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Ask HN: 6-figure freelancers of HN, what do you do?
126 points by thr2178008 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 102 comments

@thr2178008 Hey there. I'll give you a proven roadmap to six figure freelancing right now.

1) Pick a new up and coming language or framework. Something like elixir or pheonix or something else that is really hot and just starting out.

2) Learn it. As you learn, write a series of really awesome tutorials and articles on your blog about that stack.

3) Help people out on SO and other forums that talk about that tech. Point folks to your posts if it looks like it might help. Add your blog to your profile page.

4) Try to guest on some podcasts about this same technology, or maybe even create your own podcast.

5) Keep doing steps 1-4 with constancy and over time your luck surface area will grow and new opportunities will come your way.

When you start contracting in that tech you'll be able to charge much better rates than your old rate because you will be a thought leader in that space.

Also, you will be able to capitalize on sites like airpair.com

Hope this helps!

This also works for hot technologies, not just frameworks / languages.

WebRTC has seen phenomenal adoption in the past few years, as businesses can offload media bandwidth from their centralized servers. Making that cost savings case part of your pitch makes for a compelling offering. You can even leverage third-party solutions such as Twilio and even FB Live to build customer service live help desks.

Right now I'd say with AR / VR gaining momentum there is tremendous opportunity for skilled Unity3D / WebGL people. Definitely more involved than learning React, but can also be much more rewarding. I'd even go so far as to bet these skills will be a bigger draw than AI / ML / Data Sciences in the near term. Good Luck!

> "really hot and just starting out/new up and coming language or framework"

As a consultant this strategy is very smart, very stupid for a company tho.

1) Consultant goes to company and sells his new hot tech stack that is just released.

2) Company buys in and pays a lot of money.

3) Consultant now is locked himself a nice position because nobody wants to deal with this technology and he is the only expert they can get.

Startups might be willing to take this risk - if the new technology shortens the time to launch, then all the better. If it finds itself locked in 5 years down the line, who cares, it's 5 years later and they're a 100 million dollar company.

> if the new technology shortens the time to launch

Not sure what technology you are referring to but it's definitely not elixir or pheonix.

The same roadmap will work for even old but required technologies.

I am mostly into scraping and automation tools. Whatever I learnt; for instance Scrapy, Beautifulsoup etc I wrote about it on my blog as well as on medium based publications. It helped me to earn some good contracts and gigs. DO remember I did not follow 3-5 yet otherwise It was going to be more awesome for me.

To a certain extent I agree, only in some respects I'm the opposite regarding point 1. I still work exclusively on Ruby on Rails projects (on the backend, frontend is trending towards Vue.js usage now), and that's actually proven quite successful lately. Clients that aren't super tech-savvy don't really care what I'm using as long as it works and I can get it done in a speedy fashion (which I can because I know Rails like the back of my hand), and the tech-savvy clients that come to me do so because they have an existing Rails codebase that needs upgrades, enhancements, etc. I can't tell you how many times I've heard "man, I'm so glad I found you...it's hard to find any Ruby programmers!" Makes me wonder if the death of Ruby as a career path is greatly exaggerated...

Agreed and this is probably true for most "legacy" languages - for example there is still very much a market for COBOL, REXX, etc and it does pay well. However the flip side is that the size of the niche market gets smaller over time.

Not a freelancer. That's how I do it.

I don't think you're asking the right question, though. 100k+ USD/yr in some parts of the country is a lot different than 100k+ USD/yr in other parts. The really smart ones have found jobs in metro areas that pay lots, but work remotely from areas with low cost of living expenses, and put all the extra away into college funds for their kids and Roth 401k's invested in high risk, low-load index funds, with a significant amount invested.

And most of all, they ask for it. Once they get it, they don't piss people off, they do great work, and they get references.

I think the OP is specifically asking freelancers because 100k as a salary is not exactly rare, it's what I've paid some of my juniors.

100k+ as a freelancer is significantly more rare - requiring either very steady work, a niche skill-set, or great marketing skills.

> 100k+ as a freelancer is significantly more rare

What are we meaning by "freelancer" here?

