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Ask HN: How much are you earning as a freelance app developer?
152 points by cronjobma on July 17, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 115 comments
What are you averaging per year, as a freelance app developer?

I make $7 US dollars an hour designing and developing apps as a full-time employee. I’m paying off a new car, pay rent, and live quite a good life compared to others in my country (third-world country).

Compared to other countries salaries, mine is awful. Compared to local salaries, it’s actually about 4x the minimum wage. The cost of living here is quite low (I pay 150$ per month for a single bedroom with bathroom). Where this kind of salary hurts is when:

- traveling

- buying online

- saving for the future (maybe I will want to move overseas, and I also need savings for emergencies)

- paying for study (courses, uni overseas)

- buying work computers or phones

- buying software or services (e.g. Photoshop, Sketch)

My friend Jay El-Kaake and I wrote two books on freelance consulting. We would be happy to send you both copies for free. It is a shame, for a variety of reasons, that someone intelligent and competent is earning $7 USD hourly. Email zack@codefor.cash

I'm so much interested in that book to improve my business skills. Any reference?

If you're interested in my book, the link is in my profile; it has practical tips specifically for freelance programmers/developers/consultants/coders/software engineering people. But if you are purely interested in improving your business skills, then I recommend reading "The Personal MBA" by Josh Kaufman.

Also, I'm a developer but my father is a Silicon Valley business lawyer. He wrote a chapter of "The Software Engineer's Guide to Freelance Consulting" that is available for free. https://codefor.cash/legalideas

Thanks, I’ll take you up on that!

now that you have revealed that you are from a third world country, cheapos in the first world countries will try to outsource work to you, which is very good IMO. But at the same time blaming third world programmers for taking their jobs. Pretty much like blaming China for taking the manufacturing jobs, but first world country people wanting things cheap products from Amazon.

I was going to offer him/her $7.01 an hour. Rats!

Are you interested in any side work? I'm always looking for good freelancers. My email is in my profile if you want to get in touch.

Anyway I could connect with you about app development? I can offer over 7$/hr

Sure, can you share an email?

Also working in a slightly "better" 3rd world country and my salary is 15$/h, while it's enough here, it becomes a problem when I travel, especially to 1st world countries.

So where do you live?

Small Latin American country, -4:00 UTC

What do you build? I'm looking for talented freelance developers.

I don't want to share my exact rate, but I easily make a month what a Silicon Valley engineer at a seed startup can.. and since I live in a developing country it's an order of magnitude more than most people my age.

If you're a brilliant engineer and are looking to work for a freelance app developer, I recommend Toptal[1].

While I now work at Toptal, I first joined the company through their freelance network, got a project with one of their clients, and eventually was onboarded onto the company itself. My experience with them started as someone that "wanted to work for international clients out of Pakistan" and it was brilliant. I whole-heartedly recommend joining Toptal for freelancers looking to get something going on the side. You can choose your own rate, so you can go as low as $10, or go as crazy as, jeez, I dunno, $500.. although the higher you are, the more difficult it is to land a client.

[1]: Toptal Referral link: https://www.toptal.com/#contract-just-respected-software-arc...

From their website[1]:

The Top 3%

"Everyone at Toptal has a proven track record and elite industry experience. There are Toptalers from Wharton, MIT, CERN, and Google, as well as Django committers, Top 100 Rails contributors, leading global designers and art directors, professors, founders and more."

Holy crap man I'm not even going to bother, I'm none of that.

Impostor syndrome intesifies

[1] https://www.toptal.com/top-3-percent

Don't let that get to you, they have an intense screening process but after you pass it, that's just it.

I'm 25, I have a degree in Economics and Finance, and no formal computer education. All I have is my self-taught experience.

The first time I tried, for all my confidence, I flunked it really bad, which came as a shock to me. I mean, I knew I was good. The recruiter gave me a timeout and said I could reapply later. The next time I'd studied my butt off, solved advanced level coding exercises and reached 4 Kyu on codewars.com

At that point, I breezed through the exercises, and when I was asked to build a live project, I had fun learning and creating my first React web app.. I'd been meaning to learn React, but never had time before.

