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8 Soft Skills Every Freelance Developer MUST HAVE in 2020

As a freelance developer you’ve worked hard to develop your tech skills.

Command of programming languages.

Frameworks.

Database mastery.

UX for days.

Why are soft skills important as a freelance developer?

These skills are a special blend of natural talents and learned behavior. They can be applied to every day situations.

Soft skills are how you interact with the world around you.

Firming up your soft skills will make you more approachable. Appear more knowledgeable. Instill confidence in your clients.

And ultimately you will make more money.

We all want financial independence, right?

As a freelance developer, fine-tuning these soft skills will help get you there faster.

Soft skills apply to things like:

  • Contracts — Do you know how to write one? One that you can understand? One that your client understands? 
  • Website Maintenance — Does your web server need an update or security patch?
  • Staff — Are you sober? Well-rested? On Time? Experienced? Be your dream employee.
  • Contractors — Are they on schedule and staying on task?
  • Clients — Are they satisfied with your contract? 

Today I will cover the 8 soft skills that every freelance developer MUST have in 2020:

  • stress management
  • organization
  • leadership
  • problem solving
  • time management
  • work ethic
  • professionalism
  • negotiation

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“Alright already. Give me those soft skills!”

Coming right up.

First, you have to take a deep breath.

1. Stress Management as a freelance developer

Let’s face it.

Work equals stress.

  • Clients – Is one difficult to work with? Making outrageous demands?
  • Deadlines – Are they approaching faster than a speeding bullet?
  • Computer crash – Did you remember to back up those files?
  • E-mail pileup – Which ones are most important?

It seems like there are not enough hours in the day.

What can you do about it?

First of all…

You need to calm down!

Freaking out is not going to help your situation. Shutting down will not get the job done.

Here are some good ways to relieve stress:

Even out your stress levels.

This will help you get organized.

2. ORGANIZATION

Being organized will set you up for success. It will streamline every process.

Create the framework and fill in the blanks.

  • Make a list of what needs to be done – Again, lists help!
  • Keep your projects separate – Work on one thing at a time.
  • Have a designated work space – Think about turning your living room into a workspace.
  • Keep your workspace clean – File away anything you don’t need. Throw out trash during breaks.
  • Stay free of distractions – Even something like an open window on a noisy street can shave time off your productivity.

Clear your work areas of that distracting clutter.

You have to keep yourself accountable. This is done through…

3. LEADERSHIP

Lead yourself to success.

You are your own manager – act like it!

Be the overbearing micromanaging boss that you can’t stand.

“Get back to work … faster!”

Then do the work to keep yourself off your back!

Always deliver a quality product.

Lay out your expectations:

  • Set your goals – Identify what you want to accomplish.
  • Hold yourself accountable – Then make sure you get it done.

Set the bar high for yourself and your business. A good way to do this is to ask yourself “Is this something I would buy?”

If the answer is no, try again. Revise. Start over if you have to.

This standard will help you hone in on your problem solving skills.

4. Problem Solving as a freelance developer

As a freelance developer you will have to deal with tons of problems. Unreliable clients. Gnarly code. Larger than expected projects. Late payments. Illness or injury.

Or worse… maybe a period of NO clients.

If you’re having a hard time finding clients, RealToughCandy offers some real-world actionable advice in her top-rated book Freelance Newbie.

How will you deal with any of these scenarios?

You need a solid set of problem solving skills:

  • Identify the problem – Simplify the problem to one sentence.
  • Make a list of options – There’s that list again! Write down possible solutions to your problem.
  • Evaluate – Create columns of pros and cons for each scenario.
  • Select – Pick the best possible solution.
  • Act – Get to work and fix the problem.
photo of Charles F. Kettering with his quote "A problem well stated is a problem half solved"
Charles Kettering – Inventor & engineer, holder of 186 patents

5. Time management

As a freelance developer you have all the time in the world, right? A few more episodes of Workaholics won’t hurt…

right?

Wrong.

Do not get into this habit!

Learn when to shut it off.

True story:

I failed freshman chemistry because I couldn’t stop playing the ’90s version of Candy Crush. “Just 5 more minutes,” I thought to myself. Then BAM!

That 5 minutes turned into 3 months.

