I used to be a (sad) freelance PHP developer with some front-end skill working for tiny to small local companies. The best gig I had at the time was for a video games distributor here in Italy. The client was great but the job was admittedly boring and sometimes even frustrating. I knew I had more to give and was feeling trapped in quicksand.
The single most important decision in my career was to start developing open source software (OSS) and blogging about it. I started with silly things such as a PHP clean URL generator or the onClick delay removal, and I ended up with iScroll and the Add to Homescreen widgets.
I chose the most liberal license I could find (MIT) and companies from all over the world contacted me asking for customization and new features. My hourly rate was around $60, and I had to raise it on a daily basis because I couldn’t keep up with the increasing quote requests. Now I’m still a freelancer but I work for Microsoft and Google—my rate is at $150/hour.