Of all the potential roles and career paths that are open to coding professionals, one particular route is especially alluring to many. Today, in 2021, freelancing is becoming an increasingly common choice for many software developers, both beginners and experienced ones. Thankfully, the ability to work remotely and independently is one of the countless privileges of being a software developer compared to other professions, and it fits the freelancing model perfectly. According to StackOverflow’s Developer Survey 2020, there are around 1.5 million developers, or 7% of the total developer population across the globe, who have chosen to be freelancers. And this is totally understandable as being a freelance developer certainly can bring you a lot of benefits. The main of which is freedom, independence and not working “for the man.” On the other hand, freelancing is in many ways trickier than full-time work, with multiple issues you need to know and understand to have a decent income and be successful long-term. Today, and in a series of articles to follow, we will be talking about being a freelance software developer, providing you with information and advice that should help to achieve the maximum benefit out of your freelance career and avoid pitfalls and traps of which there is no shortage of when you’re a freelancing beginner.
Pros and cons of being a freelance developerDespite listing pros and cons of everything at the drop of a hat has totally become an annoying cliche in tech-related articles, it does seem to be appropriate here as being a professional freelancer comes with a strong set of pluses and minuses, and you should be aware of them. Are you a glass-half-full kind of person? Let’s begin with the pros then.
Advantages of being a freelance software developer
1. Independence and more control over your scheduleNaturally, being able to work independently and on your own schedule is a big plus. For many, this is the core reason to choose freelancing over regular full-time work, as the ability to manage your day and decide when (and where) to work and when to take rest can make your life a lot balanced and even transform the attitude towards work if you, like many, succumb to view it as constantly hard, difficult and exhausting activity.
2. Mobility and no additional time/energy costsAnother aspect of this is not being tied to any specific location, which gives you so much more freedom and mobility. Comparing freelancing to a full-time job in the office, you also end up saving a considerable amount of time and energy other people spend on commuting. It can be viewed as a considerable bonus as the amount of time people spend commuting seems to increase each year. According to this report by the U.S. Census Bureau, for example, the average American worker spent 225 hours, or well over nine full calendar days, commuting in 2018.
3. You can earn more moneyYour earning potential as a freelance developer can be substantially higher compared to how much you would earn having a full-time job. That, of course, will depend on multiple factors such as your skills, how good you are at negotiating your value, and how many hours per month you want to work. But having the ability to decide how much you would like to earn per hour or per project does give you a much greater flexibility compared to a job where your hourly rate is fixed and the only way to slightly increase your earnings is to work overtime.
4. More potential for faster professional growthFinally, freelancing provides software developers with more opportunities for fast professional growth. Firstly, working on different projects for multiple clients makes it easier for freelancers to learn new technologies, platforms, and just keep their skill set relevant to the market. Secondly, a freelancing business is much easier to scale as you can easily hire other freelancers to outsource tasks and complement your work with the input from other qualified specialists.
Disadvantages of being a freelance software developer
1. Your real earnings can get lowerEven though we said you can earn more by freelancing instead of having a full-time job, the reality is most people end up earning less when making such a transfer. There are multiple reasons for that such as many people simply choose to work fewer hours. The attitude also is a major factor as many freelancers experience challenges finding clients and negotiating about their services which makes them lower their rates to stand out among the competition.
2. No financial securityAnd of course, you are not guaranteed a fixed monthly income when being a freelancer. This means that you will only get paid for the actual work that you do, and if you had an unproductive month for some reason your wallet will suffer accordingly.
3. The need to do a lot of additional work managing projects and clientsWhat many freelancing beginners often fail to understand is that being freelancer is equivalent to running your own small business, which comes with a number of additional responsibilities and requirements you just don’t have as a traditional employee. Freelance developers have to search for clients, promote their services and expertise, communicate with existing clients, take care of the financial side and so on. All of this as an addition to your direct responsibilities. Being unable to cope with everything is probably the most common reason why many freelancers fail.
4. Difficult and problematic clientsProblematic, difficult and dishonest clients probably should be mentioned separately, as it is one of the most popular aspects of freelance work that software developers have trouble coping with. Using popular freelance platforms such as Upwork or Fiverr allows to partially minimize this problem, as they serve as a mediator between freelancers and their clients and provide multiple data you can use to tell “good” and “bad” clients apart.
5. Significant workloadMost freelancers do have to work a substantial number of hours to ensure steady income on the level a full-time job is able to provide or higher. The majority of freelancers have to constantly maintain several projects waiting in their pipeline in order to guarantee a steady income. It means that to be a successful freelance developer you also need to have strong time management and project management skills.
Is being a freelance software developer for you?There’s a lot to be said on the topic of being successful as a freelance developer, and we will present more specific information and relevant recommendations in the articles to follow. Clearly, this type of work is not for everyone, and its obvious pluses are well balanced by its weaknesses. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself when stepping on this path.
Can I afford being a freelancer financially?This is one of the first questions you should ask yourself as delays and inconsistent income are common in this type of work.
- Can you afford to wait for payments if they are delayed?
- Do you have family or relatives who rely on your earnings?
- Can you still support your lifestyle if monthly income suddenly drops?
Can I handle/adjust to being a freelancer physically and mentally?Another important set of questions to ask yourself to determine you’re fit for this type of work.
- Are you healthy enough to work long hours at the time of peak workload?
- Are you good at self-management?
- Do you need regular work patterns (e.g. 9-5 office hours) in order to be effective?
- Can you work under pressure?
- Do you have a passion for development or just in it to make a living? It is much easier to work long hours on something that you enjoy doing.
Can I deal with the business side of being a freelancer?Finally, some people are much better off working regular full-time jobs because they just don’t have the ability or desire to deal with multiple aspects of running themselves as a small business (which is what freelancing essentially is).
- How good are your communication skills?
- Do you have well-developed soft skills?
- How experienced are you dealing with money-related issues?
- Do you see the bigger picture when working on software projects or limited to understanding your part only?