When most people first consider computer programming as a career, they usually assume that their options are limited to working for a corporation as a fulltime employee with a regular paycheck, health insurance and other employee benefits. Working as a freelance programmer versus taking a full time job with an employer is largely a matter of personal choice. Some people prefer the security of having a steady paycheck and the structure that a corporate workplace provides. Others cannot stand having to show up from nine to five every single day and decide to take their chances as freelance programmers because of the flexible hours, higher pay and greater growth potential. However, there is a very viable path for a computer programming career in the freelance arena. As a freelance programmer, you work for yourself, set your own hours and are responsible for your own health benefits and taxes. A freelance programmer typically earns higher pay than a full-time employee. In fact, as a freelancer, you get to charge whatever rate your heart desires. You also have the advantage of working in multiple industries and environments which can turn out to be very valuable in marketing your services.
Why do companies use freelance programmers? For one, freelancers are cheaper. While freelance talent is in fact more expensive on an hourly basis, freelance programmers are usually significantly more cost-effective in the long run. That’s because freelance programmers are paid only for the time they spend directly working on a given project, can be let go without penalty once their part of a project is complete, and aren’t given any benefits like healthcare coverage, which can be very costly to a company. Contract programmers are also called in when a project needs to be completed within a tight timeframe. And even though the company may have the resources to do the work in-house, contract labor typically works faster and more efficiently than in-house staff. Maybe the easiest reason to understand of all, is that companies hire contract talent to do the work that, quite frankly, they don’t have the skills to complete. It could be that their company doesn’t even have any in-house programming talent at all, or that a given app they need to develop needs to be developed on or interact with a platform they don’t have any familiarity with.
Now that you’ve made the decision to become a freelance programmer, here are your next steps. First, build your skills. Perhaps the most important thing to do before deciding to become a freelance programmer is to build your base of skills, knowledge and experience. Remember – your customers will be paying for your ability to deliver excellent work quickly, and they won’t pay for you to learn on the job. As a freelance programmer, you’re expected to be a hired expert, capable of hitting the ground running. So, to that end, you should focus on beefing up that resume and skill-set as much as possible. Another good reason for expanding your knowledge base is that it will give you a greater range of projects to work on. After all, as a freelancer you’re being paid for your knowledge and skills – so the more you have, the more you make. A good place to start building your skills is a coaching site like www.becomeacomputerprogrammer.com
Next, begin to work on building up your customer list. Your goal should be to have enough to keep you busy and fed at anytime and have some new projects in the pipeline to work on when the current projects are completed. You can begin your search for work on websites like guru.com, elance.com and rentacoder.com. These websites do not pay market rate for contract programmers, but they can give the opportunity to build up a portfolio to present to corporate clients.
In the end, is it better to work as a freelance programmer? The answer is that it really depends on you. If you seek security (real or imagined), and don’t like the idea of keeping your own books, paying for your own benefits, or working in an office, then a career as a freelance programmer probably isn’t for you. But if you like flexibility, the potential for high compensation, and the opportunity to do your own thing and build your own business, then you should seriously consider working as a freelance programmer.