How to Become a Freelance Web Developer


Freelance

Are you considering becoming a freelance web developer? People go into freelancing for various reasons such as making more money, improving their skills in specific fields of their interests or to work under their personal schedule without overhead supervision.

Regardless of your reason for wanting to be a freelance web developer, it initially takes hard work to achieve success. In this article, we discuss how you can go from beginner to an established freelance web developer, and how to navigate the hurdles along the way.

But before we proceed, are there any advantages or disadvantages of being a freelancer?

Advantages of Becoming a Freelance Web Developer

Work on a variety of projects

As a freelancer, you are free to work on as many projects as you can handle. It ensures you avoid the boredom of sticking to one task as experienced in a full-time job. This helps you develop various skills as well as grow your portfolio with more projects.

Create your own schedule

When you are freelancing, you have the freedom to set your own timelines within which you can deliver client’s work. You do not have to follow a strict schedule and can as well work across various time zones.

This is totally beneficial especially if you have a certain time in the day when your performance is at peak and can schedule all your priority tasks around that time for most productivity. If you have a full-time job, then you can still work on your freelance projects when you get back home.

Work from anywhere

Thanks to the internet and video conferencing software, you can work from anywhere. Most freelancers have an office set up in their homes. Additionally, you can work from a local coffee shop, public library, even on a bus or plane if traveling long distances.

The only thing you need is access to the internet and of course a laptop. If you have to meet with a client and feel your home is not professional enough, you can organize to meet in their office or a coffee shop.

Only work on the projects that interests you

As a freelancer, you not only pass up projects that you don’t like but also clients and companies you don’t feel like working with. If you feel like a certain project is not ethical, you don’t have to take it. However, keep in mind that you do not have a fixed end month salary and bills need to be paid.

Unlimited earning potential

earning

Since you are free to choose the projects to work on, you can earn as much money as the value of projects you can deliver in a given period.

Disadvantages of Becoming a Freelance Web Developer

You may not be sure of your next paycheck

Financial instability is one of the fears freelancers face. You could be lucky to land a big project to sort your bills for the next couple of months. Another month you may not even make enough to afford your meals.

If you currently have a day job, it’s recommended that you keep your job until you have some 3 or 4 clients to supply you with jobs. You must also consider saving up enough funds to cover your bills for the next 6 months as you look for more clients.

Stressful when starting out

The initial stages of freelancing are extremely stressful. As a beginning freelancer, your list of portfolio projects is still small, so getting clients to trust you with big projects can be hard. Sometimes you must do too much work for a little pay just to grow your ratings and portfolio.

No paid vacations or work leave

Since you are the owner of the business, as well as the boss, you can’t expect to receive paid vacations or work leave.

No insurance

Insurance is one of the benefits you get when working in an office. Unfortunately, as a freelancer, you are on your own and have to cover your insurance costs.

Miss out on opportunities of established companies

When working alone, you are likely going to miss out on opportunities such as structured learning, exposure to mentors, experts, and best practices that you can get in an established company – unless you go out of your way to pursue them.

Do You Need to be an Expert to Become a Freelancer?

To become a successful freelancer in web development, you will need to have a variety of skills to handle the various requirements of clients. While you do not necessarily have to be an expert in all the fields, you must have the basic knowledge to keep your business running – because it is your business and you are the boss.

You should be a master in the core skills upon which your freelancing relies. Say you are a back-end developer, then you must master at least one back-end development language and one database management system.

In addition to your core skills, you should have the basics of front-end development because clients will expect you to develop a full product. Similarly, if you are a front-end developer, then having basic knowledge of some back-end technologies is advantageous.

While you can outsource some of the tasks you are not good at, having the basic knowledge gives you the confidence to sell to your prospective clients and actually close the deal.

Which Programming Languages are Good for Freelance Web Development?

Web Development comprises of back-end and front-end development. A front-end developer focuses on creating web interfaces and improving user experiences. A back-end developer focuses on algorithms and databases to implement the server-side solutions. A full-stack developer knows how to implement both front-end and back-end solutions.

If you are a visually oriented person, the technologies you should know for front-end development include HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. If you are more into problem solving and algorithms, the languages you should know include PHP, Java, Python, and Ruby, as well as various database management systems such as MySQL, SQL Server, MongoDB, etc. A full-stack developer knows both technologies.

