Closing Out 2005 As An Independent

I just posted my three final invoices for 2005, my first full year of living in Hawai’i. The good news is that I beat my budget targets by 16%. The bad news is that, because of the move, I reduced those targets by 15%! The other bad news is that the cost of living in Hawai’i is higher even than in the Bay Area, so when I calculate our budget for next year, I’m going to have to ratchet up my income targets, which means either charging my clients more or taking on more work. Sigh. The other good news, though, is that it does seem possible to live on a tropical island and make a living wage as a programmer and writer.

I’ve long felt that it is impossible to get rich if the only thing you sell is your own time, and although we’re doing okay, our lifestyle is quite modest (I drive a ’92 Honda Civic that we bought new and which just passed 100,000 miles). I make the large majority of our money — Tina works part-time in a plant nursery and hasn’t sold any paintings this year. I’m not particularly interested in “advancing” in my career. I’ve done lots of stuff and, like Nora Desmond, I feel I am big, it’s the pictures that got small. (Microsoft and Mozilla agreed on an RSS icon ? I take back everything!)

I can’t justify charging people $200 an hour. More truthfully, I can’t justify it to myself. I know a few people who charge $200 or more an hour and the thing is: if you just do it, you can do it. You have to travel a lot, though, and you probably shouldn’t put pictures of yourself wearing a t-shirt on your blog and you certainly don’t tell people you drive a ’92 Honda Civic. I used to think that when I taught, for which I generally charged $2,500 to $3,000 a day, I made good money, but the problem is that you have to amortize your development and practice time, which, for me, is about a 20:1 ratio. For me the worst thing is that I have a strong novelty-seeking personality and I cannot stand to give the same lecture more than four or five times. Including practice run-throughs. Which means that, essentially, I’ve never amortized the cost of developing a talk. Not even close.

I think to make more than a living wage, you have to sell a product.