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

There’s a reason why programmers, software developers, and hackers never seem to go out of vogue: Leverage.

A skilled programmer may spend a year writing software which, in turn, automates the jobs performed by thousands of workers. Soon will a program for automated driving destroy billions of today’s and tomorrow’s jobs in the logistics sector. Of course, companies want to automate more work—it’s the only way they stay competitive. As a programmer, you can tap into one of the largest power in the world: computational intelligence.

So becoming a freelance developer is a sustainable, long-term decision that will boost your ability to bring value to the marketplace.

In this article, I’ll show you the best tips to create a more successful business as a self-employed freelance developer. So let’s dive right in.

Give More Value Than You Take in Payment

As a self-employed freelance developer, you’re as much a business owner as you are a coder. You need to master both skills, business and coding, to thrive in your industry.

“Giving more value than you take in payment” is the first rule of business. While it sounds simple, most struggling business owners violate it. And this is the reason they struggle in the first place. They forget that on the other end of the transaction is a human being with a pain, a problem, or a desire. And the only reason you’re here is to remove the pain, solve the problem, or satisfy the desire.

If you (let’s call them “leads”) pay two bucks for a coffee, it’s because you value the warm, tasty coffee in a comfortable environment, where you can relax and read a book, much more than you value two bucks.

  • If you’d value your money and the cup of coffee equally, you probably wouldn’t give up your two bucks (behavioral psychologists call this “loss aversion“).
  • If you’d value your money more than the cup of coffee, you wouldn’t give up your two bucks for sure.

See the pattern? The sole reason your business exists is to solve the problems of your customers. You simply cannot survive if you don’t know which problem you solve.

If your client asks you to do X, do X and a little more.

With this mindset, you’re going to crush it in business. The power of reciprocity will kick in and your client will always want to hire you for the next thing. It’s far easier to convince an existing client to buy again than it is to convince a new lead to buy the first time. Every great business uses this powerful rule: give more than you take and you’ll never go out of business.

Action step:

  • Before you submit work to your client ask yourself: have you given all you have? Can you give some more?

Eat Your Customers Complexity

Fortunately, you’re in the coding business. And coding is a mess. It’s hard, complicated, error-prone, and only a small minority of people have the patience and time to learn it. There’s a huge barrier of entry. You need to spend a huge amount of time staring at your computer and searching StackOverflow to learn how to solve bugs in the code.

What does this tell you? It tells you that your client needs you more than you need him. This is a great position to be in. If you can solve and alleviate the complexity in your client’s life, you’re doing him a huge service.

Either you or your client has to handle the complexity.

If you’re paid to set up a server system, your client doesn’t want to burden the complexity. He hires you to free himself from the complexity. This is why you’re there. Great business owners such as Jeff Bezos from Amazon have mastered this rule of eating their customers’ complexity. Jeff Bezos pushed towards “one-click payments” because this makes purchasing easier. Jeff Bezos pushes the Kindle because this simplifies the whole book consumption process. You don’t have to order a book and wait forever. With one click, you can now read almost any book in the world.

A great freelance developer empathizes with his clients (or just asks them) to learn about their complexities. Then he takes on their complexities.

These are the two most important rules for freelance developer success. They don’t sound fancy, they are not simple or easy, or “tricks”. But they will make you more money than everything else you’ve ever learned.

Action step:

  • Before you submit work to your client ask yourself: can you eat some more complexity?

Perform From Your Strengths

This rule was formulated by Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant. The main reasoning goes like this: time is limited. You can either improve your weaknesses or your strengths. Say you’re a great writer but not good in front of a camera. On a given day, you can write your new book or create your new video course. What do you think will create more value for society?

Many people are great in front of a camera but they cannot write. Why should everyone do what he is naturally bad at? More value can be created if everyone performs from their strengths. As a natural writer, write. As a natural coder, code. As a natural singer, sing. This way, society becomes much more efficient and value creation explodes.

For you, this means that you need to know your strengths. Where are you naturally good at? Don’t read on until you’ve answered this question. Make a list!

  • Where have you been great in school?
  • What YouTube videos are you watching?
  • What are you keep talking about?
  • What do you love to do?
  • Where do you spend money on? Check your income statement.

