Freelance developer woman coding at a coffee shop.

Do you long for the freedom and flexibility you could get from being a freelance developer? Are you looking for more creative control, exciting challenges, and variety when it comes to the sort of work you do?

Becoming a freelance developer is the dream for many up-and-coming coders. But there are some misconceptions about what freelance life actually involves. Being a freelance developer is full of ups and downs, like learning to work with tricky clients, managing your time and productivity wisely, sourcing the right jobs for you, and chasing payments. Yes, freelancing can be challenging. But ultimately, if you go in prepared and know what to expect, your freelance career can be super rewarding too. 

To help you dive into the wonderful world of freelancing, we have put together our top tips and practical advice for you as an aspiring freelance developer.

Our top 5 tips for becoming a freelance developer

One: Before going freelance, get as much experience as you can!

There is often the temptation to jump straight into a freelance career as soon as you finish your first coding bootcamp or graduate from a software engineering course. The dream of working remotely from anywhere in the world and being your own boss can draw you towards going freelance from the get-go. However, working for an established tech company at the beginning of your career is beneficial in so many ways. 

  • You’ll receive mentorship and support from more experienced developers in your team to skyrocket your growth.
  • You’ll gain loads of experience by working on bigger and more complex projects involving many people. 
  • You’ll learn about the non-programming side of the job and gain soft skills like communication, project and time management, and collaboration by working within a team. 

Once you feel that you have gained the necessary experience from full-time work, we suggest starting a few freelance projects on the side. That way, you can test if you’re ready to make the jump and go it alone.

In the long run, working full-time within a team will make you a more well-rounded developer and prepare you with more than just the tech skills you need to work for yourself. 

Two: Find your niche

As a freelance developer, you need to establish yourself as an expert within your field. So find your programming niche. Will you be a frontend developer creating beautiful and functional websites? Or will you focus on more complex backend development that keeps you on your toes? Choose a specialty that fascinates you, makes you excited to get to work every day, and where you can add unique value and expertise. 

As a newbie freelancer, it can be easy to become an all-purpose developer, taking whichever coding project you can get. But be aware that each new project will require new frameworks and codebases, involving a steep learning curve. You’ll need to put lots of time and effort into learning these new things and will have little time to put into actually growing your business.

Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, we suggest you zone in on your chosen niche. By mastering the skills required to be exceptional at what you do, you will become more valuable to your clients. As a specialist, you’ll be able to code faster, scale up existing code, and anticipate your client’s needs to provide them with better service. 

When you aim to become the best within your niche, you can provide your clients with excellent products, leading to potential referrals, more work suited to your unique skills, and a growing business. 

Three: Sharpen your skills and never stop learning

Once you have chosen your area of expertise, continue to sharpen your skills. In the world of tech, things are constantly shifting, so as a freelance developer, you need to be open to continuously learning to stay relevant. Take online courses, listen to coding podcasts, read books and blogs about the tech industry, and get inspired by the work of other coders on social media.

A perk of being a freelancer is that you are free to deep-dive into studying new languages, technologies, and skills whenever you want. When you’re in charge of your own schedule, you can prioritise learning.

Ultimately, spending time learning and staying up to date with industry trends and developments will be an investment in your freelance career.

Four: Contribute to open-source projects

Contributing to open-source projects on platforms like GitHub is vital if you plan to go freelance. By contributing to open-source projects, you can make a name for yourself in the coding community and create a portfolio to show off your coding skills. 

We suggest contributing to open-source projects in the niche that you’d like to work in. By doing this, you’ll be able to hone your skills and showcase your expertise in your specialty. So if you’re interested in working in the finance industry, contribute to an open-source finance calculator project, for example. You can even create open-source projects that other developers can contribute to. 

When you contribute to open-source projects within your niche, you are developing your freelance brand, which will help you market yourself and get the type of clients you desire. 

Five: Hustle for clients in the short term but build your brand in the long term

When you’re beginning your freelance journey, hustling for clients is necessary. You have rent to pay, groceries to buy, and a myriad of other monthly expenses. So money needs to come in from the start. That means you will have to put hard work, time, and money into gaining your first clients. But in the hustle and bustle of finding your first clients, you mustn’t forget the long-term goal of building your brand. Otherwise, you will constantly be on a hamster wheel, hustling for clients instead of having an established brand where clients seek you out. 

In order to get your first clients, you must learn how to market your services effectively. Basically, you have to learn how to sell yourself and communicate your value offering. Potential clients need to see how you can solve their problems through valuable coding solutions. To get immediate short-term work, you can use the following methods: 

  • Get in touch with existing friends and contacts
  • Become part of a freelance network
  • Use services such as Upwork or Fiverr
  • Advertise yourself on freelance forums or Facebook groups

Once you have this initial work to pay your bills, take time to think about how you want to grow your brand in the long term. By building a successful brand, you can charge higher rates and have clients come to you directly instead of having to seek them out. One way to build your brand is to ask happy existing customers for referrals and online reviews. We also suggest creating a blog or website (we recommend hosting it on xneelo), YouTube channel, or something similar to position yourself as an industry expert, provide helpful information to customers, and allow people to find you online. 

Remember, you can make money quickly using short-term strategies but building a valuable brand will make you successful and sought-after in the long run. 

Whether you’re starting as a freelancer or have an established brand, never undersell yourself. Your work is valuable, and you should charge accordingly.

Other things to know before becoming a freelance developer:

  • Before you start, make sure you have a strong portfolio to showcase your skills to potential clients.
  • To be a freelance developer, you must learn how to manage your time well to get the work/life balance that everyone talks about. 
  • You will need to do things that don’t involve coding to be successful, like dealing with clients, managing your finances, etc. 
  • Your income will fluctuate, but if you learn to manage your finances wisely, you can save in the good times and get through the quiet times.

Thoughts from real-life freelance developers

Get good at the business side of things

“To be a successful freelance developer, you must balance your coding skills with business skills. Being a freelance developer involves so much more than just coding skills. Because it is YOUR business, you’re going to have to handle every aspect involved in running it: marketing, brand-building and looking for clients, managing money, and negotiating a fair price that values your work. Many freelancers get stuck in a trap where they charge too little for a project and have to continue working on it every time a client wants an update. Don’t fall for this mistake: know your worth and the value of your services, and choose quality projects.” – Nwabisa Masiko, freelance developer.

Share your journey. 

“For every project you do, no matter how small, post it. For every tech event you attend, post about it. For every coding problem, you feel proud of solving, post about it. Your Facebook friends don’t have to know how to code, but they will remember you when they need a website or when they know someone who needs a website. Brag about it. Before I was an established freelancer, 80% of my work came from Facebook referrals.” — Simo Mafuxwana, senior frontend engineer and freelance developer.

Build relationships. 

“Be friendly and build friendships in the industry. Those friendships will help you find your niche and form connections with people who can recommend you because they know your character as a friend and your work ethic as a colleague.” — Kevin Mbuisha, freelance web developer.  

So you want to become a freelance developer one day?

If you’re keen to become a freelance developer one day but haven’t learned to code yet, why not start learning with CodeSpace? At CodeSpace, you’ll learn directly from developers who won’t just teach you how to code but also provide you with rich information about navigating your dream career. 

Apply for CodeSpace’s Software Development course today so you can start your journey to becoming a developer!