start companies, the gig worker creates a one person business based on skills and a niche. Across all sectors of the economy, with rare exception, there are people working in a spare bedroom, on the kitchen table, or in the basement, these are gig workers or freelancers.

These independent freelancers are not part of a company – they work independently. This is the gig economy. These are skilled people who are working serial projects in their chosen niche as a way of earning a living.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, [] 1 in 3 workers were working independently in 2015. Other sources are estimating that by 2027 the gig economy will grow to a point where there will be more gig workers than employees.

What Do You Need to Become a Gig Worker

This is pretty simple, so simple you might think something is missing.

Laptop – A PHP Programmer can get by with a minimal laptop. Most of the time a PHP Programmer is creating programs in a text editor. The computer is waiting on them most of the time. A baseline Dell laptop that cost around $300.00 will do the trick.

If you can afford more here is what I recommend : I recommend a 15.6 inch screen with resolution of 1920 x 1080 or greater with the ability to drive 2 or more external monitors, 4G or more of RAM, a modern i5 or better, and an SSD drive. The SSD drive is worth the expense if you can afford it because it will enhance your computing experience and increase your productivity.

And do not forget to add a backup drive.

Printer / Scanner – At a minimum you will need to scan documents and turn them into a PDF.

Internet Connection – Self explanatory since you will be working on the Internet.

Hosting Account – This gives you the ability to build, test, and run your PHP programs. I recommend a simple VPS running Plesk.

Website – You need to be able to show prospective clients that you are in business. To start with you can put up a simple WordPress brochure site. Then you can start blogging.

Skills – Believe it or not you can start with some very simple skills. PHP, CSS, HTML, and some JavaScript / Ajax. Then as you progress build out your skills.

Passion – If you want to become a freelance PHP Developer you need passion. You need to be a self starter and you have to be a go getter.

Finding Your Niche

Being self-employees means you cannot be all things to all people. You must find your niche. The place to start is with the following 3 areas.

Inherent Skills and Abilities – What where you born to do? What comes natural to you and fits you like a glove?

Passion – What are you deeply passionate about? Are you passionate about building web apps, working on WordPress, Magento, WooCommerce? Do you get excited about Linux Apache MySql PHP CSS JavaScript / Ajax?

Experience – What experience do you have? This does not necessarily apply to employment. What have you done on your own? For example, building WordPress plugins on your own can be just as beneficial as working as an employee doing the same thing. Being a self starter and showing some passion might trump working for a company doing the same thing. I like to see passion and self starters.

Marketing Plan

To me there is three ways to market my skills as a freelance PHP Programmer.

Networking – Attend Meetups and get a membership in your local Chamber of Commerce. I’ve known two people that were very effective using the Chamber of Commerce for getting business.

Advertising – My least favorite. Google Adwords is probably the main form of advertising on the web. It is very expensive and requires building specific skills for Google Adword marketing.

Organic Search Results – Search Engine Optimization. This is the long game. It might take months or years to get to a point where your website is generating a lot of business leads. This is my favorite since, in the past, I have had some success with this form of advertising.

Difference Between Gig Work and Being an Employee

There is a huge difference between an employee and a freelancer. A freelancer does all the things that pertain to their business. This includes marketing, sales, bookkeeping, and working their projects.

My marketing professor at the university taught that 35% of everything is marketing. That means money and time. You can expect to expand some time every week doing marketing. This needs to be a regular part of you business.

As a Freelance PHP Programmer you may spend 4 or 5 hours a week on sales, which consists of:

  • Talking with prospects
  • Analyzing projects
  • Estimating what it will take to complete the project
  • Preparing a contract or a statement of work
  • Presenting that statement of work
  • Getting it signed
  • And collecting your first payment for that project

You will be your own Network Administrator. You are solely responsible for making sure your Internet connection is always working. This includes configuring your Internet equipment. I recommend a business class Internet connection. It may cost you as little as $20 a month, however it will come with business response versus residential support which is not as responsive. In my case I am able to run a server, I have a dedicated IP, and the response time is minutes versus residential which could be hours to days. And because I am working out of my home, I get business class service at a discount. I literally pay less than $20 more a month for business class Internet service.