These questions can give you a hint where your strengths lie. Use this information to your advantage! Let someone else compensate for your weaknesses. That’s how a society should operate anyway.

Action steps:

  • Make a list of your strengths by answering the previous questions.
  • How can you move towards your strengths in your professional life?

Position Yourself as a Specialist

Would you pay more to a brain surgeon than your generalist doctor to perform critical brain surgery? Of course! Specialists demand higher prices. The reason is that their skills are highly developed in one specific area. Because of their specialized knowledge, there’s little competition and they often have a dominated market position.

You have 24 hours in a day. You can either invest, say,

  • 10 hours every day in data science, or
  • 1 hour in data science, 1 hour in blogging, 1 hour in writing a book, 1 hour in learning Guitar, 1 hour in programming, 1 hour in singing, 1 hour in preparing coffee, 1 hour in studying cryptocurrencies, and 2 hours in writing a compiler.

If you do the former, you become a specialist. If you do the latter, you become a generalist.

As a freelance developer, you shouldn’t specialize in a certain technology but on a certain problem. For example, don’t focus on the TensorFlow system, focus on machine learning. Don’t focus on NumPy, focus on data science. Don’t focus on Django, focus on web development. While the technologies may change over time, your specialized knowledge in a certain problem area such as “how to set up a responsive website” will prove to be a valuable skill.

Action steps:

  • What problems will you solve for clients?
  • What technologies should you learn first?
  • Write a letter template to your dream client — how can you help them and solve their problems?

Be Hyper-Responsive

Communication is the key skill of freelance developers. If you don’t know the exact problems and struggles of your clients, you cannot help them. A lack of communication will regularly lead to hours and hours of wasted time. Say, your client says he wants a website hosted. Then, you host the website. But it turns out that the hosting provider you selected is too expensive for the client. All the work is lost.

You need to communicate with the client at every stage of the process. Tell them a daily update of what you’re currently doing and what you have accomplished. Ask them many questions. This will help you figure out the concrete gap where you can give the most value. And it’ll ensure that the client sees how much time and effort you’ve invested.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should spam the client with mini questions—you have to find a good balance. But if you’re in doubt, it’s far better to err’ on the side of too much communication. And of course, a freelance developer who is hyper-responsive answering mails within hours (not days) will make a very good impression, even if the code he delivers is not perfect. The freelancer-client relationship lives and dies from great communication.

Action steps:

  • Read the great book “How to win friends and influence people?” from Dale Carnegie. I know the title is odd—but it’s a worthy read!

Be Positive and Upbeat

Have a can-do attitude with a bias toward action. This is almost always superior to an attitude where you see constraints and limitations everywhere. If the client asks you if you can solve one of his problems, be optimistic and positive and figure out a way of doing it. If you can’t do it, figure out to solve a slightly easier problem—and repeat until you’re able to solve the problem.

Clients love freelance developers who are positive and upbeat. If you’re their daily positive contact, you have their subconscious mind on your site because it’ll always push your client to hire you again. Without the client even being aware of this, he will be attracted to you which is a powerful client retention tool. Plus, it’s a lot more fun this way.

Action step:

  • Use the Grammarly plugin for Chrome and Firefox. It also shows you the sound of your language (“clarity” and “engagement” scores). Keep writing more engaged emails! A powerful benefit of using a spell-checker is also that your average writing quality will improve immediately.

Create a Client List

Depending on what study you read, it’s between 5 and 25 times more expensive to acquire a new client than to convince an existing (or previous) client to buy again. Every great business has high client retention rates.

The first step towards this is to deliver more in value than you take in payment (rule #1). The second step is to maintain a client or customer list. Nurture your list. Send them regular emails with an email automation tool such as Mailchimp. Send them valuable resources, tools, information products, or greetings. Be good to your old customers and they’ll be good for you. You should center your whole business around the simple idea of generating a list of leads, converting those leads into customers, and converting one-time customers into repeat customers. In each step, you move them one step further down the funnel.

Action steps:

  • Create a free account for an email marketing software.
  • Start building your list of clients.

