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The freelancer economy is growing, and software development is one career path that’s particularly remote-friendly and freelance-friendly. Forbes estimates that by the end of 2020, 50% of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers. Freelancing, or contract work, offers greater flexibility and autonomy, but with a learning curve – setting up a successful freelance developer business takes time. Here’s how to get started making the switch from full-time to freelance.

Find an agency or go it alone?

The hardest part of getting started as a freelancer is finding your first client. There are two main ways to do this: by listing your profile on a freelancer site, or by working with a firm that connects professional developers and programmers with companies offering contract positions.

If you want to work independently, vet clients yourself, and be completely autonomous, then going it alone is your best bet. You’ll likely have a harder time establishing your reputation, but as you complete projects successfully you’ll build a freelance portfolio that’s completely your own. Here are a few sites where you can list your services and find your first clients: 

  • Github Jobs
  • Stack Overflow
  • Coding Ninjas
  • Upwork
  • FlexJobs
  • YouTeam

If you want some help getting your name out there, work with an agency that can guarantee your work product. Companies like working with a partner like JetCake because freelancers go through a vetting and training process to verify their abilities. Try working with any of these companies to get a foothold in the freelance marketplace. 

  • Jetcake
  • Toptal
  • Index

These companies will connect you with great companies, but will also require you to perform a skills evaluation to gain access to their network.

Set up your portfolio

The key to getting discovered and hired is showcasing what work you can do. Set up a developer portfolio – it can be as simple as a GitHub page or simple landing page that has your contact details, services, and experience.

Keep your portfolio as straightforward as possible: share code, talk about a project you worked on, and link to your social media profiles or Medium page to provide even more context. If you’re a student, or someone new to coding with not a lot to show yet, get testimonials from your professors or mentors. Ask for recommendations referencing your soft skills to show how you’ll be able to easily slot into a project and hit the ground running.

Decide on your rates

Translating your full-time salary into a freelancer rate is one of the hardest parts of the transition. There are many factors to consider, including your years of experience and level of expertise; the types of projects you’re willing to take on; and your living/business expenses you will need to cover, such as benefits and overhead costs. Entry-level coders will have to build experience to command high rates. But, if you have a particularly niche skillset, you can ask for more, since you won’t be competing with as many other developers for work. If you’re not sure where to start, have a look at Codementor’s freelance developer rate calculator and check out our post on how to set rates as a freelance developer.

Take gradual steps

The experts at Codementor suggest transitioning gradually from full-time to freelance. As tempting as it may be to quit your job cold-turkey, freelancing won’t lead to stable income right away.

If you have the time (and energy), try to pick up freelancing work in your free time. “If you go this route the idea is to transition to freelancing by gradually reducing the days that you work at your full-time salaried job. If this isn’t possible then you might consider saving up three months of your salary and using that as a runway to launch your freelancing career, tiding you over while you assemble your first batch of clients,” writes Codementor.

Some developers negotiate part-time roles with their current jobs before making the shift to freelancing. See if your existing company would be opening to letting you move to a contract basis – they might go for it, especially if it means they still get to rely on your ability. 

Invest in professional development

Finally, freelancers often miss out on the professional development and mentorship opportunities that come with full-time roles. It’s incumbent on the freelance developer to seek out additional training and networking – especially if you want to stay competitive in the freelancer marketplace. Develop a plan for how you will stay sharp in the programming languages you already know, or how you will add new developer skills to your tool kit. Of course, if you work with an agency like JetCake or Toptal, they will offer access to their network of developers who can provide you with advice as you go. Take full advantage of every opportunity that comes your way!

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