Student Success Story with Ryan Neufeld

By Ryan Neufeld

In 2016, we’re continuing to share a different story every couple of weeks of how a past student has been able to significantly grow their freelance business by applying the concepts they learned from Double Your Freelancing (check out our last one with LaTanya White). 

If you feel your story would be a good fit, share why.

Ryan Neufeld is a software developer, entrepreneur and part-time conference organizer who operates under the company and website, Homegrown Labs.



Hi Ryan! Tell us about yourself; who are you and what do you for fun?

My name’s Ryan, and I run a consultancy out of my home in Winnipeg, Canada. Despite growing up in a rural area, computers and software always drew my interest. Through a few too many stretches of good (and bad) luck, I’ve found myself working and traveling around the United States, Canada and abroad.

A big focus in this stage of my career is optimizing for happiness. I have a wonderful wife and daughter, aspirations for travel, a penchant for photography and a budding interest in hand-tool woodworking (currently working on a seven foot live-edged dining table—my arms, so sore!).

“All this takes a lot of time, and as much as I love what I do, I love my family more.”

What got you into freelancing? Was it what you expected?

I fell into freelancing in an odd way. Rather than striking out on my own, I had a much more organic transition.

Through a series of (un)fortunate events, I was laid off from a great job at a photo-backup company, and made my way the the US to take a job as a Rails consultant. Over the next two years I saw my fair share of good and bad clients, across more tech stacks than I can count.

When I was finally homesick for Canada, I was faced with a daunting proposition. If I was going to be an international employee, I needed to become an independent contractor.

Not one to rest on my laurels, I took the *independent* status to heart. I read Double Your Freelancing, started putting myself out there, and lo and behold, I started getting my own clients.

After awhile doing “general” consulting, I found a niche for myself—I loved beating up people’s systems using “simulation testing” (ST).

Simulation testing is a curious mix of “generative” randomized testing and integration testing. I use the technique to test systems by generating large quantities of somewhat realistic transactions, and watching the havoc I leave in my wake. It’s a lot of fun!

Having found myself with clients in the financial services industry, ST was a really good fit. These companies have big systems that cost a lot of time/money when they break. This was the perfect environment for me to hone a *value-oriented* craft.

“I’m proud to say I’ve finally made it to the ideal high-value, weekly-billing based projects.”

Tell us about your hardest moment as an entrepreneur to date.

Selling myself has been and will continue to be the most stressful part of what I do.

“Unlike regular employment, I’m constantly in the state of almost being out of a job.”

Balancing sales/other administration and project work is a constant challenge. Every time I want to take a day (or a week, god forbid) to work on business development, I have the very real challenge of identifying: “Is this worth it?” Building out a pipeline of work certainly alleviates the stress, but I do appreciate how honest this line of work keeps me.

On the flip side, what’s been your biggest success so far?

The biggest thing for me is being in charge of my own life and my own success.

“My proudest moment in recent history has to be buying our first home based solely on the success of my business in the last two years.”

One of the best lessons I’ve learned in recent years is no matter how successful my business is, I can never buy back time spent away from my family and friends.

The more I take Brennan’s advice and material to heart, the better my quality of life gets. I spend less time working, less time stressing and more time with my family and my hobbies.

What were you struggling the most with when you ran into Brennan’s course?

The switch from being a developer to front-line sales was hard.

I’d been the “technical” person in sales meetings before, but never have I had to put myself out there so much. I consider myself quite the introvert, so I had a lot to learn about leading conversations—and—heck, just asking for what I wanted.

That was a big one. As soon as I started asking—just asking—people started saying yes. Weird, right?

What are some specific strategies, tactics or pieces of advice that helped you grow?

I think the two biggest things that helped my business grow were:

  1. Niching myself down -and-
  2. Putting myself out there

On picking a niche, I was super skeptical. I thought: “There’s no way I can take the already-niche, Clojure language and narrow it down further.”

I was wrong.

Selling myself as a high-quality, hired-hand was hard, really hard. Then I niched down really, really far, to something I thought would be so incredibly obscure I’d never sell it.

The thing is, sure, the technology is obscure, but now I have a really well-defined value-proposition: “Do you have a serious system? I can help you lose less money and sleep better at night.”

“Ultimately, my clients don’t care how I do it, just that they see that result.”

What are you most excited about for your business in 2016?

2016 is a big year for me. I feel like I’ve finally hit my stride.

“I’ve focused my niche even further, and I’m ready to build an agency.”

This year, my primary goal is developing my sales pipeline to the point where I can entertain bringing on extra help. From there I can start to productize some of the more difficult parts of the work we do and grow the kind of team I always wanted to work on early in my career.

Ryan2Ryan Neufeld is a software developer, entrepreneur and part-time conference organizer hailing from the bitterly cold city of Winnipeg, MB. Ryan got his start leading development for a number of startups, before joining Cognitect, a high-end consultancy that stewards the Clojure language. Since then, Ryan has moved on to start his own practice–Homegrown Labs–which offers specialized consulting to companies operating large, mission-critical systems. In his spare time (ha!), Ryan organizes Clojure Remote, a conference focused on remote Clojure developers.