Jessica La

7 Steps to Success: Become a Freelance Programmer (2022)

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With an estimated 9 trillion devices in use, the growth of software and web development will only continue to grow, and with the growth of that, comes an increasing need for programmers and developers. 

So, if you’re a computer science graduate thinking of freelance programming, a veteran wanting to make that switch, or just someone looking to make some money on the side, then you’re in the right place.

In this guide, I will be covering the steps to becoming a great freelance programmer and succeeding in the industry, including:

Why you should start freelance programming

I want to start off by saying that freelancing isn’t for everyone. There are many people who thrive in open office environments and enjoy the work structure of traditional jobs. However, for those of you who want to have a sense of creative freedom and more control over your work-life balance with the added benefit of picking and choosing projects that align with your interest, then freelancing is the way to go!

Some pretty nifty perks of freelancing also include:

  • You can work in your spare time to supplement your income or do it full time.
  • You are able to work from anywhere and be flexible with when and where you work.
  • You can freelance on your terms, set up a proposal for your projects to determine the scope of work, who you work with, and the rate you charge your clients.

How much money can you make as a freelance programmer?

In addition, freelance programmer jobs usually pay well. Based on salary estimates from glassdoor and zip recruiterthe average freelance web developer salary per hour is about $60, depending on the skill set required by the client as well as how much experience you’ve had before. 

And with that, let’s get right into the 7 Steps to becoming a successful freelance programmer.

The 7 Steps to Success: How to become a freelance Programmer

steps to success

1. Excel at what you know

The foundation of your job will be based on your technical skills and the programming languages you know. According to Zippia, the most in demand skills that people seek from freelance developers include:

  • Web Content
  • HTML
  • CSS
  • Java Script
  • JQuery
  • MySQL
  • PHP
  • Custom Websites
  • Front End
  • API
  • Web Services
  • Database

It goes without saying that the greater the depth and breadth of your skill sets, the more job opportunities will be available to you and thus, the potential to earn more. 

The key is to stay up-to-date with the current trends so you can continue to diversify your skill sets. You can do so in a few ways:

  1. Take up some courses on the side to learn a new area, language or skill.
  2. Select jobs that are just on the edge of your experience. That way, you are still able to complete the majority of the task within a scope that is small and easy enough, but have elements that you could improve on or require more practice in.

Just remember: more doesn’t always mean better. You’d do much better being an expert in a handful of skills than shallow experiences in a wide variety of skills. You have to be confident in your abilities to deliver and specialise in certain skill sets to complete a job.

2. Select a Niche

Selecting a niche is critical as it’s where you’ll find your sweet spot of interest and be able to excel at what you do.

Some popular niches that are always in need of freelance programmers are:

  • Web Development
  • App Development
  • Data Analysis
  • SEO Expertise or Consultant work

Determining your niche will make it easier for you to filter through job postings on freelance sites. The programming languages you know often also dictate the niche you pick.

Some of the main benefits from picking a niche include:

  • Freelancers are typically better at performing tasks related to their original field so it’s helpful if they stick within these confines. For instance, someone who has been building mobile apps could continue on this path while branching out in other areas as well, such as web development or graphic design when needed.
  • Clients want freelancers who specialize in specific fields because there needs be less worry about whether or not they can do the task at hand.
  • Freelancers who focus on one single field are able to build up experience quicker so they’re more qualified for higher paying jobs as well as ones that include more complex work such as developing an entire software product or web design project from start to finish.
  • Finally, those who freelance in specific niches have no problem attracting new clients who are in need for their expertise since they’ll have a track record of experience under your belt.

3. Know your goals and figure out your non-negotiables

Think of the project between you and your client like a relationship: Know what you want, what your goals are, what you can and can’t do and set your boundaries.

This will help to avoid any future conflicts or disagreements as freelancing is a relationship-based profession that’s about mutual respect and trust between both parties. It also forces you to pick the right jobs for you.

