Articles - 8th March 2019

How to go freelance as an app developer

Words by Andrew Mew
Illustration by Jon McCormack

If you’re an app developer and tired of the normal Monday – Friday 9-5, thinking it’s time to become your own boss, or you’re jealous of friends who’ve stepped out into the world of freelance, then this post is for you.

The dream is real. You could earn more than you’re currently on, work from home, dictate your own projects and working hours, code in the technologies that you prefer, and answer only to yourself. What’s not to like?

But before you flip your desk, and walk out in a viral-esque manner, it’s important to understand what it means to start your own business. In this article we consider things you should do before diving into the world of freelance app development.

Is it right for you?

While there are clear advantages of starting your own app development business, you need to be completely aware of what this means. You won’t just leave your job and have a queue of clients waiting (if you do, please tell us how), so it’s important to ask these questions:

  • Can I handle being the business owner, marketing manager, finance officer, admin team, and app developer all in one?
  • Do I enjoy talking with customers to understand what they need and working with them for the duration of a project?
  • Am I confident in my skills and abilities to grow my client base from scratch?

While there are many things worth considering, these three are a critical starting point. It’s okay if you say ‘No’ to the questions above, but you need to be willing to commit the time to learn the skills that make a successful business owner.

Building a client base

If you’re intent on stepping out of the corporate life, we salute you. But, instead of going cold-turkey, put a process in place that means when you do hand in your letter of resignation you’re ready to hit the ground running. To do this, you should:

  • Build a portfolio: If you’ve worked on specific projects use these as a starting point. Make sure to explain the nature of the apps and how you contributed to them. This also means finding clients and working evenings and weekends in order to build your profile.
  • Promote testimonials: If you receive positive feedback for the work you do, shout far and wide about it. Put it on your website, include it in emails, post it on social media. Get people to see the value on offer and why their project should be handled by you.
  • Create content: Are you an expert on key technologies? Or see the future holding something others may not be aware of? Write short articles and post these on different forums to start conversations and demonstrate your knowledge.
  • Market yourself: Let family, friends, and their networks know what you’re doing. They may be able to put you in touch with individuals looking for your skills and expertise or, at the very least, help spread the word about what you do.
  • Join networks: Either online or face-to-face, building contacts is a great way to find clients. Go to networking meetings, or search Meetups, and join groups on GitHub, Reddit and LinkedIn. Be active about getting your name out there.
  • Build credibility: Contribute to open source environments where you can demonstrate your expertise. Include these on your website or project proposals so that prospective clients see you as a proactive and dedicated app developer.

There’s one thing missing from the list: Working for free. Free is a dirty word and you need to choose whether you do this or not. It helps build a portfolio and acquire testimonials but it can undervalue what you do. If you choose this option, limit the number of projects you do and really think about what work you choose to take on If it’s for a friend or charity then there’s no harm, but reputable companies should be paying you for your work.

The drawbacks

Despite the positives of running your own business, you need to consider the challenges being a freelancer can bring. Don’t see these as a barrier. By being aware of them you can find ways to minimise the effect and overcome them. The obvious concerns are:

  • Lacking a secure salary: A very real prospect is that for every good month there may be a slow month. This can be balanced throughout the year but if a slow month is followed by another slow month it may increase the stress levels.
  • No paid vacation: Again, those holiday days aren’t covered by an employer anymore, this means time not working is time not earning money. The early stages of a business can highlight this but can be overcome as you grow your customer base.
  • Finding your own customers: There is no magic tap. Unless you’ve left your employed job with clients lined up you’ll need to find ways to attract them into working with you. This might mean building your LinkedIn presence and using freelance sites (like Upwork).
  • Working independently: Yes, working for yourself can mean waking up late, walking to the kitchen table, making a coffee and starting at 11 am. But it also means not interacting with colleagues. The solution? Try hot-desking at co-working spaces.

It’s worth spending time doing a simple SWOT analysis. This will help you understand your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Awareness of these means you can plan to optimise the positives and manage the negatives. A little preparation can go a long way.

The first steps

Going freelance has its advantages and disadvantages. There’s no need to quit your job and start with a blank page. Find clients in the evenings and weekends and, if consistent work is available, the time might be right to become a fully-fledged freelancer.

Starting a business is a scary prospect but there are ways to manage this. Take some time to learn the basics and build on these. You don’t have to commit right away. Test the water and see if it’s for you. It might be exactly what you’ve been looking for.

We champion the freelancers and every entrepreneur who took a leap of faith with their idea.

If this sounds like you, head over to our Virtual Office and send us your best work via an UnderPinned Portfolio. We want to hear from you!

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