I'm taking it (as a UKian) to mean "contractor" and every contractor I know is on £100k+ (which is currently ~$129k).

Can you share a story or two? I'm interested in the UK contracting market. The pay for salaried positions in the UK Is shockingly low.

I mostly do Perl stuff and get £400-500 day rate easily even though I'm far from a Perl expert (and, indeed, I loathe and despise the language nowadays.)

There's a few (senior) Go contracts starting to appear in London (at £500+/day) that I'm hoping signify the start of a trend.

Depends who you work for. A solid LinkedIn plus the subscription option, with stints in the big 5 and some solution architect experience gets you some decent money.

Similarly, if you can pick up the (relatively) obscure FinTech stuff (kdb+, Vertica, M/Mumps/Caché, etc.), that's a definite ticket to decent money and job security.

Do you mind me asking what industry you're in, where a junior can make $100k?

Software? An entry level developer position in the bay area can be a fair bit higher than $100k

Silicon Valley is fairly unique, and not remotely comparable to the rest of the world. In most of Europe, a senior dev makes less than that. Freelancers are a bit more likely to make more.

Sure, but that's cost of living. $100k/yr is needed in Silicon Valley just to cover your portion of rent for the above-garage apartment you share with 8 other people.

That seems ludicrous to be honest (*though I do note the satire)

Financial engineering - NYC.

Jeez. I'm a senior front end developer in Western Australia, on 70k. Build Fintech systems... It would be interesting to compare the costs of living etc to see how salaries over there compares to here.

A front end developer in State Gov in Australia can easily be $90-110k, fwiw. Can confirm for east coast anyway.

Any openings currently? :P

As someone from Perth... you are being severely underpaid.

You could probably buy a house on that salary at a reasonable commute distance to Perth CBD.

You can get into some off-the-plan garbage in an extremely far away suburb on this sort of money, but right now I don't think it's the right time for me to get into property. So I rent about five minutes from Mount Lawley :)

Ok well that you can rent in such a good location on a 70k income (assume USD?) means lifestyle in Perth IS much more attainable than on SFO which might require a 150k income.

Rents seem to be 300/W AUD for an appartment there. Nice. Here in Sydney it's double that. 300 gets you a room in a decent location.

Oh no sorry, that's 70k AUD - in USD I think it's about 55? But yeah Perth is quite cheap to rent in. Living costs are kind of high though, but they are really comparable to other states.

Moved from Perth to Melbourne last year with a nice 30% bump but rent is significantly more expensive here and it takes a lot longer to commute to the city.

Back-End Dev here (Node).

I do integration between Brazillian mobile carriers and international Apps (content providers in general) who wants to get into Brazilian market, usually to bill users on their mobile plan instead of paypal or inApp Purchase. The funnil gap is much lower when you Bill users in mobile plan.

Brazilian carrier has a tough and slow integration process and, without a local IT support is almost impossible to connect with them.

As I have everything ready for all major carriers, it's easier/faster/cheaper to hire me instead of build the integration by itself.


Interesting! How can i start something like this for my own country?

First you need to get a job in some telco company and work on related projects. That knowledge is not available on github or books. Actually it is the same with other high-pay integration areas like finances, banking, logistics etc. Once you gain some expertise and see a niche you start freelancing.


Dealing with mobile carriers is really hard - their tech stacks are awful and outdated and they see everything as a threat and try to protect their turf by any means.

Source: I'm trying to launch an MVNO and struggling to find a host MNO/carrier.

What are some best resource for learning node?


This is hands down the best book I read about node. As long as you're already comfortable with JS, this should be more than enough to have you write your own Node apps. Best thing about it: it doesn't limit your to writing node servers like most other intro books. You start seeing node as JS removed away from the browser to a standalone language and not just a way to write javascript web servers.

When I went through it, it was all in es5. So, like I said, if you're comfortable with JS - this shouldn't be a turn-off

What exactly counts to count as 6-figure? My hourly rate is €80. Working 32 hours per week, 45 weeks per year, my yearly revenue would just be 6 figures. Of course after I deduct some costs and retirement savings, my taxable income is in the high 5 figures.

