[Ultimate Guide] Freelancing as a Data Scientist

Two mega trends can be observed in the 21st century: (I) the proliferation of data—and (II) the reorganization of the biggest market in the world: the global labor market towards project-based freelancing work.

By positioning yourself as a freelance data scientist, you’ll not only work in an exciting area with massive growth opportunities but you’ll also put yourself into the “blue ocean” of freelancing where there’s still much more demand than supply.

This article shows you six fundamental building blocks (pillars) that will lead you towards success as a freelancer in the data science space.

Pillar 1: Money—How Much Can You Earn as a Data Science Freelancer?

A recent study from O’Reilly found that data science is a wide field with many specializations and job descriptions. However, the average earning of an employed data scientist—45% of all respondents would consider themselves as such—is between $60,000 and $110,000. This means that experienced data scientists over time quite certainly reach six-figure income levels if they keep improving and searching for new opportunities.

There are significant opportunities “down the line” that earn significantly above six-figures by working as an architect, team leader, or manager. Becoming an employed data scientist remains an attractive way to make a great living.

But what about freelance data scientists? Do they earn more?

The best data comes directly from the source: Upwork, the biggest freelancer market in the world. Let’s dive into some profiles from freelance data scientists!

Here’s a table of 24 freelance data scientists incomes from the Upwork results:

FreelancerHourly IncomeEarnedJob Success
Data Science & Machine Learning$60$100.000100%
Data Science & Machine Learning$300$100.000100%
Data Science Consultant$50$10.00097%
Data Science & Machine Learning$25$10.00091%
Data Science/Analyst, Statistician$70$100.00097%
Applied Machine Learning$300$50.000100%
Chief Technology Officer$55$200.000100%
Computer Vision$32$2.000.000100%
Data Engineer$50$10.000100%
Research Scientist$150$700.00095%
Analytics Expert$52$10.000100%
Deep Learning Expert$195$10.000100%
Data Scientist$60$10.00077%
Scalable Analytics Consultant$300$500.000100%
Machine Learning$40$8.00091%
Machine Learning$80$30.000100%
Tutor$30$20.00092%
Math$38$4.000100%
NLP$35$30.00071%
Machine Learning$50$4.000100%
Big Data Engineer$50$10.000100%
AVERAGE$96$186.47696%

The tabular data is drawn from 100 Upwork freelancer profiles as they appeared in the Upwork search. We randomly chose profiles and filtered them for data availability (e.g., total money earned). The result is that the average freelance data scientist earns $96 per hour. For 1700 working hours per year and a full schedule, this results in an average annual income of $163,200. To accomplish this, you need to join the ranks of relatively high-rated freelancers above 90% job satisfaction.

Let’s have a look at some other data sources: As a data scientist, you’re a programmer—in a way. The demand for programming talent has steadily increased in the preceding decades.

Here’s a quick tabular overview of what you can earn as a data scientist—it shows that as a data scientist, you’re in effect a well-compensated coder with specific skill sets.

TitleBest Programming LanguagesYearly Income (Average US)
Web DeveloperJavaScript + HTML + CSS + SQL$78,088
Mobile Developer AndroidJava$126,154
Mobile Developer AppleSwift$123,263
Back End DeveloperPython + Django + Flask$127,913
Front End DeveloperJavaScript + HTML + CSS$109,742
Full-Stack EngineerPython + JavaScript + HTML + CSS + SQL$112,098
Data ScientistPython + Matplotlib + Pandas + NumPy + Dash$122,700
Machine Learning EngineerPython + NumPy + Scikit-Learn + TensorFlow$145,734

Let’s dive into the different freelance developer career choices for maximum success!

Related Articles:

Pillar 2: Confidence—Can You Become a Data Science Freelancer?

Before becoming a Python freelancer, you have to learn the very basics of Python. What’s the point of offering your freelancer services when you can not even write Python code?

Having said this, it’s more likely that you live on the other extreme. You do not want to offer your services before you don’t feel 100% confident about your skills. Unfortunately, this moment never arrives. I have met hundreds of advanced coders, who are still not confident in selling their services. They cannot overcome their self-woven system of limiting believes and mental barriers.

