Guide: How To Become A Freelance Software Developer

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 26 January 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Freelance software developers are IT professionals who work as independent contractors, rather than as salaried employees. This work arrangement often allows these professionals to enjoy more freedom in the work they do and in choosing their work environment. If you are interested in using your talent as a software developer to complete freelance work, it is beneficial to learn about the nature of freelance opportunities available in the domain of software development. In this article, we examine how to become a freelance software developer, what their primary duties are, where they can find work and how much they make.

Related: What Is a Software Developer? Definition and Skills

What Does A Freelance Software Developer Do?

Freelance software developers work for one or more companies on a short or medium-term basis. This means they are not official employees of the company but work on certain projects or tasks that the freelancer and company agree upon. Freelance software developers work to help websites and computer programs function.

Developers use coding language and techniques to create the "back end" of applications, which is the part of the application users do not see. This means these professionals develop the underlying systems that make websites and applications possible and functional. Freelance software developers often have the following responsibilities:

  • Designing application systems

  • Recommending and applying software upgrades for clients

  • Using coding languages to develop websites

  • Finding clients

  • Communicating with clients to understand their needs

  • Maintaining a personal portfolio or website

Related: What Is A Freelancer? Definition, Skills And Popular Jobs

How To Become A Freelance Software Developer?

As a freelancer, your success may depend on your unique set of skills and professional experiences. Freelance developers may have diverse career progressions and get opportunities to work in a variety of industries and professional domains. They may write code, manage projects, test components, create documentation and liaise with stakeholders and design teams. Follow these steps to learn how to become a freelance software developer:

1. Learn a niche skill

It is helpful as a freelance software developer to have a niche skill that may set you apart from other freelancing professionals. Consider earning a certification in a certain coding language or specialising in a specific type of work, like debugging applications. This helps establish a speciality skill for yourself, which companies often appreciate in a freelancer. A specialisation in a niche domain or service can also improve your earning potential greatly.

Many freelance developers choose their niche speciality while pursuing their bachelor's degrees. Although formal academic qualifications are not mandatory to become a freelance developer, such qualifications can give you a competitive edge while looking for work. In a professional course, you can get guidance under the mentorship of a professor while also developing your skills.

Related: How To Get A Software Developer Internship In 7 Steps

2. Set rules for your work

Freelancers are self-employed and hence, manage all aspects of their work by themselves. They negotiate payments, make proposals, communicate with clients, schedule tasks and track work progress on their own. To work efficiently as a freelancer, you can set rules for yourself and make consistent efforts to abide by them. Establishing a good work ethic early on can create a healthy work-life balance and reduce work pressure. These are some areas where freelancers can set rules:

  • Work environment: Create a productive work environment for yourself and try to perform all your work-related duties in that space. While working from home, it is healthy to clearly define your office space within your home.

  • Types of clients: As a freelancer, you can choose the nature of clients you want to work with in your role. For example, you can choose to work exclusively with small business owners in your area and engage in developing the local economy.

  • Number of clients: As a freelancer, it is important to find a balance between the amount of work you do and the pay you get for your efforts. Decide on how many clients you would like to work with at a time, and try to give due attention to the needs of each client.

  • Work hours: Freelancers get to prepare their own work schedules and set their work hours according to their convenience. Create a healthy work-life balance by defining your work hours in a day and adhering to them consistently.

  • Levels of service: In the domain of software development, you can provide a wide range of services as a freelancer. Try to identify your most prominent skills and tailor your services to complement them.

Related: How To Practise Self-Discipline In The Workplace

3. Build a portfolio

Create an online portfolio to share your work with potential clients and peer networks. Your portfolio can be a collection of your best-commissioned work and personal projects. You can also provide references and testimonials from clients who are satisfied with your work.

4. Determine the rates for your services

Before you determine how much to charge for your services, try to find out how professionals who do similar work price their services. You can charge a client per hour or per project. You can also set project milestones and receive payment on the completion of a milestone. Consider these factors while deciding how much to charge for your services:

  • Experience level: If you have a high level of expertise or experience in providing a particular service, you can charge your clients more than your average rate.

  • Time: When you work as a freelancer, you may handle a variety of tasks and some tasks may take more time than others. When you charge a client for a service, consider the amount of time you may invest in it and ensure that the pay is appropriate for your time and effort.

  • Financial responsibilities: If you have any financial responsibilities, factor them into your rate, so that you can address them as you work. Financial responsibilities may be in relation to loans, professional purchases or personal expenses.

  • Equipment: If you use any equipment, tools or licensed software for your work, you can factor the costs into the rate you charge for your services. If you require specialised resources, tools or equipment for a particular project, you can ask your client to bear those expenses.

  • Market value: Before you set the rates for your services, try to understand the market value of the services you provide. Ensure that the rate you quote to a client is appropriate for your experience level and the market value of your work.

Related: 12 Best Freelance Jobs (With Salaries And Work Duties)

5. Create a client base

Identify the type of clients you want to work for and the type of projects you are interested in taking up. Consider your rates while you target clients. Some clients may be able to pay you above the market average rate while some may demand that you provide more competitive prices for your services.

6. Market your skills

Market your skills to retain members of your client base and to secure the business of new clients. You can use professional social media handles to share work samples and engage with the online community. You can also create profiles on freelancing websites to give more reach to your services. Collaborate with other professionals to gain exposure within their client base or through their social media. Freelancers make consistent efforts to secure a steady amount of work throughout the year and marketing is crucial for succeeding professionally.

Related: 15 Software Developer Skills and How To Develop Them

7. Create a contract

Freelancers are independent contractors and they sign or approve contracts before they start working for a client. You can download employment contract templates and tailor them according to the nature and requirements of your work. Some clients may have standard contracts ready for freelancers. An employment contract can mention:

  • The nature and scope of the work

  • Tentative timelines

  • Details of payment

  • Legal guidelines

  • Professional liabilities and responsibilities

9. Learn new skills

Software development is a dynamic and competitive field. To stay relevant in this field as a freelancer, you can update your skills and knowledge base periodically. Use online resources and information repositories to stay up-to-date on technological innovations in your specific field of work. Pursue relevant certifications to improve employability and accelerate your career growth.

Related: What Are Professional Certificates? (With 10 Certificates)

Where Can Freelance Software Developers Work?

Companies in various industries hire freelance software developers to finish projects and fix software issues. Most freelance developers work on a project basis and may help a company fix software issues on their app or design a website for a client. As a freelance software developer, you can also find work on online freelancing platforms.

Software developers are often part of online forums and communities where they can interact and learn from other practitioners in the field. Through active networking, developers can get assistance with tasks, learn about lucrative work opportunities and gain access to useful repositories of information. Freelance software developers work individually and often complete their work remotely. Many freelancers work from home but some take the opportunity of remote work to travel around while still earning income.

Related: 11 In-Demand Freelance Skills For Earning A Steady Income

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