Did you know that around 40% of the workforce does at least some freelancing? The numbers are staggeringly high, especially when compared to what they were just a few decades ago. Numerous factors have contributed to the freelance boom— not all are good.
Many companies would prefer the part-time contractor to the full-time employee with benefits. But while that does create particular challenges for working people, it also offers a lot of freedom and flexibility.
Freelancers can work when and where they want, quickly selecting a lifestyle that matches their values. Computer science and software development are careers that can allow you to find a lot of success and fulfillment as a freelancer.
In this article, we look at how you can enjoy a successful freelancing career in the tech world.
The Importance of Education in Computer Science and Software Development
The relationship between tech and education has always been a little murky. If you can program, it doesn’t matter what kind of degree you have. Employers want your skills.
But for every seventeen-year-old who gets hired by a big tech company on the strength of a program they developed from their childhood bedroom, there are one thousand more people who struggle to find a career without the strength of a degree.
Why? Because the degree ensures that you quickly check a box. No hiring manager wants to do much work to determine that you are a good fit for their job.
They want it to be readily apparent just by glancing at your application. Make it easy for them by getting the right degree.
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Getting the Right Degree
A bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or a closely related field provides the fundamental knowledge required for a career in software development.
Computer science programs will provide a sweeping overview of information in programming languages, data structures, algorithms, and other foundational engineering principles.
However, getting an undergraduate degree is usually just the tip of the iceberg for people who want to work at the highest level. Higher-paying jobs are usually contingent on getting a graduate degree.
Master’s programs allow you to specialize in the field you are most interested in. You can specialize in anything from cybersecurity to data or software architecture in your graduate program.
Not only does the advanced training expand your skill set, but it also helps your resume stand out—something significant in the world of freelancing.
You’re Not Done Yet
Well, sorry. But you aren’t. Technology is constantly changing, and you must grow and change with it to be truly successful. Some of this growth will happen organically.
As you do the job, you will learn more each time, expanding your skills and qualifications.
Sometimes, however, you must formalize your training with additional certifications.
Professional certifications offered by organizations like Microsoft, Cisco, and AWS validate expertise in specific technologies or domains.
For instance, becoming a Certified Cloud Architect or a Certified Ethical Hacker gives you credentials to add directly to your resume, enhancing your appeal to future employers.
You don’t have to enroll in university anytime you want to improve your skillset. Many online boot camps and academies allow you to “upskill” in a few weeks.
Your work can go directly on your resume, and enrolling is usually relatively affordable.
Freelancers also grow a lot as they work. Practical experience will ultimately appeal more to future employers than any educational endorsement could— demonstrating clearly that you have the skills to execute a real job.
As a freelancer, you will quickly see that many different types of jobs are available. Some of them will be high-paying, long-term, and technically complicated.
These jobs have a lot of appeal but are also very competitive. You will most likely need a work history to land them.
Ah! But how do I get a work history if no one will take a chance on me? It’s an age-old question. There are a couple of ways.
For one thing, you can try to build your resume with internships and other forms of short-term employment. This will help you establish professional connections and boost your marketability.
You can also look for more basic, short-term freelance jobs. Tasks that don’t take full advantage of your skillset, perhaps, but do give you a chance to build up your list of testimonials.
And, of course, there is also a third option: personal projects. Programs that you develop yourself to demonstrate skill and generate a bit of buzz around your name.
Running Your Business
Ok. So you’ve got all of the background stuff down. Now, it is time to wade into the waters of freelancing.
Wade into the waters of freelancing?
Yep. Now that you have all your credentials lined up neatly, it’s time to figure out how to convert them into work.
Finding consistent jobs is a challenge even for highly skilled freelancers, but once you get the hang of it, you should have no trouble.
Step 1: Apply frequently
It’s essential to start thinking of yourself as a salesperson. The product is you. You are selling your skills to the highest bidder. One thing you need to understand, however, is that salespeople are told no all the time.
A good lead-to-conversion ratio is something like 20%. Often, it’s closer to 3-5%. While you might fare slightly better with a killer resume, you shouldn’t expect an avalanche of hires in your first few weeks at freelancing.
The key is to be consistent. Start sending out applications every day. You don’t want to flood the market with generic submissions.