May I tell you a harsh truth? You won’t join the top 1% of the Python coders with high probability (a hard statistical fact). But never mind. Your services will still be valuable to clients who either have less programming skills (there are plenty of them) or little time (a big part of the rest).  Most clients are happy to outsource the complex coding work to focus on their key result areas.

Regardless of your skill level, the variety of Python projects is huge. There are simple projects for $10 which an experienced coder can solve in 5 minutes. And there are complex projects that take months and promise you large payments of $100 to $1000 after completing each milestone.

You can be sure that you will find projects in your skill level.

Action steps:

Pillar 3: Learning—What Skills Do You Need as a Data Science Freelancer

Most freelance developers don’t have any experience when they get started on freelancing platforms such as Upwork or Fiverr. You can succeed by follow the three simple steps: (1) get your first gig, (2) learn what’s needed, (3) complete the gig. By repeating this, you’ll learn, grow, and, over time, earn the average hourly rate of $61 per hour for freelance developers.

Teaching many freelancing students, I have come to learn that most don’t believe they have all the skills they need to get started as a freelance developer. And why should they come to that conclusion given that there are so many different skills to be learned?

  • Programming
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Positioning
  • Administration
  • Business Strategy
  • Copy Writing
  • Networking

Yet, while all of the listed skills are highly important for your freelancing business, I have yet to meet a single person that is highly skilled in all of those.

Consider each of those skills to be an axis of a multi-dimensional coordinate system. Now, you can assign to each person a score between 0% and 100% for each skill. Here’s the skill score card for two imaginary freelancers Alice and Bob:

Freelancer Skills

Given are two freelancers: Alice and Bob.

  • Alice has a talent for marketing and copywriting. She’s an average coder and not very good in administration.
  • Bob is a master coder—the classical nerd—but he’s not skilled in marketing, sales, communication. He is a great administrator though.

Here’s the million dollar question: who’s the better freelance developer?

Posed like this, you may find the question ridiculous. Of course, it depends how both position themselves in the marketplace. Alice may have a small edge over Bob due to her people, sales, and marketing skills. However, it will be a close win because Bob’s programming skills are also highly valued by the marketplace.

Both will earn some money between minimum and maximum wage (say, around the average earnings of $51 per hour for freelance developers). The key is to understand that every single person on the planet has some value to the marketplace.

Let’s have a look at a third freelancer: YOU.

Freelancer Skills to Hourly Rate

Say, Alice earns $55 per hour due to her ability to sell her skills. Bob earns $51 per hour due to his super programming skills.

Suppose you are a beginner in both: sales and programming. Your programming skills are only 30% and your sales skills are even worse with 10%. But you have solid networking, communication, and empathy skills as a human being. That’s all you need—you can offer value to the marketplace! Your skills are worth $23 per hour!

The only thing left for you to do is to sell your skills, keep engaging with the marketplace, and increase your skills over time. You’ll increase your sales and marketing skills. You’ll build confidence. You’ll increase your programming skills over time. By engaging the marketplace, you automatically increase your value to it. Your hourly rate increases with it!

So, do you have enough skills to get started as a freelance developer? Let’s have a look at the following video:

Most people never feel ready to get started with a project. They always want to learn more so that they feel better prepared for the tasks ahead. This may be a result from our modern-day educational system that teaches young people that they have to learn more and more before they can become successful in the real world. Grown ups with 18+ years believe they must learn for 10 more years before they can get started creating value and earning their own income.

The problem is that you’ll never feel ready no matter how much you learn. This is inherent in knowledge acquisition. The more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know, and the less ready you will feel to get started.

Therefore, a much better model will be proposed next. Most people understand this model rationally but they don’t internalize it—they don’t really get it.

So, what is it?

BIAS TOWARDS ACTION!

Your value to the marketplace is already larger than zero. If you start as a freelance developer, your hourly rate will be larger than $0. I don’t know what it is but you can already give value to clients. Say, you are a complete beginner and a client can hire you for $1 per hour. They will probably do it. Why? Because even as a complete beginner, you can create, say, $3 on their $1-spent, so you help them increase their business and they purchase as many of your services as they can afford. After all—how often would you buy $3 for a buck?

