Indie Insights

This has been quite a year for me as an “indie” iOS developer, and I thought a recap of what I learned, what I did, and what I hope to do in 2012 was in order. My intention for this blog is to keep it technical, most of the time, focused on development. But when better to take a step back to review one’s own professional development than at the end of the year?

In October 2010 I took a full-time job with a local startup to develop their iPhone app. They literally had hand-drawn wire-frames and nothing else! “Wait,” you say, “I thought you were an indie developer?” Well…. I am, just not full-time. The fact of the matter was that the opportunity was (is) tremendous on many levels, I really needed to take the position for a variety of non-technical reasons, and I saw it as a chance to further legitimize my transition to professional iOS development (from backend server-side Linux work).

So, the day job is great. I am both happy and grateful to have it! The remaining “indie” part of my life has ebbed and flowed in many ways. Here are the highlights of what I learned about being indie and how I’ve grown as a developer.

Don’t work for nothing.

I finished a project around August that I had begun in the summer of 2010! It was a good project, in that it was a simple, straightforward, and unique idea. The client was energized about it. The problem, in hindsight, was that I needed clients at the time and projects to add to my portfolio. So we talked about how we would share the profits, but really not about how I was going to get paid for the work. And, the client was up front with the fact that she really didn’t have any money to pay me. And… she was a friend of the family…. Still, I felt I needed the project. With the project done, and pretty much silence from the client, I learned an important, if not obvious, lesson: Don’t work for nothing.

Further analysis of my situation at the time was that I actually took on several non-paying projects in the Summer of 2010, thinking that the work would help build my portfolio and ultimately my client-base and project pool. It didn’t. It only served to suck time away from the paying client I did have. And, the reason the project mentioned above took a year, instead of the 3-4 weeks it might have, is because it fell to the bottom of the list. So, that too is not a good thing in terms of keeping a client happy.

It takes a lot of advertising to move the needle.

My own apps (well, 2 of them) actually generate a few bucks on a monthly basis. Not enough to retire or quit my day job, but a respectable sum. We’ve all heard the expressoin “you have to spend money to make money.” I don’t think that applies to spending money on advertising. After many months of advertising on Google, and spending as much as $300/month, I finally turned it off. Guess what? I saw no difference in average sales! So the lesson, I think, is that unless you have a lot of money — and I mean thousands of dollars — to run a real marketing and advertising campaign, don’t. For the small-time advertiser, it seems the only winner is the agency (in my case, Google.)

Get Inspired.

As I wrote about briefly in October, I had the chance to attend an iOS developer conference that happened to be local. So the cost was only the conference fee itself, which made it a no-brainer to attend.

Any event like this is inspiring because of the people you meet, the ideas you share, the new things you can learn. If I ever needed a boost to my creative juices and motivation, the conference did the trick.

For any number of reasons, any given conference may be easy or difficult to attend due to distance, cost, of other factors. So the lesson here is to seize opportunities to attend conferences if possible, because the long-term benefits are substantial.

So much opportunity.

Oddly enough, having a job apparently means to most if not all recruiters that you must be interested in getting a new one. (And sadly, when you appear to be out of work, no one is interested, even though you may be qualified, but that’s a different blog post…)

Mobile is the place to be right now, iOS development especially so. Not only in the Boston area, but everywhere it seems, there is a shortage of iOS talent. So the e-mail and phone inquiries arrive daily. I find this amazing, and promising. While I am pretty happy with my situation, it is always nice to be wanted and to have options. :-)

If you’re in the ‘biz now, enjoy the ride!

Get Known.

Late in the year, which coincided slightly with the conference I attended, I decided I needed to become more visible as a developer in the community. I tweet more now, and I’ve picked up a few followers since the conference. I also made the decision to become a contributor to iDevBlogADay, which has certainly increased my exposure to the indie community.

So Far, So Good.

It’s been 3 years now that I’ve been doing iOS development. At the start, I thought specifically about the path I was embarking on. I thought specifically about getting into a career path with a set of skills that were only useful in the Apple ecosystem. At the beginning, I wasn’t really thinking I would make iOS development my career, and now look at me! It’s the first time in my life that I can actually say definitively what I want to do professionally: iOS development! And so far, it is working out better than I could have dreamed it might. Onward!

What are your personal indie insights from 2011? I’d love to hear about them.

Posted in: iDevBlogADay


  1. Stephen Adams says:

    Nice overview, glad to see it’s going well and wish you luck for 2012, For me I’m going to start on the road as a ‘indie’ developer, while keeping a full time job, sounds like a lot of work, but worth it.


  2. Thanks, Stephen. And best of luck to you too!

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