Make an agreement with yourself. Set boundaries that you won’t check any of these during work hours:

  • news
  • recreational email
  • texts
  • game stats
  • social media (this is a big one)

As self-taught web developer Donovan says, “find a way to fight off those temptations and the results will show.”

Work when you plan to. It doesn’t have to be 9 to 5. Work the hours you can handle. Take breaks every couple hours.

But set a schedule and stick with it.  

Experiment to find what works best for you.

Strengthening your time management will contribute to a stronger work ethic.

6. Work Ethic as a freelance developer

The reality is that we all have to work to make money. This is true no matter who you work for.

Even if it’s yourself.

As a freelance developer you are in a unique position.

You are your own manager and inventor of ideas.

AND you set your own schedule. AND choose which clients to accept. All on your terms.

But are you doing all of this with a strong work ethic?

  • You have to show up for work or you won’t have a job. Not working means no clients. No clients means no work. Which means no money for rent, food, insurance, games, movies, dates.
  • Don’t cut corners to increase profit. Honor the agreement you made with your client. Charge based on your skill set and the time it will take.
  • Be dependable. Your clients trust you. Don’t make them regret it. Create reasonable deadlines and deliver consistently.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” John Wooden – former head coach at the University of California LA

A good way to show clients you have an awesome work ethic is by looking the part.

7. Professionalism

Professionalism as a freelance developer can be difficult. We work alone all day. Nobody to impress.

It’s easy to forget how we should present ourselves once we leave the house.

Good clients don’t want a drinking buddy. They don’t want to give you money if you have grease stains on your shirt. Or are telling offensive jokes. Or if you’re scratching weird parts of your body.

How do you transform yourself to an image of success?

  • Dress appropriately – I’m not saying wear a suit or a pencil skirt. But you don’t want to wear the shirt you slept in either. You can dress casually and look presentable.
  • Be polite – Treat clients with courtesy and respect at all times.
  • Keep in contact – Be available. When clients reach out, respond! Call them back. Shoot them an email.
  • Be reliable – Clients like to know you’re consistent.

Once you nail the art of professionalism you have have the power of…

8. Negotiation

Negotiation as a freelance developer is difficult!

Have you ever undercharged someone? Overcharged? Have you ever put waaaaaaaay too much time into a project that just didn’t deserve it?

We all have.

Which one are you still kicking yourself over?

THAT is your motivation to becoming confident in negotiation.

Take the time to seriously consider: What are you worth?

If you think not much, so will your client.

People want a deal no matter how talented you are. If I could get Janet Jackson to play my backyard BBQ for $50 I’d do it.

People like to haggle. They want to think they’re getting the best deal possible.

So work with it.

Let’s say you want to charge $5000 for a project. Beef that number up a bit. Say… $5600. This will give you wiggle room with your client. You now have a better shot of agreeing on a price you’ll be happy with.


To summarize, stress management, organization, leadership, problem solving, time management, work ethic, professionalism and negotiation are 8 soft skills you absolutely must fine-tune as a freelance developer.

Remember that all of these soft skills can always be improved upon.

Consistently work on improving them. This will build your confidence, your business, and your bank account.


Interested in furthering your education as a freelance developer?

RTC has awesome real world advice in the course Freelance Newbie: Become a Freelance Web Developer on RealToughCandy.io

freelance newbie course with horned antelope cartoon writing and drinking coffee with laptop
Freelance Newbie course on RealToughCandy.io

The course covers:

  • business plans
  • workspace optimization
  • services
  • pricing
  • finding clients
  • contracts

And that’s just for starters.

Get started today and further your career as a freelance developer!


  1. What are 8 soft skills every freelance developer must have?

    1. Stress management
    2. Organization
    3. Leadership
    4. Problem solving
    5. Time management
    6. Work ethic
    7. Professionalism
    8. Negotiation

  2. Is it important to make to-do lists?

    It is very important to make to-do lists. To-do lists reduce stress, keep organized and help to prioritize tasks.

  3. How do you deal with problem solving as a freelance developer?

    You have to identify the problem. Make a list of options. Evaluate the outcomes of each. Pick the best solution. Then, act on it.

  4. What do you need to cut out of work to stay on track?

    Don't check the news, social media, personal email, texts, or game stats.

  5. Is work ethic important as a freelance developer?

    Work ethic is absolutely important as a freelance developer. Keep yourself accountable and give each project dedication and integrity.