Freelancing vs contracting in web development

There is currently a global shortage for web developers, and that demand has created a steady increase in freelancers and contractors. Both roles can be very appealing to developers as they potentially offer greater flexibility, freedom and higher financial rewards. The two terms are often used interchangeably to reference an independent worker, when they are in fact very different. In this article we'll take a look at how contractors and freelancers differ, and the pros and cons of each for consideration if you're thinking of moving away from fixed employment.

Freelancing vs Contracting

Let's start with a broad summary of how freelancing and contracting differ, and then we'll take a look at the individual pros and cons of each.

Contractors usually work for one client at a time and will be taken on for a fixed period, typically of 3-12 months, usually to plug a skill shortage within the company. Contracts will usually be based on a fixed day rate, and is a simple exchange of payment for time. In this respect, they are more like a temporary employee.

Freelancers will often have multiple clients, and would be expected to spec out and provide timelines for how long each project will take. How freelancers choose to bill can vary, but the most common approach is a fixed cost to complete a fixed amount of work. In this respect, they are more like a mini digital agency.


Freelancers often start out as 'self-employed' or 'sole-traders', meaning there is no legal difference between the individual and the business they are running as a freelancer. The main reason people go into freelancing is for increased freedom and flexibility - you choose where you work, when you work, and the projects you take on.


  • Flexibility to choose your own working hours
  • You can choose where you work
  • You can choose the technologies you work with
  • You can choose the projects
  • Often work on a more diverse range of projects
  • You can start freelancing around an existing job


  • Requires taking on several job roles including marketing, financing and planning
  • You are liable for project delivery
  • You'll often be managing multiple clients at the same time
  • It's a competitive market where you may be competing against digital agencies
  • Income is not guaranteed
  • Managing clients and expectations can be challenging


Contractors generally operate under their own limited companies, and the clients will have a contractual agreement with the company. People generally go into contracting for the financial benefits, and to work with bigger companies on a diverse range of projects without being tied down.


  • Contractors can earn a significant amount more than they would doing the same role as an employee
  • Income is reasonably stable as contracts often span over several months
  • You get to work on new projects on a regular basis
  • Contracts are often with larger companies, this is harder to achieve through freelancing
  • Companies generally already know what they want you to do when you start and are more likely to have realistic expectations
  • No need to do overtime to impress your employer, which can improve your work-life balance
  • Often an opportunity to work in a like-minded team


  • Often requires working in an office environment with all that entails
  • Requires finding new contract roles each time they expire
  • No benefits such health care or a pension
  • Recruitment agents will take a cut of what's being charged to the client
  • Companies often take on contractors for projects that are already late or delayed

Which is right for me - freelancing, contracting or sticking with full time employment?

Now you have a better idea of the pros and cons of each, which one is right for you? Here's some questions you might want to consider:

  • What's more important - freedom and flexibility or structure and security?
  • Do you prefer to work in a team or independently?
  • Do you like working directly with clients?
  • How much do you want to earn and how much effort will this require?
  • Are you comfortable marketing your own work?
  • How in demand are your particular skills?
  • Do you want to be an employee, or a business owner?

Business Tools for freelancers and contractors

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David Bainbridge

Coveloping co-founder and regular contributor to the Coveloping blog. David is a contract web developer based in Bristol, UK also posting code snippets and tutorials on the Code Synthesis blog.

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