By: Linda Rosencrance
Some Microsoft Dynamics professionals cannot be challenged enough for their liking; to them, job satisfaction means diverse projects, certifications, and dipping their hands into the bleeding edge of Microsoft technology.
So finds Nigel Frank International – routinely – in its annual Salary Survey reports, which are published in August/September. According to its 2017 Dynamics Salary Survey, 55 percent of Dynamics professionals would consider going freelance in the next year, even if they were in permanent employment with a customer, ISV or channel partner. (In 2016, one in five were actively considering freelance work.)
Among those pondering contract work in the most recent survey, 56 percent cited higher earning potential as their primary reason; 48 percent named job flexibility; and 31 percent cited the chance to work on a variety of projects.
Our query of three Dynamics freelancers reveals much the same and a few reasons more. They elaborated for us their decisions to go solo, and the satisfaction they have found since.
More self determination, less complication and constraint
Bjarke Sonnichsen, a freelance Microsoft Dynamics NAV consultant, observes that “It is important for both the customers and the freelancer to be satisfied in the short term as well as the long term.”
As a freelancer, Sonnichsen says he can always set the agenda that he wants, and the services he sells or delivers are defined differently than ordinary NAV partners normally define them. “I was a NAV partner myself 10 years ago,” he says. “I was the owner and CEO of that company and then I sold it and went back to freelancing.”
In doing so, he finds himself unconstrained by the demands of maintaining a NAV partnership. “I’m much closer to the organizations and to the people,” he says. “My freelance business is normally only handling long-term relationships. So I don’t have so many customers – I change one now and then – but it is a freelance arrangement with a long-time contact.”
Sonnichsen has been a Dynamics NAV freelancer off and on for the past 25 years, and currently owns the Switzerland-based HillClimbing GmBH, an independent Dynamics NAV consultancy. In his role, he has implemented Dynamics NAV systems mainly for end-user companies in Denmark and other European countries.
As a freelancer, Sonnichsen says he is also free of complicated contracts.
“I just do a simple contract, for example, saying that in certain period I deliver 200 hours,” he says. “But that’s it. I don’t give fixed prices on solutions because very often you don’t know the cost until you have finished a project. I do promise schedules, but I don’t promise prices. As long as the customer is satisfied and I am satisfied, the business will go on. So it’s very easy-going this way compared to a normal NAV partner.”
When it comes to finding business, Sonnichsen says he is in a very nice situation as he never has to solicit business. Rather, customers seek him out.
“Normally, they have heard about services from other customers,” he says. “So, I use my website for a confirmation that I exist and what I am doing. But I do no marketing at all, and I have been so happy that my order book is always full. So I have the luxury to say yes or no to projects.”
Currently, Sonnichsen doesn’t have any customers on Microsoft Dynamics 365 because his clients are large end users running the 2015, 2017, and 2018 versions of Dynamics NAV. “”But because the technology in Dynamics 365 will be the technology of tomorrow and will be part of the normal versions in some ways, of course I have looked at it,” he says.
Following the path of innovation
Switzerland-based Stefano Tempesta, a Microsoft MVP in Business Applications and Office Development, decided to enter the world of Dynamics freelancers just three months ago.
“It was quite a process for me to make this decision because I have always been employed in some consulting company or a Microsoft ISV,” he says. “So, I have always been working with a team around me.”
But after spending the past year or so working with Dynamics 365 and meeting other MVPs in Switzerland, the UK and Spain who work on their own, Tempesta became intrigued.
“It fascinated me because it offered them the flexibility to work on projects that they enjoyed doing,” he says. “I saw that they were happy. It gave them the ability to work at their own pace. They were not dictated by deadlines that some customer imposed; they could basically define their own deadlines.”
Tempesta says although his area of expertise was Dynamics 365, he wanted to try to follow the trends of innovation as well as his own interests.
“That way, I could always be where the fun happens, in some way,” he says. “Before I was working in an organization working on implementations of CRM. It was a great experience, but in a very corporate environment. I’m not saying that in a negative sense. I’m just saying that it was an environment that didn’t just depend on me or people around me, but there were so many complex scenarios to consider – and to be honest I didn’t like it too much because it was slowing down the process of innovation.”
So several months ago, Tempesta set out on his own, initially focusing on training for end-user companies around Dynamics CRM, including installation, implementation, security, customization, because he liked the contact with people as well as the opportunity to share his knowledge.
More recently, he’s been working with end-user customers to provide system architecture design and promoting the use of Dynamics 365 for other opportunities, such as integration with Office 365 and the adoption of machine learning algorithms for product stock estimation, not just a “simple install, implement and go.”
Like Sonnichsen, Tempesta says he doesn’t actively look for business. Instead, customers seek him out, sometimes hearing him speak at conferences or reading his blogs that pertain to issues they might be having, or via other online networks.
Knowing the end goal
As a freelancer since 2014, Microsoft Dynamics AX MVP Martin Dráb, does development for partners and end user companies as well as provides training to mainly Microsoft partners in Dynamics AX architecture and development, as well as code reviews.
One reason he decided to go freelance was because of the way the lifecycle of Dynamics AX implementation works.
“Often I joined a company for some projects and we would work on a project for half a year or a year,” says Dráb, who is based in the Czech Republic. “Then when we completed the implementation, the company had to find some other work for me, and suddenly I was doing other work than why I joined the company. Now, when I work on project, it’s clear what our goal is, and then I [move to another project]. It’s more transparent, and I don’t have to wonder what happens when the project ends.”
In addition, “I wasn’t getting any benefits from being an employee,” he says. For example, if he wanted to attend conferences, he had to pay for everything himself, and also had to pay for his certifications.
“As a freelancer, I can manage my things by myself and I actually get more money than being an employee. Although you may have job security being an employee, there are so many projects and so few people to do them, getting work isn’t a problem. I am well-known, so people are going to hire me. In most cases I get business through an agency and sometimes people come to me directly.”
Although Dynamics 365 was released toward the end of 2016, Dráb says he is still learning the system to help his customers.
“Sometimes things don’t work as designed, so even if you understand how the system is supposed to work, it’s not always the case,” he says. “So, it’s a challenge for every new system when there are fundamental changes.”