As a freelancer, you should not try to do everything because there’s too much to learn in web development and you will likely end up not mastering any. You must, however, know HTML because it’s the backbone of the web. Luckily, it is the easiest to learn. JavaScript has grown to become indispensable on the web, this is because it can work both on the front-end and the back-end. It’s undoubtedly one of the languages that you must learn to survive in the current tech industry.

A good thing with learning JavaScript is that, it can solely make you a full-stack developer, how cool is that! You need JavaScript to build the functionality of the front-end interfaces. JavaScript can interact with the back-end to bring dynamism to the front-end. Similarly, you can build the whole back-end logic with JavaScript.

If you decide to be a back-end web developer, focus on one or two back-end languages and become really good at them, plus know how you can use the language to query one of the databases of your choice. Most freelance web developers handle both front-end and back-end because clients expect them to take on a project from start to completion.

Now, we can’t talk about languages without going into frameworks because that’s part of what you can use to sell your portfolio. The good thing about understanding individual languages is that you can easily learn a framework for the language.

Currently, most tech-savvy clients are asking if you have mastery of a certain framework. This is because, frameworks speed up the development process, and as you might have guessed, the sooner you can deliver a product the happier your clients will be.

Some frameworks for the front-end include Bootstrap, AngularJS, ReactJS, BackboneJS, and EmberJS. All these frameworks largely depend on JavaScript, which, as I mentioned, is indispensable.

Frameworks for the back-end are ExpressJS which works with NodeJS server – both based on JavaScript. Other back-end frameworks on high demand include Laravel, CodeIgniter, Symphony, & Zend for PHP, Ruby on Rails for Ruby, Spring Boot for Java, and Django & Slack for Python.

How to Get Clients

While there are many web development jobs in the market, the competition is pretty high. There are so many skilled freelancers out there who want to get clients as much as you do. So, what will you do to come out above?

Most people think that it’s their skills and knowing a variety of programming languages that counts, but that’s not the case. Communication is the most important thing in getting clients. The way you interact and present yourself to your prospective clients will either get you hired or not.

Clients want to know what problem you can solve for them, and not how skilled you are. Most clients don’t even understand the technical aspect of a web app, they just want the product to work.

How much money can you make?

When you decide to freelance, you open yourself up to unlimited earning possibilities. When just starting out, of course, it will be hard to get clients hence little income, but as you grow your business, so does your clients. There’s no exact answer to the question of how much money you can make, however, it depends on several factors such as;

  • The number of hours per week you spend working.
  • Type of projects you take.
  • The type of clients you work for, e.g. tech companies, non-tech businesses, etc.
  • The type of development, e.g. front-end, back-end, full-stack.
  • Type of frameworks required by the client.
  • The country in which you live.
  • The country in which your clients live.

As a freelancer, you are hired to do one job only, because you are specialized, hence the money you make per hour is higher. As mentioned, there’s no exact answer, but based on trends, you can make between $20,000 to $40,000 as a beginner. These values may go up to between $50,000 to $90,000 when you have grown and gained over 5 years of experience.

While you are free to set the value of your services, you shouldn’t charge too low to come out as a joke, neither should you charge too high because clients will go looking for another expert. In this case, you need to figure out how to balance the amount you charge by considering the factors listed above and comparing with the current market charges for the given project.

What Should You Focus on Learning Before Getting Clients?

When you decide to freelance, you are bringing a whole set of skills to the table that is required to run a business. A business needs usually three things to function;

  • Technical skills – this is probably what is convincing you to go into freelance; you already have the technical/coding skills, or you are at least halfway into mastering them. This is the core of your freelance business; it is the knowledge you need to deliver the client’s requirements. But, will it get you any clients? Barely.
  • Business knowledge – Business knowledge helps you find and communicate with clients, identify client’s problems and figure out how you can offer a solution using your technical skills. It will help you sell your portfolio to prospective clients and convince them that you are the right person for the job. Business skills will help you grow your one-man freelance job to a fully-fledged firm. Under business skills, you should also have finance and accounting knowledge to manage your earnings and sort your taxes on time.
  • Management Skills – You have the technical skills to do the job, and the business skills to communicate and get clients, now how do you prioritize what projects to work on? Can you organize your schedule, create reports, work on your projects, and still meet with your clients? This will determine if you will actually get work done and meet several deadlines to keep your clients happy.

