How to become a successful freelance web developer

Freelancing should be a natural progression of a web developer’s career…not the path to creating a career. Someone who has established a professional network, fine-tuned their web development skills, and has an entrepreneurial spirit will have the right formula for building a successful freelance business. But prematurely deciding to freelance can damage your career and leave you feeling pressured to take any work you can find just to keep the bills. So, how do you successfully build a freelancer web development business without killing your career?


1. Find Full-Time Web Development Work

Yes, finding work can be difficult, especially for those with limited to no development experience. But creating a freelance business means acquiring the skills that businesses are looking to hire for. For those of you who are self-taught but lack a bit of polish, try contributing to open source projects on GitHub and building a technical portfolio and check out this article: 14 Ways to Contribute to Open Source without Being a Programming Genius or a Rock Star.


Obtaining full-time employment early in your career, even if you eventually prefer to be a freelancer, exposes you to how a business operates from the inside.  A secure job will also provide the opportunity to build up your savings, practice finance management, and teach you how to deal with difficult clients.

How to be a successful freelance developer

2. Create a Project Focused Resume 

A web-based portfolio with links to your projects is an excellent way to showcase your work, with your CV adding the extras, such as scope of project, client requirements, impact, and so on. Be flexible on format: prioritize information to reflect the job requirements of each job you are applying to. For example, put relevant certification in your profile if it’s crucial to a hiring company, otherwise put it in either your skills or education section.


Start with a heading such as “Professional Experience,” “Representative Projects,” “Select Projects” or simply “Projects.” Under this heading, create a subheading for each project you want to highlight, such as web content, blogging, web design, graphic design, software development, systems engineering and any other project-based work. Next to each subhead, write a sentence or two on the project and any results or benefits stemming from your work.


3. Network, Network, Network

Getting involved in developer communities such as hack days and meet-ups is useful for making contacts with other developers, finding out about new technologies, and potentially finding work. For those of you currently employed, spend some time getting to know your co-workers and clients. Chat with people about more than the immediate projects you are working on. As the level of trust builds, ask about other aspects of the project or business you might be able to assist. 


Networking is the groundwork for your eventual freelance business and is absolutely necessary for your success. A moderately skilled programmer who’s really good at communicating with people is worth at least 3-5x more to most businesses than a brilliant programmer who prefers to be left alone all day

No better way to celebrate than with pizza

4. Leverage Your Network to Find a Job  

Step up your networking efforts using professional sites like LinkedIn.  Reach out to past employers, coworkers, and clients, let them know that you’re currently seeking side work , and ask whether they know anyone who needs help. Shameless self-promotion might not be your cup of tea, but practice makes perfect. And if you want to be a full-time freelancer, self-promotion is a must-have tool.


In addition, create profiles on freelance marketplaces such as ODesk, Elance,, and They can be great (initially) for short term, filler work and over time, you will build a strong profile with lots of customer feedback, which will help propel your career and provide new avenues for clients. Looking for more marketplaces? Check out 26 Job Sites for Freelance Designers and Programmers.


5. Raise Your Rates Steadily Over Time

As you establish your reputation as a freelancer, your time becomes more valuable. At the start, allocate a fixed amount of hours each week to your freelance jobs. Once you’re consistently booked each week, raise your rates on new clients by 20%. Continue doing this until you’re turning away more than half of new business and then start raising rates on existing clients. Getting to this point will take several years of hard work and a few mistakes in between.  For more information on calculating your rate as a freelancer, check out “Top Hourly Rate Calculators for Freelancers.”

 Carrie Smith_Clients pay more

6.  Go Full-Time Freelancer

The decision of when to make the leap into full-time freelancing is a personal one. It will vary depending on your skill level, amount of debt, family obligations, your ability to take risks and other factors. The secret to succeeding as a full-time freelancer is to treat it as a business. You’re the CEO of your freelance company. You’re the one responsible for everything related to it. Plan ahead, stick to the same work ethic of your office-going days and you’ll be fine.

read next