How to Become a Freelance Software Developer in 8 Steps
If you’ve been studying software development and are now ready to take your skills out into the world and earn a living, you may be taking a serious look at freelancing. How to become a software developer requires some steps but it’s worth it.
This is especially true if you’re not super keen on the idea of joining some kind of corporate mega-business and drowning in bureaucratic red-tape as you master your craft and hone your developer skills.
Being a freelance software developer can be an extremely rewarding and lucrative business avenue. But it certainly doesn’t come without its challenges.
And the biggest challenge, by far, is just getting started as a freelancer and securing your first contract.
So in this guide, you’re going to learn everything you need to know to go from ‘software developer hopeful’ to ‘full-fledged, professional, paid freelancer, in 8 simple steps.
Let’s jump in and get poppin’.
1. Define Your Specialty
A multitude of different specialties that you could focus on as a freelance software developer exist.
For example, you could choose to focus on:
- Front-end development
- Back-end development
You could also focus more specifically on freelance programming and specialize in freelance projects that involve specific languages, like:
- Android development
- Or one of the other popular programming languages
Other questions may be helpful to ask yourself:
- Would you like to focus more on general computer science-type stuff?
- Do you want to be a more traditional web developer?
- Are you eventually looking at trying to achieve a full-time job as a coder for a tech startup?
- Are you kind of partial to the idea of sticking strictly to the career path of a freelance programmer or software engineer for the long term?
- Is this as a side thing—being a part-time freelance web developer who works on open source projects, mobile app development, etc. in your spare time?
All of this is to say that you must take a good hard look at your skill set and what you desire from this career choice.
Once you do that, you can figure out where to best utilize your talents.
You should also try to look ahead and think about what kind of career you’d like to have in 5, 10, and 20 years.
Next, write down your goals and ideal career path.
Then, it’ll be time to get to work.
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2. Develop A Portfolio
When it comes to freelance work and advancing your freelancing career as a software developer, developing an online portfolio is going to be a crucial and fundamental stepping-stone to success.
The better your portfolio is, the better you’ll look to potential clients who may need your services as a freelance software developer.
Establishing such a portfolio, however, isn’t always easy.
If you’re starting at ground zero, consider launching some solo projects of your own. Develop an app, create a website, design some software, write some code and store it on GitHub, etc.
Do something of your own that you see as being useful, and use that as a portfolio starting point.
You can also network to find job opportunities that you can take on either for free or for a seriously discounted rate to start. Doing this can help you build your portfolio and gain valuable work experience and references.
It’s always better to get paid for these early jobs. But here’s the thing:
Freelancing in the software development world is a competitive game. In the beginning, you may need to pay your dues to get your foot in the door for at least a job or two.
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3. Build A Marketing Strategy
Putting together a marketing strategy as a software developer is crucial to your success.
This is a hard pill to swallow for some freelancers—but nowadays, you need to be almost as good at marketing as you are at software development if you want to succeed in this space.
Here are some steps that you can take to get off to a good start.
1. Consider Taking Some Online Courses In Digital Marketing
Learning how to digitally market yourself as a developer by taking some online tutorials will be vital to your long-term success.
Marketing will probably include creating content (either on a blog, YouTube, or in a podcast), collecting email addresses to start a mailing list, etc.
If you want to crack the code and learn how to create an authority-driven marketing model based on a blog/website, check out Authority Hacker’s The Authority Site System 3.0 course.
This course is considered by many to be the best digital marketing class in the game.
Amy Porterfield’s List Builder Society is also a great course to look at if you want to put together a marketing strategy that focuses on creating an email list and building a social following as an online creator.
2. Put Together A Website
Putting together a website is essential if you want to succeed as a freelancer in the modern marketplace.
If you plan on doing web development, it’s helpful to think of your website as a portfolio item that you can use to showcase your talents.
If someone is thinking about hiring you, you can bet that they’re going to be looking at your website as a reflection of your creativity and development skills.
3. Use Social Media
Social media is an essential part of modern marketing.
And as a freelance developer, it’ll be in your best interest to utilize it to the fullest extent possible.
There’s a lot to this conversation. But the nuts and bolts of how to create your own social media strategy can be found in this video, explained by Latasha James.
4. Design Some Basic Marketing Materials
Coming up with a basic overall marketing strategy, complete with business cards, a logo, promotional materials, a color scheme, a font scheme, etc., is important.
But this conversation starts at a deeper level than just visuals.
Before deciding on these types of marketing tools, it’s important to define your mission, values, target audience, objective, etc.
Now, once again, this can be a deep conversation.
But for the nuts and bolts of how to do it, check out this video by Visme, titled How to Create a Marketing Plan | Step-by-Step Guide.
4. Decide How You Want To Find Your First Client
Finding your first client as a freelance software developer is possibly the most challenging thing you’ll do as a freelancer.