If, like me, you home office, your work environment is always right there so there is not real break from business to home. You will have to make an effort to separate the two. That breaks both ways. Overworking or being distracted.

Medical Insurance is an issue if self employed. You will pay the full premium yourself. You are both the employer and employee.

You will more than likely need the services of a Certified Public Accountant.

Serial projects and at times no projects. Can be feast or famine. If one does not have enough projects in the queue one might need to take on projects they would rather not.

When there is enough work the money is good. When projects are scarce the money can be lacking.

Freelancers must be about there work and be diligent to ensure their reputation is kept clean. One’s reputation in the market place could make the difference between earning an above average income and literally starving.

Keeping Your Skills Sharp and Up to Date

You will need to keep your skills sharp and up to date with the changes in your industry. You will not have anyone to help you in this area. Set aside some time on a regular basis to work on skill building. This is not limited to programming skills, there are other skills to master such as time management and marketing.

No Submarine Mode

This is a big one. Staying connected is hard when you home office. I’ve not gone into submarine mode where I cut myself off from the entire world, however I tend to be reclusive. What is the solution? Join a few meetups. Join your local PHP group and at least one other group such as the group that’s in your niche.

What Should You Charge?

Over the years I’ve watched the market and how projects are priced. I have little experience with craig’s list, however it looks like a place where projects might be set at $35 to $50 an hour. I’m not discounting these, especially if you are just starting out. If you are just starting out this might be a place to get some real life experience in all the aspects of being self-employed.

In general :

  • The top end for Drupal is probably around $180/hr with $125 to $150 an hour being reasonable for a seasoned Drupal developer
  • I would expect WordPress and WooCommerce to be around $125 an hour for a seasoned developer
  • Web Apps should start around $125 an hour to about $175 an hour.
  • Developing using a framework is around $125 to $180 an hour.

Keep in mind these are ballpark and the actual value of a project depends on may factors.

How can a PHP Programmer Benefit From the Gig Economy?

There are pluses and minuses to being self employed. There are lots of hats to wear and lots of shifting gears. If you are good at this or can grow into it, you can build the opportunities you want. You can specialize in something you are passionate about. Once you find your niche and figure out the marketing part, you are golden.

You do not need to work full-time. Being a freelance developer opens the door for maximizing your income while minimizing the amount of time you work. You could very well create a lifestyle business. And location is not an issue. I know of a person who takes her laptop and phone with her on vacation to Hawaii every year. She takes one week off and works the second week while still enjoying Hawaii.

Personally I like the freedom that being a freelancer provides. Don’t get me wrong, I still work hard and long, however I do have the freedom to organize my time and efforts. I also get to pick and choose what projects I take on. In the end I would rather deal with all the hats and gears than work out of a cube. It just works for me and it may just work for you.


The gig economy is good and bad. In the old days, one would go to work at a company and do one thing. In this case we are talking about PHP Programmers. They would have all the resources provided so they could focus on one thing – being a PHP Programmer.

The idea of getting a job has shifted. It is not all that noticeable. If I were not an Independent Freelance PHP Programmer, I would probably be unaware of this phenomena. This movement is really under the radar.

If you are an employee your employer takes all the risk, and they provide for all your needs – you do one thing. As a freelancer you are the one responsible for everything.

If freelancing is for you it can be very rewarding.

Keith Smith

Keith Smith was first introduced to programming at the University of Arizona in 1983. From 1986 to 1990 Keith was an xBase developer. In 2000 Keith built his first website from scratch by hand. In 2006 Keith become a freelance PHP developer. Today Keith wants to teach you everything he knows about PHP programming.

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