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Matthew Collison for Skill Pathway

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Want To Be A Freelancer? Here Are Some Actionable Tips & Strategies

If you're a developer considering going freelance, the leap you want to take looks really scary. Especially if you've been employed now for any significant amount of time.

And rightfully so - if you've been employed, the consistency of your income, schedule and rate of work make you feel relatively comfortable - at least when you compare that to being a freelancer. If not, you it feels like a mountain ahead of you because it's hard to value your work until someone starts paying for it.

So if you're motivated to make the switch, but want to remove some of the fear and doubt from the decision, we've got some tips that might help you out.

Tip #1 - Get a handle on your finances

This is the #1 most important step before making the transition - because you can make the leap without understanding your finances inside out, because you're taking a massive risk.

We've put together a simple formula to make this as easy as possible to figure out:

  • How much money do you need to pay the bills and live comfortably each month? (Go into your payment history and calculate this)
  • What is 2x that amount
  • How long would it take you to save 6 months worth of 2x living expenses at your current job?

Once you've got that, you've now got a specific amount of money you need to save before you can comfortably quit your job and fully focus on freelancing.

This is because, even taking into account emergencies, you know if no money comes in for the next 6 months, you're going to be able to live comfortably (although we'd recommend budgeting to give yourself a bigger safety net!)

And obviously, you can save less and still go freelance, but the more you save, the less you have to live in fear of money going dry due to any emergencies.

And what if after 6 months, I can't make a sustainable income freelancing, you ask?
Well, that's exactly the point of 2x'ing your living expenses - the career will always be there - your job doesn't just disappear in 6 months.

Tip #2 - Build a strong portfolio of websites / apps to impress potential clients

Your clients need proof that you can get the job done. After all, that's what they're paying for you, right? And if they can see immediate evidence of your abilities, you have a much higher chance of winning bids.

Portfolio Strategy #1 - If you worked on websites in your employment that have enough work to show off, use these (if your contract allows it)

You've already done a bunch of work that demonstrates your experience, and if your employment contract allows this, attribute yourself as doing work on these websites and include screenshots in your online freelancer profiles and portfolios.

Portfolio Strategy #2 - If you haven't or your contract doesn't allow it, build 3-4 substantial website / app experiences that you can complete with 1-2 months of hard work.

Building multiple substantial projects that you can put your name to and take 100% of the credit for is a great way to strengthen your portfolio - and allowing yourself between 1/6th and 1/3rd of your time to build these projects means you can put time and effort into making them high enough quality to properly demonstrate your skillset.

These can form the basis of a fresh portfolio as they will be an honest representation of your experience up until this point.

It also allows you to tailor your projects to maximize the amount of skill you get across to any potential clients.

Portfolio Strategy #3 - Social Media is your new portfolio

You're going to have a website and a GitHub profile as a minimum, but documenting your process, from conception to completion on social media is going to give you such unbelievably portfolio strength, you wouldn't even believe.

Imagine if you're DM'ing local businesses to do work for them, and 5 out of 100 read your message and went to your Instagram profile. If they 10 pictures of you Ski'ing in the Alps, and 20 of your dog Lenny - versus 30 straight posts of the process and work that you do, some timelapses of website builds, and any other content around your work, which type of portfolio do you think will get more responses? Do we need to say any more?

Portfolio Strategy #4 - Do some free work for business you would love to work with & have on your portfolio, just make sure to set boundaries!

Free work is a controversial topic, but if you know how to set boundaries and you truly understand the value of something on your portfolio, you're just building social proof on your terms.

Important Note: Free work is almost always bad when a company comes to you and asks for it. When you go to them and set realistic boundaries - it's a different story - it means you get a stronger portfolio and network on your terms, not theirs.

FYI, boundary settings means, don't go to a business and say you'll re-design their entire website, build them the next big app, go into parnership with them or anything like that - instead, offer to build something small that would be of value to them in return for permission to put a case study of the project on your portfolio.

Tip 3: Make as many bids as you possibly can

You want to become a freelancer for the eventual freedom and comfort it will provide you. Eventual is the keyword here though, it's not going to happen in the first few months, and sometimes even the first couple of years!