Instead, put together 3-5 perfect pitches daily and wait for the offers to start.
Slowly but surely, you will begin to get opportunities to work.
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Step 2: Do a Buzzworthy Job
When you are a freelancer, the next gig is never guaranteed. You get future jobs on the strength of your reputation, so giving each task 110% is always essential.
You want your clients to be pleased enough to keep coming to you. Repeat business is an essential part of staying busy.
Doing great work will also help you strengthen your resume and get recommendations. Bottom line? Treat every job like it is the most important one you have ever had. In a way, it is.
Step 3: Maintain Lines of Communication with Previous Clients
It’s essential to keep in touch with your previous connections. You don’t have to start a group chat or send them a Christmas card, but you should chat occasionally. Why? It helps to make sure they keep you in mind for future projects.
Maybe your former client, Joe Schmoe, has a job coming up in six weeks. Joe loved your work last time, but— and don’t take this personally— he isn’t always thinking about you.
So when his boss tells him to find someone for his next job, he might throw up a listing on one of the many freelancer platforms.
Except that he just got a friendly email from you! So, instead of shouting into the void, he earmarks you for the gig.
There are good and bad ways to maintain customer communications. You do want to maintain relationships. You don’t want to bother people.
A short, friendly message every few months will preserve the connection without being bothersome.
Step 3: Make Sure Work is Always Lined Up
This one is a little tricky to manage— primarily because it isn’t entirely up to you. Let’s say you are working on a big, multi-month project. It’s a good paycheck, and the work is all-consuming, eating up your work time.
Here’s the problem: When you get to the end of the project, you realize you don’t have anything new lined up. You can start looking for more work, but it might take a month (or longer) before you find another sweet gig.
That’s a lot of time not to be earning. The trick is to start looking for the next job while you are still in the middle of your current one.
It’s a tricky balance because sometimes a good opportunity will come up while you are still in the middle of your current task. Then, you’ll have to decide if you want to pass on it or be crazy busy for a while.
Other times, it will be hard to find anything at all. The more you freelance, the better you will get at filling out your schedule.
Step 4: Treat it Like a Business
Because that’s precisely what it means, and because you are a business, you should:
- Market: Find an excellent channel to promote your skills and use regularly.
- Diversify: Chances are, there are many ways for you to earn off your skills. Learn what they are and leverage them. The more options for earning you have, the busier you will be.
- Grow: In business, stagnation is death. The tech industry is going to grow and change. If you want to be successful, you need to grow and change alongside it. That could mean expanding your services. It could even mean hiring someone else to work with you.
You don’t have to be the next Warren Buffet. You do need to be a professional who takes your work seriously.
This all sounds so good! There is no downside to freelancing.
Well. It’s nice that you are excited, but we won’t go that far. There are certainly some aspects of total professional independence that can be challenging.
- Inconsistent work: Even very skilled freelancers will most likely find that there are dry periods. Times where the work isn’t there for whatever reason. It’s a normal part of the gig, but it can also be daunting if you haven’t planned for it financially. It helps to have multiple projects lined up. However, learning how to do this is a skill that takes time to master.
- No benefits: You won’t receive your employer’s insurance or retirement benefits as a freelancer. Even if the money is good— and indeed can be— you must have a conscious plan for getting necessities that the traditionally employed are given. A good financial planner may be able to point you in the right direction, but it will also take some research and trial and error.
- Some people will never understand what you do. Admittedly, it’s not as big a deal as not having employer-provided insurance. But it can get annoying. Tell an aunt that you are a freelancer in software development at your next family reunion. She’ll exit the conversation. I’m pretty sure you work for Best Buy’s Geek Squad.
- Everything is on you: Freelancing is business ownership. You are responsible for your communications, accounting, task management, etc. It’s the nefarious B-side to all the freedom that comes with the job.
On the one hand, you have complete control of your work. On the other hand….you have complete control of your work. Every success and failure is only your fault.
Now, all of this sounds slightly scarier than it is. If you do good work, jobs will come. And while the logistical aspect of freelancing can be a bit of a challenge to learn, it’s also very doable. Millions of people are making it work all over the world.
You can be one of them. Freelancing is a great way to achieve that goal if you desire the freedom to work when, where, and how you want. So stay on top of your skills, and start tracking down some work.