How to become a freelance software engineer and make 6 figures


  • The pandemic motivated many individuals to tackle freelancing as their solely, or further, supply of earnings.
  • Freelance software engineers who earn six figures yearly spoke with Business Insider about paving a profitable path in short-term work. 
  • They mentioned discovering work is simpler by way of word-of-mouth advertising and earlier employers, and it is necessary to “show rather than tell” with a portfolio that retains monitor of your previous tasks.
  • When setting charges for a freelance venture, they advisable beginning together with your desired earnings and dividing that by what number of hours you’d ideally like to work. 
  • Don’t keep siloed in a single space of experience, and bear in mind that you are the professional, so you must deal with your consumer like a collaborator, not your boss. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for extra tales.

COVID-19 served because the catalyst for a big surge in freelancing, as hundreds of thousands discovered themselves unemployed and searching for other ways to earn an earnings.

In the US alone, over a third of employees freelance, and the present freelance economic system is price $1.2 trillion — a 22% improve from 2019. According to a research by freelance platform Upwork, one of many fields that is within the highest demand for short-term work is software growth.

Pandemic apart, for a lot of, freelancing is a extra interesting route than salaried work is for a plethora of causes. Freelancing gives extra freedom and flexibility and permits you to improve your incomes potential and say no to tasks you do not need to do, amongst different advantages.

If that sounds interesting, freelance software engineers incomes six figures every year revealed to Business Insider how they acquired to the place they’re at this time — and how one can observe of their footsteps.

Read extra: 6 bootcamps that value little to nothing upfront, educate college students essential tech abilities, and assist them land roles at Google and Spotify

Gig platforms like Upwork and Indeed are nice locations to begin, however word-of-mouth is your greatest lever for locating shoppers

Daniel de Haas, 28, lives within the San Francisco Bay Area and has been a full-time freelance software engineer on and off for the previous few years. He finds tasks by way of websites like Upwork and Indeed and from referrals from buddies who work at corporations that want short-term engineers. At one level, he additionally freelanced for a firm that used to make use of him full time.

Daniel De Haas

Daniel De Haas.

Daniel De Haas


When it comes to getting work on-line, de Haas urged beginning out with a low bid and step by step growing your price as shoppers study to belief you. He additionally cautioned that these platforms will be “a bit of a slog, with a lot of false positives and rejection.” For 2019 and the start of 2020, de Haas charged his shoppers $150 an hour. Since the pandemic hit, although, he is lowered his hourly price to $125.

For Conlan Craft, 31, word-of-mouth has been the easiest way to discover work. “I made an effort never to leave any of my full-time jobs on bad footing,” Craft informed Business Insider, “so many of my ex-employers are open to working with me again. They’ll also recommend me to people they know who need work done. I have a reputation of being fast, effective, and easy to work with, which has pretty much made clients come to me.”

Conlan Craft

Conlan Craft.

Conlan Craft


Craft went to faculty for wonderful arts and graphic design. After dropping out junior 12 months, he began build up his freelance graphic design enterprise. When his shoppers began asking him to construct their web sites, he agreed and taught himself how to code. He ended up switching into software engineering, and after a few salaried positions began freelancing full time. Conlan lives in Nashville and makes about $9,100 every month. 

Madeline Moore, based mostly in Los Angeles, additionally strongly endorses word-of-mouth advertising. Early on in her profession, she met a lot of freelance graphic designers who have been typically trying to find dependable builders to construct their web sites. “I developed my relationships this way over the years and have been lucky enough to have consistent freelance work,” Moore mentioned.

Madeline Moore

Madeline Moore.

Madeline Moore


Moore, who graduated school in 2013, studied music, anthropology, sociology, and laptop science. She selected engineering as her profession path as a result of she thought it’d present extra stability and flexibility. Her first job was as a junior developer, a position she discovered on NYU’s job board. After, she tried full-time freelancing as an ecommerce coordinator, then labored full time at David Yurman as a content material methods supervisor. She’s now been freelancing for about seven years. Last 12 months, she made round $110,000 in whole.

Read extra: 10 steps anybody can take to educate themselves to code at residence, in accordance to the VP of Flatiron School, CEO of Women Who Code, and different tech consultants

Set your charges by the hour and think about further work time

There are a few other ways to cost in your work — hourly, day by day, per venture, or a month-to-month retainer. Craft usually costs per venture, which he bases off an “internal” hourly price. “I use it as a basis for estimating projects, but my estimates are not in hours,” he mentioned.

