Beginner's Guide to Working as a Freelance Developer

Written by Xolo
on September 05, 2022 9 minute read

The rise of freelancing around the world is fueled by the power of choice. As more and more people abandon the 9-to-5 mindset, the number of freelance developers is also increasing. Despite the growth, not everyone has the right skills to excel in this dynamic and fast-changing environment.

As you learn to become a freelance developer, it's necessary to strike the right balance between improving your coding skills and marketing yourself. This article explains how to do it one step at a time.

Steps to Become a Freelance Frontend Developer

Using web languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, frontend developers create the user interface that determines how the website looks, and how the user interacts with it. In other words, everything that you see on the web page such as interactive buttons, links, and icons is coded by frontend developers. Here is a prospective career path toward becoming a successful freelance frontend developer:

Learn HTML, CSS, and JavaScript

As a prerequisite to becoming a frontend developer, you need to learn the three widely used computer languages: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Understanding all three languages helps streamline all kinds of data as the data moves from the backend to the frontend. There are certainly other languages to learn as well, but these three are considered the building blocks of frontend development. There are tons of helpful tutorials and courses for you to get the hang of those languages and practice with intuitive coding exercises. 

Learn frontend frameworks

While you're learning the basics of frontend computer languages, start spending time to get a good grasp of CSS frameworks. These pre-written codes are a combination of design best practices and standardized class systems that help create a consistent structure of a website across different browsers and mobile apps.

Some of the popular frameworks include Bootstrap and Tailwind CSS, which allow you to add a catalog of classes to a webpage. Similarly, Java frameworks - React, Angular, and Vue - help save time and do more with less code.

Enhance your frontend development skills

Once you've decided which frontend languages and frameworks to use, it's time to polish your skills. At this stage, you can enhance your skills by learning the command line, version control, and API.

Understanding how the command line works helps speed up performance when installing frameworks and libraries. Likewise, learning Git, a type of version control, lets frontend developers trace their coding history and relevant information. Learn Git Branching offers a free and interesting UI for you to get acquainted with the Git concept. 

Learning API is equally important because it speeds up software development. When building your own software, an API can help integrate a variety of elements such as payment processing and facial recognition. Best APIs for beginners and intermediate coders in frontend development include JSONPlaceholder, Coingecko, Quotes API, PokeAPI, etc.   

Practice your frontend development skills

After getting a good grip on the main aspects of frontend development, practice coding using one of the many freely available resources such as Codecademy and Freecodecamp. These websites will let you learn and test your coding skills free of cost. Consistency is key so building the habit of practicing coding for a few hours a day will go a long way towards helping you strengthen your skills and build up your determination. 

Create frontend development projects

Creating websites or personal projects using your HTML, CSS, and JS skills is key to showcasing your front-end abilities and find a freelance job. It will serve as your portfolio as a frontend developer. 

Building a clone of a website like Youtube, Facebook, Amazon or any other website that interests you is a good idea for you to start. Building a quiz game using JavaScript, weather app, calculator, code reader, or music player is also another group of viable project ideas to showcase your programming skills. You can start with a simple project and expand and advance accordingly on the fly. If you’re familiar with performing DOM Manipulation using JS or jQuery, you can also try the Giphy API to build a beautiful page that helps users find their favorite GIFs. When creating your frontend development projects, remember to put your code lines into GitHub, an internet hosting service for software development and link them to your portfolio in an organized and professional way. 


Steps to Become a Freelance Backend Developer

A freelance backend developer does all the behind-the-scenes work on a website. The role involves catering to server-side functions that may include data storage, security, and scripting. The recommended entry step for beginners is to get yourself acquainted with how things work in backend development, the logic behind, data structures, and algorithms like Tree, Graph, Queue, etc. After getting the basics of those, these are the next steps how you can carve out a great career path in this niche:

Learn backend programming languages

Backend developers need to learn specific computer languages. Some of the most popular among these are Java, Ruby, Python, PHP, and C++. If you're new to this, it's often better to learn Ruby, Python, and PHP first as they're easier to learn. You can later move to Java and C++, which require in-depth knowledge of programming. 

