For many, freelancing is the ideal setup; you get to choose your own hours, clients, and projects — often while making more money than you would in a traditional job. Freelancing is also undergoing something of a Renaissance, with freelance jobs becoming more and more common all the time. Surely that means that breaking into the tech industry as a freelancer is easier than ever, right?
Not so fast. The tech world is full of freelance opportunities, sure, but many of those will be taken by freelancers with years of experience and plenty of high-level contacts. Just getting your foot in the door of tech can be difficult, much less establishing a steady flow of freelance gigs. Just because it’s tough, though, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Adopting the right strategy early on can lead to big returns to your freelance career down the line.
Here’s what you need to know:
Check job postings
You probably rolled your eyes at this one, and for good reason. Everyone who wants to be a freelancer is constantly searching through job postings — it’s part of the craft. Maybe so, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind as you search. First, remember that not all freelancer jobs are posted in the same place under the same headings. Do a deep dive into which sites and job boards are the most active and best reflect your specialities; it’s not much use for a UX designer to spend all day checking out opportunities for freelance project managers.
Moreover, keep in mind that the vast majority of freelance work that companies are willing to contract out goes to freelancers they already know and trust. When searching for gigs, look for ones that seem to indicate the possibility of a lasting relationship. There’s nothing wrong with taking one-off jobs, but finding the right ones could be the start of long-term opportunities that turn wannabe freelancers into veterans.
Leverage your network
Whether you’re just getting into tech for the first time or going solo after working in the industry for years, your network can help your transition. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your former employers or friends of friends will be able to offer you jobs sight unseen. What it does mean is that your ability to generate opportunities depends largely on who knows about you and what you’re offering — two things your network can help you with.
If everyone you know knows that you’re a freelancer looking for gigs, the odds that someone will recommend you as a potential contractor grow significantly. If you stay silent about your desire to be a freelancer, so will everyone else. Just by getting the word about yourself out there, you’re using your network to grow your newfound career.
Make new connections
Even the most seasoned tech veterans may find that their network still can’t quite get them as many opportunities as they’d like to have. If that sounds like you, the solution is clear: expand your network. There will always be people in need of freelancers; grow your network large enough and you’re bound to come in contact with a few of them.
LinkedIn has become one of the de-facto platforms for finding freelance gigs, but it doesn’t need to be your sole port of call. COVID-19 lockdowns have spawned dozens of new ways to grow your network virtually, from Zoom mixers to online forums. Whatever route you choose, always remember that freelance opportunities start with people, so always put people first.
Hone your skills
If you’re worried about competing against freelancers who’ve been in the field longer, you’ll need to find a competitive edge against them. One possible way to do this is by deepening or expanding your existing skillset. There are hundreds of different courses online for learning new programming languages, design platforms, leadership techniques, and so much more.
These courses will not only make you a more valuable hire, they’ll also show potential employers that you’re constantly growing. Most freelance gigs require a bit of learning on the part of the freelancer, whether it’s getting acquainted with a new API or getting a grip on a new library. If your resume shows a serious dedication to expanding your knowledge, companies will be happy to let you put that knowledge to work.
The biggest question surrounding freelancers is one of credibility. How can companies know you’ll be able to do what you say you can? Recommendations, evidence of past work, and coding exercises are all popular methods but nothing seals the deal like a professional certification. Freelancers can get certified in a number of different fields ranging from information security to graphic design to project management. Getting your credentials in any of these fields demonstrates to potential employers that you’re capable of operating at the professional level, greatly increasing the chances of hire.
Expand your portfolio
You’ve done your learning, you’ve got your certifications — now what? As good as all those things may look on a CV it’s still helpful to have something tangible you can show to anyone who may offer you a job. Designers will want to have mock-ups on hand to give a sense of their style, while programmers should be able to show sample code for the types of work they’re looking to take on. If you can demonstrate an ability to build exactly what tech firms are looking for, everything else is immaterial — it’s all about showing that you’re capable of rising to the challenge.
Making the leap into freelance work isn’t easy, but the payoffs can be extremely rewarding once you’re set up and moving forward. By doing your due diligence now, you can ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible. The tech industry may be crowded, but by following the tips on this list, you can go a long way toward setting yourself apart from the crowd.