I'm not doing anything special, other than having 15 years of experience and not being terribly bad at my job. I do notice that to get more than this, I need to make a bit more of a name for myself. Just being a good programmer is probably not enough; it seems I need to bring something special and specific to the table to justify a higher rate.

Really nice schedule. I think the thread is about scores. Once debt free I would prefer to get more private time than trashing my life for 6 figures in somebody's sweat shop projects - the more than I can eat.

Two options that I can think of:

1. Experience: After a while doing what you're doing, you are an experienced developer/freelancer. You hit the ground running, you mentor, you contribute enough to justify your high day rate.

2. Go into Finance. Specifically banks. They hire contractors all the time. The work is terrible, the challenge is mostly dealing with the restrictions of the systems around you and the bureaucracy that envelopes everything there, but to counter that they pay well above market rates. In fact they pay silly rates. I did that for a little while and decided my soul is worth more.

The contract market is a funny one. Can be hard to find gigs one month, and have too many to choose from the next. But in general, going above 6 digits contracting is not that hard. Keep in mind that you have to manage your own taxes, so a good accountant is key.

Front-end JS for the oil-and-gas industry. Custom, industry-specific customer-facing web applications. Interesting work, but the business logic required by some companies is freakin' terrifying :)

How did you get into this kind of work?

Front-end JS? Need, mainly. Most of the UI/UX people I worked with have not maintained their skills, and I was getting tired of knowing more and doing better work than them in their own field. As it happens, there's a much better market for that work than for the back-end and architectural work I've been doing the past couple of decades.

Oil-and-gas? Luck - I live in a city with a lot of head offices. Eventually almost everyone works for one of them :) It was just my turn. But it looks like a long-term gig, which is great.

Yeah, meant oil and gas. It seems pretty difficult to get in direct contact with such client to me.

Friend of a friend situation - a guy I worked with at another company had a friend who we game with once in a while (board games and miniatures games), and she works for this company. She let me know they had an opportunity and I made the cut :)

if you're in TX and want to network with a ui/ux designer, would love to chat. i have been wanting to get into this business for a while.

I'm not in Texas - I'd love to visit someday, I know a couple of people who lived in Houston until a few days ago.

I'm in Alberta, Canada - kind of a sibling to Texas :)

It is kind of a sibling to Texas in a lot of ways. Too cold for me though. If you ever find yourself in the Dallas-Fort Worth area drop me a line.

Yeah anything to do with HMI is often quite lucrative. You're not with Honeywell by chance are you?

No, but if I was, I bet I could keep them from having to reboot their cloud services every week!

I work in oil. Curious to learn more about your experience. What do your apps do? Whats terrifying?

They're service applications for O&G companies to help with government regulation compliance, ISO auditing, and well performance, among other things. There are a lot of automated and manual processes that have to be dealt with by the various applications (including some old-fashioned straight-up data entry from graphs made by on-site equipment that get couriered to the office into spreadsheets that get imported).

Some of these are pretty large companies, and they want their tools (even 3rd-party ones) to work certain ways, so some of the workflow logic in the various applications we provide gets pretty hairy. It's impossible to avoid customizing things for some of these clients without losing them.

I was brought on to do a code-review of the newest (unreleased) version of their flagship product. The overseas developers didn't read the spec and management didn't bother enforcing it (hell, they barely bothered to plan it). 2 years of development wasted and it literally doesn't meet a single business need yet. My job then became to lead the rebuild of the front-end and work with the back-end team to make everything awesome again. I get to do proper planning, some nice enterprise architecture and deployment planning, some really cool front-end coding (Angular), and bring some modern (and even current) development practices and tools into a traditionally stodgy corporate development environment :) All with the full blessing and support of the technical lead :D

The obvious answer is to specialise. The problem is how?

There seem to be two options:

1. Become an expert in a rare, rising tech stack (see elixir/phoenix)

2. Specialise in a market vertical

On hn and as a dev Option 1) is very appealing. And just a matter of time and keep doing it.