  • For Python, Learn Python, Kaggle, datacamp are all great sources for you to learn the basics and even create some small projects as exercises
  • For Ruby, which is an open source scripting language focusing on flexibility and user-friendliness, various development platforms and learning websites like Tutorialspoint, Ruby guides, Codecademy all provide free and beginner-friendly courses to you to learn how to use the language
  • For PHP, you can begin with tailored courses on W3schools, Codecadmy.

Learn backend frameworks

As you learn a language, get accustomed to the framework associated with each backend language. For instance, Ruby on Rails is for Ruby, Django is for Python, and Laravel is for PHP. Besides these individual frameworks, a good knowledge of SQL is needed to manage the database of websites irrespective of the programming language you intend to use.

Study Database Management Systems

Adding a database system to your portfolio is the next logical step. You need to learn DBMS (Database Management Systems) because backend developers are responsible for creating a relational mapping to store and retrieve the user data. MySQL, SQL, PostgreSQL, and MongoDB are examples of such database management systems.

Learning a version control system will complement your knowledge of DBMS. Version control tracks every change that's made to a database. AWS Code Commit, GitHub, and GitLab are some of the most popular version control systems for backend developers.

Enhance backend developer skills

You can enhance your skills by learning API. Backend developers frequently use the API to establish a connection between different applications. You can try your hands at JSON, SOAP, REST, and GSON.

Server handling is another useful skill that comes in handy. Learn Docker and Kubernetes to handle data on the cloud. Similarly, knowledge of Content Management Systems, such as Wix, WordPress, Drupal, and Magneto, will make you an all-round coder.

Other skills you can hone to improve your tool and skill belt is to manage hosting and Devops which are more on the advanced side of things but will give a great edge when applying for a frontend position as a freelancer. 

Practice backend coding languages

When you're ready, try to develop your coding skills by taking a coding challenge. A coding challenge will help you propel as a coder as you try your skills on the real thing. Geektastic, Coderbyte, FreeCodeCamp, Datacamp, and HackerRank are just a few of the popular choices to hone your skills.

Create backend development projects

Start your coding journey by creating a simple command line interface application. There are lots of languages and frameworks to build your first app. Once you've the basic CLI app ready, it's time to move on to weather APIs. Chat server using Python, ecommerce store using PHP, project managing app using Java can be also inspirations for your personal passion projects. Consider building projects that can show your strengths and languages that you’re proficient in. Projects are an effective way for you to practice and enhance your abilities but also great tool to let people know of your backend skills.

Steps to Become a Freelance Full stack Developer

A full stack developer works on the front end and the back end of web development. To succeed, you need a good knowledge of the graphical user interface as well as database, servers, and internal architecture.

If you're interested in pursuing a career as a full stack developer, take the following steps to put things in order:

Learn main full stack languages and database management

The learning never ends for a full stack developer. Depending on what inspires you, you can take many paths; however, you must have a command of the following:

  • JavaScript
  • Frontend frameworks
  • Backend technologies
  • Databases and web storage
  • Git/GitHub
  • HTTP and REST


There are lots of fast-track courses that help you with training in the entire set of backend requirements. Full stack open, Coursera courses, Codecademy all offer free lessons and tutorials so that you can learn the basics as well advanced usage in full stack technologies and languages. 

Many aspiring full stack developers or beginners also choose to sign up for bootcamps. A bootcamp is a short-term program that has intensive training to put you on the right path. Berkeley Coding Bootcamp, Actualize, and University Booting Bootcamps are some of the best in the business. Other online development bootcamps provided by KnowledgeHut, Springboard, Thinkful also offer full stack training that helps you learn, practice backend algorithms, data structures and programming languages. 

