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Your Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Freelance Developer

Last updated: June 25, 2019
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Veteran developers know that it’s crucial to stay updated on what’s new in the programming world.

Beginning developers will soon find out just how crucial that is.

 

 

Sadly, many developers get stuck in ruts when they work in brick and mortar offices fulfilling the needs of just one company.

Wouldn’t you rather have the opportunity to flex your coding skills and learn new programming languages?

That’s one of the reasons you should consider freelancing full-time as a web developer.

 

Here are two others:

  • Money
  • Freedom

 

There are a lot of perks in being a developer for hire, and the first is unlimited earning potential.

Working for yourself means you have unlimited earning potential, which is a huge deal.

A lot of people seek freelance work to up their average salary.

Another perk is choosing your schedule.

 

You also have:

  • Control over which clients you work with
  • Opportunity to build a reputation as a valuable industry player
  • Ability to travel, further your learning and being part of really awesome projects and startups

 

Freelance developers also have a higher earning potential out of the gate opposed to other types of freelancers like writers.

Developers can make $30-$150 (or even more) an hour depending on the project, their skill set, and experience.

So how do you become a freelance web developer?

 

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We’ll show you.

We’re going to walk you through becoming a freelance developer from start to finish.

Get ready – you’re about to set yourself up for a successful freelance career.

 

Find Your Niche

When you first begin, the amount of information readily available at your fingertips can be overwhelming.

However, there’s power in knowing a lot about a handful of things.

Narrowing your focus will help you win more jobs and grow as a developer.

That doesn’t mean you won’t use your vast array of knowledge.

What you’re narrowing in on is what or who you’re developing for.

Maybe you love building websites.

Or maybe getting startups up and running is more your thing.

Perhaps your goal is to become a front-end developer, maybe it’s to become a full-stack developer.

Whatever it is, think about what you love most and run with it.

The idea here is to specialize. Why?

 

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Because when you specialize, you build a reputation as an expert on doing XYZ within a framework or an industry.

Clients will know to turn to you when they want something done.

Why would a company hire a jack-of-all-trades developer when they can hire someone who has worked with others in their industry and has proven results.

Plus, your clients can refer you to other similar companies, which will help solidify you as an expert.

But, then again, maybe you don’t want to specialize. Perhaps you want to dip your toes in several industries.

If that’s the case, take projects on like a movie star.

Don’t just take any project – be picky about which projects and clients you select.

Have an idea of what type of portfolio site you want to build and how each new client will look.

Not sure which niche to pick?

Start by working with different clients and take note of what you like and what you don’t like.

For more help finding a niche, check out this excellent podcast by John Morris.

 

Learn, Learn, Learn!

Now, as we said above, knowing all of the things is great.

And, yes, we just recommended that you specialize in a specific industry.

But . . .

You still need to know a LOT of different things.

Why?

Because to differentiate yourself from other developers, you must have a unique “X-Factor” about you.

Soak up as much knowledge about web development as your spongy brain will hold.

Developers need always to have the desire and will to learn — it’s learning and staying current that will help you grow and secure more work.

 

But what about the cost?

Worry about paying for certifications later. When you can afford it, get as many as you can as it makes sense for your career path.

Sure, having tons of certifications and badges on your portfolio site look great, but don’t feel like you have to take every course out there.

Do what will help you advance to where you want to be.

But, because you’re likely just starting, look to the countless free educational tools and online tutorials at your disposal.

There are tons of free resources for learning code. Take advantage of resources like CodeAcademy, Udemy, and GitHub and learn everything you possibly can.

 


 

That said, it’s worth investing in a paid course regarding something that piques your interest.

Paid courses are more immersive and offer guided classroom instruction.

Paid courses can be pretty pricey, but if you want to invest, these three are great places to start: General Assembly, Turing, and Galvanize.

Even if you have all of the HTML and CSS basics down and have been working as a developer for a while, you can never stop learning.

You must always be refining your skills.

You must always know what is going on in the industry.

Get ahead of the curve and make sure you don’t miss out on any updates, rollouts, or new features by subscribing to newsletters.

Stay informed by following the companies whose script you frequently use on Twitter, like Javascript.

You’ll know what’s up before everyone else does and you may even be able to head issues off at the pass.

Plus, they typically post interesting information and ideas about web development and design in general.

 

Create a Portfolio Site That Impresses

You can have fun creating an impressive portfolio! Even if you haven’t had a paying client, your portfolio still shows potential clients what you can do.

Play around and form a web portfolio that showcases your abilities as a developer.

Need inspiration?

Take a look at some fantastic portfolios from newbie developers to seasoned professionals. There are tons of them out there.

Only use them for inspiration, though.

Just take a look at them and note the parts you like most.

You need to create your brand and stay true to it.

So, be inspired and then let it simmer in your mind as your creative juices start flowing.

The possibilities for your portfolio are endless.

As you gain more experience on your own and with clients, the more you will progress.

 

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Market Yourself

You might be wondering when we’re going to get to the “freelancer” side of things.

Here it goes. Let’s start with marketing.

You already know how to develop websites or software or both.

But to be a freelancer, you need to know how to market yourself and get in front of decision makers.

But how do you do that, especially if you don’t have a ton of experience?

