As a freelance developer, you have the freedom to choose your projects, set your schedule, and potentially make a whole lot more than money than you did in your full-time gig. That’s why even Google coders are turning in their fancy free shuttles and catered lunches in order to become independent contractors.
At the upper echelons of the freelance world, developers are raking in up to a thousand dollars an hour. They’re circling the globe as they work, or they’re staying put at home and finding whatever work-life balance makes them most productive. Whatever floats their boat.
What they’re not doing is clocking in on anyone else’s schedule. Sure, they have more uncertainty about what comes next, but they’re faring extremely well. But how do you get there from your office chair?
Transitioning to freelance work can indeed daunting. It can be quite difficult to land consistent work that both excites you and pays the bills, especially if you haven’t already made a big name for yourself at one of the Tech Giants. Make no mistake: by becoming a freelancer, you’re creating your own (very small) business.
You have to focus on marketing yourself just as much as you have to focus on staying on the cutting edge with your technical skills. Here are 7 ways you can position yourself to have a steady stream of freelance front-end development work.
It goes without saying that you should be constantly honing your technical skills, but as a freelancer, you also really need to focus on putting those skills on display. Make sure you have an online portfolio that demonstrates you’re up to date on all the new technologies and that it does a good job of showing off your personal brand, your versatility, and organization.
Whether you rely on a personal website, GitHub, or your LinkedIn profile to broadcast your talents (hopefully it is all of the above), be vigilant about keeping your work history and acquired skillsets up to date. You should upload snippets of projects you’re currently working on and always be sure to include an explanation. Keep in mind that most of your clients won’t know a lot about front-end development, so it’s best to articulate what you’re up to in non-tech jargon for maximum digestibility.
You should also take advantage of the many available social media management tools to help you systematically manage your online presence. IFTTT (If This Then That) is an easy to use site that syncs your profiles on a variety of platforms, so that every time you publish a post on LinkedIn, for example, your Twitter account will automatically notify your followers.
It’s a great way to leverage your pre-existing network on one platform to gain traffic on a new one. Buffer and Hootsuite are two other social media dashboards that let you manage all of your profiles in one place, allowing you to schedule content releases and use data analytics to measure the reach and engagement of your posts.
A lot of people who are in the market for freelance developers don’t exactly know what the role of a front-end developer is – that’s one of the big reasons they’re out to hire. Where are they going to turn?
Maybe to their college roommate or their little cousin who is a coding whiz, but more often than not their first point of reference is going to be the internet. There are a bunch of front-end developer hiring guides and job descriptions out there designed to help employers differentiate the roles of different types of developers, so they know who to hire to boost their user experience.
Hit the books (or the web) and make sure you’re working towards mastering all of the qualifications you see popping up online.
When looking to hire front-end freelance talent, clients aren’t just looking for a rockstar developer; they want someone who can fit in seamlessly with their team and connect all parts of the project together. As the front-end developer, you’re wearing many hats, coordinating with both the back-end team and the UI/UX designers. The value of being an excellent communicator cannot be understated.
Being able to walk through how you solved a certain problem may seem incredibly intuitive, which is why a lot of developers don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how to explain their decision processes.
But if you’re not well versed in doing so to someone who has never worked through a coding issue before, you may be surprised at how difficult it can be. Spend some time making sure you’ve figured out how to best articulate your work process.
It’s always a good idea to practice with your non-tech colleagues and friends before making contact with a potential client. It may not make for the most riveting dinner conversation, but it’s a great way to prep for your interviews and set yourself apart as a great communicator.
With the rise of the freelancer economy comes the presence of a bounty of freelance job boards on the internet. Use sites like Upwork or Freelancer to find jobs that will allow you to start small. Take on relatively simple, very manageable projects to begin with and use them as a way to build your experience before taking on more complex and time-consuming jobs.
By starting with smaller projects, you’ll afford yourself the chance to “dip your toes in” before taking the full plunge. Use your first projects to test out different work environments and learn how you best communicate with clients from afar. You’ll be building your portfolio and figuring out what takes to be a business person not just an employee.
