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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!