How to Become a Successful Freelance Engineer

Simon Holdorf
8 min read
updated: January 5, 2021

Leaving a permanent job and switching to a freelancing career is something many people dream of. Freelancers work on their own, which offers a great amount of freedom and flexibility. There’s potentially more time for friends and family or hobbies. And no boss is telling them what to do, no matter how stupid it is. Instead, they can choose what projects they want to work on, which technology they prefer, and what clients they want to do business with. Besides that, freelancers in the tech industry can generally charge high hourly rates for their work because they often are specialists in high demand.

Of course, being a freelancer won’t always be all sunshine. There will be drawbacks and times of uncertainty. Besides being good in a profession like programming or consulting, for example, freelancers also need to be good in time management, self-marketing, negotiating, communication, and more.

To help you become a successful freelancer, be it part-time or full-time, I’ve written down some tips that helped me on my way to freelancing.


1. Leverage Your Personal Network

Many people find it difficult to get started as a freelancer. And I can very well understand that. The most common situation is that you are in a permanent job thinking about how to make the jump. One thing that helped me and could help others too is a personal network.

Finding new clients isn’t easy, especially not in the beginning. But sometimes it’s easier than you might think. Just have a look at the clients you have worked with. There is nothing wrong with calling them to see if they might still need help with one or another project. The same goes for your ex-employers. If you left them in good standing (and you always should try to do so!), why not have a little chat to see if you could work together again but on a contracting basis?


2. Use Staffing Providers and Job Platforms

If you don’t yet possess a strong personal network that you can get new freelancing opportunities out of, that’s no problem at all. There is a huge industry available solely for one purpose: searching candidates for freelancing projects.

The downside of working with such a provider is that they usually take cuts of 10% to 30% from your hourly rate. But in my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons. With their help, freelancers can find clients and projects they would have never had the chance to work with. Large corporations almost exclusively fill their gaps via recruiting firms that hold long-term contracts.

But look out for untrustworthy providers that try to cheat on you!

Another option for finding new projects is using platforms where you can register and either look for contracting possibilities or publish your profile and have recruiters and possible clients contact you.


3. Keep Track of Your Finances

One thing people tend to underestimate is that if they work on their own, they have to take care of everything related to finances. There is no employer that takes care of taxes, for example. I recommend getting a good tax consultant for help. They will save you a lot of time and hassle.

There are good offerings on the web as well, for instance, SaaS that helps you with accounting. But whatever you decide on, always keep an eye on your finances. What nobody tells you is that you should always put at least 40% of your earnings aside for taxes. Many people have become insolvent because they didn’t.


4. Keep Your LinkedIn Profile Up To Date

Having a polished profile with a major social business network like LinkedIn is mandatory for being successful as a freelancer, in my opinion. You can get a lot of new leads and opportunities via LinkedIn, but only if you take care of your profile. What’s worse than not having a business profile in this industry is having an abandoned one.

Therefore, you should spend a good amount of time working on your profile. Buy a custom banner that supports your IT profession, update your CV regularly, and ask friends and clients to give you recommendations and endorsements for your skills. You should also write a short bio that underlines your skills and strengths and that is optimized for relevant keywords.

I still reserve time every day, or at least once a week, to work on my profile, chat with clients, or try to make new connections.


5. Invest in Yourself and Your Skills

Working in this industry is challenging and rewarding, but it’s also mandatory to keep up with the fast pace of change. You constantly have to learn new things like frameworks, languages, or patterns. While employers often support their employees with training and courses, being a freelancer, it all comes down to your discipline, curiosity, and willingness to sacrifice income for personal development.

Certifications are a good thing and can open many doors. But always keep in mind that if you take some time off to doe a new course, you won’t make any money during that time. And that’s something many freelancers don’t like, so they neglect it.

Yet it’s really, really important to keep yourself up to date. As a freelancer, you constantly have to work in new environments with different people and technologies, and companies won’t pay you for learning things on the job. So try to improve your skills regularly, even if that means a short-term loss of income. In the long term, it will pay off for sure.


6. Learn to Communicate

No matter what a great programmer you are (or think you are), when it comes down to finding new clients and freelancing opportunities, what really counts is how you can market yourself.

If you look at project offerings, you might get the impression that no single person can have all the skills that are needed for a particular job. And in almost every case, you’re right. But that should not stop you from interviewing for that opportunity if you want to work on the project. If you can articulate your strengths well, chances are that you will get the role regardless.

The ability to communicate effectively will not only help you to land contracting positions but is very helpful during projects. You won’t get much on-boarding time but will need to adapt quickly.

Furthermore, if you leave good impressions, clients will happily try to extend your contract if their budgets allow for it.


7. Have a Portfolio to Show

A good portfolio should mirror your experience and can be the critical factor that gives you an edge over your competition. Most of the time, recruiters and clients don’t know you. All they typically get to see is your resume and your portfolio, if you have one.

Even if you haven’t got any real projects to show, it’s worth building some applications with your preferred tech stack to show to potential clients.

If you need inspiration for your portfolio, check out this article: “9 Projects You Can Do to Become a Front-End Master”


8. Don’t Sell Yourself Short

People with solid knowledge in one or more IT professions and in-demand skills are a scarce resource. It’s a huge problem for almost every company to find and hire employees. That leaves freelancers in a strong position for negotiating rates. However, you should always be flexible with your rate if that leads to long term engagements.

I’ve seen many companies and people arguing that a daily rate of $1,000+, for example, is too much for a single person. But they don’t see that specialists invest heavily in themselves to build up skills. Companies don’t just pay for what they get in their projects but also for what got the experts in the position to do those projects.

Furthermore, freelancers take a lot of risks. If they become ill — their problem. If a project gets canceled — also their problem.

Always remember: If you and your skills are in high demand (and chances are that’s the case if you’re working in the tech industry), don’t sell yourself short!


To sum up, freelancing is a great thing that offers freedom and income opportunities you won’t get in a nine-to-five job most of the time. But not everything will be easy, and you will constantly have to work on yourself. Use your personal network or staffing providers to acquire new clients.

Have a strong presence in business networks like LinkedIn and spend time and money to learn new skills. And don’t forget that self-marketing is a major door-opener for new project opportunities.

Sometimes leads take a while to close, sometimes it happens super fast — don’t give up too early, and be willing to go all the way. You should also have consistent hours so your clients have clear expectations of what they get. And in the end, it’s all about communication, communication, and communication.

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