Working as a freelancer

florinpop17 profile image Florin Pop ・1 min read

Are you working (or had in the past) as a freelancer?

What platform are you using to find work?

Tell us a little bit about your experience 😊


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I've been freelancing for a little over 7 years now - I've never had a full-time programming job. For the first few years, I had other various part-time jobs (cafes, delivery, things like that), but after a while I got some traction and was able to turn it into a "career".

Since then, I have been fortunate enough to have all of my work come as referrals from clients and friends.

Some benefits have been:

  • I have been able to learn a lot in terms of programming. With each project, I try to incorporate something new - so everything gets to be a learning experience. I have found that this is a big motivator for me, and is probably what has driven me the most.
  • I can (at this point) be a little picky about who I work with. I'm currently looking for full-time work, but I have the privilege of being able to say no to companies or positions I'm not excited about.

Some pitfalls, in my experience, have been:

  • Learning how to work with others - both clients and collaborators - has been just as much (if not more) of a learning curve as learning how to code. It's all about trust, open communication about what all parties need and want, and setting very clear goals and expectations. In other words, you also need to be a skilled project manager.
  • As a solo developer, there's a ceiling on the type of work you can do, unless you're getting contract positions on teams. My work has grown from building "websites" to "web apps" and MVPs - and I'm finding that, with these larger projects, I'm playing Product Manager much more than I am developer. A lot of the times, clients don't really know what they want (when it comes to specifics). If they're new to this kind of work, their inclination is to hire a developer - those are the people that build these things, right? - while they probably need a product manager & designer.
  • It's also difficult to get experience working with teams, which is a big gap when looking for full-time work.
  • Working from home is isolating.
  • Money stuff can be stressful AF. Debt, clients paying late or not at all, setting aside money for taxes, not having income at regular intervals - this is all very difficult, and if you want to thrive, getting organized about this is key (and a good amount of work).

Some things that are both a benefit and a pitfall:

  • You can work from anywhere!
  • You can easily end up working from everywhere. (Schedule serious breaks ahead of time, and commit to not working during these breaks)
  • You are your own boss!
  • You have to be your own boss. (Remember to be a good one)

Some tips:

  • When setting your rates, remember that:
    1. you are going to be paying additional taxes as a freelancer
    2. Your client is not paying any of your taxes, insurance, and so on. They're hiring a contractor because they don't want the overhead and risk of having someone on payroll. This overhead and the risk is all on your shoulders. Set your rates accordingly.
  • Do not allow clients to contact you by text/phone, unless it's a real emergency. Set working hours and serious boundaries.

I've been thinking about writing a series of blog posts on a lot of the above... this thread is a good nudge for me - thank you for starting it!


'Do not allow clients to contact you by text/phone, unless it's a real emergency. Set working hours and serious boundaries.'

Absolutely. The one client I was able to get as a freelancer I tried to fire because he couldn't handle boundries. He'd follow me around at my regular day job for hours at a time (management was split between thinking it was cute and wanting to fire me for 'keeping a distraction' at work). I'd also come home after work to find that my mother-in-law, who has cognitive problems, thought he was my friend and let him in, telling him to wait for me in my bedroom.

Boundries are incedibly important, and I recommend against freelancing unless your area takes harassment and stalking seriously.


These are some really good advices! Thank you!


My typical advice is to do everything you can to avoid the big online freelancer platforms. In my experience, many (not all) of the clients on those sites want a ton of work for little pay, and don't understand when you say things may take longer than they expect.

Instead, the most important thing you can do is "become a visible expert in your space". That could be a blog, ebook, conference talks, etc - but have something that you can point to online when clients ask what you've done before.

For me, that was writing an ebook about React. It took about 2 months of concentrated effort, but after that, it was like a cheat code for getting new clients. I could reach out to businesses that I knew were using React, and when they ask what I'd done before, I'd show them the book. After that, conversations became very easy. "Oh! you wrote a book on React... you must know what you're talking about" was the common sentiment.

It takes time, for sure, but it's possible! Good luck everyone :)


That's a piece of very good advice - become recognized as an expert or 'authority' in your field, and it won't be hard to stand out and get clients. A little bit of a practical problem that I personally have is that I tend to be a generalist, dabbling with a lot of technologies. This makes it a bit harder to follow your advice, but even then it's a great idea and one that I've been contemplating recently.


Yes, that does make it a bit more of a challenge - but perhaps you could also use it to your advantage? If you are a generalist, then you could write an ebook like "How to be an effective generalist programmer" (or something like that :) ). Good luck!

True! I would be telling a different story, but it could still be an interesting one, and clients need that sort of dev too.

(for all the time and effort I've spent on front end dev over the last years - JS, React, Vue, Webpack the whole shebang - I'm still being drawn time and time again by backend dev - yeah or maybe it's "fullstack")


That's a solid piece of advice! Thank you!


