Stop! Learn how to become a freelance programmer: discover key insights to earn money whilst programming around the world in your pajamas feeling like Drake.

In this article, I will give you tips on how to become a freelance programmer so you can work while traveling the world. That way, you can earn money, while working from home programming in your pajamas feeling like Drake. 

If you don’t already know how to program, learning to code is the first step. Here is some information on the best programming language to start with, as well as a list of resources to use to get started programming with

Back to how to become a freelance programmer. I graduated from Clemson University with a major in political science. After obtaining my degree, I moved from South Carolina to the Bay Area. Like many college students with impractical degrees, I was unable to find a job. Unlike most recent graduates, I decided to learn to program. I choose to study Python, a popular programming language known for being one of the best languages for beginners.

Eventually, I was hired as a software engineer at eBay. After eBay, I started working at a startup in Palo Alto. Feeling adventurous, I decided to quit my job to go on a backpacking trip across Southeast Asia, eventually ending up in Bali.

During my trip, to earn extra income, I started freelancing. If you aren’t familiar with the term: freelancing means working as an independent contractor for different clients. In other words, you are your own boss.  

Become a freelance programmer allows you to earn a great income while working from anywhere. Thanks to freelancing, I’ve been able to visit over twenty-five countries on six continents. So far I’ve been to North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia. I’m hoping to add Antartica to the list soon!

Freelancing not only allows you to travel, but it also eliminates your commute. In Los Angeles, where I live, many of my friends commute a total of four hours: two hours to work and two hours back. Once you learn to make a living freelancing, you can say goodbye to your long commute forever. I can’t explain how much extra energy I have because I don’t commute to work. There is something about long daily car rides that zaps the energy right out of me, and now I spend that extra energy on important projects.

Another advantage of freelancing is avoiding office politics. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand office politics. Going into an office every day and being forced to deal with office politics gave me anxiety and I am much happier working from home.

If you are interested in eventually getting hired full-time, freelancing is the best way to work toward a job as a software engineer. Freelancing allows you to show employers you have the skills they are looking for and makes it much more likely they will hire you. Now that you know all the benefits of freelancing let’s take a look at how to get started!

The Platforms

Upwork screenshot is one of the most popular places for freelance programmers to find work. When I was freelancing, I found all of my projects on Upwork. Now that I run my own business, I make my hires on their platform as well.

On Upwork, you can signup as either an employer or a client. As a client, you can see all of the jobs employers post. Their posts look like this:

An example of a freelance job

In this case, I searched for web scraping jobs. You should be able to create a web scraper early in your programming career. As you can see, there are 1,152 web scraping jobs available on Upwork right now. Each job has a budget and a skill level. This job has a budget of $25, which makes it the perfect opportunity for a new freelancer looking to build their portfolio.

To apply for a job like the one shown above, you simply click the link and fill out a cover letter explaining why you are the best candidate for the job.  

Freelancer screenshot is another popular platform. It is similar to Upwork: employers post jobs and freelancers apply for them.

Fiverr screenshot

Another popular place for freelance programmers to find work is On Fiverr, you create a profile, and potential clients come to you, whereas on Upwork and Freelancer, you have to reach out to clients. When you use Fiverr, the clients come to you.

Once you have experience as a freelancer, having to constantly find new clients can be a hassle, so Fiverr is a great option. However, Fiverr is not the best option for new freelancers. When you are getting started, you should spend most of your time reaching out to new clients so you can develop relationships and build a killer portfolio.

Golance screenshot

Finally, is another platform that is gaining popularity and may be worth looking into.

Getting Your First Reviews

When you first learn to become a freelance programmer, the only thing you need to worry about is gaining experience. Don’t worry about money. Instead, try to successfully complete as many jobs as you can. You should start by applying to small jobs (less than $50) and work your way up.

You may find it difficult to get your first freelance job without any reviews (every time you successfully complete a job on a site like Upwork employers leave a review on your profile).

