Getting Started in Freelancing as a Developer

In Episode 7 we talked about different ways to make money as a Software Developer. In Episode 12 we are digging deeper into things to consider when taking on the path of a freelancer, and how you can use it to kickstart your career.


[00:00:00] Early on in the career of a software engineer, experience is super valuable. It can feel like the only way to get the experience that we need to kickstart our career is getting a full-time salaried position with benefits. Fortunately, there are plenty of other options.

 Welcome to Effectively Human, where we discuss how to close the knowledge gap between technology and the people who use it. Each week, your host Morgan Lopes will share real life practical tools on how to bridge the gap. Let’s jump in.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other options. A popular option for making money as a software engineer and also increasing the amount of experience is with freelancing.

 Freelancing as a software engineer [00:01:00] comes with plenty of pros and cons. As we think about the benefits of being a freelance software engineer, flexibility comes to mind.

You can work when you want, where you want. Another benefit is hourly rate. Oftentimes freelancers can make more per hour than their salaried counterparts. There’s also a level of autonomy when it comes to selecting the types of projects or jobs that you get we’ll work on. Because you’re freelance, nobody can dictate exactly the projects that you have to work on and accept in order to make that money.

Like all things in life those pros come with some downsides. The first, which is true for most freelancers, is you have to go out and find the work that you’re going to do. It is very uncommon, especially when getting started, that projects just start rolling in.

For freelance software engineers it is their responsibility to bring in the work.

Another challenge, being a freelancer writing software for other people [00:02:00] is Project Management. If you’re a part of a larger organization that has an engineering team and all kinds of other roles and assistance, then Project Management is someone else’s job.

But when you’re freelancing, all jobs are your jobs. You have to not only get the code written, but manage expectation with the clients. Handle billing and all of the other elements that tend to get taken care of in another organization, freelancing can also be kind of challenging when it comes to things like getting paid and taxes.

Most freelancers fail to account for how much money the government takes from taxes. If we’re employed somewhere, usually half of the tax burden is split between the employer and the employee. When you’re freelancing, all of that tax burden falls on the freelancer. Yes, you can pursue higher hourly rates. It also means you have to be accounting for an increased amount of taxes.

[00:03:00] Now, in hearing about this opportunity to freelance, to increase experience, to add new items to your portfolio, you may be wondering, “Well, how do I get work very early on in my career?” As I started doing some freelance work, I was looking for any and all opportunities. I asked friends, I reached out to family members.

I was looking for people who needed the services that I could provide. And I was pretty flexible with how I got paid, especially early on. One of the first companies I worked with, I built their website and eventually went on to build an app for them and many other things within tech, but it started with them paying me in free coffee.

They were at a spot in their business where, what they needed and I could provide overlapped. But it didn’t yet have the money to pay me what one day I would hope to make. And so we worked out a deal and they kept me fueled with coffee and gave me a space to work with WiFi. And I worked [00:04:00] on a number of projects for them under that premise. Eventually as my roles and responsibilities and the things that they trusted me with grew, they brought me on for full-time employment. It started just as freelancing.

So, when we look at freelancing as an opportunity to gain experience, yes, there is a chance that the organizations you get to work with might want to hire you. That’s great, but there’s also a chance that you could grow and nurture that work into a business. There isn’t really a right or a wrong.

The question is, how are you gaining the valuable experience that you need to build a portfolio and allow more people to trust you and give yourself a better understanding of the type of work that you like? The type of projects you might not like? And what are the different elements that you want to do more of? And what are the things that you want to do less?

Freelance is a form of business ownership. Now it’s a very simple form. And in many cases, freelancers business is no bigger [00:05:00] than themselves, but that’s totally fine. Two books on the topic that I would recommend you check out if you’re interested in freelance. The first is called “E-Myth”. E-Myth named after the book, but talks about this idea that the skills and abilities it takes to do the work is very different than the skills and abilities it takes to run a company that sells that type of work.

 In the book “E-Myth” the author describes a pie-maker. Many of us have been at Thanksgiving dinner and have a relative, perhaps that makes really great pies or some type of delicious dish. And we hear family members say, “Oh my gosh, this is incredible. You should start a business that makes this thing.”  But what the book illustrates over and over again is running a business that makes pies is different than being a great cook.

Another book that I would recommend is called a “Company of One”. A company of one is not necessarily about an individual person [00:06:00] only running their business, but it talks about building a lifestyle business that allows you to make the money that you want to have the flexibility that you want. The autonomy that oftentimes can be lacking in a traditional salary position and getting it while optimizing all of the different needs that are required when running a business.

And there you have it: A little bit of a deep dive into freelancing and using freelance work to make money as a software engineer and to gain valuable experience.

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