Create a Simple Ad Funnel

Funnels are powerful mechanisms to deliver value for clients and create a predictable flow of business. In the end, the business with better funnel will always beat the business that performs random acts of marketing.

What’s a funnel? A funnel is a powerful machine that transforms random persons to leads, then to customers, and finally to repeat customers. Make no mistake: working on your funnel is one of the most effective things you can do for your business. It’s one of those $10,000 per hour activities that make or break your business.

This tip is about advertisements. If you read the Google annual reports, you’ll see that the costs per clicks keep decreasing year over year over year. Advertising becomes more and more profitable as a result. Businesses that don’t use advertisements to acquire leads miss out significantly. If you’ve got a highly-converting funnel, you can easily make back your advertisement costs—in many cases, you’ll double, triple, even quadruple your ad-spent.

Use ads to create a predictable source of leads for your business.

Action steps:

  • Sketch your ad funnel: what’s your dream client and what are the steps they take in your funnel?
  • Create a {Google, Facebook, LinkedIn} ad account and start serving ads. Use a small daily amount (e.g. $5) and never stop paying this. This forces you to improve your ad copy over time if you don’t want to throw $150 monthly ad-spent out of the window.

Lead Acquisition: Contact One Potential Lead Per Day

If you’ve got a funnel, you know how important it is to move leads further down the funnel. It’s the lifeblood of your business.

How can you acquire new leads? Just contact people. Don’t shy away from contacting persons manually. Write emails to website owners and offer them a free “strategy session” (see next tip). In effect, you acquire new leads manually.

You may ask: how can this pay off even though it’s not scalable? The answer is simple. It doesn’t have to be scalable. You just need to get some momentum. As soon as you’ve convinced a random person to become a lead, you can start to give them value and move them further down the funnel until they become customers. Happy customers will talk and it’ll help you get more customers. This vicious cycle will repeat and strengthen over time.

Action steps:

  • How can you find potential leads?
  • What can you offer them to join your list of leads?
  • How can you move them further down the funnel so that they ultimately become new customers?

Lead Conversion: Implement Strategy Sessions

What’s a strategy session? A strategy session is a free consultancy service you do for your client. It’s the kickoff meeting that starts a regular consultancy service.

As a freelance developer with many leads but no customers — what’s your problem? Most likely the clients do not see how you can improve their lives. That’s what strategy sessions are for. The most successful consultants that earn six or seven figures have done thousands of strategy sessions. That’s their main lead conversion strategy and it works beautifully.

Why does it work?

There are many reasons why strategy sessions are among the most effective ways of converting a lead into a customer. A few of them are listed as follows:

  • You tap into the power of reciprocity. As you’ve given a lot to the lead, they feel the urge of giving back—by buying your service.
  • You show the client how useful your service is. This one is a no-brainer. If you can give clients value in your strategy session, they see exactly how you can help them and they wouldn’t like to miss you.
  • It’s a great sales conversion strategy (“the puppy sale”). If you want someone to buy a puppy from you, just give it to them in a free trial. As soon as they have “tried” the lovely puppy with its dark eyes and its cute attitude, they are sold.
  • Free strategy sessions are low-barrier. You give value for free. Why should the clients say “no”. This way, you draw them in your funnel and there’s virtually no logical reason for the clients to reject your offer.
  • You learn what clients want. The more strategy sessions you’ve implemented, the more you’ve learned what your clients want and how to sell them. This is probably the most important point in this list.

There are more reasons but this should suffice for now.

How do free strategy sessions look like for software developers or data scientists? Just talk about where you see the potential of improving the code base, analyze parts of their company code, tell them the benefits (such as how much money they lose for every second delay), give them a broad picture and clarity.

Virtually every business can benefit significantly from improved IT solutions so for a freelance developer, strategy sessions are a huge way of driving business. This is probably the most underutilized conversion strategy in the world. Use it and crush your competition!

Action steps:

  • Every week, write down 10-20 clients to contact.
  • Every day, write one client with an offer for a free strategy session that’s very specific to their business: how can you help them?
  • Prepare for the clients that take you on the offer and create a nice (PowerPoint) presentation. Show them how they can earn more money and where you come into the play.