In common, once you’re setting a price for a freelance venture, select an hourly price and multiply it by the variety of hours you suppose it’s going to take to full the venture. Craft usually pads the venture with a few extra hours simply in case it takes longer than anticipated or requires some again and forth with the consumer.

When presenting the speed to the consumer, although, simply put the ultimate venture estimation. “Don’t show your hours, because you don’t want the conversation to be about how you spent your time,” Craft mentioned. “It should only ever be about what you did and how well it addressed the client’s request.”

To discover your hourly price, begin together with your ideally suited annual, month-to-month, or weekly earnings, then divide that by what number of hours you are keen to work. For instance, say you need to make $10,000 subsequent month and are ready to work 35 hours a week. Since there are roughly 4 weeks every month, that provides up to 140 hours, which implies your hourly price is round $72.

It could be useful to know that the nationwide hourly price for freelance software engineers is about $57. Of course, in the event you’re transitioning from a full-time software engineering job, you need to use your wage to work out what your hourly price was and use that as a place to begin.

Put collectively a portfolio and preserve it going even after you are a longtime freelancer

“In tech, you have to show rather than tell,” Moore mentioned. “With programming, you can say you have skills and put it all over your resume, but it doesn’t really mean anything until you can show a working product.”

Despite the truth that she minored in laptop science, Moore could not get any shoppers when she was first beginning out. So she constructed a portfolio. She finally discovered somebody who paid her a very small price for her to create two web sites from scratch and took on the work for a low price as a result of she knew it’d assist her get extra work sooner or later. “As soon as I had just one or two websites under my belt, I would send them my work and then it was a lot easier to get clients,” Moore mentioned.

According to de Haas, you must put time and effort into your portfolio even when you could have a longtime freelance base. Take benefit of down time to work on tasks of your personal. de Haas did this a few years in the past and shared it with the general public. Since then, it is acquired a truthful quantity of consideration, and he believes this has actually helped him land new contracts.

“Several clients I’ve worked with have no effective means of vetting engineers,” de Haas mentioned. “So something as simple as a star count on a Github project can be very reassuring to them.” 

Read extra: A 34-year-old freelancer who stop the job she hated and now makes $200,000 a 12 months debunks 5 of the largest myths she’s encountered about changing into your personal boss

Don’t become too siloed in your space of experience

When you’re employed for your self, you want to have the ability to do multiple factor. In reality, de Haas mentioned you ought to be ready to do all of the potential duties that fall beneath a software engineering position.

During his full-time roles, de Haas was lucky “to have had opportunities to work on things outside my comfort zone, much of which I’ve used in the past couple years as a freelancer.”

“You will be told that focusing on one area of expertise and learning it deeply is the key to success,” Craft mentioned. “This is a great place to start, but it’s not going to serve you in the long term.” Craft added that you must all the time be studying — similar to how to design, administer a database, market a enterprise, and extra. “The more things you can do, the more flexible you can be as a contractor/consultant, and the easier it is to work with you,” Craft mentioned.

Don’t ask permission to do a thorough job

Your consumer has employed you for a purpose — since you’re the professional. Don’t ask permission to do technical issues. If you suppose you must write exams for a characteristic to make certain it really works, write exams (simply make certain you add this into your estimated venture value). Don’t waste time asking your consumer in the event you can or ought to do one thing. That’s your job to work out.

“Your client is not your boss,” Craft mentioned. “They are your collaborator. You’re working together to help them achieve their business goals. And, quite frankly, if you manage your relationships like this, you’ll be valued even more.”

Be very deliberate about work-life stability

Time administration is very arduous once you’re self-employed. Either you’ll be able to’t resist the temptation to work each waking second, otherwise you get so distracted you by no means get something executed.

To get this beneath management, de Haas strictly separates his work and non-work life. For instance, “I don’t let myself go on Twitter or Reddit from my desk,” he mentioned. “Those pastimes are strictly relegated to the couch.” Figure out the atmosphere and “rules” that’ll allow you to be productive and have sufficient time every day to do issues that don’t have anything to do together with your job.

If you are on the fence about whether or not or not to freelance full time, Moore mentioned you must simply do it. “I really had no clue what I was doing when I started freelancing,” she mentioned. “I just decided that I will take on a project and figure it out later.”

For feminine software engineers particularly, Moore mentioned, “Stand up for yourself, be curious, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t feel stupid for asking questions. Be yourself and bring your own unique gifts to the table. Make friends with your peers. Lift each other up and spend time opening the door for others to join you. We need more diversity in tech and we need you.”



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