Except for the technical skills which you must have, you shouldn’t worry about learning the other two up front. You can start small and learn them as you go.

How to Get Started in Freelance Web Development

Whether you have been working in a firm for several years or just finished school, the steps to becoming a freelancer are more or less the same. The difference is in the kind of experience you are bringing to the table.

Of course, if you have worked in a corporation for several years, you have been exposed to structured learning, industry best practices and have years of experience to show your clients. Additionally, you likely have a strong network and referrals, so it will be easier for you to get clients than if you have just finished school. Here are the general steps to get started in freelance web development;

1. Have the necessary tech skills

Learning the necessary technologies a web developer must have cannot be emphasized enough. Whether you are a fresh graduate or have been working in a corporation for 10 years, you should know that web development requires knowledge of several programming languages and the more languages you know the more jobs you can accept.

2. Narrow down to a specific niche

Web Development is wide, and the competition is stiff since you are literally competing with the rest of the world. While going the general way can open you up to a wide array of projects, if you decide to focus on one area and become highly skilled, you can stand out against the world competition.

For instance, you can focus on JavaScript and become an expert in one of the JavaScript frameworks. This will help you land jobs from Niche specific clients. Whether to go with general web development or focus on a niche is a decision you need to make when just starting out; both have their benefits.

If you are fresh out of school, you should go the general way and then you can figure out which areas you are comfortable with focusing on. If you have been in the corporate world for a while, you probably already have a niche of your choice. This doesn’t mean you should stick to one niche, you can always switch to another one whenever you feel comfortable.

3. Build a few projects for your portfolio

Regardless of whether you are a niche specific person or a general web developer, prospects want to see what projects you have done, how the interfaces stack up, etc. This helps them decide if you are the right person for the job. Ensure the projects you build have appealing user interfaces. If you are a back-end developer, you can outsource or buy themes for your projects, because clients won’t care to look at the back-end logic – they just want to see how the interface responds.

4. Build your website

You can call this your portfolio website. This is the one website where you must put your all to ensure the interface is as smooth and as responsive as possible. Explain what you are passionate about, your skills, how you can use them to solve various clients’ problems, and how your solutions can help them.

Include the projects you have worked on with clear description and links that open in different browsers so that your website visitors can check them out.

If you have been in the corporate world, including your work experience and the projects you were a part of to increase chances of landing a lead when clients visit your page. A fresh graduate will have to work on more free projects to grow their portfolio, but that shouldn’t be a discouragement because you are going to reap big.

5. Grow your personal brand

Building your personal brand is not an easy step, luckily there are ways you can achieve it without spending a penny. Start by creating social media profiles. LinkedIn is a website for professionals and employers and you should certainly have a completely filled out profile showcasing your skills, projects you’ve worked on, experience and a CV. Create profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Quora, etc.

Social media has made it easier to interact with people all over the world which is important in growing your brand. For example, Quora is a question and answer platform; you can provide answers to questions to show clients that you understand the topics. YouTube is another major channel that tech enthusiasts use. You could set up a channel that teaches a programming course.

People follow experts on Twitter; you can use Twitter to give back to the community as you generate followers. Another option you should remember is to create a personal blog. People on the internet are always searching for information; if you post highly informative posts on your blog, the more the people who will visit it hence increasing chances of landing clients.

6. Contribute to open source projects

Contributing to open source projects helps you improve your skills, showcase your talent, grow your network when you work with other developers and adds to your portfolio. There are so many projects on GitHub which you can contribute to. Another option is to create free programming tutorials to help learners joining the web development field.

7. Use your previous clients as a referral

If you are just out of school, you may not have previous clients. However, you can use your friends and their friends to get some new clients. If you are leaving your day job, then you can follow up on some clients you worked with.

You can send them messages like, “I enjoyed working with you on this project [insert name], if you are in need of a related solution or know someone who needs it, I would very much appreciate a referral.” To get more referrals you must always do a really good job.

8. Follow up on your local business owners

Most small business owners lack an online presence. If you can convince them about the importance of having a website, you may just be on your way to landing your first clients. Some small businesses already have websites, although poorly designed or slow load times. You can contact them with an offer to improve those sites at a small fee.

