Guide to becoming a successful Freelance Web Developer

Guide to becoming a successful Freelance Web Developer

On average, a freelancer earns less than their full-time counterpart with the same skill set.

Sounds daunting, huh? But what if you don’t want to be an average guy? Let’s find out.

While the phrase “your income stream only depends on you” might initially sound like a burden, it’s actually a beacon of opportunity.

Think about it. No longer you are confined to a set salary or restricted by office politics. You set your rates. You choose your projects.

And if you play your cards right, you can even delegate tasks by hiring someone to handle parts of your workload.

Yes, freelancing isn’t a walk in the park. It’s even not just about being a top-notch developer – that’s only half the battle. The other half? Embracing the mindset of an entrepreneur. Because, at the end of the day, freelancing is essentially running your own business.

And like any business, it requires more than just technical prowess: it demands entrepreneurial spirit.

So, is freelancing for everyone? Probably not. But for those willing to merge their technical expertise with entrepreneurial savvy, the sky’s the limit. Sounds good? Let’s see what you have to deal with.

What is a Freelance Developer?

At its core, a freelancer is someone who trades their time for money. How does this differ from what a regular full-time developer does? The world of freelancing offers a unique blend of freedom and responsibility, setting it apart from traditional employment.

Relationship with Employers

The first distinction lies in the relationship with the employer. As a freelancer, you’re not anchored to a single client or company. Instead, you have the freedom to juggle multiple clients, often simultaneously, based on your capacity and preferences.

Scope of Expertise

Another defining characteristic is the scope of work. Many freelancers, especially those who’ve found success working solo, specialize in a very narrow niche – e.g. developing plugins specifically for WooCommerce. Within this niche, they’re not just proficient – they’re experts. This deep dive into a specific area allows them to offer unparalleled expertise and value to their clients.

Flexibility in Scheduling

Then there’s the matter of scheduling. Freelancers operate on a more flexible timeline. Instead of the traditional 9-to-5 grind, they work based on project deadlines agreed upon with clients. This flexibility, however, comes with the responsibility of ensuring timely delivery and maintaining quality.

Compensation Models

When it comes to compensation, most freelancers charge by the hour, reflecting the time and effort they invest in a project. However, some adopt a value-based approach, setting their fees based on the perceived value of the solution they provide.

In essence, being a freelance developer is about blending technical expertise with the freedom and flexibility of self-employment, all while navigating the challenges and rewards that come with it.

How much do Freelance Coders make?

The earnings of freelance coders can vary widely based on several factors: experience, specialization, primary programming language, and perhaps most crucially, the number of leads they can secure. But for the sake of clarity, let’s delve into some average figures to get a general sense.

Let’s spotlight one of the most sought-after programming languages. We’ll focus on the rates of freelancers catering to the US market.

Entry-Level JavaScript Freelance Developers

JavaScript Freelancers Hourly Rate data

From the chart, it’s evident that a significant chunk of entry-level developers charge around $50 an hour. There are a few who command rates of $80 or even $100 per hour, but these are likely exceptions rather than the norm.

Senior JavaScript Freelance Developers

Senior JavaScript Freelancers Hourly Rate data

For seasoned developers, the average rate hovers around a solid $100/hour, with a notable segment charging up to $160 an hour.

Junior Python Freelance Developers

Python Freelancers Hourly Rate data

The rates for junior Python developers align closely with their JavaScript counterparts, averaging at $50/hour.

Senior Python Freelance Developers

Senior Python Freelancers Hourly Rate data

Senior Python developers, much like their JavaScript peers, typically charge around $100/hour, with a significant number pushing their rates to approximately $150/hour.

Junior Java Freelance Developers

Java Freelancers Hourly Rate data

The rates for junior Java developers mirror those of junior developers in the other two languages we discussed.

Senior Java Freelance Developers

Interestingly, senior Java developers tend to have slightly lower rates. A plausible reason could be that Java, often employed for extensive and intricate codebases, is more suited for long-term projects. Companies might prefer to hire Java experts on a full-time basis, believing that short-term freelancers might not be as effective in such environments.

While figures like $50/hour for juniors might seem enticing, it’s essential to approach them with a pinch of skepticism. The data doesn’t reveal how many billable hours a freelancer clocks in a week. While some might be swamped with 40+ hours of work, others might find it challenging to secure even a single client, especially those new to the freelancing world. But remember, you’re not aiming to be just another statistic. With the right approach and dedication, success in freelancing is within reach.

