I was at this BOF, and there were about 40 people there, with a pretty even mix between people who had already gone solo and had their own business, and those who were considering it. We started out with a list of pitfalls that we wanted to go over, on a whiteboard. Somebody took a few pictures of the final whiteboard - hopefully someone will post them here. Some of the discussion points included incorporating, finding good legal and accounting help, deciding when to make the jump, keeping the business going, where to find help. A few websites were mentioned, as well as some books and mailing lists, which I'll try to remember and summarize below:
Here's some links that are also related that weren't mentioned at the actual BOF:
Someone mentioned a company that would handle all billing, accounting, payroll, benefits for 4% of your billable rate (for contractors) but I don't remember the name of the specific company. Again, I hope somebody else who was there will reply with more info. There were also other books mentioned that I know I haven't listed (nor read) but since I wasn't taking notes I don't recall those, either.
It was generally agreed that online contract sites like RentACoder.com were not terribly useful for most in the room because the resulting bids almost always went for some ridiculously low rate, presumably to a student or offshore contractor. One of the key takeaways from those who had made the jump was that networking and maintaining relationships is a key to success. Some people could trace almost all of their current business to a single happy customer from many years ago, although there was no way to know that at that time. Keep in touch with past clients and coworkers, you never know when one of them will run into somebody and remember you and refer someone to you.
There was some talk about figuring out what to charge. The one piece of advice I remember (and liked) was 'the gulp test'. To summarize, if you're talking on the phone and the client asks your rate and you tell them and they say "ok", then you bid too low. If they immediately respond that it's too high, then it was. But if you hear them gulp, pause, and then respond, you know you nailed it. Not terribly scientific, but it sounds about right to me.
Anyway, that's my mini-braindump from a week later. Hopefully it will prove useful.
Steven A Smith
President, AspAlliance LLC
CIO, Lake Quincy Media, LLC