How to get started with software freelance work?

naseeam used Ask the Experts™
I'm interested in software freelancing part-time.  I am experienced embedded software engineer and I have some programming experience with .net C#.

Which is the best option for getting started?

  1. Look for freelance work in area of my experience.
  2. Learn some hot technology and look for freelance in this area.
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Most Valuable Expert 2012
Top Expert 2014
I've found a bit of work by helping others here on EE and other sites. Many of them quickly realize they're in over their heads and just want someone to do it.

Or there's always sites like Upwork, where you can "bid" on work.
Michael HurleyWeb Geek
Hi naseeam,
The question you ask reminds me of an old saying 'Still water runs deep' other words, this seems like a fundamental question that should have a simple, straightforward answer, however the real answer is much deeper than that.

Your question itself asks several questions about your interests and priorities on its own, such as:
* "Am I an insatiably curious person?" (this could mean that diving into a new, emerging technology could be a great fit)
* "How much time/resources do I have to invest in a brand new technical learning curve?" (ie: How much money do you have saved up to hold you over until your new skills become commercially viable)
* "What is the 'shelf life', as well as my personal passion/interest level in the areas of expertise I currently possess?"
As you can quickly see, the answers to these questions will greatly dictate the options available for you to pursue.

Here is a great article by one of our most trusted verified Experts, @Jim Horn
I found it particularly valuable for two reasons:
* because it is from a pro who knows this road personally
* it contains a link to his site so you can see for yourself how he has set his own freelance business up, so you can see how he is marketing and managing a successful freelance operation
Without knowing more about your interests/priorities as above, it difficult to recommend more specific info, but I hope this is helpful!
E-E, Helpdesk
David FavorFractional CTO
Distinguished Expert 2018
Did my first freelance gig in 1979... whew... 40 years ago... no I feel oldish...

Things I've concluded over my freelancing career.

1) Start with money. Figure out your "Taw" (minimal viable income) * 3 as a good target of monthly income.

2) Determine skills you can utilize, from home, to reach #1.

3) Gear your work around #1 + #2.

For example, I've worked on may OSes + in many languages. All are roughly the same technically. Pay is very different for each. Also the ability to work from home is different for each.

The reason working from home is important, rather than onsite work, is project opportunities + recurring income opportunities soar with offsite (at home) work.

4) The other big item is driving to recurring income. For the past... 5+ years now I only work on projects which produce recurring monthly income, so projects pay forever now.

If you always drive to #4, then your overall income continually increases.

Also, you can take off a few weeks or months, while maintaining consistent income.

Just a few things to keep in mind.

5) One last item. Read the book "Traction", converting the focus from applying "Traction" principles to large organizations... to you as a solopreneur. To me, the... solo-traction exercise was highly useful, setting out my next few decades of goals.
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I would suggest starting from the demand side.  Look around at current job posting to see how is looking for contractors and what skills are they looking for.

If any of them match what you already know - great.  Go ahead and apply.
If not, that would tell you areas to go learn about where people in your area are actively looking for contractor help.

But mostly when starting out I would suggest "bid low".  Offer low price deals to get a foot in the door and build up a resume and some experience.  When I started doing freelance work I found a local company that needed some help (through a personal connection - got to work your personal network) and I offered fixed price contracts to them - I'll build your system for $x.  That's a wonderful deal for most software companies because you're taking on the risk if it takes longer than expected.  But because of that they loved working with me.  And I would say "yes" to projects where I barely understood the particular tech involved but was confident I could learn what was needed - and since I was offering fixed price the risk again was on my side (they weren't paying me to learn - I was paying myself less while I learned).

One project became two, two became three and after a year I was hiring subcontractors to pick up the extra work and was suddenly running a very small company.

BTW, "bid low" is a bad idea if you're not working with the same companies/people over and over.  If you're doing piece work on a sharing site and getting paid for it, you're not building a relationship with individuals so no sense in selling yourself short.

Hope that helps,

David FavorFractional CTO
Distinguished Expert 2018

@dpearson brings up a good point about bidding.

The way you bid is to follow my suggestion or something similar to come up with your ideal bill rate.

Then you bill this rate. Period. No exception.

Then you locate clients who will pay your rate.

Remember, takes same amount of time to find a client for a low bill rate as a high bill rate.

In fact, I suggest you open another question asking about how freelancers do their marketing.

All the successful freelancers I've talked with...

1) Have a clear definition of success - like amount of income/month + hours/day to be worked. For example, my target is to work around 1-2 hours/week onboarding new clients, which generate recurring income.

2) They use outside the box marketing techniques. I've never met a 6-7 figure/year freelancer who ever marketed themselves in some... let' see, how to say this... none of these people use commonly known marketing techniques...


Thank you!
David FavorFractional CTO
Distinguished Expert 2018

You're welcome!

Good luck with your Freelancing!

Do consider opening a 2nd question about how EE Freelancers do their marketing.

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