Many (smart) folks, however, tell you that 2) is the better bet long term and financially. Which makes sense because you shift from providing technical solutions to delivering business results. But it is much harder to get into (which long term turns into an advantage because you build barriers)

I would love to go route 2) but never actually went anywhere. But I didn't do 1) either because I'm stuck between those two. It's quite frustrating actually.

Is anyone else in a similar situation?

I made a deal with an e-commerce site to take 10% of revenue added, after marketing expenses from new channels I create.

Added 300k+ of revenue a month.

Congrats! I think you are the perfect person to give some feedback on a product I want to validate and build. If you have the time, please let me know what you think of this.

The product is a personalized Facebook app created for the ecommerce that aims to increase the number of emails collected for the ecommerce's newsletter and increase traffic from these newsletters by sending Facebook notifications to the users that signed up to the app.

Basically I create a Facebook App and provide the sign-up link to the ecommerce. The ecommerce adds the link next to the "Sign up to our newsletter" CTA they usually have on their website giving the user two options to provide their email: the regular input field and the link to do it via Facebook (this is not a Facebook Login btw). If the client click the link, they are directed to Facebook's authorization page, one more click I have the access to their email and the ability to send them notification (only if the user is accessing Facebook on the web, as FB do not send app notifications to native mobile apps).

I then send the user's email to the ecommerce and send FB notifications everytime they send a newsletter (linking to the web version of the newsletter).

So, what dod you think?

Please teach me.

1) Do networking and listen. It's not about how great you are in your wildest dreams.

2) Deliver a little bit more than expected. That'll help to get you some recommendations.

3) Don't follow every new tech stack, framework whatsoever hype.

Choose your toolchain where you are feeling comfortable with.

4) Raise your hourly rate. There's nothing wrong with it, if you're doing a great job based on past projects.

5) Say "No" to nasty, time consuming and time wasting clients.

6) Build your own brand to be proud of.

1. Get a degree in computer science.

2. Work in corporate development for large, medium, and small companies, startups, etc. for 20 years.

3. Keep skills sharp, keep investing in new opportunities.

4. Learn project management.

5. Dress up (in a suit, etc.)

6. Find people who want work done.

7. Figure out what they want to be done, how long it will take to do it, and how much is reasonable to charge for that.

8. Ship it.

8. Send invoices.

9. Cash very large checks.

Technology lets people who are very good with tools, make amazing things all by ourselves in the same time or less than a team of people who are average with tools in a cube farm.

I guess a simpler version of this would be:

1. Get very good at tools.

2. Get people who believe you can deliver.

3. Deliver.

4. Invoice.

If you do it right, you'll be time- and price-competitive with much larger, slower, and more-expensive entities, and nobody will care because you're still delivering. It's a time of great opportunity.

Does contracting count as freelancing? Serious question. Or do you mean freelances as only in gigster/upwork sense?

As a contractor I am technically working via my one man company but mostly work in a company office alongside other employees, so not sure if you count that as freelancing.

Contracting is a synonym of freelancing. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Are you in the US? I think you should be an employee instead.

I'm in UK. You should be an employee if you work in a single company for 2+ years. Contractors often only work in 6-12 month contracts so you are not definitely an employee if you only come to work on a project for 6 months and then go work somewhere else.

C/C++/Java/Python for capital markets, customers mostly in NYC.

Any tips on how to get into programming for financial institutions/capital markets?

I do the same for LDN clients.

110K at 21 yrs old in the UK contracting, hoping to reach 150k by this time next year - I help big companies figure out how to embrace new technologies

> I help big companies figure out how to embrace new technologies

What do you mean?

I guess I'm being deliberately evasive to protect my own interests, but I help them go digital, use ML/AI, use APIs, Blockchain etc

Whereabouts in the UK?


Six figures is a pretty useless distinction these days. It's like how every homeowner is technically a millionaire. The term sticks though.

In any case, freelancer is a vague term. Working on smaller, ad-hoc tasks it is probably harder to make a big payday, but working longer contracts (also called a contractor) can pay very well.

