How To Become a Freelance Software Developer

Updated June 30, 2023

Freelance software developers are IT professionals who work on an independent basis instead of becoming salaried employees. This often allows these professionals to have more freedom in the work they do and in their work environment. If you are interested in using your talents as a software developer to complete freelance work, it's important you understand freelancing opportunities.

In this article, we explain what freelance software developers do, where they work, how to become one and the salary and job outlook information for these software development professionals.

Key takeaways:

  • A freelance software developer is a contractor who creates applications for organizations.

  • Freelance software developers usually have information technology (IT) expertise, knowledge of coding languages and connections with businesses that need custom applications.

  • Steps to becoming a freelance software developer include outlining your services, building your portfolio, marketing your services and creating contracts for clients.

What does a freelance software developer do?

Freelance software developers work for one or more companies on a short or medium-term basis. This means they aren't official employees of the company but work on certain projects or tasks that the freelancer and company agreed on.

Freelance software developers work to help websites and computer programs function. They use coding language and techniques to create the "back end" of applications, which is the part of the application users don't see. This means these professionals develop the underlying systems that make websites and applications possible and functional. Freelance software developers often have the following responsibilities:

  • Designing application systems

  • Recommending and applying software upgrades for clients

  • Using code to develop websites

  • Finding clients

  • Communicating with clients to understand their needs

  • Maintaining a personal portfolio or website

Related: What Is Software Development?

Where can freelance software developers work?

Companies in various industries hire freelance software developers to finish projects, fix software issues. Most freelance developers work on a project basis and may help a company fix software issues on their app or design a website for a client.

Freelance software developers work individually and often complete their work remotely. Many freelancers work from home but some take the opportunity of remote work to travel around while still earning income.

Related: 10 Steps to Be a Successful Freelancer

How to become a freelancer for software development

Freelancing is often a unique experience. Because it relies heavily on the individual, each professional may have a different freelancing career path and find success in various ways. However, for a general understanding of how to become a freelancer for software development, try to follow these steps:

1. Learn a niche skill

It's helpful as a freelance software developer to have a niche skill that may set you apart from other freelancing professionals. Consider earning a certification in a certain coding language or specializing in a specific type of work, like debugging applications. This helps establish a specialty skill for yourself, which companies often appreciate in a freelancer. This distinction also may help you be easier to find, as you could show up in searches employers perform online.

Many freelancing software developers choose their niche specialty while pursuing their bachelor's degree. This allows professionals to receive extra guidance under the mentorship of a professor when developing their skills.

Read more: 7 Certifications To Boost Your Software Developer Career

2. Set rules for your work

As a freelancer, it's important to set rules for yourself. Establishing a structure for your professional life helps ensure you maintain healthy working practices. Try to decide on working aspects such as:

  • Working environment: Try to decide where you would like to work. Some freelancing professionals choose to set up a home office to help create separation from their professional life and personal life.

  • Types of clients: Consider what types of clients you are comfortable working with. For example, you may only want to accept projects from smaller companies or only work in certain industries, such as foodservice applications.

  • Number of clients: It's important to understand your own capabilities regarding your workload. Try to determine how many projects you can work on at the same time and be sure to remember this amount when accepting clients.

  • Work hours: It may be helpful for you to determine how many hours you want to work each week. While this likely varies depending on the projects you're working on, having an idea of how many hours you plan to work helps when finding clients.

  • Levels of service: Try to decide which types of services you offer and how you offer them. For example, you may want to be only available for consulting with a company or only work with existing software instead of creating new ones for clients.

3. Build a portfolio

In order to find clients, you need an online portfolio. In your portfolio, be sure to provide professional references and examples of your work. This helps clients understand your skill level and may persuade them to hire you. Consider displaying your portfolio on your professional website and try to provide a link to your portfolio in your job applications.

Read more: What Is a Work Portfolio? (Plus How to Build One)

4. Determine your rates for your services

When determining how much you charge for your work, it's important to consider several factors. First, try to decide if you want to charge per project or per hour. It's important to choose a service rate that accurately reflects your abilities as a professional and allows you to support yourself. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Experience level: Professionals with more experience often charge more, because they have taken more time to improve their skill, so their work may be of a higher quality.

  • Time: If a task takes you a long time to complete, it's important that you charge enough to appropriately compensate you for that time.

  • Financial responsibilities: Be sure to consider your financial responsibilities when setting your rates. This ensures that you are able to address these responsibilities and live comfortably.

  • Equipment: If you are using any special equipment for your work, such as your computer, it's important that your rates reflect and compensate for the purchase of your equipment over time.

  • Market value: try to research other freelance software developer rates to gain a better understanding of what is an average rate to charge.

5. Choose a target audience

Try to discover which clients you would most like to work for. This can determine who you market your abilities toward. When deciding who your target audience is, it's beneficial to consider your pricing. This is because certain types of clients may be more inclined to pay the rate you charge, while others may not be able to afford your rates. It's important you only target clients that pay your rates instead of comprising your pay to find clients.

6. Market your skills

Once you discover who you would like to work for, try to market your skills. You may do this by purchasing personal ads, signing up for freelancing networking sites or just applying to job postings. Marketing your skills as a freelance software developer is a crucial aspect of your job. Try to set aside a certain amount of time each workday to do this.

7. Pick clients

Be sure to be confident in the clients you choose to work for. Try to refer to the rules you set for yourself when considering who to work for. Though you can apply for many projects as a freelancer, companies also may approach you for work. When this happens, be sure to ask the employer questions to ensure you each a good professional match for each other.

8. Create a contract

When you agree to work a project, try to create an employment contract before starting work. This helps legally establish the rules for your freelancing employment with the company. These contracts often include information on how much the company is paying you, the work you're doing and terms for the longevity of your partnership with the company. Try searching online for employment contract templates or ask the client if they have a standard contract for freelancers.

Related: Contracts of Employment: A Comprehensive Guide

9. Learn new skills

As you grow in your freelancer software development career, try to continue your self-education of new skills. This may include pursuing additional certifications or regularly updating your resume. Developing your skill set often helps you find new opportunities as a freelancer and ensures your professional growth.

Salary and job outlook for freelance software developers

Since freelancers set their own rates, these professional's salaries can vary. The average salary for software developers is $105,738 per year. Some freelance software development positions offer as much as $90 per hour for professionals with a bachelor's degree and experience. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't have current data on freelance work, it predicts a 22% increase in the job outlook of software developers between the years of 2019 to 2029.

However, a freelancer's income may increase or decrease for a variety of reasons such as taxes and work availability. Freelancers file their taxes differently from salary employees because their income tax isn't automatically taken from their paychecks. Some freelancers go through varying work schedules in which some months they have several projects and in others they may take a break from working. Both of these factors may affect a freelance software developer.

Explore more articles

  • How To Request a Recommendation Letter From an Employer
  • 7 High-Paying Second-Chance Trucking Companies
  • 22 Middle-Class Jobs Worth Exploring
  • Are Internships Only for Students?
  • Coordinator vs. Specialist: Definitions and Differences
  • A Guide for Choosing Between a Job for Money vs. Passion
  • How To Become a Substitute Teacher in Texas in 7 Steps
  • How To Get a Private Jet License in 6 Steps (With Tips)
  • 26 High-Paying Jobs in Pediatrics (Plus Salaries)
  • 12 Exciting Careers in Food (With Salary and Job Info)
  • 16 High Paying BSN Jobs (Plus Salaries and Duties)
  • 23 High-Paying Jobs You Can Pursue That Are Fun