9 Tips to Becoming a Freelance Coder

As a freelance media producer, Andrew Stockus was always tenacious—he’s passionate about learning, self-growth, and new ways to expand his skill set.

One day, motivated by curiosity, he googled online coding programs and noticed UCF Coding Boot Camp. Recognizing the University of Central Florida as a terrific school, he decided to enroll. He liked that it was a part-time, six-month program, which gave him time to continue working.

Now, after the course, Andrew has added coding to his freelance offerings. Here are his tips about how to make the most of your freelance coding career.

1. Seek structure—then mix in action

As a career choice, freelancing can be tough—you need to sell and deliver work. It’s a constant hustle. “As a freelancer, it’s all up to you; you have to figure it out,” Andrew said, adding that the program provided great structure and support for new freelancers.

“We started very simply. We didn’t get into JavaScript until we were comfortable with HTML and CSS. We didn’t get into database management until we could build our own front-end websites,” he said, adding that for new freelancers, this can mean growing your clientele slowly, or marketing a new skill set only after you’ve mastered it.

After you have a sense of structure, you add action. “The workload that you get with the boot camp is actually very similar to the real world of freelancing,” he said, adding that the program’s fast pace kept him on his toes.

2. Avoid distractions—and clear any nonessential obligations

Distraction is your enemy, and, as Andrew says, there’s nothing more distracting than your phone. “Before I would start coding, I would shut my phone off, because if the phone is near you and it rings—you’re going to get distracted,” he said. If you’re not willing to take that leap, go on airplane mode, he added.

Family isn’t a distraction, but if your family members don’t understand your busy schedule, it can be. Andrew is grateful that his family was very understanding—but he does recommend sitting them down to explain that your schedule isn’t exactly 9 to 5, and that you’re not always going to be available.

He also recommends limiting problem solving to 20 hours, no more. “Otherwise, it will consume you,” he said, recalling days and nights he had to cut himself off from getting obsessed.

3. Seek motivation everywhere

When the going gets tough, Andrew says to remember that this lifestyle is a choice. “For example, I had to work most of Memorial Day—and I didn’t mind because the boot camp is what I chose to do,” he said.

Even if you are ambitious, it’s nice to get a boost from others sometimes. Andrew remembers being inspired right off the bat by his instructor’s story.

“Michael, my instructor, was absolutely wonderful. He was actually a security guard before he became a programmer. He would work overnight and then go to the program in the morning. That’s about as hard as it gets,” he said.

4. Stay disciplined

Unlike his instructor, Andrew didn’t have to work regular overnight shifts. But he is no stranger to juggling responsibilities. While enrolled in the boot camp, he spent a whopping 80 hours a week freelancing. Part of how he made it work was to prioritize with intention—and to stay disciplined about it.

“If you can learn to prioritize things, that’s going to be the biggest help,” he said. “The first thing I do in the morning is to go to the gym or for a run. If you start your day like that, you’re going to be a hundred times more efficient throughout the day.”

Time management is always number one, he added.

5. Empathize with your clients—and be nice

Clients want to work with people that make them feel comfortable and understood, said Andrew, adding that it’s important to relate and adapt.

“The more you understand about their culture and about the way they do things, the more likely they’re going to work with you,” he said.

Beyond that, it’s good to be a nice guy (or woman). “You could be the best designer in the world but if you’re hard to work with, it’s going to be really hard to find clients. More than half of it is going to be your personality,” he said.

6. Say no when it feels right

That said, not every client prospect is the right fit. While it may sound difficult to turn down willing clients, Andrew says that it’s crucial that you interview them too—to see if they’re a good fit.

“If money is the only deciding factor, it’s not going to be a good business model. It has to be a good business relationship,” he said, adding that he’s very careful whom he chooses to work with.

7. Be open to group projects as potential business ideas

For Andrew’s group project, he and his team built GetArNow, designed to make augmented reality accessible and affordable to local mom-and-pop businesses, for marketing.

“We were able to scale it down and let them experience getting new customers using the technology,” he said, adding that what started as a school project is now turning into a real business.

“What’s interesting is that the partners for the group project were picked for us. I don’t know how they did it, but they picked the right people to put together,” he said.

8. Market your differentiators loud and clear

After his boot camp, Andrew was glad for the opportunity to use UCF as a solid reference. He found that completing a program from a recognized university enabled him to stand out from the plethora of coders that are self-taught, courtesy of YouTube or Google.

“Everything you need to learn is online, and you can find this information yourself. But it doesn’t give you much of a foundation. If you begin building a house starting from the roof, it’s never going to work,” he said.

The UCF boot camp boosted Andrew’s trust in himself—and his ability to code the right way. “I don’t have to worry about the project crashing, or having issues, or doing it wrong,” he said, adding that he’s a lot more comfortable walking into a meeting with that mentality.

“It’s given me so much confidence,” he said.

9. Leverage any stress

According to Andrew, a little bit of stress can be helpful and productive. “People are going to do their best when it’s crunch time. It’s interesting because deadlines are not as bad as people think,” he said, adding that the quick pace never allows people to lose momentum.

“For example, if you do something for 4 hours and you break away for a few days—it’s going to take you a while to get back into it. But if you never break that cycle and keep your momentum going, you can store a lot more information in your brain,” he said.

Through the coding boot camp, Andrew was able to grow and even bring value to his future clients by adding a coding notch to his belt—and to his thriving business.

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