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From 0 to 1: Our Top Tips for New Freelance Programmers

Apr 14, 2021
(updated: Dec 1, 2022)
Max 5 min read

While it’s no easy task to be a successful freelance programmer, it is exceptionally rewarding for those with a creative flair and excellent time management skills. It’s a career that can yield lucrative long-term benefits too. The potential rewards are equal to the hard work needed along the way.

You don’t have to figure it out on your own, though. Use these tips for each stage of your journey as you start out in freelance programming.

Getting Started 

Building your skills is the first step for any freelancer, even before you take on your first official clients. Begin with these top priorities.

Learn the Language

Paramount to any programmer’s success is a deep knowledge of the programming languages required, which will help you take on multiple projects at a time from potential clients. FreeCodeCamp polled 65,000 professional developers at the 2020 Stack Overflow, where JavaScript reigned as the most popular programming language in the annual survey. HTML CSS, SQL, Python, and Java rounded out the top five. All of these would be great languages to have in your stack.

Brush Up on Communication

Having good communication skills is an essential tool in any successful freelance programmer’s toolbelt and can help form professional ties with potential clients. These skills can help you retain their services in the long term as you land one freelance job after another.

Set and Follow Your Own Rules

Producing high-quality work is made easier when you set rules for yourself and stick to a preconceived schedule. Make sure you create a fixed schedule for meetings, updates, and deadlines before the project begins if possible. Regardless of what you decide as your rules for productivity and efficiency, make sure to follow them closely because if you don’t, your clients won’t either.

Set Your Rates

Finding freelance work can be challenging, so don’t compound it by selling yourself short when it comes to your rate. It’s important to carefully consider everything that you’ll be asked to do when it’s time to talk turkey, and equally important to take on projects you like doing as often as you can. Consider whether you should charge a flat rate to avoid by-the-hour work, which ultimately can be more profitable for you, especially if you possess excellent time management skills.

Growing your Business 

Now that you have the basics worked out, it’s time to start building your business and getting more freelance work. These strategies will help you lay out a roadmap.

Build Your Portfolio 

Quality web design skills will serve you well when it’s time to produce your online portfolio, a necessary introduction for potential clients where you can showcase your high-quality work. Testimonials from prior clients should be on display here as well as past projects, and the best online portfolios also include options for networking possibilities, which could potentially lead to long-term relationships with dedicated clients.

Determine Your Ideal Potential Client 

Finding clients is your end goal. To achieve that, ensure you’re looking in the right places for the right people. 

Really consider what type of people and organizations you’d most like to do freelance web development projects for. Do you:

  • Enjoy working with solopreneurs? 
  • Want to partner with startups?
  • Like working with non-profits? 
  • Want to work as a part of a corporate team, but have your own freelance autonomy? 

Answer these questions honestly and consider your desires both in the short-term and the long-term. You may have a dream of supporting non-profits’ fundraising efforts and changing the world through your work. That’s great, but it’s also okay if you just really need to get started as a freelance programmer now, write proposals for some potential clients regardless of their field, and start making money - you can seek different types of clients while staying true to your overall ideals.

Try Online Job Boards

There are plenty of online forums and communities that publicize jobs for freelance web developers. For example, you may be able to find opportunities on sites like Open Source Jobs or Stack Overflow

Finding work as a freelance programmer can feel like a necessary evil sometimes. However, if you think of it as helping potential clients to solve their web development problems, rather than trying to sell them a service, you (and they) will feel like the sales and partnership process are more mutually beneficial and satisfactory. 

Make Use of Social Networks

It’s likely that you have a network of supportive family and friends, and they could be a gateway toward growing your business. You don’t have to beg for work. Instead, let them know you’re in business and would appreciate their referrals.

They may know someone who could use help - whether they’re building a website or giving an existing one added e-commerce functionality. If they know you’re building a business, they’ll likely be happy to refer you when the need arises.

If this approach isn’t something that comes naturally to you, make it part of the regular weekly or monthly assignments you give yourself. You can brainstorm a task list of people you want to interact with or share your business with, then check them off as you send messages to check in or to share useful development-related information. 

Find Work on Social Media

Social media is one of the best places to connect with others, show you’re open to work, position yourself as a thought leader, and find opportunities. 

Check social media sites for groups of like-minded individuals, as well as for people who work in complementary fields. You might, for example, be able to get referrals from marketing groups or from people who follow the same industry leaders you do. 

Finding Success

When you’ve found your first clients and you’re starting to ramp up your business, the work doesn’t stop - it’s just beginning! Use these freelance growth tips to make the most of your budding business.

Leverage Your Value

Producing high-quality products with high-quality service should have your customer base coming back time and again, so why not leverage that? When you’re on good terms with a repeat client, ask them to produce a testimonial for you or ask for a referral to reach a new customer base. Consider expanding your skills by creating a YouTube channel to advertise your web design work in a different medium.

Contribute to Larger Projects 

Another way to increase your client pool and your credibility among your peers is to contribute to open-source projects. This participation gives you more opportunities to boost your portfolio after you subscribe to publications, join online courses, and read newsletters, allowing you to open new doors to earnings from potential clients. 

Stay Ahead of the Times

Staying on top of the current technologies and languages can set you apart from other programmers. No matter how successful you’ve been, you can always learn more. Consider signing up to learn additional programming languages and other industry-relevant skills. If you have the capability and enthusiasm to do so, consider building a mobile app to highlight your skills to potential clients in another unique way.

Launching your Freelance Programming Career

Building a business from scratch may sound daunting, but the fact is that there are more resources today than ever before to make it smooth and profitable. With this guide, you can walk yourself through the steps and start your freelance career on the right foot.

Get started today!

Get the tools to manage your entire freelance business, free online courses to accelerate your growth, and join a community of freelancers just like you.
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