2020 State of Freelance Development




Freelancers are constantly re-assessing their business practices. Every decision that freelancers make—from client acquisition strategies to billing cadence to hourly rate—is a function of our best guess of what the rest of the market looks like. With the stakes so high (we are running our own businesses, after all), we're more apt to settle in to a status quo that may be leaving dollars on the table, rather than experimenting with new solutions that might win us more business. Sound familiar?

 

We set out to stop that cycle by asking your colleagues the questions you're too polite to ask.

 

Like, does spending 3+ hours per week on client acquisition really pay off? Or, how much do freelancers actually stand to make on a long-term engagement?

Other annual surveys gave us excellent insight into either freelancer-specific OR developer-specific data, but without a focus group of specifically freelance developers, these reports left our questions unanswered.

So, we surveyed freelance developers across every demographic we could reach to identify trends among highest earners, so freelancers can make data-backed decisions when it comes to growing their practice.

- Team Gun.io
guniologo

 

 

 

 



Table of Contents
 

 

1. Key Takeaways

 

2. Freelancing Basics

 

3. Win Quality Clients

 

4. Let's Talk Business

 

5. Making Money Moves

 

6. Optimizing Tools

 

7. Level Up

 

8. The Focus Group

 

 

 

 

Co-Producers

 

Paw_Logo_RGBblue-1
 
Paw is a full-featured tool that lets you test and describe web APIs. It has a lightning fast native macOS interface to compose requests, real-time team collaboration, client code generation and can import and export API definitions.
 
cropped-Freelance-DC-CMYK-2

Freelance DC is leading a growing grassroots movement to ensure freelancing is accessible, sustainable, and equitable for anyone who wants to work independently.
 
indi-logo-sm
 
indi is the digital banking solution for smart freelancers. Save for taxes, track 1099 income, categorize expenses, and bank on the go - all in one app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Key Takeaways

Correlations between the highest earners and their business choices.

Filling your client pipeline:


The highest earners tend to fill their freelance pipelines on job boards and through organic leads.

Optimizing your engagement length:


Freelancers with the highest yearly income ($150,000+ per year)
and the highest hourly rate tend to have client engagements that last over 6 months at a time.

Formatting your rate:


The highest earners tend to charge clients a monthly retainer or an hourly rate.

Determining your hourly rate:


Freelancers who charge the highest hourly rate ($100+ per hour) tend to have more than 5 years of experience in their field.

 
 

The Focus Group

This data set is comprised of a diverse cross section of the freelance development community.

Occupation

Developers
83%
Team Lead
8%
Other*
5%
Designers
4%

 *Product managers, data scientists, etc.

 

Location

Non-US
63%
US
37%



Years of experience

4-9 years
40%
20+ years
25%
10-14 years
16%
15-19 years
9%
1-3 years
8%
< 1 year
2%



Years freelancing

1-3 years
30%
4-9 years
29%
> 1 year
21%
10-14 years
9%
20+ years
7%
15-10 years
3%

 

 

 

Freelancing Basics

How are freelancers organizing their work?

Is freelancing a viable career path?

How freelancers organize their practice:

Freelancing full-time
56%
Freelancing to supplement their full-time income
28%
Freelancing to tide them over between full-time jobs
9%
Freelancing to find their next full-time engagement
7%

 

 

Should I allocate resources to an office space?

Where freelancers are working:

 

Home office
83%
Their own dedicated office
11%
Co-working space
6%


Canva Design DAEKne2Z0-w-1
More than 75% of freelancers
were already working out of a home office before COVID-19 began.


 

I want to freelance, but do I have enough field experience?

How many years of experience freelancers have before
breaking out on their own:

 

4-9 years
33%
1-3 years
27%
> 1 year
14%
10-14 years
13%
15-19 years
8%
20+ years
6%

 

 

 

Win Quality Clients

Navigating client aquisition like a pro.

Has COVID-19 affected my competitors' ability to find clients?

How freelancers have been impacted by COVID-19:

 

No impact
48%
Slightly more difficult to find clients
24%
Much more difficult to find clients
19%
Slightly easier to find clients
6%
Much easier to find clients
3%


Canva Design DAEKne2Z0-w-1
Freelancers the least impacted 
by COVID-19 tended to have at least 4 years of experience.


 

How much of my client pipeline can I expect to be recurring?

What percent of freelancer's clients return for future work:

 

< 25%
29%
25%-50%
28%
75%-100%
23%
50%-75%
21%

 

 

What is the best method to find new clients?

How freelancers fill their client pipeline:

 

Freelance platforms like Gun.io
71%
Network referrals
66%
Job boards
39%
Organic leads
29%
Cold calls and emails
13%


Canva Design DAEKne2Z0-w-1
The majority of freelancers
who fill their pipeline with freelance platforms like Gun.io have over half of their clients return for future work.


 

Am I spending enough time nurturing new client leads each week?