As an example, some non-negotiables boundaries that you may have could be:

  • You want to freelance for work-life balance, so you won’t take on jobs that are 40+ hours a week.
  • You want to solely focus on web development, so even if you know a bit about databases, you should not take the job as this is not congruent with your goals.
  • You don’t accept jobs without upfront payment from clients.
  • Hourly rate expectations, salary compensations etc.

It’s crucial that freelancers know their limits so they don’t end up burnt out with too many commitments, overextended in jobs or just doing something they don’t enjoy, no matter how tempting a job is. These can all lead to a lower quality of work and an unsustainable means of making a living.

Take some time figuring out these details before going through the process of becoming a freelancer. You’ll have an easier go of it once you know with certainty your goals and boundaries – how many hours you want to work every week, which type of projects will really interest you, and so forth.

4. Set yourself up for success

tool kit

The right tool for the job applies in many areas of life and freelance programming is no different.

Having reliable tools is critical in your success. The last thing you want is for your laptop to fail on you, or a keyboard that easily fatigues you. That’s why it’s important to invest in the right gear.

Some freelance programmers swear by their keyboard and prefer mechanical keyboards over others because they type faster on it, are more durable, and can be customized with different switches. Others may want a laptop as opposed to having a PC so that it is portable for client work from home environments or coffee shops near their house. Accessories such as noise cancelling headphones may also be something to consider for those travelling and working at the same time.

In order to know what you need most, consider:

  • What size projects will you likely take on and how much power will that take up? As an example, Machine Learning or Algorithm work may be intensive and require a more powerful GPU.
  • How much typing do you anticipate being done per day? Having a reliable keyboard that is designed for comfort and durability should be on the top of your list.
  • Will you be on the go often? A lighter Laptop and more portable keyboard may be a key factor in your toolkit.

Other things you may need to consider are software and apps that improve your workflow and efficiency, and management softwares to track your tasks and work for clients.

By doing these things from day one, you’ll be setting yourself up for success before even taking your first step into freelance programming!

5. Showcase Your Skills and Develop Your Brand

Once you have freelance work lined up, it’s time to start working on your portfolio.

It’s important to showcase your programming skills in order to get new clients. This is especially true for those programmers who have less experience with freelance work, don’t have testimonials from clients and are looking for a way to break into the industry or increase their profile.

One thing to remember is that this isn’t just about displaying how well-versed you are in any one subject, but also showing off what kind of person you are. Your resume and portfolio should showcase not only what skill sets and expertise you have and your tangible capabilities – but how someone can benefit from hiring you. 

In other words, you need to develop their brand in order to be successful.

If you’re looking for some inspiration or examples of what a freelance programmer portfolio should look like, check out some of these portfolio examples here

Last but not least – make sure that your resume and social media profiles are up-to-date at all times! This includes professional profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc, as well as ensuring any personal websites are thoroughly updated so people can see the work you’ve completed and contact you if they want to hire someone with your skillset.

Remember – clients won’t take notice unless you show them why hiring someone like you will benefit them.

6. Put yourself out there

Okay, so now that you’ve done the first 5 steps, this is where the real work starts.

Getting freelance programming jobs is a numbers game, and although there are many opportunities, there is also strong competition. That means you’re going to have to really put yourself out there in order for people to notice and want to hire someone like you.

To do this, start by creating as many freelance programmer profiles on the top 5 job boards I recommend at the end of this article. These will help potential clients find your profile more easily when they are in search for freelance programmers who may be able to complete the tasks.

Once your profile is created, it goes without saying that your profile should be optimised as best as you can. Include portfolios of your work, skill sets and programming languages you’re proficient in, and make your bio personable, approachable and professional. 

In other words, showcase and sell to others what sets you apart from all the other freelance programmers out there. 

When you find a job listing that sounds like something up your alley, apply for it without any hesitation. Send off an email or message containing all the information requested in the job listing and if relevant, attach your resume and links to similar works.

Don’t forget: stay confident throughout this process as well because when confidence meets talent, success follows suit.

7. Under promise and Over deliver

Like anything in life, the key to successful freelancing is not about the quantity of jobs you can land, but the quality of the clients you have that you can build a relationship with.

