It doesn’t take a genius to work out that freelancing is the way forward for creatives. Artists who would’ve struggled to find work a few years ago now manage to make substantial cash from home. Even bloggers, video makers and (you guessed it) programmers are making this lifestyle work. So, if you’re a budding programmer, the chances are that you’re giving freelance life some serious thought.

If so, it’s important to consider what you’re after on your programming journey. You’re in the creative minority in the fact that there are copious programming jobs out there. As such, this isn’t the only way to earn a living through what you do. If you like the idea of holiday pay and sick leave, then, you may be best searching for jobs with existing companies.

If you’re more willing to take a risk, though, freelance could be your best option. This can see you earning substantially more than you would otherwise. It’ll be in your power to decide both your rates and your workload, after all. It also has the benefit of keeping things interesting. Many programmers get bored when they work for one company. There’s only such much fun you can have when programming for one business website, after all. Besides which, you’d need to stick to the company’s ideas about how things should be. By comparison, freelance options mean working on a variety of jobs. They also offer more creative freedom.

Of course, despite this rising trend, it isn’t always as easy to break into freelancing as we think. That’s especially the case for a budding programmer who’s never worked an official job in the field. At this stage, you’re an untested entity, and one mistake could spell the end of your solo efforts. That’s why you need to make 100% sure you have everything well underhand from the get-go. You can certainly bet that you’ll never see success this way if you make the following rookie mistakes.

Trying to take on the whole programming world

During your studies, the chances are that you took a brief look at near enough option available in the programming world. All the better for helping you find your place in the industry, right? The trouble is that every type of programmer performs incredibly different tasks. Even within the area of web design, you have both back and front-end programmers behind the scenes. For the most part, these two worlds shouldn’t collide. They require different skills and programming knowledge altogether. When you start on your freelance journey, you may make the mistake of thinking that you can take on any programming job. This certainly seems like the best way to get the most custom. But, that’s a falsehood which could end your efforts before they begin.

If you’re to stand any chance at going up against the competition, you need to have skills worth trusting. If you’re trying to take on every aspect of programming at once, that won’t be the case. You may be able to drum some business due to lower rates and an inclusive package, but you can bet no one will come back a second time. That’s because your skills in each area will be substandard at best. Instead, then, you'd be better off focusing on a niche area of programming which can help to showcase your skills. You’ll then be able to develop your skills and ability here to go against your competitors. That ensures every customer walks away happy and willing to both return to and recommend you.

Cutting costs on your internet

While freelancers can claim their internet in expenses, you’ll have to fork out for the web from the off. This can be a strain before you’re making real money. As such, you may select the slowest, cheapest package going. The trouble with that, of course, is that internet matters to every freelancer in some shape or form. But, given that you’ll likely be programming for websites, internet matters more to you. By attempting to cut costs, you could leave yourself unable to work fast, or even to perform specific tasks. Missed or incomplete deadlines are the nail in any freelance coffin, though. You should avoid them at any cost.

Instead, you want to look out for a wifi package which offers you decent speeds from day one. That’s the only way to make sure your reputation stays untarnished as you get started. Only with this in place will you be able to complete every aspect of your jobs without delay. If you shop around for the best deals, this needn’t even cost you above the odds. Wifi is standard fare nowadays, after all. The competitive market means there are plenty of fast yet affordable options to choose from.

Not building a portfolio

Portfolios may sound like something arty-farty painters need, but programmers should get on top of these too. Even in regular employment, you’ll need some proof of your work before you can secure a job. With freelancing, though, the need for a complete portfolio becomes even more essential. After all, you’re going to need to impress with every job you attempt to secure. That’s no easy task, and a portfolio is your best bet of doing it. When you first start, this is going to mean producing work without pay. There’s just no getting around that. You’ll need to develop things like dummy websites and the like to prove that you can. You’ll also need to ensure your portfolio is a fair representation of your skills on the whole. That could mean needing to work on some unpaid projects before you can get going. The way to look at it is that each of those projects will both improve your skills and secure your payment later on. As your work gets off the ground, you may even find that clients are willing to let you use the work you’ve done in this capacity. Then, you can rest easy that those jobs both paid at the time and down the line. Either way, when a client asks to see your portfolio, it’s crucial that you have one to hand.

Not sticking to your guns about pricing

Any freelancer in any field is sure to experience issues when it comes to their pricing. For one, it can be awkward and even embarrassing to settle on a rate for your services. You may also find that companies expect you to work for free if doing so provides you with exposure. Many a starter programmer has made the mistake of accepting jobs like these, but they’re awful for two pressing reasons. #1 the exposure you receive is never worth the time you take on these projects without pay. #2 accepting unpaid work once sends a sure and negative message that you’ll be willing to do the same again. In short; you want to avoid this like the plague.

Another rookie mistake here would be to accept a client’s refusal to pay an agreed amount. You may be new to the industry, but you need to have faith in your programming skills. Your work is good, and you deserve to get paid a decent amount for it. Your best bet of sticking to your guns here is to gain some idea of what other freelancers in your position charge. As a general guide, freelance programmers can earn anywhere between $28–$200 per hour. These rates often depend on things like experience, the quality of their portfolio, and the size of the project. Before you hit the market, then, decide on your rates. These will be at the lower end to start with, but you may want to revisit that per job. Make sure, once you’ve settled on an amount, that you get a client to sign a contract to that effect. Only then should you start work. And, whatever you do; never, EVER, let someone tell you aren’t worth that much.


Misreading your audience

Targeting the right audience is an obvious and necessary aspect of your success here. As a programmer, though, you may find that reasonably tricky. Unlike many freelance artists, your primary clients are going to be business owners. As such, marketing heavily on social media may not be your best bet. While your online presence is still essential, you may not find the audience you need on Twitter. Instead, it’s critical that you know your audience and how to reach them. If you’re targeting bloggers, for example, programming and starting your own blog could be your best option. You could then get the ball rolling with something like an email newsletter they can sign up to. If bigger business is your target, don’t be afraid to come right out and send probing emails. While many of these will go unopened, you only need one big company to reach out for this to be worth your while. And, once you’ve found your audience in the right ways, you can bet that your reputation will start to do the talking.

Walter G. is a software engineer, startup co-founder, former CTO of several tech companies and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He has been blogging for the past 5 years and is an avid BMX rider, bio-hacker and performance enthusiast.
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