The best way to handle this is to complete a job for a friend on whatever platform you’ve decided to go with. For example, if you’ve decided to focus on Upwork, you should find a friend that needs programming help. Then, have them hire you on Upwork.

Once you’ve successfully completed the project, make sure to have your friend leave you a five-star review. Upwork does not discourage this. They even have tools designed to encourage people to bring new employers to their platform.  

I recommend doing this a few times so that you have two or three five-star reviews before you start reaching out to clients you have no personal relationship with.

Applying for Jobs

Once you have a track record of successfully completing jobs on Upwork (or the platform of your choice) and several five-star reviews, it’s time to start applying for jobs.

Start with small jobs. Once you have a strong track record, you can go for the big contracts but for now the smaller, the better.   

Whenever you are applying for jobs, make sure to actually read the job descriptions. That may sound like common sense, but as an employer on Upwork, I am always amazed by the number of candidates that apply without bothering to read my job description. If you put a sentence in your application that proves you read the job description, you will instantly be ahead of more than half of the other applicants.

When you are applying for jobs, make sure to always include a link to your GitHub portfolio so potential employers can review your code. The more projects you have on your GitHub, the better.

Having a GitHub project with more than ten stars is a big advantage. Pick one of your best projects and ask the members of your programming community to give it a star. Having a project with more than ten stars gives you social proof. Social proof will make you look like an experienced developer, which is how you want to come across.  

You should also consider building a website for your personal portfolio. That way, potential employers can quickly see examples of your best work.  

Finally, when you are applying for jobs, make it as easy for the employer to hire you as possible. Check your freelance platform for new messages as often as you can.

When I am making a hiring decision on Upwork, I message two or three people. I’m usually on a deadline, so the first person to respond has a massive advantage.

If you make potential employers feel like you are incredibly responsive and ready to work right away, you will have no problem landing new jobs.  

Working With Employers

The key to getting new work as a freelancer is to have an excellent track record on the platform you decide to use. That means lots of five-star reviews. In this chapter, I will go over a few best practices to ensure you earn nothing but five-star reviews and develop a stellar reputation online.

Like I mentioned in the previous chapter, responsiveness is key. Employers love it when freelancers answer their questions as quickly as possible, so make sure to constantly check for new messages from your clients.

Hitting Deadlines

You also absolutely must hit your deadlines. When you are estimating the deadline for a project use the following trick: come up with your deadline, then increase it by fifty percent. Programmers are notorious for underestimating how long a project is going to take, so to avoid angering your clients, when you first learn how to become a freelance programmer, you should always give yourself some extra padding in case something unexpected goes wrong (which probably will happen).

Once you set your deadline, it is on you to meet it. If you make a mistake and give a poor estimate, you should still do everything in your power to hit your client’s deadline. If you have to work weekends or crazy hours to hit your deadline you should. Then on the next project, you can give yourself additional time.

When I was first learning how to become a freelance programmer, I accepted a project and gave a terrible estimate. I ended up having to pull an all-nighter to get the project done. While staying up all night working wasn’t fun (ok it was a little fun) I ended up getting the project done, and it was much better than having to tell my client I couldn’t deliver on time (and risking a poor review).  


My final tip is to work on improving your communication skills. Read Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends & Influence People for advice on improving both your communication and people skills.  

If you are responsive, hit your deadlines, and communicate well, your client’s will love you, and you will be racking up five-star reviews in no time.

Final Thoughts

Freelancing is the best way to gain experience as a programmer. If you want to land a full-time position as a software engineer, learning how to become a freelance programmer is the best stepping stone to achieve that. However, freelancing itself can be very lucrative, and once you build up your business, you may want to freelance forever.

The rewards may seem small when you are first getting started with twenty-five dollar projects. However, once you establish a track record, you can start applying for projects with budgets over $1,000. There are even many projects on the various freelance sites with budgets over $50,000 and sometimes $100,000.

I hope this guide helped you learn how to become a freelance programmer. Best of luck!

Want to learn to program? Register for my free Self-Taught Coder Masterclass where I cover how I went from a novice to a software engineer at eBay in less than one year.