Of the dozens (dozens!) of people I've referred to Toptal none have passed the screening process. However, I strongly believe it's because they didn't push through it. I know the screening process itself can be beat if you take the time to improve yourself.

Besides, on the other side of the screening process is the greatest community of Ninja developers I've ever seen in my life! Anything I have trouble with, I can discuss on our community chat. I've never been part of a community like this before. And the clients are absolutely brilliant, since Toptal screens clients too!

Thanks a lot for sharing your experience. You are working purely remote, I assume? I'd be curious to see how I'd fare in their screening process.

Can you tell me roughly how many hours in total the screening process takes? (excluding the time you took to study) And how many hours did you spend on the live project? Was it an actual project, or just a dummy one?

I'm asking because I'm working full time, and the whole screening process sounds very time intensive. Not sure if all of this could be done after work hours, or if I'd have to take a couple of days of vacation.

Yes, I work purely remotely.

The screening process shouldn't be that tough. It's broken into multiple stages. The first three are short sessions. The longest of which was around (I think, don't hold me to it) an hour.

The project is a confidential project you make according to specifications, but they give you enough time to pull it off, even with a full-time job.

Thanks! Maybe I'll give it a shot...

Just curious but where are you based? From previous hacker news comments it sounds like toptal pays poorly for the U.S., ok for Western Europe, and really well for the rest of the world.

Pakistan :) but I know a dev from Switzerland whose rate is much higher than the US devs.. never heard him complain.

Honestly, all the devs I've spoken to at Toptal love working here, and I'm no exception. But you should really try it out.. at worst, you'll fail and you'd be exactly where you are right now.

> You can choose your own rate, so you can go as low as $10, or go as crazy as, jeez, I dunno, $500.. although the higher you are, the more difficult it is to land a client.

I'm concerned about sites like Toptal and this price-cutting mindset they engender, because in a lot of cases, even 500 dollars is an awful rate.

For example, 500 dollars, for two weeks of full-time work, is $6.25 / Hr. If you are an American developer, this is an unconsiderably low rate, literally less than minimum wage, in a field where salaries of about $30 / Hr are unheard-of low, even for entry entry engineers.

If it is hard to land a client at these fair rates on services like TopTal, in a lot of cases this would be a good reason to avoid that service and to seek either more traditional work or independent freelance opportunities.

I also feel it's important for freelancers, at least if they're based in America, to defend the value of their work that demands months or years of technical training. Yes, I'd agree the entire situation changes if you're a developer from a different country in which being paid something like 10 dollars an hour could support a family. However, I still encourage you to recognize that because most of the clients are based in America, they are more than capable of paying you rates far higher than $500 for good work, but people must first reduce their willingness to work at $10 to make $500 a norm. Be the change you wish to see, if you are capable.

In the end, choosing to work for higher-paying clients and avoiding clients who don't care about paying a fair market rate is about life satisfaction. If you are being paid 10 dollars for technical development work which will take longer than an hour, they don't care about you or paying you fairly. This means you can expect to be treated like the slave their hourly rate implies you are. If you work for clients which pay you market rates, besides the fact that they're paying you more, they will treat you better simply because they respect your time.

Oh no, I'm sorry, I probably didn't explain right.

Toptal let's you decide your hourly rate. $500/hour is awful in the sense that it's too darn high! :)

You're welcome to set whatever rate you think your time is worth, ofcourse!

Glad to know your story and I have been interested with trying them but haven't yet mustered the courage yet. Which languages/frameworks do you think are popular with the clients on Toptal. I am asking this because I am mostly interested in Java/Spring and I am not sure whether that would get me enough gigs? Should I move to Ruby/Rails, Python/Django, Javascript, etc?

It doesn't matter. Most of the clients I worked with didn't have a running operation before and wanted me to start with a framework I was most comfortable with and so I ran with Ruby on Rails.

Had I been a Java/Spring dev, I would've used that. It's what YOU do that matters.


Hey all, Matt from Bonsai (YC W16) here. We provide contracts, proposals, invoices, and other tools to freelancers, mostly developers and designers.

We used our anonymized data to break out what freelancers earn with different experience levels, skill sets, locations, etc: https://www.hellobonsai.com/rates

Hey Matt, love the idea but your rates for England are completely wrong.