The one big issue with online job boards is that while they’re a great place for freelancers and employers to connect, most of the time, they don’t handle much of the vetting process on either end. That means they’re often very crowded by amateurs, both in terms of the developers and the clients. It can be challenging to find a consistent supply of compelling projects and clients who really understand front-end development and have therefore set reasonable expectations of you.
Talent networks like Toptal take out the majority of the search on both ends, making it very easy for top-notch developers to connect with serious clients. Toptal is a network of now thousands of freelance developers and designers from around the world, all of whom have passed a very rigorous screening process.
They screen clients as well, so you won’t have to waste any time weeding out the clients who don’t know what they want or what they’re doing. By joining you’ll become part of an elite network of talented developers which will match you to a steady flow of clients with projects that are well-developed and interesting.
One of the trickiest parts of being a freelance developer, especially when you’re just starting out, is setting your rates. You need to find that sweet spot in the middle of pricing yourself not so low that you’re actually losing money, but not so high that potential clients turn away.
You’re first step here is to do some market research. What are other front-end developers charging who report a similar level of expertise? Do some searches on job boards for the going rates in your area, and if the site has a rating system, examine how the prices change with an increase in positive reviews or projects completed.
Second, think about your own overhead costs and other expenses. What does it cost you to get the job done? Divide this by the time you estimate it will take you to finish the project, and that should roughly be your break even rate. Take what you’ve learned from your market research and your break even rate into consideration as you set your price.
Third, you should always think about the client. Are they a small startup or a big company? Obviously if you’re working with a team that is just getting off the ground, your price should be lower than it should be if you land a job with a well-established brand. What sort of value are you adding to your client’s project?
If your client is out to get more leads or more traffic to their site, think about the value added by each extra lead your work will bring in. What is the value added of bringing in five extra leads every month? Ten? Keep in mind how your work will enable your client to rake in more profits also as you negotiate your rates.
Finally, you should always, always agree on your price before you begin working. This will prevent major headaches down the line and lead to greater satisfaction for both you and your client.
Freelance workers tend to be more productive than their counterparts in the full-time office world. As a freelancer, and especially a remote freelancer, you don’t have to deal with working on someone else’s schedule, commuting to work, or fending off distractions once there. You know (or you’ll quickly find out) what makes you most productive, and there is nothing stopping you from sticking to that routine.
The problem is that lots of freelance developers are total workaholics which means they are oftentimes more prone to burnout than their office-counterparts. You may find that you work best alone and hyped up on caffeine. That’s great for your workflow. It can be less great for your psyche and your body.
Water cooler chat and lunch breaks are definitely office distractions, but it’s pretty necessary to keep up a base-level of human interaction and make sure you are taking breaks every couple of hours. That’s a lot easier to do when you’re around other people who are working on the same task. It’s harder when you’re totally sucked into a project and you’re completely on your own. But you’ve got to do it.
Create a routine that keeps you on top of your game. Remember that coffee and water are not made equal. Maintain a healthy diet. Take regular breaks. Make time for exercise. Don’t shirk your social obligations, or even the social outings that just sound like a bit of fun.
Just because you can work around the clock doesn’t mean you should. That pesky bug in your code will be there in the morning, and if you give yourself a full night of sleep, you’re going to be much sharper in the long run. If you don’t take care of yourself, it will start showing up in your work, or in your interactions with clients.
It’s a great time to take your front-end development talents to the freelance marketplace. Your skills are highly sought after in all industries as every business aims to create a highly intuitive, attention-grabbing online presence. There’s a real shortage of talented front-end developers when it comes to meeting that demand. And, more and more companies are turning to freelance talent first as a way to make more efficient hires on a project-to-project basis. It’s a developer’s market out there. Go out and seize it. Just remember, by doing so, you’ll be juggling the roles of front-end developer, salesperson, and business person at once.