Been working on Upwork since 2010 when it was Odesk. I average about 4 gigs per week mainly doing Web scrapping, NLP/Sentiment analysis, Data Analysis, API Design and Web development using Flask and Django. I get clients mainly through referrals and have a few long term clients with regular repeat jobs. Despite the negative press it receives Upwork is a good platform if you play by the rules, identify high paying categories and provide good work. I average about $6K per month which is not bad considering i'm from a third world country. The platform however has some pain points like recent changes that seem to make it hard to create a new account and get approved especially in categories that already have a lot of freelancers.


4 gigs per week man that's a lot ... 6K per month that's also quite a lot, not just for "3rd world standards" - I think that many folks from 'developed places' (lol how stupid does that sound ...) would also be contented with that kind of money.

Do you make most of that 6K from repeat clients with whom you already have a good working relationship? I guess it would be hard to make 6K only by picking up gigs directly from Upwork.


Very nice! Congratulations!


The hardest part is self-discipline. You have to control yourself. I've been a procrastinator my whole life. I always wait for the last minute to start freaking out (yes, I freak out before I actually do my job lol).

Things have been changing once I try to digitize my work. Before I only use notepads and phone reminder. But lately I've been introduced to some of the productivity apps and the result is wonderful.

I onboard my client on a project management software called Quire. I don't have to use emails to update them with every change. They can just log in and see the progress.

Being a freelance has its up and down, but to me, it's one of the most rewarding job :)


yeah you are spot on
pros: You can work from anywhere and in your suitable time period.
cons: you have freedom that means you can easily spoil your working hours..


Thanks for sharing your story. I'm also a procrastinator so this helps!


I'm a WordPress developer now full-time with RocketGenius (parent company of the form plugin Gravity Forms). When I was freelancing (been there for over a decade), Codeable was a game changer for me.

When I joined in 2017, the proposed hourly rate on Codeable is $60-$100 and now it's $70-$120 (codeable.io/pricing/). It takes several phases to join Codeable - application, test project, interview, and live coding. Once you passed all of them you'll start a trial for 45 days (you get paid 100% in the trial even you didn't pass it), and then you get a certificate and can stay there ever since (I'm still there just don't take new clients).

In my opinion, it's the best platform if you are in the WordPress freelancing market. Nowadays WP is very common so there're plenty freelancers work for low hourly rates or bidding with low prices, but if you're very good at WordPress, you can find high paying clients on Codeable and $5-6k per month is very common among our best experts (members on Codeable are called experts). And the most successful ones are reportedly securing > $10k per month (e.g. nathanello.com/freelance/two-years...).


Nice! Glad to see it worked out for you!

I'm not a WP guy so maybe Codeable is not for me πŸ˜„


I have been working as a part-time freelancer on Freelancer.com since 2015.
So far, I have managed to complete 80+ projects, with 5-star rating, positive feedback and got a good number of repeating clients.
It's a pretty good experience and I've been thinking to move to full-time freelancing but I am too afraid to leave a full-time job and move to full-time freelancing.


I would put aside 3-6 months of expenses and then go full-time freelancing πŸ˜ƒ (this is what I did!)


I literally had 0 luck in the past trying to find coding work as a freelancer, it was terrible. I've been freelance writing for a while now, and that's been pretty good. I haven't been using any platform other than simply posting my work and either reaching out or getting reached out directly.


What kind of writing? and "reaching out/getting reach out" how does that work, via what channels?


By writing, I meant technical writing, as in mainly blog post, although I've published some books as well. And by reaching out I meant writing to editorial or technical blogs I know pay their authors and asking if they'd like me to write for them.
Finally, by getting reach out I mean getting contacted by those blogs because they've read my work somewhere else.

Thank you! so blogging and technical writing has been more successful for you (in terms of earning money) than pure development work, good to know and I'll keep that in the back of my mind.


I worked a lot for toptal in the past and the experience was amazing. You'll have great clients to work with and your network can grow quickly.

There are a lot of other companies like toptal: gigster, scalablepath, xteam, etc.. They all have a screening process and you usually can start the screening process anytime you like.

If you are looking for freelance jobs, taking a look at these is definitely worth it.


I spent three years as a freelancer.

Firstly, let me say, platforms like Upwork etc are not worth their time. Sure there are jobs on there, but companies will bid work off to the lowest bidder. It CAN work and I know people who have had success through the platform, however for every success story there are 1000 failures.

The majority of my work came from just emailing/ringing local companies. Either making websites or taking on things they want to outsource.

Ultimately it was a stressful time, my personal development came to a halt because I was always chasing my next pay packet and I’m still owned about Β£5000 from various clients two years on.

In my experience full time work has always been better for me.