So at first, you need to make as many bids for work as you possibly can to maximize your chances of getting work and having a pool options.

Unfortunately, most people fall at this hurdle - they bid for a few jobs, feel down about the fact they didn't get any responses, look at the few highest rated people who are "winning all the bids" and make comparisons and give up.

And who would blame them? It's tough! Let's be real though - you're new to this! It's going to take some time to build a strong presence as a freelancer, and the work you put it in now is going to set you up for the rest of your life. So in the early months, bid like it's you're job as this will absolutely maximize your chances of landing a job.

Let's look at two strategies as to how we can achieve the maximum volume of bids when starting out:

Bidding Strategy #1 - Go to as many freelance bidding websites as possible and place bids on all the projects you could complete.

Pretty simple - go to PeoplePerHour, UpWork, Indeed and even specialist freelance job boards for your particular skillset, and make bids for all the projects you could work on.

It really is just about for applying for as many as possible, as often as possible. And as the strength of your portfolio stands out, you'll eventually get offers and have some real options.

Important Note Sometimes these websites charge for a bids after a certain number of projects. It's worth mentioning as you sometimes it's worth spending the money, but exhausting your free options on certain websites is best to try first. Hopefully with the money you've saved you can afford a few bids as they will be ROI positive once you get work in.

Bidding Strategy #2 - DM at least 500 businesses on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn (InMail) and tell them how you can help them improve something about their website, app, etc and offer to work for them

What a huge heading - but that's one strategy that most new freelancers don't even consider, yet is one of the most powerful. You get the picture - if 5 in 100 respond, you're going to get 25 responses, and 2-3 might want to work with you at a reasonable rate based on your portfolio.

It's all about maximizing your reach and getting your name and portfolio in-front of businesses that might want to work with you. The business relationships you make using this type of strategy are also going to be on a more personal level as you helped directly bought them value without them having to ask for it.

Please tell us, what's missing from this guide?

Let us know what other problems you're facing with the move to freelance, or if you're getting started as freelancer. What could we add to this guide as a part 2 that would help you out?

We understand there's a million complexities to freelancing, and one blog post isn't going to give you all the information you need! We were thinking thinking of portfolio examples, proposal templates and other things, but what's most important is giving you what will actually help you, rather than us just guessing.

Check out our podcast if you liked the strategies in this post!

We aim to get guests on that bring you value much like this blog post did, so if it interests you, you can listen to The Learning Developers Podcast on our website, or on Spotify / Apple Podcasts.

We'd love to hear your thoughts and if there's any particular guests you'd like us to have on, please let us know!

Top comments (26)

nilomiranda profile image
Danilo Miranda

I wish I could give more "loves" to this post.

Absolutely amazing and the title of your post is not even a click bait.

All these tips are in fact actionable and really to follow up.

I'll definitely keep looking for more of your content!

matthew_collison profile image
Matthew Collison

This comment absolutely made our day, thank you so much Danilo!

Amazing to think the entire piece was written in 30 minutes - the only way we could do that is because there's no intent to "bait" you or "sell" you here - it's just the hard, objective truths of what you can do to get ahead.

The other thing we found is that good freelancing resources are so hard to come by without having to pay for them, so we're glad this article really gave you some value.

Please let us know if there's anything else you're unsure about that we could write about. Have a great day!

nilomiranda profile image
Danilo Miranda

This is other thing I forgot to add.

Simple content but directly to the point.

And it's disappointing to see that paid content sometimes struggles to delivery the same value.

I hope you have a great day as well

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matthew_collison profile image
Matthew Collison

Appreciate the feedback. We like to keep it direct!

It is disappointing, but free content like this and thousands of other posts is filling the gaps! We just aim to be a quality part of that gap.

Thanks Danilo!

bbarbour profile image
Brian Barbour

I've been thinking about trying out Freelancing as a way to make some side cash. Any advice specific to doing it part time? Or is it an "all-in" type deal. I'd like to still get a day job coding, as to get more experience architecting software and mentorship.

matthew_collison profile image
Matthew Collison

So from what I understand, you don't have a job in development yet - are you switching careers or in a position where you're able to sit without income for a few months? Could you elaborate what stage of your career you're at, as it would be great to give contextual advice for you.

