Career tips: How to become a great IT freelancer

If your computer is your office then you can work anywhere in the world. No surprise then, that IT is fast becoming untethered from the nine to five. Tech giants like Google already have more contracted than in-office workers, with thousands more between the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Uber.

Freelancers make up 32% of the tech industry at present and are predicted to be 45% by 2028.

But while the idea of being your own boss - setting your own hours, working in your PJs and taking plentiful TV breaks - may sound enticing, there are a lot of practical considerations that come with being self-employed.

Here are some tips for those starting out a career as an IT freelancer.

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Always use a contract
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Always use a contract

Use a contract for every single client project, without exception. You will be able to find a template online. As you progress, you can refine and edit it to suit your needs. Here are the things that it should include:

  • The work that you produce is original.
  • The client’s information stays confidential.
  • The agreed payment and terms.
  • Once the client accepts the completed work, they accept full responsibility for any further processes.
  • You and the client have the right to terminate the services, and what that means for each of you.
Name your price

Name your price

This part is crucial for obvious reasons. You need to decide what the best pricing scheme for you is - whether an hourly rate or a rate for a completed job. Although you can of course flip between these two depending on the job in question.

Try not to undervalue yourself. It's easy to be self-deprecating but take a realistic look at the market rate and evaluate your experience and skills. It's better to ask for more and then negotiate down than gift the client budget rates straight off the bat.

Remember too, that freelancers command a higher hourly rate than in-house staff because you don't have the benefits - sick pay, holiday pay - that permanent staff do.

Schedule

Schedule

To be faced with boundless days free of any imposed schedule or oversight can feel both liberating and terrifying. As a freelancer, you are your own boss and you need to be strict with your use of time to make sure you're maximising productivity.

Set the hours you want to work, rather than letting the working day drift across your whole waking life, and set clear goals and milestones. Lounging around in pyjamas on your sofa while you work is probably not going to help you be a disciplined worker.

While the odd day like this is fine (comes with the territory), many freelancers choose to get dressed and even (gasp) leave the house to jolt their brain into 'work mode'. Today, co-working spaces abound. Think about getting yourself a desk somewhere if you can - even if it's just for a couple of days a week.

Build an impressive portfolio website

Build an impressive portfolio website

Your website is the first impression that a client will have of our work and style. You need to make sure that it shows you in a good light.

Clearly outline the services you provide, who your clients are and how people can contact you. Include testimonials and remember to update your site regularly.

Set up an accounting system

Set up an accounting system

You need to create an accounting system to keep on top of your invoices. Plus you’ll have to track your expenses so you can deduct them at the end of the year.

Freelancing means saying goodbye to a monthly pay cheque so you’ll have to learn how to manage irregular income and save for the leaner months.

Network, network, network

Network, network, network

So important we've written it thrice. To be a successful IT freelancer must be able to network. Many of your jobs will come from contacts that you already know but in order to grow your client base, you will need to self promote.

Advertise your services online and be shameless about pitching to potential companies where you see a gap in their tech team.

Startups can be a good avenue to pursue as budgetary constraints can mean they may not be able to afford a full time developer or engineer but will still be in need of a tech person.

Build relationships

Build relationships

Building amicable and mutually beneficial relationships is key to IT freelance success. People rarely choose freelancers based entirely on price - personality definitely has a role to play.

They buy from people who have a strong portfolio of digital work and whom they think will support them in the best way. It’s this support that will win you customer loyalty (and guaranteed income).

It’s not just your IT skills or clean code, likeability is important.

Welcome feedback

Welcome feedback

Feedback is golden! Complaints and critiques will allow you to fine-tune your business. If you receive negative feedback take it onboard and make every effort to improve the output to the client's specifications.

It will pay off in the long run.

Hone your communication skills

Hone your communication skills

To be a successful IT freelancer you need to have excellent communication skills. Clients will want regular updates on their projects so you need to be prompt when replying to emails. Never make a paying customer wait.

You will also have to make sure your communication is very clear and that both parties are well aware of the desired and achievable outcomes.

Don’t be afraid to say no

Don’t be afraid to say no

Many IT freelancers fall into the trap of overworking. Remember that you are just one person. Take annual leave and sick days just like you would if you were working for a large corporation. Don’t be afraid to say no.

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