How to get into freelance programming (with steps and tips)

Updated 6 September 2023

Programming is a continually evolving and changing industry, which allows you to maximise your earning potential and have control over your career as a freelancer. Freelance programming offers a different work environment for experienced professionals by providing a way to work outside traditional employment. Understanding how to start and succeed is a valuable resource if you're interested in getting into freelance programming after conventional employment. In this article, we discuss what a freelancer programmer is, outline how to get into freelance programming, list the necessary skills for this field and look at some tips for becoming a freelance programmer.

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What is a freelance programmer?

Unlike programmers with a standard employment contract, freelance programmers are self-employed coding professionals who can work with multiple clients at the same time. As freelancers, they also have some unique responsibilities that rarely apply to programmers with employment contracts who work for one employer. For example, they're responsible for paying their own taxes, choosing their own work schedule and deciding what kind of work to accept from prospective clients. Here are a freelance programmer's typical responsibilities:

  • building their personal brand and marketing their services to new clients

  • updating their portfolio regularly

  • sourcing projects

  • writing project proposals

  • using programming languages to write scripts for mobile and web apps

  • working with other freelancers to test and troubleshoot code

  • communicating with mostly remote teams

If you have experience in programming for a business, many of your skills are transferable to a freelance role. Freelance programmers work in various environments and with a range of different setups. Some freelancers may work as outsourced programmers to supplement their primary jobs. Other freelancers work on a contract basis for long-term projects where they support an in-house team for a set amount of time over a project. As a freelance programmer, you can choose to work from home, in shared office space or on your clients' premises.

Related: Top 10 benefits of being self-employed

How to get into freelance programming

Below, you can find out how to get into freelance programming:

1. Register as self-employed

Freelancers are self-employed, whether you choose to work as a sole trader or create a dedicated company for your services. One of the first things you can do is register yourself as self-employed, which allows you to pay taxes and access self-employment resources. When doing this, you can choose to register your freelance business under your name or pick a unique business name.

Related: Self-employed vs employed: the differences between the two options

2. Build a programming portfolio

Building a varied and comprehensive portfolio is crucial for advertising yourself as a highly qualified freelancer and coder. Your portfolio is typically a website and can include different examples of the work you can do, with products and services that are relevant to the specific audience you'd like to target. For example, suppose you'd like to work as a programmer for large-scale corporations. In that case, your portfolio may look very different in comparison to a business that makes more creative websites for startups.

3. Connect with professionals and potential clients

Finding clients is a vital part of working as a freelancer, as most freelance programmers receive payment on a project by project basis. If you have a professional network or good connections through social media, you can leverage that network to help you find work and raise awareness about the services your freelance business has to offer. Some freelancers also work on an outsourced basis for past employers.

4. Consider signing up for an agency

Signing up with an agency can help you find new clients who'd like to hire you for their projects. An agency may source work for you and connect you with clients for a specific fee or percentage of the contract, which allows you to seek clients with the support of a professional. You may also choose to sign up for online job boards and freelance sites to get help with finding work less formally.

5. Advertise for clients online

Marketing your freelance business and advertising to find potential clients is key for freelancers to gain new clients and expand the visibility of their business. By spending time on marketing your small business, you can better your chances of gaining clients from other sources. For example, you might invest in search engine optimisation for your website to make the brand more visible in search engine results or pay for advertising on social media channels.

6. Ask for referrals and testimonials

Once you've completed work for clients, you can request referrals and testimonials to build your credibility and reputation as a freelance programmer. Clients may be able to refer you to other potential customers for more projects if they're happy with the work you've done for them. Gaining positive reviews and testimonials helps improve the trustworthiness of your freelance services when potential clients visit your website or find you online, which may result in securing new leads.

7. Gain experience and build your reputation

Gaining experience and building your reputation and portfolio are key to working as a freelance programmer. Working on additional projects, such as open-source programming, boot camps or hackathons, can help add diversity to your portfolio and build your positive reputation in your particular market or sector. If you want to work in a specific industry, such as video game development, gaining experience in that particular market is valuable for finding work.

Related: How to become a work-from-home programmer (with FAQs)

Skills for freelance programming

In addition to strong computer skills, successful freelance coders usually have at least some understanding of effective business practices, which they use to market their services to clients. The following are some valuable skills to develop if you'd like to work as a freelance programmer:

  • coding skills

  • communication

  • collaboration

  • project management

  • time management

  • marketing skills

Related: Freelance Work: Everything You Need to Know About Freelancing

Tips for becoming a freelance programmer

Here are some tips to consider if you plan to become a freelance programmer:

Utilise your existing networks

If you have experience as a programmer, you may already have industry connections you can use to find new work and clients. For example, you may be a member of a group or association for programmers where you can communicate with other members about potential projects and clients. Alumni meetings and professional events are also effective places to seek work from an existing network.

Create a diverse portfolio

A varied and inclusive portfolio that reflects the industry you want to work in displays your skills effectively. Creating examples of your work that are high-quality and varied can show potential clients the full scope of your work. For example, if you'd like to program websites for children's education, a portfolio that includes examples of similar work would be valuable.

Work with professionals in your field

Freelance programmers often work together with other specialists, such as UI and UX designers, graphic designers and website developers, to complete projects. Partnering with other professionals in your field can help you provide a complete package service to potential clients that are looking to outsource full projects. For example, you may work with a freelance graphic designer to create a website mock-up for a client.

Learn new coding skills

Coding is a growing and evolving industry, with new languages and requirements appearing continually. Taking the time to expand your knowledge, learn new coding languages and keep up with current standards can help you find clients as a freelancer. For example, if you have extensive experience in programming in Python, you might decide to expand your knowledge to programming in C#.

Related: 10 of the most in-demand coding languages and their uses

Research your competition

Taking the time to research and understand your competition can help you find clients as a freelance programmer. By looking at what your competition is doing, you can find gaps in the market and identify areas where your freelance business can grow into. For example, if your direct competitors focus on professionalism and luxury services, you may focus on creative, cost-effective solutions in the same market.

Leverage your existing experience

Leveraging your existing experience in programming can help you find clients in your particular niche or industry. For example, you might ask your previous employer if you can include information about projects you worked on for them within your portfolio and website. Many freelancers list the large, household name clients they've worked with on their website to display their experience and expertise in their field.

Please note that none of the companies, organisations or institutions mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


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