How (and Why) to Become a Freelance Developer After Coding Bootcamp

By Dev Bootcamp • December 13, 2016

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For bootcamp grads looking to add real-world work to their portfolios or to extend their runways in the job searching, freelance developing can bridge a gap and bolster experience. We spoke to two Dev Bootcamp alumni who freelanced after they graduated about how freelance developing added to their skill sets and expanded their bodies of work.

For most bootcamp graduates, post-graduation is all about interviewing for a full-time position, but many students have realized freelance development is an amazing way to work on their own terms and schedule, while adding relevant and real-life work experience to their resumes. 

Freelance development project experience adds to your code portfolio and gives you real-life experience to reference in interviews. “During the interview process, for a solid forty-five minutes, my interviewer and I discussed my freelance project, and how I came up with what I came up with”, says Sebastian, who graduated from Dev Bootcamp Chicago in 2014. “I was able to demonstrate that I could learn new technologies and understand them well enough to create something — I had two offers based on my discussion with them about it.”

Freelancing gives you flexibility to be more selective with full-time job opportunities. “My freelancing job gave me the financial stability to be picky about full-time positions,” says Ian, a Chicago ‘15 graduate. “I wanted to extend my job-searching runway, so I wasn’t in the position of thinking I had to take the first job offered to me.”

Once someone has decided they’re interested in freelancing after they graduate, there are a few key pieces of advice Sebastian and Ian both recommended as smart ways to launch a freelancing developing career, as well as sustain it.

Spread the word on the Dev Bootcamp alumni Slack channel. The tables have turned for Ian  — the company that once contracted his freelance service now employs him full-time, and sometimes he is tasked with sourcing freelancers for web dev projects. “If I need a freelancer, I’ll post on the Dev Bootcamp Alumni Slack channel,” says Ian. “I definitely recommend that you let your DBC network know that you’re interested in freelancing.”

Target small businesses — especially if you have a connection. Think about people you already know, or businesses you frequent. Both Sebastian and Ian recommend starting local with your freelance job search: “If there is a restaurant you frequently visit, or you know small business owners, seek them out and offer your services,” advises Ian. “It’s as simple as asking: do they have a website? Could the site be improved?” Bootcamp grads fit a great niche for small businesses or people who have ideas they want to bring to life: “Your freelance role can essentially be a chief prototyper,” explains Sebastian. “People with ideas don’t have to go to massive companies — there are many small businesses that can employ you.”

Talk to people you meet about your dev skills, whether you’re in line for a coffee, hopping in a Lyft, or networking at an industry event. Sebastian secured his first freelance job through a connection he made at The Chicago Startup Job Fair. “I was talking to someone from education company, just chatting about their product,” says Sebastian. “He was talking about how they were considering paying for extra servers and I advised him that he could use Heroku servers for free.” Impressed and relieved that Sebastian saved his company money, he later connected Sebastian with the person who hired him for freelance work. “Opportunities are out there,” says Sebastian. “You need to be willing to talk about the fact that you’re a developer and that you have the ability to get people’s ideas off the ground.”

Use Upwork to connect with employers who are looking for freelance developers. Ian came by his freelance job online — specifically, on a site for finding freelancers. “I would say be very choosy about what types of freelance jobs you pursue,” advises Ian. “Most employers will not post their names, so gauge its legitimacy by the way the project description is worded.” Get on the phone as soon as you can to foster a connection, make sure you ask enough questions to get a full understanding of the scope of the project.

Make sure your hourly rate strikes the right balance of competitive and industry-standard. Find people who have freelanced before, do research online, speak to your Dev Bootcamp instructors to ensure that you’re pricing yourself well. “A lot of bootcamp graduates undershoot that, just because they’ve been developing a short time,” says Sebastian. “However, employers are paying for your ability to learn and produce quickly — don’t underestimate that kind of value.”

Always get a contract, even (and especially) if you’re doing work for a friend. “A lot of people fail to get contracts from people they know, but a contract is not about questioning trust,” says Ian. “You’re agreeing to a shared belief structure, and protecting yourselves and the product.” Ian also advises that burgeoning freelance devs carefully read the contracts that companies provide. “I’ve seen some of one-sided contracts,” warns Ian. If you want to go the route of creating your own contract, you can find templates at Docracy, but, as Ian suggests, “It’s always worth running by a lawyer to ensure you’re protected.”

Automate the administrative stuff. If your freelance business is picking up steam, make sure you aren’t wasting valuable time and energy doing admininstrative tasks. Consider services like FreshBooks to handle your billing and apps like Due Time or Top Tracker to help you track your time . “A lot of apps can handle expenses, invoicing, all that stuff,” says Ian. “While you can find some free services, I ended up paying around $10 per month and it saved me so many hours.”

Dev Bootcamp’s active alumni community is 2700 strong and always growing. If you’re currently going through Dev Bootcamp (or starting soon), start networking as soon as you can to lay the foundation — you never know what opportunities will arise!

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