Join Freelancing Platforms

If you’re already successful, you don’t need more clients. There will be many more clients than you can serve in a limited time. Demand is much higher than supply which will enable you to raise prices—your ultimate goal.

However, you need to gain momentum. Clients will not flock to you in the beginning. It’s hard to get your first client. It’s also hard (but a little bit less) to get your second client. For each new client, it tends to become easier and easier—if you give more value than you take in payment (rule #1).

To gain momentum and experience, you can join freelancing platforms in the beginning. As a rule-of-thumb: working on freelancing platforms for 10-20 clients (1-2 months) is a good use of your time—even if the pay sucks. After that, you should gradually switch to your own client acquisition strategy. The reason is that freelancing platforms take a significant cut of 20% or more of your pre-tax earnings.

These are the best freelancing platforms for developers:

You can read this article on the Finxter blog to learn about the best freelancing platforms. If this is not enough, check out this even more detailed list.

Action steps:

  • Create a freelancing account on all major platforms.
  • Find the platform that fits most to you and focus on mastering this platform.

Use Testimonial Videos on Your Website

It sounds simple but only one in five freelancers (at most) is doing it. Why? I don’t know — maybe people are too shy asking clients for video testimonials?

I only know that the combination video + testimonial converts like crazy.

Video engages people like nothing else on the web. Think about it: video contains all elements of a successful message—audio, image, movement, and text. It’s far superior in terms of engagement and conversion rates compared to text. The higher engagement rates have been shown in many studies such as this one.

On the other hand, people trust other people. They don’t trust you and your business because they know that you want to sell them stuff. So your clients know that you present yourself from your best side. Essentially, you can tell them whatever you want—there’s no way of verifying it for your clients. While this sounds like a problem for your clients, it’s much more your problem. Because if clients are not 100% sure that they can trust the quality and professionalism of your services, they are unlikely to buy. The only way of overcoming this is to leverage testimonials. Testimonials—and, to an even larger extent, celebrity endorsements—are scientifically proven to increase customer conversion and trust.

Now combine the engagement booster of video with the trust of testimonials and you get one of the most powerful marketing weapons in existence.

How can you use this to convert more clients a software developer? Simple, ask every single client you work for to send you a video testimonial. Nowadays, many people are comfortable with recording selfie-videos so the barrier is low and many clients will be happy to help you out. I observed compliance rates of 40% and more when working as a freelance developer. That is if you give value first and solve the gig satisfactorily.

But how do you get to the first testimonial video if you don’t have any client? Simple: work for free. Seriously. The value of your first few freelancing gigs will be mainly in the experience, the testimonials, and the client base. The value is not in monetary compensation. So it’s a reasonable choice to skip the monetary reward altogether for the first few freelancing jobs. However, after you get your first video testimonials, you should radically ramp up your hourly rate to avoid getting stuck in low-paying jobs.

Action steps:

  • Ask EVERY client to give you a video testimonial.
  • Create a video testimonial page on your own website.

Get the Referral Engine Rolling

If you follow the tips outlined before, you will quickly get more and more clients. But don’t stop there. You must increase the demand for your services as long as you live. Why? Because you’ll leverage one of the oldest principles of capitalism: supply and demand. Increase demand while keeping supply constant, and prices begin to rise. Your prices.

In fact, the median number of friends of a Facebook user is 99 [Ugander, 2011]. So every client gives you indirect access to 99 more people. A handful of those clients are potential customers for you. Think about it: Business owners tend to befriend other business owners. If you get the referral engine going, you will quickly have a super high demand for your services. You will choose the clients you work for.

The key question you should always ask is: how can I get the referral engine going? A few simple things will move the needle:

  • Ask: Ask every client whether he knows someone who’d be interested in your service. Do this in addition to asking for the testimonial video. Of course, you shouldn’t do both at the same time—but if you work together with a client for several projects (or several weeks), you can spread your requests giving a lot of value in-between.
  • Gift Cards: Give your client a “gift card” to be used for your next freelancing service. This one is huge! If you give your client a $50 gift card to be used for any service he hires with you, he’ll feel the strong desire to take you up on the offer. Nobody likes giving away free money. Do you?
  • Email Tactics: Every successful business is long-term oriented. Focusing on the long term is one of Amazon’s founding principles and it helped make Amazon the largest retailer in the world. So what are some long-term tactics you can implement in the blink of an eye? Send all your customers an email at least once per month. You can use a professional email management system, MailChimp, or just an Excel sheet. Your list of former clients will become your most valuable asset. Treat it as such and take care of your customers. Send them birthday or Christmas e-Cards, ask them how’s it going in their business, and foster communication as much as possible.

