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I have been studying iOS development on my own for about 8 months. I'm pretty comfortable in my ability to build a small app with a clean UI, but don't know the entire API in and out.

How does a developer determine they are qualified to be hired as a freelance developer? How can someone relatively new know they are ready to put themselves out there to agencies and clients?

  • Welcome to Freelancing.SE! Unfortunately, this question is going to pull more opinions then facts, and will be put on hold; I would suggest asking for a process, such as just 'How does one know they are ready for...'. – Canadian Luke REINSTATE MONICA Oct 1 '13 at 2:34
  • @CanadianLuke Why not opening this and turn it into wiki? This the question we all asked ourselves and any future freelancer will ask himself the same question as well. – Peter MV Oct 1 '13 at 7:52
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    @PeterMV This type of on-going exchange of stories is better conducted in traditional forum or chat room. It's not really what we do here — freelancing.stackexchange.com/about. But Community Wiki should not be used to allow questions that otherwise would not be a good fit (see Future of Community Wiki). Thanks. – Robert Cartaino Oct 1 '13 at 13:59
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    @PeterMV Robert has the exact reason. Yes, it is useful to know, but because of how varying it is, it would be difficult to find one professional answer that would trump all others. It would be perfect for Freelancing Chat though – Canadian Luke REINSTATE MONICA Oct 1 '13 at 16:03
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Knowing an entire API or framework inside and out is not really necessary. Every project I've worked on in 10 years of freelancing has involved something new that I've never done before.

You are "qualified" when someone is willing to hire you. And the only way to find out if you are is to put yourself out there.

BUT...there is much more to being ready for a freelance developer career than just your technical skills. For example:

  • Have you created a separate legal business entity (if you are required to)?
  • Do you have a contract template ready for the legal agreement between you and your clients?
  • Have you determined how and when you will charge clients?
  • Have you determined if you have any clients or projects that are "out of bounds"? For example: I don't work with clients who are out of state. Or projects that relate to gambling.
  • Do you have a process worked out for how you want to handle scope changes? Do you have it clearly documented somewhere?
  • Do you have any insurance that may be required by your local laws or prospective clients?
  • Do you a process set up for protecting your client's work in case of catastrophic hardware failure (offsite backup, etc.)
  • Do you have a plan for how you will market your services to clients?

Your early experiences in freelance development will be better if you are prepared on the business end of things. Plenty of talented developers have sucked on the business side and thus had poor freelancing experiences. Don't make that mistake.

  • +1 Good answer, I purposely didn't read it until I posted mine. Agree, the bottom line is you're ready when people will hire you. – Tim Lytle Oct 1 '13 at 18:01
  • Thorough answer. Of course you can start without knowing any of the bullet points and learn as you go when you encounter these. I think somewhere in the middle is usually what happens. You're prepared, but learn from every situation that goes wrong. – Miro Mar 3 '14 at 22:52
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There are a few things you probably need to ask yourself before trying to book projects / find agencies to work through (although I know much less about how agencies operate).

Your's is a unique question in that you're new to both software development and freelancing.

Can you build it?: Whatever projects you're trying to win (either a specific project, or a specific kind of project) - can you actually do it? When you're starting out there's less room for project where you need to learn something new / explore new technology to complete.

An experienced developer has a good feel for how long / how difficult it will be tackle a kind problem that they've not really worked on in the past. A new developer should probably be confident that there are few unknowns before taking on a project.

With freelancing, there's generally no senior developer to go to when you run into a wall. So being very confident you can indeed build what the client is asking for is important.

Have you built it?: Confidence only goes so far. If you're thinking of iOS development, you should have already built something similar yourself. In software development, reading the documentation can be very far away from actually writing software that uses the API / SDK / Platform.

You mention that you're confident in your ability to build a simple app - before you start looking for projects like that, you need to have actually build a few small apps.

Will they buy it?: Honestly, the simplest way to identify that you're ready to start looking for clients, is seeing if they'll actually hire you. If you're confident in your ability and experience building whatever the project needs, then the next test is to see if you can convince a client of that.

If you can't, ask why. And understand that since you're new to both freelancing and development, you can't likely demand the rate / price an experienced developer could when they started freelancing (which again, is likely less than the rates of an established freelance).

Know that your pricing should probably include the understanding that someone of what you're making is reputation. And know that if you end up charging more than the value (you charge what an established freelance developer would, but it's not the same quality, or it takes more time, etc) - you'll likely up paying for that difference with your reputation.

[This is all geared toward someone new to development and freelancing. If you're already an experienced developer, then the question is more about having considered and determined how to bill as a freelancer (vrs being an employee), understanding that there's no longer the support of a team - but it ends the same, see if clients will hire you. If not, identify why not.]

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I won't tell you all the fluff that you can find in books and other resources. You are ready when:

  • Cash: You need cash. I know this isn't a technical requirement, but unless you are a rock star, starting out will be slow. Even if you have a good reputation as an employee, people may look at you with some distrust. I mean, they don't know you, so what will happen if they hire you? If you have some bench time, it won't be a catastrophe, but you will lose money. You have to be able to deal with that. Are you prepared to lose money if you fall sick? If you like job security, forget about being a freelancer; it's not for you. You like being a freelancer because you like the idea that there is no job security, that everything moves faster.

  • Good Health: You may laugh, but if your health is not perfect, forget being a freelancer. You'll have to work more, and if for some reason you fall sick, you need cash (that won't last forever).

  • Self-Confidence: Who is your biggest supporter? You! You have to be able to deal with difficult periods (when there is less work), but you will also have to work more. A freelancer is expected to work more than a regular employee, and your employers will not allow any problems. You are, more or less, alone. In difficult situations, you must remain calm and believe that you can do it!

  • Stress Management: You will have to deal with people, interviews and companies. It is rewarding, but it is also more challenging. Can you deal properly with stressful situations? You cannot know everything, and your clients will expect you to know everything. At the end of the day, you have to be able to relax, sleep, calm down.

  • Money Management: Unless you make a LOT of money, don't become a freelancer if you spend too much. Normally, you will make more money than being an employee, but you will have to give back a good amount of that money (Social Security in Belgium, for example). At Sun, I had a very nice BMW. As a freelancer, I have a very nice Volkswagon Golf.

    I wanted to start low, because my objective was focusing on the long-term. The rewards will come, but it may shift from monetary rewards to intangible things such as control over one's career and self. Sure, I bought an average-budget car, but it was one that I could make for myself. I can buy any laptop I want, a nice smartphone, but money cannot be the most important factor.

  • Selling Yourself: If you cannot face the interviews, you are a dead man. Networking and your personal reputation will help, but you are supposed to go to many interviews, possibly answering questions that you may not know. You need to sell your CV, your image, and you need to give your clients confidence that you will solve more problems than you will create!

  • Technical Compentency: Personally, I like to learn all the time; it is my life. As a freelancer, you should always be learning. As an employee, you can get advice or help from other experts or colleagues, but as a freelancer, you are the one. You have to invest a lot into your compentencies for the rest of your career; if you don't like the idea of learning every single day, you may want to do something else.

  • Rates: Don't be too expensive at first; start slowly. Start by being a little less expensive than the average price, then as clients trust you more, you will be able to increase your rate.

I don't want to give the impression that becoming a freelancer is a bad experience; it's nice! You have more control, you don't have to deal any more with uncaring managers, you get to do what you love! Everything has a cost, betwen regular employment and freelancing. You have to choose what is good for you.

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