For an iOS developer in England with 3-5 years experience, the mode is £120-£140 per hour?

Please show me one single contract advertised in England where the daily rate is £1k.

Why is Europe excluded ?

When we first launched we didn't have enough data for Europe, but we do now and will update it soon with rates for most European countries and a few others.

They might not have enough data for Europe.

Europe plz.

I know a guy making $10-15k a month from his apps. He's a full time employee now, but when he had kids, he stayed home, taught himself android, and made apps for 5 years while his wife worked full time. Now they are in maintenance mode and print cash.

What apps did he make? How did he make money off of them?

I don't want to reveal anything that might jeopardize his apps with competition (and therefore hurt his family's income). He made games (more like word games and puzzles than real-time) and monetized them with ads. One trick he did was to rebrand his existing games with different titles, graphics, etc. to create his own competition, so sometimes he owns multiple apps in the top results for the same game category. Very impressive.

Re-branding has always been an interesting thing to me, and the companies I work at (imho) underutilize it. I have friends who work in manufacturing, and all of their "competition" is made by their company, it's just branded towards different market segments.

If you can come up with an interesting enough formula but with varied enough gameplay you can get some cool stuff. Kairosoft comes to mind and I'm sure they've really made bank on their games.

I'm 1/3 of a three person dev. shop — does that count? We charge 250/person/hr and have been doing 40+ hr weeks for the last few years. We'll also make some margin if we need to sub out occasionally as client needs increase. This stability is really shaky though as all this work was from a single client.

You've been making 7-figures of a single client for a few years?

Most people call that employment =p

including the tax man ...

How do consulting shops charge so much?

I mean, yes they got higher overhead than a single dev, but that's their own problem and not the problem of the client, so what's the difference fro a single dev here?

You're asking a few questions here. I can answer from my experience working at a consulting shop that charged a lot of money...

> Are they charging more because of overhead?

Partially. There's overhead you wouldn't get with a single developer like office space and administrative overhead. A big overlooked piece of overhead is sales overhead. It's much easier to find 40 hours of consulting work a week than 120 hours of work. If its a premium development shop, the developer salaries are probably higher as well. This all may cut into the margins, but it doesn't really explain why they charge so much.

> Why do they charge so much?

Because they have clients who are willing to pay that much. Plain and simple.

> What does the client get that they wouldn't with a single developer?

Some companies are bad at finding and retaining talent. This includes contractors. They also might not know how to manage a project. For a lot of companies, they need something done, but this simply isn't their area of expertise. Some single developers can manage their own projects, but sometimes they need more than just a single developer. The workload may be much higher than what a single person could manage, and hiring 3 individual developers can be much less efficient than hiring a team of 3 developers who already work well together. Perhaps they need a designer as well, or they're looking for a project manager who is really good at communicating business needs with them.

Just to add to this, these clients are risk averse and not cost conscious. They don't feel comfortable dealing with a sole developer who could disappear, even if the sole developer is twice as good at half the price. They do feel more comfortable dealing with XYZ firm with a professional looking PM who has a "bench" of developers. If a dev leaves, XYZ firm has the responsibility to fill in the replacement, not the client.

So you're saying it's a team factor and a single dev can't get into that 200€/person/hour range?

I'd never attach a number to anything I said because its all relative, and I'd just be asking to be proven wrong. Like all things its pretty relative. There's teams that can charge more than developers and developers that can charge more as teams.

The number you threw out doesn't seem unreasonable though.

I don't want to question your knowledge :)

I'm just trying to understand what is needed to get ahead of the game :)

Experienced solo devs can get into the $200/hr range.

A single dev can, with the right clients. Having solid skills and work/project history helps, too.

The single dev isn't charging enough?

Last time I told someone I want 100€ an hour he laughed at me.

I charge per month, but it would be about 40€ an hour.

OTOH, the last time I told someone I wanted $200/hour, he said "if you can fix the problem today, I'll write you a check on the spot!"

Haha, yes.

A friend of mine took 80€ a hour but they only took like 20-30h a month.

I charged per month, got paid below 80€/h but ended up with much more than him.