I am on Fiverr, got a gig a few weeks ago and the client was so impressed he gave me a 2-month contract to work on their codebase that meant I had to create an Upwork account as his company uses it.

Mostly Python-related tasks.

Not sure if it's OK to promote your gigs here but here goes nothing: fiverr.com/s2/8ffb9f099b


I'm working as a freelancer since end of 2011.
The first (I think) three years I worked from a coworking space every day. That was how I got all of my jobs and still get them (except for two: one was for an agency a friend of mine worked for, the other one was for someone who found me via google) - and I have always been fully booked since the beginning.

Online platforms might be helpful for some people, but I prefer to work for people I know directly or at least through a friend. That way chances that everything works smoothly are much higher in my opinion.
But I know that I have always been very lucky with my situation and that this definitely might not work for everyone.


Worked as a freelancer for a few months in total. Got work from contacts knowing people needing work done. Total ~8-10 projects. Can't talk or even mention some of them due to agreement. One client straight disappeared in thin air once half the work was done (didn't hand over code though). Two that never communicated directly and always used chain of contact through which I found them.

I'm still open to freelance work right now since I'm in college and a few extra bucks wouldn't hurt but I don't think I'll ever even think about freelancing as full time job.


I am doing part-time freelancing as a Front end developer. Currently, working on a project from Fiverr. Also, did some small projects on Upwork, Freelancer.com and reddit/r/forhire.


How is Fiverr going for you? πŸ˜ƒ
I was thinking a lot of times to join it.


Don't think, just do it


I am not a freelancer but I wanna become at someday.. So thanks in advance Florin for asking this question.. Mainly everything has pros and cons.. So I heard from experience people these two points..

1) you need to show discipline if you wanna become freelancer because you can easily mess up project because you have freedom

2) If you have a discipline I think this is the best way to earn.


A general question to the freelancing via platforms: do the platforms have a third party liability insurance that is active when I take a job or is all the risk on me? If so, who of you has such an insurance and who is/was working on full risk?


Yes, they have escrow usually, at least the big platforms. That way the client pays the money first which goes to them (the platform) and then when you finish your job you can request the client to release it.


I was freelancer for a few year (11) mostly in east EU and UK.

My advices:

  • Have a very good contract what covers every aspect of your work
  • Have contact for lawyer
  • Have contact for accountant
  • Try to remain mentally fresh
  • Learn yourself
  • Learn to manage your time and keep the important no-work-time and quality-times

I used local developer rings, forums and connections to get work because all the hyped sites (upwork/toptal/odesk...) was so polluted with fake to low "people", that was ridiculous in that time. Also, most of the company who seek help on these platforms willing to pay only minimal or nothing because they just want the job done, not well done (nobody care of quality).
So I went for local companies, contacted them and actually get and did several job from discuss possibilities and needs to complete fullstack development.

There are so many pitfall what is already covered by others in the previous comments I will not really write them down again. But one thing is quite important, what I learned from US and UK based jobs: "Always cover your a**". Even tho' it is a harsh sayin', there is experience behind it. The easiest meaning: you have to prepare yourself not just the good times but for the bad ones also.
Write contract always, avoid anyone who not willing to sign it or want lighter version. Try to really defend every aspect of your job, your gig even if they seems quite obvious or "shouldn't be a problem at all" or "this never will occure".
In 95% you will never will use the extra terms and section in your contract. But the remaining 5% always could cause high risk and huge reputation or money loss.

Especially in east EU, the ownership over a product is quite important and should be explicit to avoid unseen behaviours. Here is a real use-case, what happened with me in 2008. I worked on a PHP based project, it was small, but my customer wanted more and more changes. I did it all, but in that time I did not owned the place where I worked, it was uploaded directly to the customer product server. When I finished the job, the customer refused to pay, because the "product" was online, and he refused the fact, I worked on it. Even if I had the agreement contract with that customer. But my contract was short and missed key points over ownership of the code. (The story end was I removed all the files and changes what I ever done and sent them a letter by lawyer to push them to not use anything if they have it until they do not pay me out)

But I learned the lesson, so I started to extend my contract. From a one page contract I ended up with a 14 pages long contract frame.


I tried freelancing as a side gig while continuing to work full-time stocking shelves at the local grocery store for minimum wage (it's the only solid gig in town and moving is not an option, everything else is under-the-table side gigs for maybe one week out of the year total and pay $2/hr or less). I managed to earn $100 over the course of 4 years through freelancing. I can't say I recommend it, especially if you live in rural USA.

Platform: The only one available to me for those four years - word of mouth.

Still, I suppose it's better than going for a traditional job coding, seeing as there are no coding jobs in my area, and I haven't been able to land any remote work over the last decade.

Location, location, location ...


Actually I have never tried freelancing but it's my new year resolution