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How To Become a Freelance Programmer
Programming is and will remain hot job for quite some time. If you know how to program you have a good chance to avoid the unemployment and always have a well paying job.
The problem is that working as a programmer in a company is pretty boring. Like every 9-6 job you have managers on your head and you are being told what to do. And you have to do it. Boring.
Freelancing is one way to escape the 9 to 6 pattern. It's not the answer to all problems and it's not for everyone. But if you hate 9 to 6 like me you should try it. The chances to end up happy is big: you can make more money, define your own hours, and be picky about the projects you work on.
Learn how to program
You don't have to know how to program from the beginning. You can learn it just like all those programmers who work at jobs. Having worked in a company first helps, and programming degree might eventually help. But these two can also hurt. No one on the market cares about your CV or degree anyway. People care about what you can offer them.
So, if you don't already know how to program, learn. There are many books on any programming language - PHP, Java, Python, C++, whatever. Learn a bit about most of them, what they are used for, how popular they are etc. And then choose 1-2 to master. And then master them. The purpose of this guide isn't to teach you how to program. There are million guides which do that already. This one might be a decent start, then move right on specific practical guides.
Join open source project
Why should you? Here are just few reasons:
- To learn from the other programmers in the project
- To have someone else evaluate your work and guide you
- To see how real software gets made
- To gain useful experience
- To be able to show something in your portfolio
- To give something to the community
There are plentuy of open source projects needing help. Just check the official sites of your favorite open source softwares, they often look for contributors. If you aren't ready for such big projects, check out some projects seeking help at SourceForge and GitHub.
Write your own free software
You must definitely create a small project yourself. It might be a little desktop application like a funny game or calculator, or it can be a plugin for a popular open source app like Wordpress, or it can be a script, a library for other programmers, just anything.
Wirting your own freebie (preferably open source) and then distributing it will help you in several ways:
- You will experience completing a project from the beginning to the end.
- You will learn what it takes to promote yourself and your software
- You may gain some popularity in the software community
- You may even get your firts clients from it - for customization work for example. Many successful open source projects make great income by customization and support.
This is a must do. Don't skip this step, writing your own free software might be the best investment you'll make in your path to being a freelance programmer.
5 strategies to find your first customers
Just in case you don't get enough business from your freebies and open source:
- Join one or more freelance marketplaces. There are many - Elance, Freelancer.com and vWorker are the most popular, but there are many.
- Write a blog and try to find customers through it. Don't write blog about how to program. Your customers aren't programmers. Instead write about solving specific business problems.
- Place your advertising in niche blogs that are being read by your potential customers. I know it costs money but it may pay well.
- Look at forums. Many of them have sections where people seek help for projects. This is especially valid if you a web programmer - webmaster forums are full of people who need programmers.
- Buy PPC ads in Adwords or Microsoft Adcenter and similar. DON'T place general ads like "Freelance programmer, great prices" - you'll get a lot of clicks and very few real business. Instead place very specific ads like "Reliable Android developer, $50 per hour" or even more specific. Make the ads land on specific web page designated to that ad. Such an ad will cost you less for click and each click has much bigger chance to convert into customer.
These are just 5 strategies. You can easily make another 50 along the same lines.
When working for your first customers, make sure you overdeliver the work you give to them. Doesn't matter if you are paid less snd they demand more. Make these first 5-10 guys really happy. 1 or 2 will be basterds and will abuse you. It's OK, don't work with them anymore.
The other 8 or 9 will be good guys who'll be back to you for more work. Or will recommend you to their mates. Or both.
Learn financial management
Finally you should learn some basic money management. The income of the freelance programmer and there will be some low month. Instead of getting overworked trying to make more and more money, learn to put something on the side. It's fairly simple, yet so many people are used to the paycheck-to-paycheck mentality that they easily go in debt for stupid things.