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Self-employed developer: 6 tips for getting started

As a developer who loves their work, you might sometimes find yourself wondering how you could grow if you had more flexibility and freedom when it comes to when you work and what you work on. If you’re currently considering breaking out of the mold and setting out to become self-employed, we hear you. And we’re here for you.

It’s a big step, so it’s only natural to have a few doubts and to question whether it’s really the right move for you. However, with the resources available today and a little preparation, you can be well on your way to feeling confident about becoming a self-employed developer.

Woman on a laptop with a Python coding book next to her

Tip 1: Brush up on your technical knowledge

No, this is not meant to question your skills or knowledge base, but rather a reminder that when you’re self-employed, the only person you can rely on is...you. This means that having a high level of expertise can make a big difference in your success.

Take some time to be honest with yourself about your skill set. Even if you’re well advanced in your career, there still might be some ways to improve your offerings with additional education (even self-taught, as many developers are). This can even have an impact on the rates you’ll be able to charge in the future.

While it’s important to develop expertise in a particular programming language, there are advantages to being highly proficient in several. If you’re used to JavaScript and C++, could it be worthwhile to do some looking into the language that is currently trending? The answer, while debatable, is almost usually yes - especially as it can affect the jobs you get while self-employed.

The IT industry is constantly changing. We know you know this, but that makes it even more important to stay up-to-date on what is new, changing, and trendy in the tech world.

Tip 2: Create a business plan as a freelance developer

If you thought a business plan was only meant for larger, established businesses, think again. Anyone starting out with a new business should take the time to sit down and create a solid business plan. While it might not be essential for a freelance developer, it is something that we recommend. Here’s just a few reasons why:

  • Create structure for your business and your goals
  • Be better able to evaluate progress
  • Identify possible weaknesses and prepare in advance

But those are just a few. Take a look at our article ‘How your business plan affects your finances’ for a little more information and inspiration.

In short, with a business plan you increase your chance of success. So let’s take a closer look at what your business plan should include:

  • Your idea and vision for your business - what do you plan to accomplish in the short/medium/long term?
  • Your USP (Unique Selling Point) - what makes you stand out from the competition?
  • Your target audience and the best way to reach them
  • Thorough market research and a competitor analysis
  • The official side: company name, registration, tax, etc
  • Your strengths and weaknesses both as a developer and as a business owner

Laptop half open on table with books

Once you have a good start on your business plan, it can be incredibly helpful to have trusted friends, colleagues, and family take a look and give you honest feedback on what is realistic.

Tip 3: Register as a self-employed developer

If you’ll be working in the UK, getting set up as self-employed usually involves registering as a sole trader. The other option is to register a limited company. Take a look at our article about moving from sole trader to limited company for more information: ‘Is it time to incorporate? From sole trader to ltd.’.

While it might seem a bit tedious, it’s important that you’re operating legally and that you’re aware of the legal requirements as a self-employed worker.

One of the main things to keep in mind is that you’ll need to start filing a self-assessment return for income tax. Whether you register for VAT depends on a number of factors, but essentially is based on taxable income.

Tip 4: Don’t forget insurance as a self-employed developer

A crucial part of running a business that can be easy to overlook or push to the side: insurance. Just as you must rely on yourself for technical expertise when you’re self-employed, you must also be sure to cover your own bum - both on the personal side and the business side.

Between sickness and injury, it’s up to you to have something to back up your income when you don’t have an employer to rely on. There are a variety of different personal insurance options available to be considered, such as critical illness cover and income protection. It’s important to do some research into what’s right for you as a self-employed developer.

On the business side, insurance will meet the needs of your business at its current stage. For example available insurance can help you to protect yourself against liabilities, protect your revenue and assets, and once/if you hire employees or have shareholders - protect people.

Tip 5: Get customers as a freelance developer

Marketing might not be your greatest strength. Even if you have skills and experience in marketing, when you’re launching your business, time is a major factor. However, in order to get the word out and start attracting customers, it is a necessity.

As a software developer, you’ll most likely be working mainly B2B, doing business with other companies. In this approach, customer acquisition can go through several different channels, such as:

  • Your business website, SEO-optimised to help potential customers find you online
  • Job ads on job portals as well as professional networking sites
  • Word-of-mouth and direct contact with customers
  • Trade fairs or other industry-specific events
  • Providing workshops, lectures, etc. to demonstrate your expertise, get the word out, and improve your network

Man and woman shaking hands across a table

Tip 6: Use online software to manage your business

When you’re self-employed, time and financial resources can sometimes be in short supply. This is where great software can make a big difference in our lives today (we know you know this). But even when you’re part of the force behind creating software, you can still make use of software to help make your life easier - like accounting & invoicing software. For example, with Debitoor you can:

And stay on top of the accounting & invoicing side of your business from anywhere, giving you more time to focus on your work.