Every homeowner is far from a millionaire in the US.

Yeah, a bit hyperbole. The point though, is that being a millionaire isn't as impressive as it used to be 50 years ago, but we still use the term to signify someone incredibly wealthy.

Guy hasn't seen my home--I paid about 6% of that!

Long-term automation projects.

Chef development for one customer. Ansible for the others.

Interesting. Is one of your customers looking for more DevOps help? I have a teammate looking for an opportunity.

Application developer at a hedge fund. Mostly front-end design/dev work on a web-based platform used to run all aspects of their business.

Not making 6 figures, but I could if I took fewer holidays. London based, doing full stack javascript - mostly focus on the front end.

What sort of level would you say you were at with regards to your js knowledge, and how long have you been working with it?

I'm still pretty green and living up north, but looking to the future, I could see me having to move to get a decent salary, just wondering how feasible it may be.

I was hired as a senior contractor. I work with JS for about 5 years, 3 years as primary language. All of it professionally.

I think it's totally feasible. I moved here when I was 19 with the salary between 30-40k. 3 years later, I am doing something I always wanted for a great amount of money. I think without these two rules I wouldn't make it: - Invest in knowledge - Don't put your age on CV

But London is all about trying imo.

Well first off, use the term "consultant", and you'll see a 50% increase in revenue.

Clojure(script) | AI (mainly python and R) development for trading companies and startups.

any general-theory getting started tips/links?

At first I was an SAP Development lead (ABAP programming language primarily)

Later managing IT Operations

Seems like everyone's interpreting 6-figures in whatever currency they use, so here are the exchange rates, using USD for conversion since that's easier:

