20 years as Freelancer with SAP
a few days ago, after Gregor Wolf tweeted some memories from the beginning of this millennium, I remembered that I had my 20th anniversary as freelancer at Jan, 1st. I tweeted this and got quite a lot of likes. Some colleagues also asked for a review and a summary of my experiences.
Cause I enjoyed the very interesting blogs from DJ Adams and Timo Elliot a few days before and cause I do have phone calls with younger colleagues about my experiences as freelancer from time to time I decided to write down my story.
How all started
(Skip this if you are not interested in historical memories)
I got my first computer in 1982 at the age of 18 (guess how old I am now). It was a Commodore VC20, the predecessor of the famous C64 very quickly. After playing around with this computer I bought a C64. Cause I was never interested in computer games I started writing a functional analysis math program which I used in my last year at school (did not use it very ofter but it was fun to program it).
After school I studied mechanical engineering. This was ok but I was more interested in the computers that we had at university. So I spent a lot of time with them programming applications to evaluate my lab test.
I finished with my diploma thesis where I programmed a thermodynamic simulation for gas tankers which ship around the world.
After my studies I first worked two years as mechanical engineer which wasn’t really fun for me.
I then got the chance to move to a small computer company where we created software for medical labs. This was very interesting.
From there I went to another IT company and so I spent 10 years in IT as an employee.
First contact with SAP
During my last employment I already had loose contact to SAP cause we had a customer who used SAP software besides our software. I realized an interface between them.
I always had the dream to be my own boss and by coincidence (that’s another story) I started my own business at 01/01/2001. The easiest way to earn money was in the SAP ecosystem cause I had a friend, today we would say with a startup, who needed help in his SAP projects.
I went to a 3-day-training, learned how to program in ABAP and then went to customers to realize programs they needed. I worked in MM, SD, PM and ISU areas.
Cause I had a good utilization I could work 140-190 hours a month and so had a good salary.
I worked in the ABAP ecosphere for about 3 to 4 years. But it never really thrilled me. I felt imprisoned in this 10 years old system while around me the interesting IT departments used JAVA that is fully OO and other cool things.
My evolution in the SAP ecosystem
Already in 2001 or 2002 I used ABAP OO in one of my project. In 2002/2003 SAP aquired a mid-sized company from Israel and released their software as SAP Enterprise Portal. I was lucky that I could work in an early adopter customer project together with a small team of SAP colleagues.
I could work with JAVA and was happy and I could exchange SAPGUI with Browser. After 1 or 2 years of EP the WebDynpro UI technology appeared. Again I was lucky and worked in an early adopter project with SAP colleagues.
Starting with my EP time my freelancer life began to be really inspiring. I could work with, not the hot stuff in IT, but the hot stuff in SAP IT. In 2013 when the death of WebDynpro for Java was more than obvious I wanted to switch to Web Development. Cause SAP didn’t have something usable I tried Angular. But then I found SAPUI5 on the internet which I started to learn and use in my projects. In 2017 or 2018 SAP cloud came into my life and in 2019 I started my first CAP customer project.
You see that I always worked with state-of-the-art SAP technology.
I’m not a business man. As such I would work in customer projects, hire employees and earn money with them. Of course I tried to do that when I founded a GmbH (german legal form for the internatioonal limited) with a partner. After 5 years I left this company cause I wanted to work with and in technology and not manage employees or talk with customers purchasers about hourly rates.
So you see my personal goal is to be financial successful. I want to work with leading edge software and technology. I’m so curious that I’m bored if nothing new happens. Thankfully SAP has pick up pace here.
The real freelancer life
Always working with newest software sounds great, doesn’t it? Yes, it is but there are also drawbacks. You have to learn and read really a lot. And cause I’m a fair consultant I do not bill these hours.
That said, even though my hourly rate, raise my income didn’t. But who cares? I’m happy with my work and enjoy every day I can learn new things.
Earning less money but having fun at work stil sounds great? Wait.
As an employee you go to your boss if you don’t have work. As freelancer you have to aquire new projects on your own. That’s not always easy. Of course you can contact recruiters. But they cost a lot of money and time. You have to explain your skills to each recruiter regularly in 3 month turn. They don’t seem to have databases or their employees change that often. Additionally they ask you to send them your profile in their MS-Word template all the time. I have better things to do than fulfilling these requirements.
So I stopped doing that and am going another way.
I built a network and participate in the SAP community. Collegues who know me and my skills reommend me and I recommend them. Building a network and doing community work also takes time but this time is fun time cause you spend it with people you like. Another good thing about this work is that you can decide how much time you spend on it. I would really like to be more active in the community and it probably would help me to get more interesting projects or getting to know more interesting peoply but I also have a private life that is more important than my business life.
There is another point to mention which is not unique to freelancers but to all consultants. You are away from home and your family quite often.
In the first 5-6 years of my self-employment I was on the road 5 days a week. Then I reduced this time. The last 7-10 years I’m working remote for appr. 60% (currently 100%). But that also isn’t always easy. Customers expect you to sit in their offices (before Coroan of course). If you don’t want that you don’t get the project.
Oh, one more thing to mention. You do not always have a utilization of 60% or more. There are years in which you don’t earn enough money to pay your bills. If you tend to get nerveous quickly you should not work as a freelancer.
The way to my success
From my point of view I am very successful with my self-employment. But how did I reach that aim?
There were several reasons for this
- I work hard (no 9 to 5 day)
- I built a network over time
- I always followed my way / principles even if there was a risk to dramatically fail.
- I had at least two mentors who influenced my dicisions and helped me in my evolution.
- I’m always fair to partners, customers and employees.
- I always try to be polite to everyone.
These points have helped me to be a welcome service provider, partner, boss.
After I gave you a little insight into my freelancer life you probably want to ask me if I would do it again?
The answer is. YES. I love my job and I love what I do, and I hope to have another 20 years to do it.
The main advantage of my freelancer life is that I can decide what I do and when I do it. Of course you have to deliver if you are engaged in a project but I think you know what i mean. I make my own strategic decisions.
If you ask if I regret anything? Yes, I do. I made some decision that had negative impact on my business and also on my private life. Who doesn’t? Fortunately in almost all cases I was able to straighten that out.
In summary it was the right decision for me to be self-employed.
P.S. Who is the next writing her / his story?
Absolutely brilliant to read to kick start my morning! Thank you for sharing! Always awesome to see and understand someone's journey!
Thank you Craig. Nice to hear that people are interested in such stories from elderly people :-).
Not sure I'd go as far as to say "elderly" - I fit that category myself I think now lol
Love the reading! Your journey was amazing to me. I could never see myself as a freelancer for just the reasons you stated here. Too much travel, too many hours, and always worried about the next job.
BUT you made it sound like it works for you. I'm so glad to read about your history and how you decided to start freelancing and stay freelancing. I firmly believe you have to if not love what you do at least like what you do. (Most of the time) We spend too many hours not to like what we do.
Engineering to SAP developer. I can actually see the switch.
Thanks Michelle, everyone has her/his own preferences. It was my dream to work without a boss and so I followed my dream. There are many other living models. The most important thing is that you enjoy what you are doing (most time).
I loved the journey. It is very inspiring.
Great story Helmut Tammen ! I really enjoyed reading here about your way to become self-employed and tips to make it happen. Freelancing was always my ultimate professional goal and after working for many years on Customer side as well in Consulting companies I deep-dive to the "dark side" - just finished my first year as Freelance 🙂 Maybe some day I will also write few words about it.