Top 3 ways freelancing in IT can boost your technology career

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There are a few ways freelancing in the UK’s tech sector could hinder or even harm your career as a computer or digital professional.

But in our experience -- all 26 years of it, there’s far more advantages to IT freelancing than disadvantages!

In fact, let me reveal the top three ways freelancing in IT can boost your technology career – enhance it if you will, from where your professional prospects are today, writes Matt Collingwood, managing director if IT recruitment agency VIQU.

1. Higher earnings potential

Public sector organisations and companies requiring technology skills tend to be happier to pay a higher amount to a freelancer than a permanent employee, partly because of the flexibility using the former affords, and partly because of the specialist knowledge only freelancers can build up and provide.

Done right, I would estimate that the provision of short-term, niche expertise generates IT freelancers an average of 35% more than their full-time counterparts, in terms of pay and total remuneration.

You certainly do need to take into account factors like unpaid downtime; searching for suitable opportunities and tax/compliance. However, the higher take-home pay freelancing in IT offers can, in effect, compensate you for these areas of expenditure.

So I can confidently say that freelancing as an IT professional – ‘contracting’ as most freelance technologists in the UK call it -- can be extremely lucrative, if you do it right.

As I told Free-Work last week, be careful around how you’re perceived by businesses and potential clients; refine your level of experience and knowledge and show dedication to freelancing (with as minimal yo-yoing as possible), and you should flourish, financially.

2. Varied knowledge, rich experiences, and a truly diverse skillset

Employees of an IT department can gain a variety of experiences by working in different permanent positions. Potentially.

But freelancing gives you a more certain opportunity for exposure to a much wider array of technologies, industries, professional experiences – and on a regular basis, with new people and new workplaces as standard.

If you thrive working in different environments, with a multitude of stakeholders in a variety of sectors, then freelancing in IT could be particularly fulfilling for you.

Building up a portfolio that clearly highlights your extensive knowledge and eclectic experiences will make you more attractive to potential clients; personally fulfil you, and, in turn, offers you a springboard into an even richer tapestry of professional stints.

Freelancing in IT (as opposed to full-timing in IT) also means that you have the opportunity to focus solely on a particular specialism or sector if you want to. I know a graphic designer who loves supporting businesses in their infancy, with a specific focus on building their brand visually. He’s excellent at it, so he’s managed to build a reputation around this, and has the option to ‘pick and choose’ the projects and clients he works with.

As a freelancer, you could do the same -- whereas as a permanent employee you tend to need to be flexible, depending on what your employer requires. That will often be ‘business-as-usual’ work, with something exciting and more varied cropping up only occasionally.

Also, freelancing will give you the opportunity to run your own small technology business. This commercial activity will probably require an entirely different skillset to what you do day-to-day, which is likewise positive in terms of having exposure to something entirely new, and adding to your experience and skills.

Starting a freelance tech business from scratch involves everything from forming a company and taking on director responsibilities, to invoicing and book-keeping, to marketing and HMRC compliance.

Genuinely self-employed freelancing also means that you’re no longer beholden to one end-user. Therefore, you will invariably improve your ‘soft skills,’ including your ability to work independently, intuitively, and autonomously. With more than one customer, you tend to need to communicate very well too, to multi-task, to problem-solve, and to manage multiple stakeholders while juggling various pieces of work and commitments that you alone take on and execute (albeit to client-briefs).

3. Flexibility

The clue is in the name… ‘FREE – lancing!’

Many freelancers choose freelancing (as a limited company) because they want freedom and flexibility regarding when, how, and where they work. In short, freelancers tend to get into freelancing because they want autonomy.

What does autonomy as an IT freelancer look like? Well, I know tech freelancers who choose to work for eight, or just six months of the year, and then -- thanks to their generous take-home pay -- take the rest of the year off! In that downtime they tend to enjoy travelling, spending time with family, or looking after their other assets, such as property.

Then, there are those IT freelancers who want the flexibility to work both in the UK, and then abroad -- notably in the UK’s cold and dark winter months. I also know a digital freelancer who is at her desk from six o’clock in the morning -- sharp -- every day, so she can log-off at 1400 and not much more than a minute later!

For the vast majority of permanent employees, calling the shots like this is a dream. So, as a bonafide IT freelancer you tend to decide your own working pattern; whereby you set hours which suit you around whatever deliverables or commitments you’ve contractually agreed to. Freelancing offers unparalleled freedom over your work; an enviable amount compared with how much employees tend to get!

Final thought

If, in your eyes, a successful career as a techie means being able to optimise earnings; being exposed to numerous different professional experiences (which in turn make you a better technologist), and being able to balance work with personal life, then freelancing is the unquestionable, unbeatable way forward.

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