How to become a software developer contractor

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The software development industry in the UK is highly dynamic and competitive, making it both challenging and rewarding for individuals aspiring to become contractors in this space.

As technology continues to advance at a rather break-neck pace, the demand for skilled software developers remains consistently high.

Here, exclusively for Free-Work, is my quick-start guide on how to become a successful software developer contractor in the UK's competitive market, writes Ben Quinn, head of technology recruitment at staffing firm Leap29.

1. Acquire relevant skills and certifications

To stand out in the competitive landscape, it is crucial to possess a strong skill set and up-to-date certifications. Stay abreast of the latest programming languages, frameworks, and tools commonly used in the industry.

Certifications from reputable organisations or training providers can boost your credibility and demonstrate your expertise to potential clients.

But what do we mean by 'relevant skills' when it comes to software development contracting?

Well, highly sought-after right now is proficiency in programming languages such as Python, JavaScript, Java, and C#.

Expertise in frameworks like React, Angular, and Django is also in demand.

Additionally, developers skilled in cloud technologies, particularly AWS and Azure, are highly valued.

And it's Agile methodologies, including Scrum and Kanban, which are currently prevalent in terms of the processes embraced by development teams to enhance productivity and adaptability.

Furthermore, DevOps practices and tools such as Docker, Kubernetes, and Jenkins are crucial for streamlining development and deployment pipelines, making these competencies indispensable in the UK's software development landscape.

2. Build a strong portfolio

Create a comprehensive portfolio showcasing your past projects, technical expertise, and problem-solving abilities. Include detailed descriptions of each project, the technologies used, and the positive impact on the end-users or businesses, in terms of commercial value-add or costs-saved. A compelling portfolio can set you apart and attract potential clients seeking your specific skills.

3. Network and establish an online presence

Networking is paramount in the contracting world.

With software development it’s no different, meaning you should attend industry events, conferences, and meetups to connect with other professionals, recruitment agents and potential clients.

Additionally, establishing a strong online presence through professional social media platforms like LinkedIn, GitHub, and your own company /professional website is a must.

At the very least, software developers aspiring to be the go-to for the next lucrative development contract should actively engage in relevant discussions, share insights, and ideally, contribute to open-source projects to enhance your visibility.

4. Research market rates for software development

Understanding the market rates for software development contractors in the UK is crucial for negotiating fair and competitive contracts.

Research industry standards, taking into account factors such as experience, expertise, and geographic location.

Tools like salary surveys and online platforms can provide valuable insights into prevailing rates. These are worth checking before you enter into any rate negotiation so you can be certain what the current ‘market rate’ for your particular software development skillset is.

At the time of publication (mid-June 2024), we can disclose that day rates for software development contractors are between £500 and £550. As a freelance software engineer, you can command even more -- £600-£650.

5. Set up a limited company

Most freelance tech contractors in the UK operate through a limited company structure.

This can be tax-efficient, and it comes with the added bonus of liability protection.

Consult with a professional and qualified accountant to ensure compliance with tax and HMRC regulations, and to maximise your financial efficiency (your ‘take-home pay’).

Additionally, consider obtaining professional indemnity insurance to protect against potential legal issues.

6. Stay flexible and adapt

The software development field is dynamic, with technologies and methodologies evolving rapidly.

To remain competitive, stay flexible and be willing to adapt to new tools, languages, and frameworks.

Continuous learning and professional development are essential for staying at the forefront of the industry.

7. Deliver outstanding customer service

Client satisfaction is crucial for securing repeat business and positive referrals as a freelance software developer.

Communicate effectively, meet deadlines, and be proactive in addressing potential issues.

A satisfied client is more likely to recommend your services to others, contributing to a positive reputation and a steady stream of opportunities.

How to become a software development contractor, in a nutshell…

Becoming a successful software developer contractor in the competitive UK market requires a combination of technical proficiency, business acumen, and effective networking. By acquiring relevant skills, building a strong online presence, and staying adaptable, you can navigate the challenges and thrive in this dynamic industry. Remember to continuously invest in your professional development and deliver outstanding customer service to build a sustainable and rewarding contracting career.

Written by

Ben Quinn

Senior technology recruitment consultant at at Leap29

Since joining Leap29 Ben has made a significant impact in the business, helping to build its recruitment team and client-base from scratch, delivering recruitment services for key clients. Ben is an excellent relationship-builder and has a strong record of recruiting for software professionals across Digital & Development. Ben uses a variety of headhunting, talent reports, networking, and sourcing techniques to ensure a consistent and constant flow of excellent qualified, highly attractive, and sought-after professionals across Europe.

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