There are many more tactics to ensure that customers of your freelance developer business are stimulated to refer more clients to you. But the best strategy is to provide awesome service. Give them great code, answer any of their messages, and ask them if everything’s all right. And clients will come back and refer you to their friends.

Action step:

  • Outline your referral engine on a piece of paper. Why would clients refer you to other clients?

Leave Freelancing Platforms

As a freelance developer, you can get a lot of traction on general freelancing platforms such as Upwork, Freelancer.com, or Fiverr (check out which one’s the best), as well as on developer-specific platforms such as Topcoder. However, these platforms are generally expensive. It’s not part of a sound business strategy to rely forever on some third-party platforms to send clients your way. You’ll not only pay 20% of your income for platforms such as Upwork, but you’ll also lose control of your clients and pricing strategy. Upwork can kick you off their platform—and you could lose the business in minutes that took you years to build.

The best defense is to use, not get used by, the freelancing platforms. Get a list of clients fast and then build from there. Move the contract to the outside, earn more money, and gain total control sooner, not later.

Action step:

  • Ask every repeat client to work with you outside of Upwork and co.

Use Systems and Templates

All thriving businesses use systems to create consistency, predictability, and scale. Without systems, you’re the slave and your business is the master. With systems, you’re the master and your business is your slave. Controlling your systems means that you can create a predictable stream of leads, customers, and cash flow. If you’re the one business owner in your industry who masters systems, you’ll crush your competition.

As a freelance developer, you can create systems in many different areas. Here are some ideas where systems can help you do more stuff with less:

  • Write a template email response for similar emails you receive from your clients. If clients ask you for your credentials, prepare a killer email response once, copy it into a Google Docs file, and reuse it multiple times. Can you see the power of email templates? You work only once but leverage your work again and again and again. Over time, you’ll polish your email templates so that they become better and better. This way, you’ll not only reduce the average time spent on each email but you’ll also increase the average quality of your responses. You’ll work less and convert more leads to clients.
  • Write a template to apply for new freelancing gigs. However, it’s smart to adapt the first sentence of the template to the individual freelancing gig so that clients cannot spot that you’re using a template. I know it sounds too simple but working on your lead generation template is a highly effective and leveraged use of your time. Increasing the conversion rate of your gig application template from 10% to 20% instantly doubles your sales! I’ve written a blog article to help you write effective gig application templates.
  • Create ads to sell your service. Creating and improving ads for your freelancing service is time well spent. Why? Because every ad is a mini system that sells your skills on the marketplace—even if you sleep.
  • Create content such as YouTube videos or blog posts in your field. Each blog post and each video lives in the web decoupled from your time. Content systems exist independently in cyberspace—and they sell your services 24/7. A nice benefit of content systems is that they instantly position yourself as an educator rather than a marketer. Imagine you’re a business owner and you want to hire a freelance developer to write an Android application. Who would you rather hire as a freelance developer — Alice, who writes blog articles about developing Android apps, or Bob, who does nothing of the sort?
  • Create people systems. A people system can be an employee who helps you with your freelance developer business. Here are some examples: your accountant, your lawyer, subcontractors, or affiliate marketers who sell your services for a 10% fee. Every person who helps you in any way is a stakeholder of your small freelancing business. The more stakeholders there are in your business, the more firepower it has.
  • Create referral systems as outlined before.

Of course, there are many other soft and hard systems. As a rule of thumb, every action you perform on a repeat basis is a good starting point to create a mini system. Work as much on your freelance developer business as you work in it writing code for clients!

Action step: 

  • Create a Google Document to track your systems in the form “trigger –> detailed description of the system”.

