The Skills You Need to Start Freelancing as a Developer

One of the most rewarding things about being a developer is that you can work remotely. If you’re interested in becoming a freelancer, it’s important to understand what skills are necessary for this type of work. This post will cover some technical knowledge and soft skills that will help you start your freelance development career.

Judy represents a new breed of workforce. One word often comes to mind when her family and friends think about her job: freedom! She has the opportunity to work at home, set her schedule and take on projects that interest her most.

She’s a freelance developer. But she is not alone in the new workforce landscape. According to Ask Wonder, there are more than 1.5 million freelance developers in the world.

It’s a growing army of tech-savvy freelancers like Judy that has many big companies rethinking the way they staff their projects. Which translates to more opportunities for freelancers.

But wait!

We know what you’re thinking: more work and more money sounds like a dream come true. But with the good comes some challenges that you need to be ready for.

If you’re considering making the jump to freelancing as a software developer, there are skills that you need to master.

Let’s take a look at some of them.

Skills Freelance Developers Should Possess

There are technical skills and there are soft skills. You need both to succeed. However, the good news here is that you don’t need to master every skill.

When you start freelancing, it’s more about knowing when and how to use the skills at your disposal.

What You Need to Know About Tech Skills

The biggest advantage you have as a freelance developer is that your skills are in demand. This assertion is supported by the findings of a survey conducted by McKinsey – it is predicted that global tech talent shortage would reach 85.2 million workers by 2030. In fact, if you’re a developer, there’s never been a better time to be one. 

You see, coding is everywhere and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

The Technical Skills You Need to Start Freelancing as a Developer

There is no doubt that the technical skills needed for freelancing are vast. Depending on the type of projects you take, some skills are more important than others.

We will list a few that we find most important:

Proficiency in programming languages

Sounds obvious right? But knowing a programming language is not the same as being able to use it.

While having an in-depth knowledge of your primary programming language is important, it’s also helpful to know a couple of secondary languages.

For example, if you’re working with the web (most especially front-end), knowing HTML, CSS and Javascript is a must. We recommend that you also learn Python or Ruby on Rails because they are popular in the web development industry. Back-end developers should know languages like Java, Python or Ruby.

If you’re a mobile developer, knowledge of Swift (iOS), Kotlin (Android), and Java is a must.

The more coding languages you know the better. It makes you valuable to the client and increases your chances of getting more projects.

Knowledge of essential software and technologies

No matter how good your coding skills are, you won’t get far without knowing the essential software and tools that every developer needs.

We’re talking about things like version control, deployment automation, command line interface(CLI), and workflow automation.

You should also know how to work with different hosting services like AWS (Amazon Web Services).

You don’t need to be an expert with every tool and software that we mentioned. There are also some tools which you can pick up as you go along in your career.

However, it’s important that you know the basics of all these tools because they are essential to every development project.

Let’s see how you can use some these tools to your advantage:

  • Github- when it comes to version control, Github is the most popular tool. Knowing how to use this tool allows you to collaborate with other developers – you and other developers spread across the world can work on the same code at once.
  • Slack- Slack is used for team communication and project management, making it easy to collaborate with your fellow developers or clients. As a freelance developer, understand that communication is crucial to success; so knowing how to use a tool like Slack can give you an edge.
  • Command Line Interface (CLI) – a CLI allows developers to do things like create, view, and change files using only their keyboard. Knowing how to use a CLI will allow you to save time when working on projects that require repetitive tasks.

You can use a CLI with Git to commit, push and pull files from your repository quickly. There are also other CLIs that you can use for other development tools.

  • Workflow automation- Workflow automation allows developers to perform repetitive tasks that are needed in every project, with just a few keystrokes.
  • Tools like Gulp and Grunt help automate repetitive tasks such as compiling, running tests, linting code, and minifying files.

If you’re a solo developer who plans on taking projects by yourself, these tools will help make your life easier.

Database Management System Knowledge

To win a project, you need to offer a competitive advantage.

One of the most common ways developers win projects is by offering what’s called an “N + one” solution.

This refers to a developer who specializes in developing the main product (N) and offering additional services that would make their clients’ lives easier (N + one).

If you’re planning on specializing in web development, learning how to use a Database Management System like MySQL is helpful.

Databases are used to store crucial information, and will be required in every web development project you undertake – from building a simple blog to building a fully-functional eCommerce store.