But it’s possible.
And there are also several different avenues you can take to accomplish this.
There are four different options/strategies that you can utilize to find that first client and get your first paying gig:
Let’s talk about them.
1. In-Person Networking
Networking in-person through local networking and business meetups can bring you into contact with all kinds of potential work opportunities.
To find local networking events near you, consider using the Meetup app.
2. LinkedIn Networking
LinkedIn gets kind of a bad rap nowadays because there’s a lot of business spamming on the platform.
But, there are still some pros out there who get great work on LinkedIn.
Here’s a video of the master, Gary Vaynerchuk himself, discussing his favorite step-by-step process for marketing your business on LinkedIn.
Check it out to learn how he does it.
Cold emailing is another marketing tactic that gets a bad rap these days.
But the truth of the matter is that email marketing, which was overlooked for roughly a decade back in the early 2000s, has recently seen an effective resurgence.
This effectiveness is especially true when people create an efficient email campaign.
Patrick Dang created this video to help entrepreneurs and startups maximize their cold-email potential. Check it out to learn the nuts and bolts of how it works.
4. Utilize A Freelancer Platform
There are several high-quality freelancer platforms that you can utilize as a freelance software developer.
Now, keep in mind that all of these platforms come with their challenges and limitations.
And some of them will probably work better for you than others.
But as a general rule, if you have a good work ethic, have good communication skills, and you’re pretty good at bidding jobs and impressing prospective clients — you can do pretty well on them.
They can also help with referrals and testimonials. And, they make invoicing easy to boot.
Here are the big players to consider checking out and trying out as you begin your journey down the road of freelance software development:
Upwork is a pretty big player in the freelance platform game. They also have quite a few clients on-platform and a lot of gig opportunities.
On Fiverr, you can become a freelancer/seller in almost any category, including software development.
On Freelancer, you can create a profile, browse jobs that match your skills and write bids. Then, when you win jobs and deliver, you get paid.
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5. Figure Out How Much You’re Going To Charge
There are three different ways to charge for your services as a freelance software developer.
Let’s take a minute to talk about them.
1. By The Hour
Hourly billing can be beneficial in the sense that it can cover you if you get into the weeds on a project.
However, the downside is that if you can’t command a high hourly rate, you may short yourself if you tend to work fast.
2. By The Project
Billing by-project tends to work in everyone’s favor most of the time.
You pitch the job. It’s up to you to negotiate and set the price. You do the job. You get paid.
The upside is that the faster you are, the more you make.
The downside is that if you get into the weeds on a project, or if something goes sideways—you may end up taking a hit on time spent vs. how much money you earned.
3. Value-Based Pricing
Value-based pricing works like this.
You determine how much value this project will bring to your client.
You bid the project based on a certain percentage of that value.
This is a less common pricing structure, and it can be more challenging for new freelancers to implement.
However, it can help you drastically increase your earnings if you understand how to do it right.
For a quick-start guide to understanding this pricing model, check out this post on HubSpot.
Value Note: Know Your Worth!
Some freelancers struggle with charging what their services are worth.
This can sometimes be the result of imposter syndrome.
Or sometimes, you might even be afraid to charge as much as your services are worth on the marketplace because you’re either afraid to lose the client or afraid that you’re not worth the market average.
But as a freelancer, it’s vital for you to know your worth and charge accordingly!
Freelancers are becoming more and more important in this ‘great resignation’ economy. And your skills are worth their market price.
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6. Land Your First Few Clients, And Get Some Testimonials
A pivotal moment for every freelance software developer is the moment that they land their first client.
Once you reach this huge milestone, make sure to do a great job on their project so that they’ll give you a great testimonial.
7. Treat Your Clients So Well That They’ll Want To Work With You Again In The Future
With each new client you acquire, make sure to treat them with as much professionalism as possible. Deliver tons of value, and take good care of them.
At this early stage in the game, that positive reputation for quality customer service is vital.
8. Continue To Hone Your Skills And Master Your Craft
Of course, the game isn’t won with your first 1, 2, 3, or even 10 clients.
As a freelance software developer, you’ll always have more to learn.
So continue to keep honing your skills and mastering your craft.
Take courses, read books, stay up-to-date on new developments in your industry—and never stop investing in yourself.
Also, make sure to achieve a quality work-life balance to ensure that you’ll be capable of bringing your very best potential to the table for every new project.
There you have it; a quick-start guide to how to become a freelance software developer.
Of course, we may be a little biased—but we love freelancers and gig workers—and this includes software developers.
So we wish you the best of luck in your future success.
We’d also love for you to consider joining Gigly to take advantage of benefits specifically tailored to freelancers like you. You can save hundreds of dollars a month on healthcare, student loan payments, prescription medications, and more.