No matter what your current value, no matter where you start, the strategy is always the same: know your hourly rate, work for it, and increase it over time.

And what’s the best way to increase your hourly value? The answer is simple: create value for clients. Get started now. You have an actual value to contribute to clients no matter your current value. Just select any start hourly rate that you feel comfortable with. And then commit on the path to learning and improving your hourly rate by doing practical work for clients.

There’s no better way. If you want to improve your chess game, you better play chess a lot. If you want to improve your golf games, you better practice golf every day. If you want to become a more successful freelance developer earning a higher hourly rate—which is one of the key success metric of freelance developers—you better be out there on a freelancing platform doing the work and actually increase your hourly rate.

So, you go out there, create an account at Fiverr or Upwork, and get started today, now!

To commit on a quest to continuous improvement of your hourly rate, you can also check out the detailed FINXTER Python freelancer course.

Pillar 4: Clients—How Can You Get Clients and Deliver Value to Them?

Many people struggle with finding clients on a freelancer platform. They apply for one or two freelancer projects and wait for a few days until they get a response. The response is usually negative because the probability of getting accepted for a gig is maybe 5-10% — even if you underbid people. Oftentimes, clients want to have freelancers who have a lot of experience with past projects. If you are just starting out, you cannot showcase your experience.

So they apply for one or two projects and get rejected. If they are motivated, they try the same thing again. Only the super-committed ones repeat the same thing a third time. But after this fails too, they are out of the game. They are frustrated, argue that it’s not possible to earn money on freelancing platforms and go on with the next idea to make money online (on which they’ll fail, too).

I recently read the “The 10x Rule” by Grant Cardone. In his book, he invented the concept of taking massive action towards a goal.

Solution—Massive action.

  • Not a timid amount of action.
  • Not thinking in small numbers like “1” or “2”.

Massive action creates a new level of problems where you have too much instead of too little response from the real world.

It’s a simple idea but it’s really powerful. Applying this idea to finding clients on a freelancer platform is very effective and usually leads to success.

Yet, it’s so simple to find clients. It’s a numbers game.

Just realize that the acceptance rate of getting a freelancer gig is 10%. What’s the result? It means that on average, you need to apply for 10 projects to get one gig. If you apply for two projects, you have to be very lucky to get a gig — but most likely, you’ll fail. Even if you are serious and did everything right.

Before working as a self-employed Python coder, I was an academic computer science researcher. During my Ph.D. program, my goal was to get at least four high-quality research papers accepted. The acceptance rate was very low at 10-15% — even if you wrote a very good paper. So how to solve this problem? The only answer is massive action. Just submit the paper 10 times, improving it on the way. Then, you have a good chance of getting it accepted.

Realizing this early, I just committed to submitting a lot of papers. Because if I only submitted four times to a conference, it would have been virtually impossible to get accepted on four quality conferences. Instead, I submitted to maybe 15 conferences. Most papers got rejected but over time, more and more papers got accepted.

The only way of controlling your success in a competitive research environment is to submit papers regularly.

The same applies to get freelancing clients as a Python freelancer. I just want to encourage you to apply for 10 projects at once. If you do this, you’ll get accepted by maybe one or two.

Many people fear too much work when applying for 10 projects. But think about it: wouldn’t it be great if you got accepted for all 10 projects? This means that you can focus on the most interesting ones and simply write a nice email to the remaining clients telling them that you need a bit more time finishing their projects. It’s better to have too many clients than too few. Actually, you want this problem of having too many clients. Only this way, you can increase your hourly rate over time.

A fundamental law of economics is that if demand exceeds supply, prices rise. Your prices.

This is how you will break through your ceiling. Applying for two projects and waiting is not massive action. Ask yourself whether you really want success or whether you manipulate your own success. Massive action is applying for 10, 20, or even 50 projects. And creating yourself a new level of problems (having too many projects rather than too few).