Start with the people and companies you already know and then branch out.

 

Network Every Chance You Get

When you have your portfolio ready and built to your liking, reach out to your connections and network.

Connect on LinkedIn or even through email and tell your connections about what you’ve been up to and what your goals are.

Don’t be shy. Relationships, even business relationships are forged and made stronger when people do each other favors – like setting someone up with a project.

And don’t forget your friends!

If you’re interested in web development, you probably have friends that are, too.

Even if you don’t, you likely know people who know people that need a web developer.

If you’re close enough to those people, you can even get a head start before you have your portfolio ready to share.

 

Contribute to Open Source Projects

You have to do the work to start landing clients. Open source projects give you the opportunity to do that work.

 

Here are a few reasons why you should contribute to open source projects:

  • It’s an opportunity to gain experience
  • You can do it while you’re still learning to code
  • You get help learning that code from other developers on the project
  • They are a great way to practice or learn to write “clean code”
  • You learn how to code in a team environment – which will be important when you work for big clients
  • Open source puts you in front of other developers or companies that will want to work with you in the future

 

The list goes on, but you can see from just those few that open source is of great benefit to your burgeoning freelance career.

Find a project on sites like GitHub or CodeTriage. GitHub even has a list of projects that are awesome for beginners.

Hopefully, you aren’t still wondering why you should do something that probably won’t pay, but if you are:

Open source projects lead to other revenue – even immediate revenue. Either in the form of services now or in connections that lead to assignments with big money clients in future.

So, get on it and be seen.

 

Share With Your Network

Sharing is caring – about your work, your career, your clients, and your network of developers.

You have to be seen to be remembered.

 

To do that:

Consistently update your portfolio
Post your work and opinions about the industry on social media
Contribute to the conversation by commenting on a blog post or starting a thread in a Facebook group

 

So, shout it out on all of your networks, and, if you want to ramp it up, try sharing your updated portfolio on a site made specifically for sharing design portfolios.

Put yourself in the spotlight and do it often enough to be remembered.

 

Make Friends With Other Freelancers

Freelancing can get lonely if you don’t reach out to anyone and try to make friends. You need a community — if for nothing else than to have people to bounce ideas off of or to keep you in the loop.

Plus, other freelancers can serve as another source for establishing connections and meeting new clients.

You can find social freelancer communities by using hashtags or by getting involved in groups on LinkedIn.

You can also find other freelancers at coffee shops or co-working spaces.

 

Browse Job Boards

Sure, you want to eventually reach a place in your career when the clients come to you, but for now, job boards are an excellent place to get your start.

 

You can find clients that decent (even high) hourly rates at:

 

You may find your next client sooner than you think!

 

Get Your Small Business Up and Running

Many people don’t realize that freelancing isn’t freestyling. If you want to succeed, you have to treat freelancing as a business.

Because it is — it’s your business, and you’re the CEO.

You have to structure that business and get it set up to enjoy all of the benefits of being a freelancer.

Need some truth?

Setting it up from the get-go makes hurdles like tax time a lot easier to jump.

 

Accounting/Finances

Find a platform that fits your business model. Invest in accounting software like FreshBooks or Quickbooks.

Decide what your payment terms are and what you’ll reinvest in learning, expenses, etc.

Track those expenses so you’ll be able to report your tax deductions easily.

Don’t forget to set aside tax money with each invoice you send. Make a plan to set aside 30% of each invoice for taxes. Unlike traditional workers, freelancer’s taxes are not taken out of every paycheck (or in this case, invoice).

It’s your responsibility to prepare for tax season. It’s good to get in the habit of practicing good financial health from the get-go, that way you’re never stressing about money issues.

 


Secure a Web Domain

Plan for your hosting costs and other website-related expenses. After you establish your business name — this can either be your own name or a name you create — it’s good to purchase the website domain.

 

Establish Client Management and Other Processes

Prepare for how you are going to handle client requests and client relationships.

Having a go-to plan for how to manage clients will help you manage your business and your time.

 

Determine:

  • Your hours of availability
  • How long it takes you to complete a project from start to finish
  • How much you charge for each project (a major help for when you need to respond quickly to an email requesting additional changes or additions)
  • What does onboarding new clients look like?
  • What are the steps for wrapping up a project?

 

Make a business plan that takes these things into account.

If you’re a super self-starter, you might even look into how you’re going to handle legal issues like intellectual property or committing a client to a contract.

Think through these things before you get started so you can establish yourself with a solid foundation.

Having a clear vision for each of these items will not only help you grow your business, but it’ll ensure you have a healthy work-life balance.

 

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Of course, you’ll learn a lot along the way, but it’s best to be as prepared as possible.

Pursuing a career as a freelance developer is an excellent choice. More and more companies are hiring freelance developers.

And, being a freelance developer means having more opportunities to expand your skills and knowledge.

Always knowing what’s at the forefront and having the freedom to work on emerging tech is what will keep you working successfully for a long, long time.

 


 

Now you know how to lay the groundwork for getting your freelancing business started.

If you’re overwhelmed by everything you need to do to become a full-time freelance web developer, sit down now and write out a plan.

Launching a successful freelance web developer career requires hard work, time, and patience.

Start building your future today!

 

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