Know Your Hourly Rate

Everything that gets tracked gets improved. As a business owner, the most important metric is how much you earn. This is as true for freelance developers as it is for Fortune 500 CEOs.

Therefore, you should constantly track and increase your hourly rate. This challenges you to constantly bring more value to the marketplace, communicate this value better, and learn more things by reading books or industry periodicals.

How can you calculate your hourly rate? Nothing simpler than that—start tracking your time. Divide your average monthly income by 30 to get your daily income. Divide it by your average number of hours worked to get your hourly rate. This is your base rate. If you charge clients, you should charge at least double this rate—better more than that. The reason is that not all working hours will be tracked: you also have to work on your taxes, learn and improve, do marketing, etc.

The average hourly rate of a Python freelance developer is $61. This is what the average developer earns and you should at least target this rate. However, it’s relatively easy to become better than average—especially if you use the tricks outlined in this tutorial.

Action step: 

  • Answer one simple question now: What’s your hourly rate?

Increase Your Hourly Rate

The next step (after knowing your hourly rate) is to increase it.

Earning more money is simple: charge more. If you don’t increase your hourly rate, you won’t earn more money. But if you have higher hourly rates, clients will value your services more. Clients are humans and, as a result, they tend to reinforce their decisions. If they pay more money, they will focus much more on the value you bring to the table. This is called the Halo effect in behavioral psychology: the tendency to generalize the positive impression of a person to unrelated areas. Charging more money impresses the client and he looks for these positive impressions in your work, too. Of course, you should then deliver quality code quickly—but this is mostly a matter of focused effort on your part.

Also, charging more money will increase your confidence. If clients pay you more money, you feel valued and motivated to keep learning and keep improving. With more money, you can also reinvest more money in your business to improve your appearance and marketing even more. With more money, you can solve most business problems easily.

Action step:

  • How much (percent) will you increase your hourly rate every month?
  • How much time will you spend each day reading books in your field to justify charging more money?

Contribute to Open-Source Projects

Clients want to see that you’re the right fit for them. They want to minimize transaction risk: if they book a freelance developer, they spend time and money. Above everything else, they fear to lose their invested time and money. This is a psychological effect that proved very robust in countless scientific studies: loss aversion. Most people would rather avoid losing than get the chance of winning.

A powerful way of mitigating loss aversion is to contribute to open-source projects and showcase these projects to your clients. If clients browse your projects they feel that you are a trustworthy coder who gives a lot to the community. Naturally, they feel more attracted to you and see you in a positive light.

Plus, working on open-source projects connects you to like-minded coders. Many will refer freelance developing gigs your way—make sure to talk to (and help) a lot of people in the open-source community. From time to time, drop that you’re a freelance developer and watch how more business will come your way.

Finally, you’ll accelerate your coding skills. Working on practical code projects is the number one strategy to improve your skills. Check out my detailed blog article “How to start learning Python” that outlines a practical-first strategy to learn to code (70% practice projects, 30% theory).

Action step:

Market Yourself on LinkedIn, Not Facebook

The purpose of this article is to make you a more successful freelance developer. As a freelance developer, you first and foremost need to connect with potential clients (leads) to create some business for you. Who hires freelance developers? Other businesses. Think about it, you’re now part of the B2B marketplace. You need to attract other business owners and show them how you can be a valuable part of their businesses. You need to show them how you can make them more money than they pay you. It’s a simple game once you’ve understood the rules.

So what’s the best social media platform to connect with business owners in a professional environment? Correct, LinkedIn. Microsoft’s platform is the incarnation of a professionally-focused B2B social media platform. It’s far easier to connect with business owners you don’t know and still make a professional, trustworthy impression. Why? Because the platform ensures that there’s little spam. You need to act as a real human, not as an anonymous corporation. If you spam other people, you do this in your name losing your credibility. You cannot hide. That’s why LinkedIn is superior to create professional contacts.

Give more value than you’re getting paid for. 

That’s how you slowly and steadily build your network. I recommend that you focus on one social network and that’s it. Don’t lose your focus. Don’t spend too much time on social media—that’s what everyone else is doing and it’s not an effective use of your time. Instead, spend ten to twenty minutes per day on LinkedIn, increasing your network, and improving your appearance. Then, focus on the other points outlined here.