You 100% can do freelancing part-time. There are no differences in the buildup however - you just need to continue to bid for as many jobs as possible, build up a presence, but take on work that fits with your schedule and daily needs.

It's also great that you want to work the day job too - just make sure your day job is OK with that, setting boundaries by making it clear at interview is usually the best way to do this. The day job gives you mentorship, and the freelancing gives you a bit of freedom to earn more money on the side.

bbarbour profile image
Brian Barbour

I have a job as a PC technician and am hunting for my first front end developer job. The search is going pretty good thus far, I have an interview next week actually!

Thanks! I'll definitely make sure that part time (on my own time) freelance is kosher first.

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matthew_collison profile image
Matthew Collison

That's awesome Brian!!! Best of luck with your interview next week. We have a couple of posts in this series, I think - you might want to check them out as there's some tips that might be helpful to you.

Some of our mentors here have worked as PC Techs in many different capacities, it's an obvious transition and there's (in our opinion) more fun to be had over here! :)

It sounds like you're pretty serious on the job side of things, and its a great idea to start out in employment as your chances of getting into a company vs getting good freelance gigs are much better.

Something you might want to consider, if you're more frontend focused, is the Shopify Parner Program. E-Commerce is big business right now, which is great for freelancers as one of the largest platforms for it in the world (Shopify) has a program which allows you access to freelance contracts at no price.

You just need to learn their proprietary templating engine (which is dog simple if you're a front-end already), build a few projects to get skilled with it, get set up with them and you're good to go.

For an average of $10k per project according to them, it's worth a try.

Full disclosure: we are in no way affiliated with Shopify! It's just that one of our guys has made a lot through freelancing and selling templates and know they're really supportive with it.

Have a great day Brian!

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bbarbour profile image
Brian Barbour

Well! That's pretty awesome. I will check it out the other articles in the series and Shopify for sure. Thank you so very much for the support and the tip.

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matthew_collison profile image
Matthew Collison

You're super welcome, thanks for reading our content!

Here's the link to their partner program:

kobbyknight profile image
KobbyKnight • Edited

Only problem with post is Upwork blocked me out for bidding too much and not having any response. Certainly being persistent with the hunt is a good deal but not UpWork friendly, in my opinion. I had to send proof of my qualifications and skills yet my appeal got denied...still don't understand why.
Great advice though but I hope no one takes persistent bidding on upwork...even for basic jobs

matthew_collison profile image
Matthew Collison

It's great that you posted this because it shows a darker side to the marketplaces we have to go through.

If you're genuinely applying for gigs and not spamming, there is no reason for them to block you or throttle your bids. It's creating artificial barriers for someone who's actually trying. It's despicable that they'd refuse your appeal without a genuine explanation.

On the flip-side, if that's their system, this is part of freelancing - rejections, regulations, market saturation, and that's why we're trying to give a diverse set of strategies. I hope you're able to execute on some of them and find more success!

Thanks for the comment and insight!

kobbyknight profile image

Sure welcome.

jcopella profile image
John Copella

Tried freelancing (self-employment) for years but found it was just plain too much work doing too many things that weren't fulfilling. You're taking on (at least) one more full-time job in addition to the job as a developer. You also have to run the business -- so you'll have to do marketing & business development. That next contract's not gonna sign itself. You'll also have to administer and pay for benefits (health insurance, life insurance, disability, vision/dental, 401(k), etc.), file more tax forms (monthly 941, quarterly 940) and pay more taxes, prepare and file a corporate tax return (if you're an S-Corp), figure out your withholding and pay FICA, etc., deal with occupational licensing (depending on your municipality) and deal with state business registration requirements. If you have tangible assets (laptops! printers! routers!) you have to account for them as such, depreciate them, and pay tax on them. I'd suggest someone do it only if they have a burning entrepreneurial desire and are willing to make a sustained multi-year commitment to their business, often working well in excess of a normal 40-hour workweek.

jbence2001 profile image
Bence Juhász • Edited

Cool stuff! (but the links are broken, you could fix them)

matthew_collison profile image
Matthew Collison

Glad you liked the post Bence, and thanks for the heads up about the links - all fixed!

ut4utc profile image

Thank you for post.