But well, here are some people on HN who charge per hour AND get more absolute... so it's probably also a bit of luck?

I'm an Android and Ruby on Rails dev and I've been working as a freelance for a couple of years now.

I am making quadruple the amount my peers are making in Eastern Europe while working less hours and remotely.

Most clients I get is through networks such as Toptal, which I would wholeheartedly recommend. I'm also a member of Gigster, which I can't quite recommend at the moment, and there is CodeControl and Povio labs which I would also recommend.

I think the best approach is to sign up for a number of these networks. It will definitely kickstart your freelance career and will help you have a constant stream of potential projects and offers.

However, do avoid websites such as Upwork or other networks which don't have a technical interview process as these are very likely flooded with extremely low-wage and/or low-quality workers. It is much harder to land a good client on these websites.

Here's my Toptal referral link: https://www.toptal.com/#work-with-the-best-programmers-today

But again, don't just apply there :)

Just asked someone else this question: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14795245. Maybe you could also give your perspectives on the same.

For the last few years I've made a little over $100K/year. This is mostly from doing staff-aug-style Ruby on Rails programming at $100/hr.

This year I've transitioned into a mix of coding and training. From training I've earned between $5,000/week and $13,000/week.

How does 'training' look like. You give in-person workshops? Sell online courses?

In-person workshops, usually 3-day or 5-day classes for big companies.

How did you switch into training?

I make about 0-300k/year fixing apps that others either weren't able to finish or where they architected themselves into scaling issues. Aside from that, I am a part time programming consultant who makes about 80k a year (I have a chronic illness so I spend a lot of time not working, and it's helpful for me to work in intense bursts with rests in between. It's difficult for me to have normal full time employment in the US because of the chronic illness.)

It averages out to about $250k/year on 30/h/week

This sounds cool. Two questions:

1. Without giving away secrets, how do you find such clients?

2. You must have some great stories. Would you care to share any?

1. I found my first few clients literally through happenstance -- people were describing problems they were having with enough clarity that my 20 years of dev experience made it fairly clear that the problems were recoverable. Now, I mostly find customers through referrals and by attending networking events and talking to people who sound like they have both money and problems.

2. My customers have the expectation of confidentiality. I will make these generalizable statements though: understanding ORMs and understanding SQL are related but not identical; CAP is hard; picking keys is hard; confounding your data model and your interface is painful for users; sharding is hard; pick UX libraries based on how consistent they are not on how new they are; developers that are producing 10x the code may not be producing 10x the value; if week on week, your project is consistently n/n+1 * 100% done, you have a estimation problem and just the fact that you're agile doesn't help with this; the whole point of tags was that not everyone agrees on categories; queuing theory is real; your spreadsheets aren't as consistent as you think; the fact that an engineer can figure out the bigO of a sort doesn't mean they understand efficiency in real life.

(2 cont) your PM may only be paying attention to the user interface and not what lies beneath it; changing plans all the time isn't agile, it's just chaos; you have to keep an eye on whether you're doing TDD or just architecting mocks; n+1 queries are hard once you start encountering real data sizes.

For someone with health issues that can't work full time (or has to work freelance) what tech skills would you recommend?

I recommend API development and not front end development. I recommend companies that don't have on-call requirements for engineers. I recommend against directly working with a company that has agile processes, if you can manage it.

You'll be fine if you can produce, but if you can only produce on the week level and not the day level, you'll have troubles with companies that want to talk about the progress you're making day to day.

I have 3 API services, 2 desktop apps & 3 iOS+Android apps that I have developed over the course of 7 years after my CS engineering degree in a third world country, pretty much like the @throwawaytree here. My earnings are at average rounded converted to 6000 USD/month less server/misc. costs. I live with my parents(no rent) in a village in this state in India https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerala . I am 29. I think I have enough savings for a lifetime and most of the revenues are on auto pilot.

How are your apps and services monetised?

What technology did you build them all with?

I am a a web (app) developer - not sure if that counts :)

Right now I am working as a frontend lead for react apps and make 75-80€ / hour. I am living in Frankfurt, Germany.

There is a huge shortage of experienced javascript developers here.