How many hours freelancers spend on their client pipeline a week:

 

1-3 hours
38%
< 1 hour
24%
3-6 hours
23%
6+ hours
15%

 

 

 

I plan to work on several projects at a time; what is the standard length of a client engagement?

How long freelancers work with a single client:

 

1-3 months
30%
3-6 months
26%
12+ months
19%
6-12 months
19%
< 1 month
7%


Canva Design DAEKne2Z0-w-1
The majority of freelancers
who earn more than $100,000 per year work on engagements that last longer than three months.


 

How should I format my rate?

How freelancers charge their clients:

 

Hourly
72%
Fixed rate
16%
Monthly retainer
7%
Other
5%

 

 

Let's Talk Business

Merging your technical and entrepreneurial skills.

What factors should I consider when setting my hourly rate to optimize my income?

Freelancers' top considerations when setting an hourly rate:

 

None; their rate is fixed
28%
The size/profitability of the client
24%
Interest in the gig
20%
Market competition
14%
Their location
10%


Canva Design DAEKne2Z0-w-1
On average freelancers reported charging 
between $42 to $79 per hour over the last five years, and earning an average of $153,821 per year all-in.


 

Being a freelancer means I run my own business; how should I label that?

How freelancers structure their business:

 

Sole Proprietorship
51%
LLC
31%
S-Corp
9%
Self-employed
8%

 

 

 

There are a lot of terms to describe what I do; how should I articulate my role to clients?

How freelancers describe their business:

 

Freelancer
43%
Contractor
32%
Self-employed
12%
Small Business
12%
Gig Worker
2%

 

 

Making Money Moves

More about the unique financial decisions required of freelancers.

Is getting paid the most common concern with other freelancers?

Financial considerations freelancers are most concerned about:

 

Knowing they're receiving fair pay
87%
Saving for and paying taxes
76%
Developing an emergency savings account
74%
Access to affordable healthcare
72%
Planning for retirement
71%
Collecting non- or late payments from clients
69%
Access to life insurance and other benefits
61%

 

 

 

What financial tools can I invest in to simplify my life?

Most common financial tools used by freelancers:

 

Payment platforms
60%

(e.g. Square, PayPal)

Accounting software
42%

(e.g. Quickbooks, Freshbooks)

Tax software
31%

(e.g. Turbotax, H&R Block)

Banking for freelancers
13%

(e.g. Indi, lili)

Retirement apps
8%

(e.g. Betterment, Acorns)

Benefit platforms
7%

(e.g. Stride Health)

Financing platforms
2%

(e.g. Qwil, Joust)

 

 

 

 

Freelancing means I'm my own HR. Should I be an expert in everything that an HR department typically handles?

Financial topics freelancers don't have an adequate understanding of:

 

Taxes
42%
Expenses
39%
Retirement
36%
Benefits
35%
Budgeting
33%
Savings
27%
Debt
15%


Canva Design DAEKne2Z0-w-1
The vast majority of freelancers who manage 
their own finances feel they have access to all the financial tools they need to be successful.


 

 

Optimizing your Tools

Working with the right tools to acquire the best roles.

I'm having a hard time winning roles with my existing skillset, what technologies are most commonly used?

Most common technologies freelancers use in their work:

 

JS
59%
DB
44%
React
42%
NodeJS
41%
Python
39%
Devops
27%
UI
24%
Angular
18%
PHP
17%
Java
15%
Vue
12%
Android
11%
iOS
10%

 

 

 

I've recently seen more roles requesting web API experience, what web APIs are most frequently used?

Most common Web APIs freelancers use in their work:

 

REST
80%
GraphQL
16%
SOAP
2%
Other
2%

 

 

 

As a freelancer, should I become an expert in web APIs?

How often freelancers work with web APIs:

 

Daily
58%
Weekly
21%
Rarely
14%
Monthly
7%

 

 

 

I want to develop more efficiently using APIs—which API tools should I use?

Most common API tools freelancers use in their work:

 

Postman
79%
Swagger
56%
OpenAPI
26%
Paw
8%
Insomnia
8%
Apigee
4%
Rapid API
3%
Katalon
1%
Spotlight
1%

 

 

Level Up

Becoming a key player in the freelance market.

What are the most reputable tools to help improve my technical skills?

Tools freelancers use to upskill:

 

Learn Code the Hard Way
40%
Coursera
19%
Udemy
15%
Pluralsight
7%

 

 

 

I specialize in several areas of my field. Do I really need to spend time learning new skills?

How often freelancers proactively learn new skills:

 

Often
71%
Occasionally
22%
When it's relevant for a gig
6%

 

 

 

Will clients accept my tooling recommendations?

How often clients default to freelancer's tooling recommendations:

 

Occasionally
52%
Yes
41%
No
8%


Canva Design DAEKne2Z0-w-1
The majority of freelancers 
are trusted by their clients to make necessary tooling recommendations for their project.


 

 

 

 

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