This freelance advice is often overlooked but it’s also the most important rule when looking for programming jobs.

If you promise a client something and then don’t follow through with your end of the bargain, they won’t want to work with you again – no matter what programming skill set or project portfolio you have to offer them in the future.

When entering into the freelance business, you’ll start to realise that technical expectations are the bare minimum. People now hire based on trust. That’s why reviews are so highly valued, because it’s a guarantee for clients who are looking for someone they can trust to complete the task for them. So meet the deadlines, only promise things you can do, and always add more to the project than your clients expect, because the next time they do have a task, guess who they will think of first?

Bonus Tip: Be Solution Focussed and Client Centric

Remember how I said people hire based on how reliable and trustworthy they think you are?

The best way freelance programmers (especially those just starting out) can establish themselves as someone who is trustworthy (without having years of testimonials and jobs up their sleeves) is by providing value upfront and being Client centric.

When you apply for a job posting, think of what exactly is the solution to the clients problem. As an example, if there is a small technical issue, perhaps provide some initial troubleshooting solutions to the client for them to try.

Not only will they take notice of your generosity – but if they still have persisting issues, they will likely directly come to you for your skill sets or keep you in mind for the future. Why? Because you’ve cut through most of the competition who only care about getting the job, rather than caring for the client and the solution.

I would know, I hired my first web-developer who had no reviews and has done nothing over others with hundreds of positive ratings. The reason was simple: he provided upfront value – which is something that can’t be found in a review – and earned my trust.

What are the 5 Best Platforms to find Freelancing Projects?

There are many platforms out there posting programming job listings, but not all platforms are created equal. Here are the top 5 contenders:

1. Fiverr



Fiverr is a freelance platform where you can offer your services to anyone in the world. You set up an account and then upload what you’re offering as well as price for it (and there’s no limit on how many different things or gigs you can have). 

Ultimately, this is a beginner friendly platform to freelance on. The only downside is that it’s not a high-paying platform, so many developers and programmers are looking for more advanced freelance platforms to make money off their skillset.

Still, Fiverr provides an amazing resource of getting your name out there as well as having quick access to jobs when you need them most.

2. Upwork

Upwork is the world’s largest freelance marketplace where you can find on-demand jobs and connect with clients from all over the world.

There’s no set price for freelance work here as it depends on how much work needs to be done, what skills is required and how much the freelance programmer/ web developer wants to charge.

Upwork’s sign up process is quick and simple – you just need an email address and working internet connection in order to get started. 

Like Fiverr, this is a beginner friendly platform with little to no screening process and a good place to start.

3. We Work Remotely

We Work Remotely is a job board platform with a focus on people who want to work remotely. Coding, design and marketing professionals can all find freelance programming jobs here as well as companies looking for remote workers.

4. Flexiple


Flexiple is a platform with an emphasis on freelance programming and web development disciplines.

The company was formed in 2015 but already has over 500-plus clients who are looking to hire freelance programmer/ web developers at hourly rates ranging from $30 to $100. 

5. Toptal

Toptal is also a freelance platform that is exclusively focused on programmers, developers and designers, financial experts and product/project managers. It is one of the more premium freelance platforms out there and freelance work ranges from $25/hour to over $200/hour.

As this platform has a rigorous screening process, it is best to apply only if you are a seasoned programmer.

To Wrap Up

Freelance programming can be a lucrative and flexible career, but it is not for the faint of heart. Like anything worthwhile – refining your skills, building your portfolio, creating relationships and selling yourself takes time and hard work.

By following the seven steps above properly, and with a bit of persistence and patience, there is no doubt that you would be able to not only land your first client, but to really succeed in the industry.

You can find success and get started on sites like Fiverr, Upwork, We Work Remotely, Flexiple and Toptal. 

And most importantly, stop reading and thinking about it and just start!

Good Luck!

Jessica La

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Jessica La

Hi, I’m Jessica 👋 — and I write content read by 500K+ monthly tech/marketing readers.

I focus on effective PR for growth at the highest quality. And I get results. Fast. 

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