Are you doing this full-time (20days * 8hours * 75€ / month)?

Are you charging per hour?

Yes and yes - I am working at my clients office mostly - around 1.5 days/week is homeoffice via remote desktop.

Ah, nice.

I read charging per hour is bad. I charge per month, but I don't make 80€ per hour (also React stuff), haha.

My client wanted it that way. And they also pre-booked hours until mid of december. I guess they try what they can to keep talent.

The site Codementor just did a survey of 5,000+ freelance app developers to see how much they made in different countries across the world.

The U.S., New Zealand and Australia had the highest average hourly rates at $70/hr, and Northern Africa had the lowest at $41/hr

Here's the full article: https://www.codementor.io/blog/how-much-do-freelance-develop...

App freelancing (in the US) has been killed by cheap hourly rates thanks to globalization. As a client, why would I pay $100/h for a local Dev versus $10/h for a dev located in India or anywhere else where the cost of living is much lower?

As a full time "app" developer I make $200K/y in the US. I tried freelancing on the side but it's pretty worthless. We're talking pennies by hour spent coding.

I know many people who are doing very well in the mobile development freelancing space, at least in the NYC area. Many gigs are still onsite or at least benefit from some kind of physical presence, so if that's a factor, then it's a much more level playing field.

I'm a full-time mobile developer as well. Haven't taken a crack at contracting yet myself, but I think that the key to success is a tried and true one: connections, connections, connections. If you're going on these freelance-farm type job sites, you're in a race to the bottom for poor quality gigs.

Also, I've heard that it's pretty hard to 'get started on the side' because many decent contracts want more of your time than you can reasonably offer when you have a full-time gig. Kind of a chicken-or-the-egg problem with that, but I figure that's the risk of it.

Because overseas code quality is, many times, atrocious. Communicating can be harder since there is a huge timezone difference. Just a couple reasons.

This is not at all my experience. Companies pay a premium for full fluency in American cultural and startup norms.

I have made well over $100/hr even with clients who I literally never met in person and sometimes even serviced from beaches in Asia.

Because it will take you 10x longer to complete the project to a satisfactory level of quality. It's a typical 'Pay me now or pay me later' scenario.

I see not many people want to associate their usernames with income info. I am a web app and mobile app developer and I make around $25K a year. This excludes any extra and side projects or gigs from other areas (marketing). I plan to increase this to $60K by starting doing niche projects soon and entirely focusing on development, but for now, I am focusing more on my side projects.

Varies from 5 to 6-figures/y, working mainly for large companies, mostly in the edtech space. (http://jibly.com)

From 120-180k over the last 5 years or so, typically doing prototypes and MVPs for startups across platforms.

Almost every project involves web servers, web clients and mobile clients.

Mostly self taught but also studied cognitive engineering which has helped a lot in understanding how to create systems and work with AI.

If you don't mind answering the usual questions, how'd you get your start, and how do you pick up clients?

There are a lot of start up hubs in big cities, I recently started working with some of the people involved in creating these in Ohio and they are becoming my primary resource for work.

Instead of considering projects as clients, I look for collaboration efforts where there is a path to equity. Regardless it almost always begins as some sort of contract for an initial trial collaboration.

A friend of mine invited me to help him start a non profit to apply natural language processing to detect violent rhetoric and bullying.

This was while I was working as a utility programmer and going to grad school.

While it never panned out for a number of reasons, it did get me introduced to the world of prototyping and I never looked back.

There have certainly been times of instability and there is no one there to lend a hand most times which can be intimidating.

One thing I try to do to get past the anxiety is make a new personal project when things get rough. So far it's worked out that those projects often lead to new opportunities and skills.

Being able to write the device, server and web client myself allows me to build concepts rapidly.

I'm charging $75/hr for web app programming work, as a freelance front end developer, in a lead dev role. I'm working in Angular, Node.js, and using an Electron wrapper to adapt our web app to the desktop. The project is a sales tool for a big tech brand. I work from home, my coworkers are rad, and my boss is an angel.

This is the best contract dev position I've ever had, possibly the best I ever will have.

I work a full time iOS gig and do freelancing on the side. Typically I bring in an extra 10-20k per year at around $100 per hour depending on the job.