Education and Skills Needed to Become a Freelance Web Developer

A formal degree or a fancy certificate might look good on a wall, but when it comes to delivering results for clients, it’s your expertise and know-how that truly count. Let’s break down what you need to thrive as a freelance web developer.

Directly Relevant Skills

  • Language Proficiency: Whichever programming language you opt for, be it JavaScript, Python, Java, or any other, strive for mastery. It’s not just about knowing the basics but understanding the intricacies and nuances.
  • Framework Familiarity: If you’re diving into frameworks like React, Angular, or Django, ensure you’re well-versed in their functionalities and best practices.
  • Ecosystem Knowledge: Beyond just the language and framework, immerse yourself in the broader ecosystem. This includes tools, libraries, and complementary technologies that can enhance your development process.
  • Industry Expertise: Specializing in a particular sector, such as Fintech, E-commerce, or the Travel industry, can set you apart. Dedicate time to understand the unique challenges and needs of your chosen niche.

Indirect, Yet Crucial Skills

  • Marketing: It’s not enough to be a coding whiz; you need to attract clients. Understanding the basics of marketing can help you position yourself effectively in the crowded freelance market.
  • Sales: Once you’ve got a potential client’s attention, you need to convince them of your value. This is where sales skills come into play. Learn how to present your services compellingly and address client concerns.
  • Communication: Building and maintaining strong client relationships is pivotal. Effective communication ensures you understand client needs, set clear expectations, and foster long-term collaborations.
  • Management: As a freelancer, you’re essentially running a business. This means managing your time, handling finances, drafting contracts, and juggling multiple projects. Being organized and proactive in these areas can make a world of difference.

Focusing on the type of Freelance Web Developer you want to be

Choosing a niche might seem counterintuitive. Why box yourself into a specific corner when the vast world of web development is at your fingertips? But there’s a method to this madness, and it’s all about positioning yourself as the go-to expert in a particular domain.

Imagine you’re the CEO of a bustling FinTech startup. Your team is knee-deep in finance-specific tasks daily, from setting up IRAs for clients to crunching numbers for 401k payments. The nuances of the FinTech world are many, and they’re unique.

Now, let’s say you need an external module for your app, but your in-house team is swamped. Freelancers to the rescue! After some research, you’ve shortlisted 10 potential candidates. All have similar experience, comparable rates, and seemingly equal competence.

But here’s the kicker: nine of them are jack-of-all-trades, with only a smattering of projects in the FinTech realm. The tenth, however, has dedicated 90% of his career to FinTech projects. Who would you trust with your project? The answer’s pretty clear.

This is the power of niche specialization. It allows you to stand out in a crowded market and positions you as the first choice for clients in that domain. But a word of caution: don’t go too niche. You don’t want to pigeonhole yourself into an area so specific that opportunities are scarce. The key is to find a balance, a niche broad enough to ensure a steady stream of clients but specialized enough to set you apart.

In essence, while being a generalist might seem like casting a wider net, specializing can often lead to more significant, more lucrative catches. It’s all about finding that sweet spot and positioning yourself just right.

The Milestones of a Software Developer’s Freelance path

You’ve got the skills, your online presence is on point, and your portfolio is gleaming with your best works. You’ve honed in on your niche and are raring to go. But how do you transition from being ready to actually landing that first gig? Let’s map out the journey.

Finding Clients

The primary source of clients, especially for those new to the freelancing game, is often freelance platforms. Start by setting up a robust profile: showcase your portfolio, and don’t forget to upload a professional photo – as friendly one as you can get.

The initial hurdle many face is landing that first client. Classic catch-22: clients lean towards freelancers with a track record, but building one without that first job can be challenging.

One strategy to overcome this is to offer your services at a nominal rate or even for free to the first clients. Consider it as an investment in your budding business. It’s about gaining traction, building credibility, and garnering those all-important reviews. But even when offering complimentary services, ensure you exude trustworthiness. A strong profile and an active LinkedIn page can make all the difference.

Growing Your Customer Base

  • Focus on over-delivering. A satisfied client is not just a repeat customer but also a potential ambassador for your services.
  • Engage with your audience by publishing content, be it on your blog, social media, or other platforms. 
  • Dive into relevant online communities, share your insights, and consider building your own community.
  • Proactively send out proposals, even more than you think you can handle.Having a higher demand than supply is a good problem: it allows you to prioritize projects and even turn down less appealing ones.