Refine your full stack development knowledge

Since there is so much to learn, you can often forget to review the basics. To get a solid grasp of fundamentals, always keep in touch with HTML and CSS forms, which are the building blocks of the modern programming language. Similarly, keep working on JavaScript as it's used on almost every type of web application. Besides, full stack developers are also expected to have a certain level of understanding in full stack frameworks like Angular, Vue JS, Node JS, Django, etc.

At the same time, keep an eye on the latest updates regarding servers, networks, web-hosting environments, algorithms, data structure, and database management.

Create full stack projects for your portfolio

There are all kinds of projects you can create for your portfolio. As full stack developers are expected to develop entire end-to-end programming projects, using many different frameworks and languages are a tip for you to showcase your full stack skills and the ability of utilizing both frontend and backend applications. For instance, you can try to develop a fully functional e-commerce website, chat messaging app, or advanced clone websites. Besides setting the goal of creating a functional project, remember to enjoy the process and learn as you go, try to understand different techniques, learn to transition smoothly between frontend backend, and master key concepts that make up your personal projects. 

The next step is to put together your best projects into a portfolio. As a full stack developer, you can also regard your website portfolio as a personal project, develop and design it to your personal liking and display your projects in a professional manner with contact information, your expertise and your own story of becoming a full stack developer. 


How to Find Freelance Clients as a Freelance Developer

Best marketplaces and job boards for freelance developers

Browsing marketplaces to find your perfect job as a freelance developer won’t cost you lots of time but can also help to bring you a constant stream of income from working with long-term clients. Here is a list of marketplaces or job boards you can use to look for freelance jobs as a developer:


Other strategies to find clients as a freelance developer

A lot of freelancers get their first clients by building free websites for free for small businesses. It's a kind of Internship where you get to show your skills while learning how to work in a professional environment. For newbies, this is also a good way to start building a portfolio.

If you don't like the idea of giving freebies, try Fiverr. It's not a $5 gig economy anymore because lots of web developers earn between $2000 and $5000 working part-time on Fiverr. You can also try UpWork, Guru, and Freelancer, but these websites may require comparatively more time to get noticed.

If you're a coder, you can put your code into Github. The platform is an industry standard for coders, and it's also used to attract potential clients. You can even utilize Github Explore to contribute to the popular open source projects that are frequently visited by project managers looking for coders.

If you've never participated in Hackathons, now is the time to do it. Hackathons are events that attract a large number of people who want to engage in collaborative computer programming challenges. They're great for backend developers because you can show your coding skills to potential clients. AngelHack,, and DevPost are just a few of these useful websites where you can participate in Hackathons and network with like-minded freelancers.

Shopify, WooCommerce, and WordPress development programs are some of the other good sources to check out. These platforms let developers create premium plugins and themes for their clients. If you can work with themes, there is a great potential to earn a reasonable amount of recurring revenue. You can even team up with others to build a customized solution.

How to Invoice as a Freelance Developer

While freelancing has lots of advantages, keeping track of your payment, international regulations, and paying relevant taxes can be a challenge. To save your time and steer your focus on the core business, one recommended way is to use an invoicing tool like Xolo Go with which you can generate VAT-compliant invoices, get paid fast and stay on top of all accounting or compliance issues.

If starting a business is your goal, try Xolo Leap. We’ve help you have a EU business-of-one get registered and provide you with professional help with tools and compliance or taxation matters so you can manage your entire business from an online dashboard. There is an entire army of accountants and business experts to guide you in your new endeavor as a solo entrepreneur.

Envision your dream life and start working as a freelance developer!

Whatever you do, just remember that there are ample opportunities for a freelance developer, but you need to take one step at a time. Don't rush! At the beginning you just need to focus on learning the basics, building your portfolio, and consistently practice to enhance your coding skills. And when you’ve had your first client and are ready to work as a freelance developer, Xolo can give you a big hand and help you navigate through the administrative and business side of freelancing. Start invoicing as a freelancer or set up your dream development business with Xolo!

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