Freelance development can be very rewarding or very challenging—depending on the client. Some clients are very profitable and low maintenance, while others are challenging and costly to a business. Success often depends on managing expectations and setting the right price.
Many freelance developers are hired for one-off projects with a fixed price and/or timeline, but many clients want some kind of ongoing support and maintenance. These tasks may be billed separately from the main project or bundled into a productised service for a fixed monthly fee.
The most common support and maintenance tasks include security patches, framework upgrades, or bug fixes. While clients see value in these services, freelance developers often struggle with them. Building exciting new features is far more exciting than troubleshooting bugs.
In this article, we will look at different ways that freelance developers provide maintenance and how outsourcing that work to others can free up time for higher value tasks.
Support & maintenance business models
Many freelance developers provide some kind of ongoing support and maintenance to their clients. For example, a client using a particular framework may need it updated on a regular basis to avoid potential security issues. Or, an application might slow down as usage grows.
Freelance developers can provide these services on an hourly or project basis, but productised services are becoming an increasingly popular way to monetise this type of work. These are simply services that are packaged, sold, and delivered at a fixed price and scope that involves no negotiation.
You can productise your support and maintenance with a few simple steps:
- Determine the Requirements: What are the most common issues that clients ask you to solve? Do they need simple bug fixes? Do security concerns keep them up at night? How do they solve these problems right now?
- Set the Right Scope: A fixed scope is the cornerstone of productised services. For example, you might provide a set number of development hours each month that’s included in the monthly price of the service.
- Set the Right Price: It’s tempting to set prices based on a fixed profit margin, but it’s better to focus on the value that you provide clients. It’s easier to serve five clients paying £500 than 50 clients paying £50 per month
- Put Everything in Place: Create a new landing page, update website copy, and setup the internal processes that you need to provide the productised service. This might include recurring billing or support ticket systems.
Once everything is in place, the best way to get started is pitching the new productised service to existing or former clients. You may offer them an exclusive discount as an incentive to sign up without existing social proof, and then, you can request testimonials to use for future sales efforts.
Should you hire or outsource?
The biggest challenge with providing support and maintenance services—and in particular productised services—is balancing the work with everything else happening in the business.
Freelance developers without any employees can find themselves in a bind when they overcommit to support services. For example, several clients may have pressing issues at the same time. Subpar work could result in a cancelation of the contract or even loss of the client.
One solution is to hire a dedicated developer to handle maintenance and support tasks. Upwork and similar services make it easy to find individual contractors, or you could look for a local junior developer that’s willing to do the work as a part-time or full-time employee to build their resume.
Another solution is to outsource these tasks to a dedicated agency that specializes in support and maintenance. A growing number of agencies specialize in supporting existing applications—particularly in mature languages and frameworks that have a high number of legacy applications.
There are pros and cons to both of these approaches that you should carefully consider before making a decision:
The right decision depends on your individual business requirements, funding levels and goals, as well as the quality of talent in your area.
Finding the right partners
Finding the right partner is critical if you want to outsource maintenance services. After all, you’re trusting them to provide your existing clients with mission-critical service. You may have spent years building these relationships, but it only takes one mistake to ruin them.
Here are some things to look for in a partner agency:
- Horizontal Expertise: You should seek out agencies that have experience across multiple areas. For example, the same agency should be able to help track down bugs in the code and deal with performance issues on the server.
- Appropriate Pricing: You should make sure that the difference between your price to clients and the price the agency charges you is sufficient. If the agency is too expensive, you must raise your prices or look elsewhere.
- Reliability & Reputation: You should make sure that the agency is reputable and available whenever a problem arises. If they’re unavailable when a crisis happens, you could end up stepping in for them to keep the client.
At Siftware, we specialize in providing PHP application support and maintenance services at a fixed monthly cost. We can help you provide these services to your clients without worrying about being available 24/7 or working under high-stress conditions when something goes wrong.
We conduct a complete audit of the client’s code and servers to find any security risks. In addition, we make sure that the application is made “portable” so that it can be moved to any server or development environment. And finally, we are on call for any support and ongoing maintenance requirements.
The bottom line
Freelance developers can build strong recurring revenue streams by productising their services. In particular, maintenance and support contracts are a great way to generate a recurring income from otherwise one-off projects. The key is ensuring that you can handle the extra work.
Outsourcing maintenance and support is a great way to build these revenue streams in a sustainable way. You can rely on third-party agencies to be on-call for support issues, while focusing your efforts on growing the rest of your business through prospecting, development, and other areas.
If you have a PHP application and are interested in outsourcing support and maintenance, contact us today to see how we can work together to grow your business!