This way, you’ll create your first experiences and a lot of profitable work for yourself.

Related Article: Massive Action — A Foolproof Way to Find Clients as a Freelance Programmer

Here’s a quick overview of all places fo find great gigs—ordered by relevance for data science freelancers:

  1. TopTal Developers
  2. StackOverflow Jobs
  3. Hacker News Jobs
  4. GitHub Jobs
  5. Finxter Freelancer
  6. PeoplePerHour Developer Jobs
  7. Authentic Jobs
  8. Vue Jobs
  9. Remote Leads
  10. Redditors For Hire
  11. WeWorkRemotely
  12. Upwork
  13. Fiverr
  14. Twitter Company Remote Jobs

ALL LINKS OPEN IN A NEW TAB!

Related Article: Top 14 Places to Find Remote Freelance Developer Gigs and Work From Home

Pillar 5: Business—How to Build Your Business as a Freelance Data Scientist?

As a freelance data scientist, you’re first and foremost a business person. Only second you’re a data scientist. You need to have solid data science skills but there’s so much more to creating a business system that throws lots of cash at you.

Everyone can create better burgers than McDonalds. But who can create a better business system? If you’re reading this article, chances are that you’re a far better coder than business person (the Finxter community consists of far more coders than business persons). So, stop learning tech-related stuff now and focus on building a great business system. How?

Here are my top tips:

  • Give More Value Than You Take in Payment
  • Eat Your Customers Complexity
  • Perform From Your Strengths
  • Position Yourself as a Specialist
  • Be Hyper-Responsive
  • Be Positive and Upbeat
  • Create a Client List
  • Create a Simple Ad Funnel
  • Lead Acquisition: Contact One Potential Lead Per Day
  • Lead Conversion: Implement Strategy Sessions
  • Join Freelancing Platforms
  • Use Testimonial Videos on Your Website
  • Get the Referral Engine Rolling
  • Leave Freelancing Platforms
  • Use Systems and Templates
  • Know Your Hourly Rate
  • Increase Your Hourly Rate
  • Contribute to Open-Source Projects
  • Market Yourself on LinkedIn, Not Facebook
  • Create Your Own Blog
  • Give, Give, Give, Right Hook
  • Befriend Colleagues
  • Be a Coding Consultant, Not a Freelance Developer
  • Read More Programming Books
  • Read More Business Books
  • Seek Expert Advice

You can find a detailed explanation on all of those points on my in-depth blog article.

Related Article: 26 Freelance Developer Tips to Double, Triple, Even Quadruple Your Income

Freelance Developer LLC

“A limited liability company (LLC) is a business structure in the United States whereby the owners are not personally liable for the company’s debts or liabilities. Limited liability companies are hybrid entities that combine the characteristics of a corporation with those of a partnership or sole proprietorship.” (source)

So, if you create an LLC, you are generally not liable for any debt or liabilities of your freelancing business. Most likely, your freelancing business doesn’t need a lot of debt—after all, you’re selling your time for money—however, there may still be liabilities!

For example, you may have signed a contract that requires you to pay for all damages incurred by your software. Yes, you shouldn’t have done it—but assuming you have, if you signed in the name of the LLC, you personally cannot be hold accountable for the potentially devastating liabilities.

What are some advantages and disadvantages of a liability?