100000 Argentine Pesos = 5755 USD, 100000 USD = 1737740 Argentine Pesos

100000 Australian Dollars = 79514 USD, 100000 USD = 125764 Australian Dollars

100000 Bahraini Dinars = 265156 USD, 100000 USD = 37714 Bahraini Dinars

100000 Botswana Pulas = 9833 USD, 100000 USD = 1016942 Botswana Pulas

100000 Brazilian Reals = 31543 USD, 100000 USD = 317028 Brazilian Reals

100000 British Pounds = 129272 USD, 100000 USD = 77356 British Pounds

100000 Bruneian Dollars = 73743 USD, 100000 USD = 135607 Bruneian Dollars

100000 Bulgarian Levs = 61190 USD, 100000 USD = 163425 Bulgarian Levs

100000 Canadian Dollars = 79790 USD, 100000 USD = 125329 Canadian Dollars

100000 Chilean Pesos = 160 USD, 100000 USD = 62578223 Chilean Pesos

100000 Chinese Yuan Renminbis = 15171 USD, 100000 USD = 659165 Chinese Yuan Renminbis

100000 Colombian Pesos = 34 USD, 100000 USD = 293255132 Colombian Pesos

100000 Croatian Kunas = 16111 USD, 100000 USD = 620679 Croatian Kunas

100000 Czech Korunas = 4589 USD, 100000 USD = 2178982 Czech Korunas

100000 Danish Krones = 16055 USD, 100000 USD = 622874 Danish Krones

100000 Emirati Dirhams = 27223 USD, 100000 USD = 367343 Emirati Dirhams

100000 Euros = 119434 USD, 100000 USD = 83728 Euros

100000 Hong Kong Dollars = 12778 USD, 100000 USD = 782620 Hong Kong Dollars

100000 Hungarian Forints = 391 USD, 100000 USD = 25581990 Hungarian Forints

100000 Icelandic Kronas = 951 USD, 100000 USD = 10518565 Icelandic Kronas

100000 Indian Rupees = 1565 USD, 100000 USD = 6391818 Indian Rupees

100000 Indonesian Rupiahs = 8 USD, 100000 USD = 1333333333 Indonesian Rupiahs

100000 Iranian Rials = 3 USD, 100000 USD = 3333333333 Iranian Rials

100000 Israeli Shekels = 27978 USD, 100000 USD = 357426 Israeli Shekels

100000 Japanese Yens = 911 USD, 100000 USD = 10982976 Japanese Yens

100000 Kazakhstani Tenges = 298 USD, 100000 USD = 33534541 Kazakhstani Tenges

100000 Kuwaiti Dinars = 331580 USD, 100000 USD = 30159 Kuwaiti Dinars

100000 Libyan Dinars = 73952 USD, 100000 USD = 135224 Libyan Dinars

100000 Malaysian Ringgits = 23420 USD, 100000 USD = 426989 Malaysian Ringgits

100000 Mauritian Rupees = 3052 USD, 100000 USD = 3276862 Mauritian Rupees

100000 Mexican Pesos = 5594 USD, 100000 USD = 1787694 Mexican Pesos

100000 Nepalese Rupees = 979 USD, 100000 USD = 10219724 Nepalese Rupees

100000 New Zealand Dollars = 72430 USD, 100000 USD = 138064 New Zealand Dollars

100000 Norwegian Krones = 12879 USD, 100000 USD = 776482 Norwegian Krones

100000 Omani Rials = 259715 USD, 100000 USD = 38504 Omani Rials

100000 Pakistani Rupees = 949 USD, 100000 USD = 10535188 Pakistani Rupees

100000 Philippine Pesos = 1953 USD, 100000 USD = 5120066 Philippine Pesos

100000 Polish Zlotys = 28017 USD, 100000 USD = 356926 Polish Zlotys

100000 Qatari Riyals = 27240 USD, 100000 USD = 367105 Qatari Riyals

100000 Romanian New Leus = 25990 USD, 100000 USD = 384766 Romanian New Leus

100000 Russian Rubles = 1704 USD, 100000 USD = 5867167 Russian Rubles

100000 Saudi Arabian Riyals = 26661 USD, 100000 USD = 375074 Saudi Arabian Riyals

100000 Singapore Dollars = 73743 USD, 100000 USD = 135607 Singapore Dollars

100000 South African Rands = 7672 USD, 100000 USD = 1303373 South African Rands

100000 South Korean Wons = 89 USD, 100000 USD = 112359551 South Korean Wons

100000 Sri Lankan Rupees = 654 USD, 100000 USD = 15288182 Sri Lankan Rupees

100000 Swedish Kronas = 12567 USD, 100000 USD = 795748 Swedish Kronas

100000 Swiss Francs = 104577 USD, 100000 USD = 95624 Swiss Francs

100000 Taiwan New Dollars = 3320 USD, 100000 USD = 3011957 Taiwan New Dollars

100000 Thai Bahts = 3011 USD, 100000 USD = 3321156 Thai Bahts

100000 Trinidadian Dollars = 14876 USD, 100000 USD = 672215 Trinidadian Dollars

100000 Turkish Liras = 29016 USD, 100000 USD = 344640 Turkish Liras

100000 Venezuelan Bolivars = 9915 USD, 100000 USD = 1008583 Venezuelan Bolivars

That's also not too accurate as living expenses and taxation differ radically across those countries. Some of those countries you might pay 35-40% tax from your 100k salary, some of them 12% or less.

There are also benefits from living in certain locations that don't factor into living expenses but just affect quality of life.


Yes and there are a lot of other factors like healthcare, education (if you have kids) etc. For a healthy young single person a country with very low taxes such as Singapore might be the best choice. For somebody older who is married with kids Germany would be better (taxes are high but you get a lot of value back for the money you to in like cheap/free education).

Also timezone difference may be the factor depending of what level of presence and availability is negotiated.

Everyone makes six figures before tax. You should clarify after tax ;)

Ha! No.

I build algorithms, apps, websites, and APIs for startups.

I do web development and mobile development for startups.

Ethereum DApp development

Could you go more into what you're doing?

I wanna learn it!

Marketing consulting.

if you don't mind me asking - assuming all of that is services related: what % of that is strategy vs execution?

At this point it's half and half, but it's been trending towards strategy over time.

Check out his website/profile. Seems like he is mostly handling ad accounts on Facebook.

Work on Upwork, Rails+Javascript+Elixir. Fullstack.

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