Knowing how to use databases will allow you to offer an N + one solution, increasing your chances of getting more projects.

The Soft Skills You Need to Start Freelancing as a Developer

There are a lot of people who can write code, but not everyone is cut out to work as a freelancer. In addition to technical skills, soft skills you need to develop include:

Client management skills

Knowing how project management works is important for every freelancer. You need to know how to manage the expectations of your clients. Understanding customer service will help ensure that all of your interactions are professional, and it can even improve your workflow and productivity.

Tips for good client management include:
  • Setting up a system that will keep your clients updated on the progress of their project, without being too tedious.
  • Offering flexible payment terms (where possible) to help maintain good client relationships.
  • Offering value additional services to “sweeten the deal”

Teamwork

Knowing how to communicate effectively with your colleagues and clients is essential. You need to know the right time to give feedback, when it’s appropriate for you to give input, and knowing when it’s best just to keep quiet.

Sales skills

As a freelancer, you need to be able to show potential customers why they should choose you over a developer who is cheaper. This means that your sales skills need to be on point, as it’s going to be your responsibility to convince your clients that you’re the best for the job.

You can’t do this without sales skills, so make sure they are one of the skills you develop as a freelancer.

Tips to help you improve your sales skills include:
  • Showing potential customers how working with you will benefit them.
  • Offer competitive rates and packages to help get your foot in the door.

Time Management Skills

You need to be able to manage the time that you have, in order to fit in all of your different tasks. As a freelancer, you’ll definitely be dealing with a whole lot of different tasks, and time is of the essence.

Managing your time well will not only improve your work productivity, but it can also lead to higher income, as you’ll be able to complete more projects in less time.

Tips for improving your time management include:
  • Developing a schedule that includes all of the different tasks you need to get done.
  • Keeping track of your time by using time management tools like Trello or Pivotal Tracker.
  • Know when to say no if you’re not available or when you can’t handle a task, so that you don’t end up with too many projects on your plate.

Self-Motivation and Drive

While being your own boss is enticing, the downside of being a freelancer is that you’re never 100% your own boss. You might have to work on weekends, or during evenings because of client deadlines.

Because of this, you need to be self-motivated and able to work autonomously in order to succeed as a freelancer.

Tips for self-motivation include:
  • Set up target goals for yourself.
  • Setting up your own work time that is uninterrupted.
  • Take rest breaks and manage your energy levels.
  • Identify what makes you productive and focus on those things only, while eliminating the distractions that make you less productive.
  • Keep track of the effort that you’re putting in, and the results that it’s bringing about. This will help motivate you to work harder.
  • Keep up with your skill development, so that you can offer more value and charge higher rates, if necessary. If you’re constantly developing your skills, you’ll be able to work on more challenging projects that will help advance your career.
  • It’s important to celebrate milestones that you’re making along the way. This will help keep motivation high.

Communication Skills

This has been stressed enough, yet we’ll say it again: communication is essential. As a freelancer, you’ll need to be able to communicate effectively with your colleagues and clients in order to get the job done and to avoid wasting time.

Tips for improving your communication skills include:

  • Have an open mind when it comes to receiving feedback from your clients, so that you can learn and grow as a freelancer.
  • Understand the different communication preferences of your clients so that you can know how to communicate with them effectively.
  • Develop a good vocabulary and understanding of the English language, as well-written emails and documents will help you get your point across more effectively.
  • Improve your verbal communication skills by taking a public speaking course, if necessary.
  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues, like yawning or sighing, which will help you know if your client is getting bored or frustrated with the conversation.
  • Listen actively and ask questions to make sure that you fully understand what your client is telling you.

Business development skills 

The goal of any freelancer is to grow their business and get more clients, so it’s important that your business development skills are sharp. These skills would help  market yourself as well as build your own brand. 

Here is what we mean by business development skills:

  • Know how to promote your services on the internet, either through SEO or social media. This will help you get more clients.
  • Understanding how to use social media effectively, which will help you build up your personal brand and become more marketable as a freelancer.
  • Use CRM, emails and email marketing strategies effectively
  • Understand the value of networking and meeting people in-person. This can help you make better connections and get more clients.
  • Writing effective proposals that show the value of your work.
  • Knowing how to use an invoicing tool, which will help you track client payments and bill them accurately.

Beyond the Skills – Set yourself up for success 

The following are important considerations when planning to break away from your full-time job and become a freelancer:

Understand the costs involved

Experienced freelancers will tell you that it’s important to understand all of your costs – not just monetary but also time-related – before you start freelancing.