LLC ProsLLC Cons
Limited Liability – If you keep your finances separate and fullfil your duties as a business owner, you cannot be personally held liable. Your personal assets like real estate, stocks, bonds, mutual funds will remain protected even if your business fails.Limitations of Limited Liability – this is called “piercing the corporate veil” and it means that if you don’t follow the rules of the LLC, a judge may decide that your liability protection will be removed and you, personally, can be held liable.
Pass-Through Federal Taxation on Profits – Per default, the profits are not taxed on the company level but are passed through to its owners who then tax them individually. This is an advantage if you have a relatively lower tax rate and it avoids double taxation on the corporate and individual level.Self-Employment Tax – Per default, you must pay self-employment taxes on the profits of an LLC because it is a pass-through entity.
Management Flexibility – The LLC can be managed by one or more owners. This is a perfect structure for partnerships where ownership percentages can be divided in a flexible way.Turnover – If an LLC partner dies, goes bankrupt, or leaves the company, the company will be dissolved. You need to create a new one and you take over all the leaving partners’ obligations that result in dissolving the LLC.
Easy Startup Overhead – It’s relatively simple and cheap—a few hundred dollars—to start an LLC. For the amount of protection it offers, it’s a very cheap way to organize your freelancing business.Investments – It’s difficult to raise outside capital. This is usually not a problem for you as a freelance developer because freelance developing has only minimal capital requirements.
Unproportional Profit Distribution – Members can receive profits that are not proportional to the ownership percentage they hold. This allows you to reinforce members for great work.
Credibility – Being an LLC gives you more credibility as a freelance developer. Clients tend to trust you more, as a freelance developer organized in an LLC, for two reasons: you’re an US-based business and you’re a serious business.

Related Article: Freelance Developer LLC — Is It Smart For You?

Pillar 6: Platform—What is a Good Place to Start Data Science Freelancing?

Freelance Developer Course Link

There are three major freelancing platforms for coders: Upwork, Fiverr, Toptal.

Upwork

Upwork places a great focus on quality. This is great for clients because it ensures that their work will get delivered—without compromising quality.

For freelancers just starting out, Upwork poses a significant barrier of entry—oftentimes, new profiles will get rejected by the Upwork team. They want to ensure that only clients who take their freelancing jobs seriously will start out on their platform.

However, the relatively high barrier of entry also protects established freelancers on the Upwork platform from too much competition. There is no price dumping because of low-quality offers which ultimately benefits all market participants.

Fiverr

Fiverr initially started out as a platform where you could buy and sell small gigs worth five bucks. However, in the meantime it grew to a full-fledged freelancing platform where people earn six-figure incomes.

Many jobs earn hundreds of Dollars per hour and many freelancers make a killing—especially in attractive industries such as programming, machine learning, and data science.

If you want to start earning money as a freelance developer with the hot Python programming language, check out my free webinar:

How to build your high-income skill Python [Webinar]

Toptal

Toptal has a strong market proposition: it’s the platform with the top 3% of freelancers. Hence, it connects high-quality freelancers with high-quality clients.

It’s extremely hard to become a freelancer at Toptal: 97% of the applicants will not enter the platform. However, if you manage to join Toptal, you can greatly benefit with the best-in-class hourly rates. You can easily earn $100 per hour and beyond.

Also, the high barrier of entry ensures that the freelancer stays the valuable resource—he or she doesn’t become a commodity like on other freelancer platforms.

If you are an upcoming freelancer, you should aim for joining Toptal one day. Here’s a great freelancer course that shows you a crystal-clear path towards becoming a highly-paid freelancer.


You can find out about more freelancing sites at the following resource on this Finxter blog with more than 60 links sorted by the size of the freelancing sites.

Related Article: What Are the Best Freelancing Sites for Coders?

There are many different ways of starting your Python freelancing adventures. Many freelancing platforms compete for your time, attention, and a share of your value creation. These platforms are a great way to start your freelancing career as a Python coder and gain some experience in business and coding, as well as get some testimonial to kick off your freelancing business. But keep in mind that they are only the first step and in the mid-term, you should strive to become independent of those platforms if you want to avoid global competition for each project in the future.

Where to Go From Here?

Enough theory, let’s get some practice!

To become successful in coding, you need to get out there and solve real problems for real people. That’s how you can become a six-figure earner easily. And that’s how you polish the skills you really need in practice. After all, what’s the use of learning theory that nobody ever needs?

Practice projects is how you sharpen your saw in coding!

Do you want to become a code master by focusing on practical code projects that actually earn you money and solve problems for people?

Then become a Python freelance developer! It’s the best way of approaching the task of improving your Python skills—even if you are a complete beginner.

Join my free webinar “How to Build Your High-Income Skill Python” and watch how I grew my coding business online and how you can, too—from the comfort of your own home.

Join the free webinar now!