How to start a career as a freelance developer

Developers are currently among the most sought-out professions. Still, starting as a freelancer is as complex as with any other trade. Tale as old as time: you need to get a job to gain experience, but you also need some experience so someone will hire you.

This is why we developed a 5-step plan for all the developers who wish to start their freelancing career and become a freelance developer.

start a career as a freelance developerIt includes:

  • Suggestions for first projects to create a good portfolio.
  • Advice on picking the right path.
  • List of websites where developers can get their first freelance jobs.
  • Social media tips.
  • Free resources, articles and websites.

1. Create a great looking portfolio

The first thing recruiters and potential clients will request is going to be samples of your previous work. They have to make sure you didn’t just decorate your CV with fancy stuff.

Creating a valuable work portfolio might be an issue for absolute beginners, but there are free tools and softwares to make the process easier.

There is a way around it, and that is accepting the projects not a lot of people would. By that, we don’t mean anything shady — we mean volunteer work and non-profit projects. This is something every young professional goes through, not just developers. 

Don’t take these as daunting right away! Free projects are your biggest learning opportunities, and might as well turn out to be fun and fulfilling on your journey to be a freelance developer.

Contribute to open source projects

Working on open source projects has many upsides. Not only you’ll be more noticeable to potential employers, but you have a chance to learn, meet like-minded industry pros, and even get some of them to mentor and help you.

On these sites, you’ll find plenty of open source projects to contribute to:

Pro bono work for charities

If you’re working for free, you might as well do it for a good cause. Charities, NGOs and non-profit organizations usually have limited resources and need any help they can find. You can jump in and offer your services pro bono.

These projects are normally simple and won’t take a lot of time and effort. They will certainly let you know, you just have to think about how to ace your online interview and send the full project brief. Besides, they can expose you to various branches, people and allow you to perfect your developing skills while helping the community.

2. Develop your speciality and personal brand

After a while, you’ll notice you’re developing a special taste for certain types of projects, and enjoy working on them more than on others. Everything goes quicker, and you almost forget it’s work.

That’s when you know that you’ve found yourself a niche to stick to!

The demand for freelance developers is high, but the supply gets higher each day as well. You’re going to find well-paid jobs far easier if you focus on a few skills and languages, and work to become an expert in them.

Market yourself as a solution to a specific set of issues, and you’ll be the first one to come to mind of people who face them! They will then reach out directly to you, instead of hiring anyone out there.

3. Register on freelance websites for developers

Once you enhance your portfolio a little bit, it’s time to get out there and start working for real! Freelancing websites are the main marketplace for freelance workers and recruiters to meet and close deals.

However, you shouldn’t just focus on freelancing websites.  On regular job boards, like Remote Tech Jobs and others, some companies post jobs that are, in essence, full-time freelancing jobs. Many freelancers miss those opportunities.

Some of these freelancing websites have a better reputation than others, but in reality, it depends on particular employers:

The platforms listed above are dedicated to tech jobs; you can also register on Upwork, Fiverr and People Per Hour.

4. Use social media wisely

You can find a developer community just about anywhere. LinkedIn is the best social media outlet for freelancers, but use the other platforms as well. 

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? Sure! Reddit? Go ahead!

However, consider the power of Youtube and TikTok (yes, TikTok!).

You can post tutorials to get your work out there: comprehensive on Youtube, but short and neat “hacks” on TikTok. Staying active on social media is the main tool for establishing your brand, and it will make you stand out in the crowd. It makes networking easier these days as well.

5. Stay educated: Useful articles and resources

We’ve spoken about the ways for developers to grow their careers before. You can take a look at these articles if you want to know ways to become a successful freelance developer:

Bookmark the following pages as well; these are some fundamental free resources for developers:

  • Codecademy — an excellent learning platform 
  • Devskiller — to test your new tech skills and see if you can use them practically
  • WordPress — has plenty of customization options and plugins for devs, used by big clients such as CNN
  • Stack Overflow — a hub for sharing programming tips, tricks and info, with a huge community
  • Visual Studio Code — a source code editor that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux OS
  • Git (reminder: GitHub is also free as of April this year) — for tracking changes in source code when working on software development
  • jQuery — a bunch of free JavaScript extensions and plugins

We hope this article will help you score your first (and many more) freelance jobs.

Remember — master your craft with love, socialize with other freelancers and be persistent. This field of work is in constant need of new professionals, so your next paid project as a freelance developer might land any moment!

Jakub Kubrynski is the CEO of DevSkiller, a developer screening & online interviews platform powered by RealLifeTesting™. He’s an experienced Java developer and development manager. He’s an avid conference speaker and business-aware entrepreneur.