Managing Your Day-to-Day Business

Stay on top of your game. Regularly update your portfolio with recent projects. Punctuality is paramount; always deliver on time. Utilize digital tools like Trello to keep track of tasks and deadlines. And don’t forget the financial side of things. Monitor your earnings and expenditures meticulously.

Picture this: a freelancer lounging on a sun-kissed beach, beer in hand, under the shade of a swaying palm tree… A dreamy image many conjure up when thinking about making the leap to freelancing. Let’s be real, the actual journey is far from this idyllic scene. In fact, there will be moments when you’ll yearn for the predictability and structure of your old 9-to-5.

Every new freelancer treads this challenging path. There’s no magic elevator to success; you’ve got to take the stairs, one step at a time. It’s about pouring your heart and soul into every client interaction, constantly refining your skills, and improving something every week.

But here’s the silver lining: if you’re genuinely committed, if you’re relentless in your pursuit of growth and excellence, and if you give it the time and effort it deserves, success isn’t just possible – it’s inevitable. So, gear up, stay focused, and remember: the journey of freelancing, with all its ups and downs, is what makes the destination truly rewarding.

Being a Freelance Webmaster: Pros and Cons

In the grand scheme of things, every pro has a counteracting con. It’s all about what resonates with you and aligns with your priorities. Which side of the scale holds more weight for you?


  • Flexibility in Scheduling: You’re the Boss. No one dictates your working hours but you.
  • Diverse Projects: Say goodbye to the monotony of working on the same codebase year after year. Every project is a new adventure.
  • Value Over Time: Those who’ve mastered the art of selling value over hours will find themselves working less than the traditional 9-5, yet earning significantly more.
  • Stability: It might sound counterintuitive, but having multiple clients can offer more security than being reliant on a single employer.
  • Scaling Opportunities: If you set this as your target, you could end up in a position when you just outsource all your work. As Rockefeller wisely put it, “I would rather earn 1% off a 100 people’s efforts than 100% of my own efforts.”
  • Entrepreneurial Fulfillment: If the entrepreneurial spirit runs in your veins, freelancing can be a satisfying venture. Or, it might be a stepping stone to bigger entrepreneurial endeavors.


  • Unpredictable Hours: While there’s flexibility, there’s also unpredictability. You work until the job’s done, not until the clock strikes a certain hour.
  • Constant Change: If you thrive in the familiarity of a long-term project, the ever-changing nature of freelance projects might not be your cup of tea.
  • Initial Financial Struggles: The early days of freelancing mean selling your time for a cup of beans, earning way below what a full-time position might offer.
  • Building Clientele: It takes time to establish a robust client base. Initially, you will find yourself overly reliant on a handful of regular clients, which can be nerve-wracking.
  • Commitment is Key: If you’re looking to coast by doing just the bare minimum, freelancing might not be the goldmine you’re hoping for. It demands passion and dedication.

Freelance Software Developer FAQ

Q: Is HTML+CSS enough to start?

A: Yep, if you’re aiming to be a Freelance Front End Developer. Start with these basics, get some practice. Look for jobs like “converting Figma to HTML” or “PSD to HTML” on platforms like Upwork and Freelancer. But don’t stop there: once you feel good about your skills, move on to more advanced stuff.

Q: Should I quit my full-time job to focus solely on freelancing?

A: That’s a big step. If you don’t have savings to cover your bills for at least three months, I’d say hold off. Starting in freelancing can be slow, and finding those first few clients might take time. If you can, try mixing freelancing with your regular job – work on freelance projects during evenings or weekends.

Q: Do I need to register a company to start freelancing?

A: It really depends on where you live. In the US, you can start as an individual, or what’s called a Sole Proprietor. But remember, you still need to handle taxes. So, keep track of your money.

Q: How do I get paid for Freelancing?

A: If you’re using a platform like Upwork, or Toptal they handle the money stuff. Just link your bank account to your profile, and you can pull out your earnings. If you’re not on a platform, tools like PayPal or Zelle are good ways to get paid.

Author headshot

Nick Trayze

Software Engineer, Toptal insider

Nick is a freelancer with over 10 years of experience, having contributed to nearly a hundred different projects across various industries.