For example, if you’re going to be working from home, then it’s important that you understand how your new routine will affect the rest of your family, as well as yourself.

Freelancing can be a lonely job so it’s important that you understand the costs and sacrifices of your new job and how you’re going to cover them before you make the leap. 

Here are some examples of common costs that freelancers face:

  • Cost of office space or renting co-working space
  • Cost of equipment and assets including laptops, web hosting, software licenses, printers etc.
  • Cost of any trips you’ll need to take for networking or meetups

There are many other costs that you will encounter as a freelancer, so it’s important to plan for them in advance.

Build your Portfolio

Freelancers need to have a portfolio of work that they can show potential clients. A portfolio of your own work you can show to prospective clients will help convince them that you’re the right person for the job.

There are many different ways you could build your portfolio, including:

  1. Writing a blog and having it hosted on a site like Medium. If you’re going to be writing then this is important because clients will want to see your writing style.
  1. Writing open source software and hosting it on projects like Github, which shows potential clients that you can write and develop software.
  1. Having a personal website, which shows potential clients that you know how to use the internet effectively for your own business.
  1. Having a LinkedIn profile, which shows potential clients that you are business orientated. 

A combination of all of the above works best – it increases your exposure allowing more clients to see your skills and experience, which will also improve your personal brand.

The most important thing about your portfolio is that it shows potential clients that you are business orientated and have the skills they need.

Set your rates

Freelancers must be able to set their rates effectively in order to avoid undercharging for projects and overworking themselves. 

Here are some tips for setting your rates:

  • Be realistic with your expectations as a new freelancer. 
  • Keep track of your time and project costs. This will help you accurately set your rates during the course of a project, as well as make sure you are covering all of your costs.
  • Understand the market rates for similar projects, so that when clients come to you for a quote you can use this as a bargaining chip to help negotiate.
  • As someone just starting out, then it’s important that you set your rates at an hourly rate because this will help you understand how much time you’re spending on projects.
  • Note that if your rates are too high, then potential clients will be put off and may go with another freelancer.
  • Once you have some time under your belt, then it’s important that you experiment with different rates to see what works best for you.

Landing your first clients

This is the fun part.

Landing your first client is the most exciting hurdle to overcome. It will make you feel like a real entrepreneur, which can be great for your personal development.

It’s important that you find your first client so that you can continue practicing the freelance skills listed above, as well as adding a new income to your bank account.

Typical ways to find your first client include:

Promoting yourself through word of mouth
Networking events and meetups

This could be with other freelancers, as well as those working in the industry you’re freelancing in. However you’ll need to be comfortable approaching and mingling with people you don’t know.

Social media

Platforms like Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook – these are some of the best ways for finding potential clients but it can be time consuming

Cold emailing and cold calling

Cold emailing and cold calling potential clients – this can be effective but it takes time and effort to do properly, so make sure you don’t get spammy

Freelance sites

Sites like Upwork, Freelancer and Peopleperhour – these sites are good for finding potential clients quickly, but your rates need to be competitive. In other words, be ready to accept lower offers from clients to stand a chance of being picked.

Hiremotely

You can avoid the hassle of finding potential clients associated with the options above by joining Hiremotely

By far the easiest way to find your first client is by joining Hiremotely. We have a thorough marketing structure in place which means that you can sit back and relax knowing that we are promoting your skills to potential clients 24/7.

We take care of all the hard work for you, so that your skills and experience can be seen by thousands of companies. 

And because our business is built on a reputation of trust and outstanding service, we’re rated excellent by hiring managers, CTO, companies etc. making us an attractive option for high-quality(paying) companies and businesses looking for freelance developers.

This is what makes us the most effective platform for finding freelance talent in today’s market.

Benefits of himotely:

  • Our intelligent matching system will match you to the right projects fast
  • You’ll have access to thousands of potential clients, which means more opportunities for finding your dream job. 
  • You can have your profile up and running in just a few minutes
  • We work with only the best clients from around the world, so you’ll be working with companies you can trust.
  • You’ll have access to a 24-hours support team, so any questions you have will be answered quickly.

We’ve been working with clients for years and we know how important it is to have an effective process in place so you can focus on doing what you do best – being a brilliant developer.

So, with your skills and our platform, you can start earning in just a matter of days.