Action step:

  • Create a LinkedIn account now.
  • Dump the other social networks as they’re low-value tasks that distract from your main objective: building a thriving coding business.

Create Your Own Blog

This is a long-term strategy to build your market value. And it’s fundamentally different from creating a social media appearance. Why? Because you’ll create your own community—for yourself, not for some Silicon Valley billionaire.

Creating your blog is long-term because it takes a few months until your articles rank for keywords on Google or other search engines. You have to spend time writing articles, test and tweak the designs, maintain your community, and learn about search engine optimization. You must invest significant effort for a long period.

But if you commit to staying in the game, it’ll be the one thing that boosts your reach from hundreds of people to millions. The demand for your services will skyrocket while supply stays constant. You can charge premium prices like nobody else in your industry: hundreds of dollars per hour. Many bloggers also earn passive income through ads or sales of information products. They don’t even sell their time anymore because they don’t need to.

In addition to that, writing blog articles in a programming niche is an excellent way of building your expertise. Write about machine learning with TensorFlow, data science with Pandas, or neural network engineering with C++. This is how you’ll build detailed, low-level, and robust knowledge in a field.

Action steps:

  • Create your programming blog (e.g. with WordPress) now.
  • Select a niche that you will master and dominate. The smaller the niche, the better—if you’re a beginner coder. You can always expand your niche if you’ve achieved to dominate it.

Give, Give, Give, Right Hook

This is the title of a popular book of social media guru Gary V. There’s some truth to it: to build a thriving relationship with your customers, users, and business clients as a freelance developer, you must give first. The more you give, the more you’ll receive. Don’t be pushy and try to receive first. Don’t ask for a raise before you haven’t proven that you’re worth it. Don’t negotiate hard before you haven’t given value to the other party. Of course, you can violate those rules but it’ll bring you no good.

As a freelance developer, you’re in the people business, not in the coding business. You must learn to handle people. And if people sense that you’re in it only to extract maximal value for yourself, they will start to push against you. On the other hand, if you have the other person’s best interest at heart, they will usually reciprocate and have your best interest at heart, too. Of course, there are exceptions and some people will rip you off. But you cannot protect yourself against it by ripping other people off—this will only increase the likelihood of it happening.

Action steps:

  • Brainstorm and write down 20 things you can do to give value to your clients in advance. 7
  • Include at least three of them in your acquisition and lead generation process.

Befriend Colleagues

This is a no-brainer. Your colleagues are also freelance developers. If you have many of them as friends, it may easily happen that you can ignore all other tips listed here—and still thrive in your coding business. Why? Because they will refer business your way, they will give you invaluable advice, show you what works to acquire clients and what doesn’t, and teach you all the industry-specific tips and tricks over the years.

The most effective strategies are often easy to do. But they are also easy not to do. Be the one who does them relentlessly.

Action steps:

How can you befriend a lot of freelance developers if you currently don’t know a single one of them? Here are some tips:

  • Keep investing 10-20 minutes in LinkedIn connecting with peers and potential clients and giving value where you can. With this attitude, friendships will emerge quickly.
  • Go to local startup meetups. This will help you increase your local community—rarely will you develop deep friendships 100% online.
  • Go to technical talks and conferences in the area of computing and software engineering.
  • Search for partners who want to build a thriving freelance developer business with you. This is the most prolific thing you can do to boost your speed of building a thriving coding business and win lifelong friendships on the way. Use any channel there is (including Facebook groups) to find possible partners for your business.
  • Visit co-working spaces to find possible partners.

Be a Coding Consultant, Not a Freelance Developer

One of my breakthrough as a self-employed Python coder was to reposition myself as a consultant and coach, rather than a freelance developer. You may ask (and rightly so): what’s the difference?

The most important difference is in the perception of the client: A consultant is a trusted advisor while a freelance developer is a commodity. You want to be the trusted advisor because as an advisor, you do less work yourself while charging higher hourly rates. As a freelance developer, you often end up doing the ugly stuff (like finding nasty small bugs in a complicated server setting) that takes hours and hours. As a consultant, you can talk about strategy and overall system architecture. Both skill sets are highly valuable to the client. But the latter skill tends to get paid better. I don’t know the reason but that’s just how the world works. Maybe it’s just because the client cannot appreciate the complexity of setting up a program or finding a nasty bug. It just seems to be a small thing.