Sounds awesome. I'm an iOS developer and hoping to go the same route. Where are you based out of?

Good old NYC.

Should I learn swift if I want to go this route? Or should I focus on something like ReactNative or something else entirely?

In the UK (not in london) as a freelancer in Ruby on Rails I charge £40 / hr. For contract jobs (you basically work exactly like a permanent employee but get paid as a freelancer - so no job security or benefits and contracts usually last 3 months - 1 year at most) i was paid between £300-350 / day. In London it seems the same type of jobs usually pay £400-450.

How is the market for Rails outside London? I've seen a few comments that said it's hard to find work outside the capital.

In Manchester there are plenty of opportunities for rails work. Also companies around here seem a lot more flexible about semi remote working i.e. you commute from Manchester to Liverpool/Sheffield/Leeds etc. once a week but work from home the rest of the time. In London remote working seems to be frowned upon and will at most be one day a week from home.

I'm not freelancing, but I'd love to hear advice from other freelancers.

I have 11 years working experience as a full stack web developer and I think I'm pretty good at it by now. I'm currently employed and underpaid, and I live in Germany. I have no idea how I'd go about freelancing. What would be your advice to get me started?

I actually wrote a comment which may help you: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14791665

Thanks a lot!

I saw toptal mentioned in another comment, and their "Why 3%" page is quite unnerving. I don't work at Wharton, MIT, CERN, or Google, and I'm not a Top 100 Django or Rails contributor. Or is this just the 3% of the 3%, and the remaining 97% are more mortal?

Don't worry about that number. If you have ever passed a typical technical interview then I believe you can also get into Toptal.

Thanks, I'll take a closer look into those freelancer networks you mentioned, it looks quite interesting.

I live in France. Beside my work, I take 4 weeks a year o teach software development (AngularJS, Spring, Struts, Apache CXF,...). The rates in France start at 300€/day (7hours).

Additionally, I develop apps (APIs, AngularJS apps, etc.) 10 to 20 hours a week (evenings + weekends) with rates starting at 35€/hour.

Last year ~115k. If I was actively seeking clients all year, I could get that number up much higher. I want to work on side projects though. That was with a 40/hour a month retainer and one big job that lasted ~5 months.

Retainer, that sounds like an awesome setup. How many years have you been freelancing?

The rates vary a lot depending of where the freelancer is located.

From the most expensive to the more cheapest (in general):

- US & UK

- West Europe

- Est Europe & Latin America

- Middle Est & Asia

In Latin America the rates normally go from 20 to 40 USD per hour depending of experience.

This threads make me mad. In a theorically developed country making about 10€/h from freelancing as a side job. Mostly web with Python/Django and frontend.

Damn! Not sure exactly which country you're in but the minimum wage of most western european countries is between €8-10 / hr. There are cleaners who make the same money as you!

Seems like you've got to up your game. Don't get mad though, take this as a lesson and learn from it. If anything this should be good news because now you know you can earn way more than you are currently for the same exact work.

Why does it make you mad? If you're decent, you can definitely charge more.

Feel free to email me if you want tips on upping your rates: me@morgante.net

I do Web and API for apps. while my rate is 20$/hour i most often end up with a per-project price.

I had one client, he paid me 65-70$ for scraping escort sites.. He had it coded from some one in portugese, it was pho scraper.. So i added 7 more sites .. and finally i quit becoz i was not getting private time .. every time there were people arround me Btw i am from india.. ne1 looking for freelancer (php, nodejs, go, etc..) can get in touch..

lol what do you mean by "not getting private time"?

As database consultant/developer I can go from 60$/h to 170$/h.

College student, doing Android + light backend work.


Caveat is that I've only had 1 client so far.

How did you end up getting that rate?

I had a previous relation with him and knew that they were getting quotes from other mobile agencies in the area. Given that info, I knew I could comfortably name <$100/hr and still be the cheapest.

Of course it also helped to have the relevant experience/portfolio. I also prototyped a few wireframes (1 user flow) for free which gave me a leg up because he knew what I had in mind regarding the project.

I'll tell you once I get any clients :(

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