I’ve been in freelancing for about 10 years and for some reason it turns out that if I have to look for a job, then somehow she finds me very quickly.

My key skill is word of mouth, when my clients tell their friends that I am a good specialist and I don’t have to find a job.

But I am not happy about Linkedin lately. I once wanted to fly to work in Dubai, made a website for Dubai, thought to develop online sales there, create a good online store and online magazine, and I did it one.

But when I added users from Dubai to Linkedin (now I'm in Thailand) and want to find new customers to develop a website from the USA, England, Australia - then linkedin offers me people to my list from Dubai zone and I just can not change it.

This is fun, but sometimes it hinders the establishment of new business connections from other regions in which you would like to work.

shaileshkanzariya profile image

Thanks for the nice and to the point post. I switched to freelancing from regular job before 10 months. And I would say all Tips are really helpful and I faced situations where these Tips would have been helpful for sure.

My experience so far: (1) Initial few months, I struggled a lot to get first few work/jobs and it was really frustrating but continuously bidding to right jobs eventually I got a break/work :) (2) Heavy dependency on freelancing platforms e.g. Upwork, Freelancer, TopTal etc. which is very risky. How to reduce or avoid dependency on freelancing platforms and get work? (3) Even though you are very experienced and expert, initially you may be exploited by platform/customers as you do not have any track record on that specific platform (4) There are many small tasks/jobs available but I observed that - very very few medium to long term and enterprise scale projects available as freelancer e.g. tends to zero. How to get medium to long term, good size projects as freelancer without relying on any freelancing platform? (5) Be prepare to be multi skill to keep the work flow in. (6) Is it a better idea to start a registered company and work as a freelancer presenting that company? Do customers more inclined towards registered legal entity e.g. company than individual freelancer?

Can you help answering and sharing your suggestions/views for #2, #4 and #6?

vdedodev profile image
Vincent Dedo

I've been considering something more solo than the usual 9-5 full time option. In your post, is "freelance" the same as "contractor" and if so, what are the differences?

matthew_collison profile image
Matthew Collison

Hi V Dedo, thanks for the question.

Contracting and Freelancing are very similar, and technically "Freelancing" is just a form of contracting, but in reality, but there is specific difference worth noting that is generally accepted

  • Contracts usually last a specified amount of months and are usually on a set schedule daily
  • Freelancing is generally more flexible, done remotely and while delivered on a set schedule, you tend to pick your own hours

So everything up until the "Bids" section is accurate for both "Freelancing" and "Contracting".

As a contractor, rather than bidding for jobs via proposals, as a contractor you would tend to send your resume into a company looking for a specific contract to be completed.

This means DM'ing hundreds of companies isn't a very good tactic for the person that wants a contract job.

As a side tip if you want to become a contractor, the first tip of this post is also super important. Contracting has a less consistent pay schedule, and you will want to have a few months worth of expenses at any time between contracts - this also allows you more freedom to take breaks between contracts.

Really hope this helps, if something didn't make sense, please let us know.

vdedodev profile image
Vincent Dedo

I've seen a lot more contracting things going at the moment (mostly on LinkedIn) and with having a few years in full time employment, it seems like contracting will be easier to jump into as opposed to building a portfolio for freelance work. Thanks for the informative reply :)

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matthew_collison profile image
Matthew Collison

You're so welcome. Contracting will definitely be an easier and lower-risk jump for someone like yourself looking to make the jump. It's effectively better paid, less secure full/part time work.

And once again, the job will always be there! You can always go back to being full time, right?

Best of luck with your journey friend!

foxbit19 profile image

Great article, thanks for sharing!
I've started with freelancing about 2 months ago and I really appreciate this post.

I like suggestion #2: it sounds like a warning. Freelancing is hard, we have to work harder and face off new challenges.

jherzeybruhl profile image

I would like to know if i need to learn ux design to become a freelance front-end web developer

Sloan, the sloth mascot
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ochoadev profile image
Luis A. Ochoa R.

Missing: Select a niche. It's easier to take clients when you have they segmented.