As a rule of thumb: always sell big results.

After all, the client pays you for results, not for time invested. This may easily be the most important advice in this list of freelance developer tips. If you currently work in a job or you’ve worked in jobs for many years, you have the deeply ingrained feeling of getting paid for your effort. If you put in little effort, you expect to get paid little. However, in the self-employment space, it’s all about results. Time invested has little to no effect on your compensation. And it shouldn’t have. What takes you minutes can take hours for someone with less experience. Work should always gravitate to the people that can finish it most effectively.

The rule to sell big results can also mean that you find nasty bugs. But now you’re doing it only if the client is terrified by this bug. The best-case scenario is that they have already invested tens of hours but didn’t find the bug. If you find the bug now (even if it takes you only an hour or so), they will pay you gladly large sums of money. Why? Because you saved them large sums of time (and, thus, money).

It’s all about the results.

Action step: 

  • Write down how you plan to position yourself as an IT consultant rather than a freelance developer.

Read More Programming Books

Experts read books. Warren Buffett is said to read 1000 pages of annual reports every day. Buffett and his partner Charlie Munger became billionaires by spending 80% of their day reading.

Buffett was once asked how to become smarter to which he responded:

“Read 500 pages like this every week. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”

Warren Buffett

Knowledge compounds. This is the fundamental truth all experts know. If you want to get highly paid in any space (say, as a freelance developer), you’ll need to become a highly sought-after person. And how do you achieve that? By reading a lot of programming books.

Programming books provide a maximal return on invested time and dollars. Of course, you can find all the information on the web for free. But it’ll take you a lot of time searching—and what you find tends to be low-quality information.

The opportunity costs of consuming low-quality information are huge (even if they never appear on your bank statement)! Instead of spending 20 hours reading software documentation, you could have read one book in 10 hours (or even two books in 20 hours). Not buying a book because it costs $20 is like standing in line for 2 hours just to get a free coffee: stupid.

Good books have the highest quality of information for a low, almost meaningless price. If books are still too expensive for you, have a look at my list of 101++ free programming books.

Action step:

  • Every day, spend at least 30 minutes reading a programming book. Add a small “pb” into your calendar every day where you manage to finish your 30-minute programming book reading session.

Read More Business Books

The habit of reading more programming books will make you a coding expert. But as a freelance developer you’re as much a business person as you’re a coder. You need to study business from the best. Fortunately, many great business persons have written great business books. Every book will make you a better business person. Think about it this way: every business book you read will increase your yearly income by 2%. How many business books would you read? If you’re like me, you’d read hundreds of business books—doubling your yearly income every 35 books. As Warren Buffett so eloquently puts: “Knowledge Compounds”.

Action step:

  • Every day, spend at least 30 minutes reading a business book (yes, with your 30-minute programming book reading that’s 60 minutes reading every single day). Add a small “bb” into your calendar every day where you manage to finish your 30-minute reading session.

Seek Expert Advice

The last tip is a nice little hack: seek the advice of someone who’ve already been there and done that. How much faster would you learn to code if you’ve got an expert coder who leads you through every step of the way? How much faster would you learn to create a thriving business if you’ve got Warren Buffett to give you valuable advice as you go along? The answer is obvious: it’ll save you years, even decades. The truth is: we all stand on the shoulders of giants. If we’re feeling too small and too insignificant, it’s because we’re NOT standing on the shoulders of giants.

Spending time, energy, and even money on expert advice is the success secret of the most successful people on earth: Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Larry Page. They all spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours seeking expert counsel.

To help you become a successful freelance developer, I’ve created the world’s most in-depth “Python freelancer course” that leads you all the way from earning $0 per month as a total beginner in Python to earning a full-time income of $5,000 and more. Join us!

Action steps:

Join the Freelancer Developer Course now & start working from the comfort of your own home earning six figures in 1-2 years!