A good post over at Joe Indie about why indies should start with a small project before moving on to bigger things. He states the main benefits of this approach as:
- Experience with the entire software development process.
- Experience shipping software to end users.
- Experience setting up shop on the Web.
- Experience as a business entity with a product to sell.
All of these are excellent points, and after some thought I've expanded on them:
Experience with the entire software development process.
As a developer at heart, I'd put this at the top of my list. A small project gives you a chance to try out tools that you may later rely on, such as code versioning systems and build tools. It also gives you a chance to experiment with development methodologies, design processes and all the other wonderful things that come with developing software. As an indie, you have the particular joy of being able to do things your own way, so it's a good idea to find what works best for you.
It's important to push yourself to learn at this point. The object of the exercise is to produce to small, fully functional product, which brings me nicely onto the next part.
Experience shipping software to end users.
How are your support skills? Do you have a system for tracking user problems? How will you keep track of what bugs you've fixed (and when)? How will you deliver these fixes to end users? More importantly, how easy is it for an end user to apply a patch?
You can guarantee that as soon as your software is released, it will start misbehaving. If you've ever demonstrated one of your products to someone else, you'll know the phrase "Hmm, it's not supposed to do that".
Experience setting up shop on the Web.
Next comes writing the product page that will sell your product, which is perhaps one of the toughest things to do. My advice: Get as many of your friends to read it as possible. Experiment with layouts, phrases and colours. Remember that you have the flexibility of a website, and that you can change it whenever you wish. Take advantage of it!
Marketing is another important factor, and this is a good chance to experiment with different kinds of marketing. Will you handle it all yourself, or use a third party such as Shareware Promotions?
Experience as a business entity with a product to sell.
Tax, insurance and other legal issues abound here. If you don't know much about the legal side of business, now would be a good time to learn!
And more… There's far too much to cover in a single article, but the important thing is to make sure you learn something from your experiences. Experiment, and make sure you find what works for you.