Freelance Software Development: Is It For You?

Are you tired of a normal 9-5 job? Freelance software development might be for you – but you should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages first. Check out some solid advice from real freelancers! By Antonio Bello.

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Wearing Many Hats


Another thing to consider beyond benefits and drawbacks is that being a successful freelancer requires you to wear many hats. This isn’t for everyone – some people find they don’t like freelancing because they prefer to focus just on programming, and not all the other stuff like sales or working with clients.

Here are some roles you should be prepared to play as a freelancer:

  • Salesman: You’re going to be selling a product, and that product is you.
  • Requirement analyst: This means being able to translate vague business ideas you receive from clients into developer-friendly requirements for yourself.
  • Software architect: Your clients may depend on you to design software architectures, and choose things like hardware, software, technologies and languages.
  • Technical writer: Your clients may expect you to be able to provide good technical documentation of your work.
  • System administrator: You should have a minimum of proficiency in administering the hardware and the operating system on which you’ll work and for which you’ll provide solutions.
  • Business owner: As a freelancer you are effectively running a 1-person business, so you’ll need to arrange some legal work (such as setting up your business and writing contracts), accounting work (like invoicing, bookkeeping, and yearly taxes), HR work (like arranging private health insurance), and other business work (like setting up a company web page and Twitter account). We recommend you hire a lawyer and accountant and don’t try to do this all on your own – it will be the best in the long term.

The fact that freelancing requires you to wear many hats can be either a benefit or a drawback – it depends on what you personally like to do!

Where to Go From Here?

Let’s be real: Freelancing isn’t for everyone. Now that you’ve heard from some freelancers about the benefits and drawbacks they’ve experienced, try answering these questions. This isn’t a test; there is no score to calculate. Just answer and draw your own conclusions:

  • Am I willing to take on additional stress?
  • Can I afford to have a period of time with no income?
  • Am I willing to have an irregular income?
  • Am I willing to work irregular hours?
  • Am I willing to work more hours than I would in a regular job?
  • Can I spend most of my working time alone?
  • Can I work with little or no supervision or structure?
  • Am I willing to always be in “job search” mode?
  • Am I willing to take on or delegate the extra responsibilities of self-employment, such as accounting and marketing?
  • Am I good at solving problems and fixing bugs?
  • Am I good at finding pointers to what I need to know to get things done?
  • Is there a particularly cool/unique job opportunity that I’d be missing out on for this?

Here are some final pieces of advice for those considering freelancing:

  • Try a demo first. If you already have a regular job and you don’t want to jump ship yet, or you’re not sure whether freelancing is for you, take on a project in your spare time and see how it goes.
  • Talk to other freelancers. If you have any friends who freelance, ask them about their experiences. Otherwise, attend local meetups to connect with freelancers. Or do that online (slack communities, forums, etc.)
  • Do your “homework”. Consider the implications of working from home – there are some pros and cons of that as well. You might find my article on staying motivated as a work-from-home developer helpful.

Best of luck with your decision! If you end up deciding freelancing is for you, check out my next article on how to become a freelance software developer.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please join the discussion below. We’d love to hear from those of you who have made this decision already, or who are looking for help on making it!

Note: Special thanks to our pool of freelancers for the invaluable input they shared with us: Tutorial Team members Jake Gundersen and Ryan Poolos, and readers Gary Riches, Andy Donnelly, Christopher Hawkins, Spencer Muller Diniz, Matthew Cave, Pierre Rochon, Jean-Philippe Cyr, Kuba Suder, Robin Hayward, Chris Cornelis, Julio Carrettoni, Paul Jones, Malhar Ambekar, Ignacio Nieto, Richard Hancock, Amit Ranjan, Edward Gilmore and Pawel Krakowiak.