9. Find a mentor

Finding someone who can hold your hand and guide you as you navigate the freelance waters is highly recommended. Mentors can link you to other clients if they get overwhelmed with their projects.

10. Pricing your services

It can be a little bit hard figuring out how to price your services and the timelines within which you can deliver. An easy way to figure this out is to go online and search for your web development competitors, pick up their phone numbers or emails.

Pretend to be a client and contact them asking for a quote for developing a certain website you can imagine of. Once they get you the quote, you can adjust the pricing to what you are willing to work with.

11. Be Honest with yourself and the client

Learn to never promise to deliver a project that you don’t have skills for working on. This is because it will be overkill on your side trying to learn and deliver within the deadline, and you are likely to deliver substandard work, hence chasing away your clients. Additionally, when you are honest, you gain more respect from your clients.

Should I use online Freelancer Platforms?

Online freelancer platforms are great places for starting out; when you still don’t have much to show on your portfolio. Of course, you will work for less, but only for a few projects. These projects will not only cement your skills, but you can also add them to your portfolio.

While freelancer platforms connect you to so many clients, they charge a certain fee for every project you work on. Once you have built a few projects for your portfolio, and are starting to get direct clients, you can pause working on the freelancer platforms and focus on your client base. Some great freelancer sites include Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, Guru, PeoplePerHour, etc.

Pros of freelancer platforms

  • It is easy to set up a profile and start working.
  • A great place to win your first clients when you are just starting out.
  • Enable you to work with global clients.
  • There’s a guarantee that you will be paid since the platforms initiate a contract with the client before you start working.
  • They enable you to build a client base.

Cons of freelancer platforms

  • A huge commission is charged on every earning you make.
  • The payment takes some time to mature; mostly 2 weeks for beginners and 1 week for highly rated freelancers.
  • The rates per project can be demoralizing; this is attributed to the highly competitive nature of the sites. Some freelancers from countries with a lower economic standard are willing to take dismal rates hence lowering the overall rates of projects. This means you have to work on too many projects to make a substantial income.

How to survive and thrive as a freelance web developer

Web development is an industry that keeps growing; new languages and frameworks come out occasionally, solutions keep changing. As a freelancer, it is up to you to keep learning and updating your skills to remain relevant in the job market. You should always keep your portfolio website updated with the latest project as well as the skills you’ve learned; this is the information your prospective client is trying to find.

Communication is also key to thriving; keep your social media profiles updated, keep posting updates and interacting with your clients, and keep posting informative content on your blog, because the content is key.

Learning resources

As mentioned above, you must keep learning. Luckily, for web development, there are so many learning resources on the internet – both free and paid. Here are some great options;

  • Udemy Courses; Udemy offers thousands of On-demand online courses for so many industries. You can find a course for about anything. The courses are usually on irresistible offers of under $11.
  • FreeCodeCamp; FreeCodeCamp offers free online programming courses and projects to test your skills. You can also find interview preparation guides for developer jobs here.
  • TeamTreeHouse – Treehouse has several courses on web design and development that you can take to grow your skillset. It is a subscription-based platform; with $25/mo you get access to hundreds of courses that you can learn at your own free time.
  • Coursera – Coursera is a university-based platform; i.e. it partners with hundreds of universities to offer courses that are of a university standard. You can take a Computer Science course that covers several programming languages such as PHP, Node.JS, Python, etc.
  • Codecademy – Codecademy is one of the best platforms offering web development courses. They have an interface that you can use to practice what they teach in real time.

Final Thoughts

Starting out as a freelance web developer is not easy. It requires sacrifice. It’s like starting a business which is not always a walk in the park. While that is the case, it’s totally worth it as you can see from the advantages explained in the article.

After the first few months of struggling to build a reputation, the fruits you can reap from freelance web development are big. As we’ve discussed, you need to have technical skills, business skills, and managerial skills – which you can learn gradually as you progress.

Learning is fundamental, you must always keep updating your skills to remain relevant. Most importantly, you must know how to sell yourself – because you are the business.

Rooney

I am a full-stack web developer with over 13 years of experience. I love learning new things and are passionate about JavaScript development both on the front-end and back-end.

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