How to start freelancing as a developer
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I got this question over Twitter: “I want to go freelance and work for myself, as that is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but have never had the courage or push to do it. What advise could you give to someone thinking of going down this path? What do you know now that you wish you knew in the beginning?”
That’s a big topic to unroll.
I think freelancing is the ultimate freedom.
I’ve never been hired by a company, and in the beginning (2008) I’ve worked as a freelancer and contractor, then gradually moved to my own little software products business, then moved back to contracting, and then gradually shut this activity down when my own projects started being my income.
The best way to move to freelancing if you are currently employed is to ask your employer to pay you as a contractor. Or past employers, if that’s something you have and you have good relationships with. Or past colleagues.
One way to start is through those big and famous marketplaces where you can find job postings for freelancers.
It highly depends on where you live, as freelancing marketplaces can be good in low-cost-of-living countries, but terrible for other countries.
It can be a good option, or not.
The ideal would be to find a local company through local events, through friends, or just plain cold email or calling, asking if they could use some help, even if you are just starting out.
Companies like to use contractors because they can save a lot of money and fire you at will, but this is your strength too - you can move away any time you want.
Another way, which I find optimal personally, is to provide productized services. Fiverr is a good site for that. You pick a niche, define your precise service, and let people “choose you” rather than trying to find a client.
Choosing a niche is key. Freelancing is one of those activities where being specialized is a great advantage. Being the #1 expert in your area for something specific can lead to higher pay and better opportunities.
Sometimes those little one-time services can lead to much bigger contracts or ongoing collaborations.
If you are missing the confidence, it’s normal. Just start small. What can you do? Can you review technical blog posts? Can you take care of a Gatsby or Hugo blog? Can you do redesigns? You don’t need to start building mobile apps or big React websites.
You can, of course, if that’s your expertise. But don’t be fooled by thinking you’re not good enough for it before you can start.
You can start with low prices if this makes you more comfortable, but also remember to not present yourself as a cheap alternative that undersells their services. Quickly move on to charging appropriately, as this will land you better clients, it will be less stressful, you’ll work on more interesting projects, and it’s just better in any way.
Also don’t be afraid to fire your clients and refusing work if that’s not what you want to focus on. Learn to say no.