Road to independence – How to become a freelance developer?

Welcome to the ultimate source of truth when it comes to becoming a freelance IT professional. Well okay, maybe not THE ultimate truth, but you can definitely find some useful information in this article written by our co-founder Thomas Janhonen. So if you are dreaming of taking the leap to entrepreneurship, keep on reading.

Before co-founding the tech talent agency Thriv, I was actually running my own one-man company as a freelance developer. Back then, I was not aware of any services that would have helped me in my entrepreneurial journey, which is actually one of the drivers behind creating Thriv. I have come to realise that some things could have been done much better and more effectively, if only I had known at the time. Hence, this might not be the ultimate truth after all, but rather a story of reflection.

Before you read on, step 0 (I am a programmer after all) is both the easiest and the most difficult one. It is to make the conscious decision to become an entrepreneur and start being your own boss. Change is always scary and there are always a million reasons to not do something. If this is the path you want to follow in your career, you have to ‘just do it’ (tm). It is vital to take matters into your own hands when it comes to this career change, and not rely on things just happening a certain way. Follow these five pieces of advice to ensure that your road to independence will be smooth and successful.

1. Prepare to be unprepared

This might sound cliché, but the truth is that no matter how much you prepare or consider different scenarios – at the end of the day you just have to take the step to independence. There will absolutely be scenarios which might surprise you and which you might have not prepared for along the way. And that is okay! Being an entrepreneur is a lot about learning by doing.

2. Create your freelance developer playbook

Now that we have established that you cannot prepare for everything – let us look at some of the things you can (and should) prepare for:

Company founding: Ask yourself if you want to apply for start-up funding or other kind of financial support. While these are rarely needed for freelance developers, it is good to be informed, as some programs require an application to be made before the company is founded. There is a good amount of information available in Finland, but it can be difficult to find, this fantastic guide is a good point to start your research.

Company form: Limited company? Private trader? Light entrepreneurship? What are these even and how do I get one??? Choosing the type of your business is one of the first things on your table when founding your own company. The different types of business all have some advantages and disadvantages of course, as does everything in life. Luckily there are many useful online resources available that help you choose the right type of business for you. Once again a good place to start is here. At the end of the day, if you plan to invest significant time in freelancing and/or plan to work with larger clients where you hold a lot of responsibility, a limited company (oy) is the way to go.

Administration: Your shiny new company will need an insurance, a bank account, and perhaps even an employee benefit program. I have learned throughout the years that people are usually excited by this or terrified of the thought of having to do this, there is rarely an inbetween. If these topics are not interesting to you, I do suggest that you find professional help in the areas you need them in. These topics can often require extensive research work to fully comprehend, so getting in contact with someone who has this knowledge already can really help. If you don’t even know where to begin, say hello to us at Thriv and we’ll happily discuss with you.

Termination period and conditions: When the time comes to resign from your current job, you should be aware of not only the resignation period, but also any restrictions you might have regarding working with certain clients. Now is a great time to review your contract.

Work Permit: This is something many people do not consider, yet I as a foreigner (and with friends who are foreigners as well) pay attention to. It can be somewhat complicated or it could be no issue at all to become an entrepreneur in your country of residence depending on your residence permit – so this is just something to be aware of.

3. Network with Other Freelance Developers

You have made the decision to become a freelance developer and prepared for the tasks ahead. Next, you will need to find a great project to work on. Obviously there are several ways to go about this. You might have a strong network already of previous clients, ex colleagues, or that friend who started a company a while ago.

If you do not, no need to worry. That is exactly what tech talent agencies like Thriv are here for after all. Fill out our application form and have a chat with us. Not only do we help you in finding a project that is right for you, but also we help you with all the other things related to entrepreneurship. And we do it all with a friendly attitude – so just come say hi.

Besides us, there are other tech talent agencies you should consider to get the widest reach possible. It is a wise business decision to not put your eggs in one basket, but at the same time you should evaluate potential agencies carefully to make sure they align with your ambitions.

4. Execute The Freelance Developer Playbook

You got a project! Congratulations!!! Now comes the exciting part – you get to put your freelance developer playbook into action. Depending on how much clarity you have on the different steps, or if you got the project through an agency like us, following the playbook could be quite straightforward.

Simultaneously, getting your first project is also the time when things get real and that might feel a bit scary. Stay diligent here. Review the contract you are getting for the project (even with a lawyer if needed) and ask possible questions you have from the client or from your agent, if you have one.

5. Leave Your Mark

Remember you went through all this for a reason. Now is the time to thrive (pun intended) in your new career. What exactly this means is of course highly dependent on what your personal goal is, but something that is perhaps shared by most is future security. Meaning that before your project ends, you have the next one potentially ready to go.

To achieve this, you should not only continue networking and being in touch with your agent if applicable, but also excel at your client engagement. Provide value to them with more than just writing excellent code and make yourself be at the top of their mind, and good things will happen. It might be a referral to another client, or it might be continued project work – you never know.

So there you have it... The definitive guide on how to become a freelance developer. These are exciting times, remember to enjoy them. Remember that we are always here to help you, regardless if you work in a project with us or not. So don’t be a stranger and say hello!

Thomas Janhonen - CTO

Thomas Janhonen