How to Become a Freelance Web Developer [Full Guide]


13 min read

How to Become a Freelance Web Developer [Full Guide]

If you want are thinking of becoming a freelance web developer, let’s assume that you already have the coding and programming knowledge. You’re not just shooting from the hip and dreaming of becoming something that you are not practically capable of. If this is not the case then you need to stop reading about freelancing and start learning the basics. If you are a web developer already, then read on.

Secondly, you are considering taking a major step into the world of self-employment. A world that has some great advantages but a world that can be difficult and uncomfortable at times. This is a decision not to be taken lightly, so think long and hard before jumping in.

Some Advantages of Freelancing

1. You have greater control to:

  • Schedule your own hours
  • Choose your clients
  • Select projects you want to work on
  • Work from wherever you want

2. You take the rewards:

  • The profit is yours
  • You are the boss

It all sounds so good, you’ll be wondering why not everybody does it. The reason is that there are also some significant disadvantages and risks involved.

Some disadvantages of Freelancing

1. Greater risk

  • There is no guaranteed work from day-to-day or week-to-week
  • Lack of employee benefits – things like insurance, holiday pay, sick pay
  • The uncertainty of payment

2. Greater responsibilities

  • Less time actually developing moe time searching and reeling in clients
  • More time spent communicating with clients
  • Much more business administration – business taxes, insurance, accounts, etc.
  • Work/Life balance – what is often seen as an advantage, can quite easily turn you into an all-consuming workaholic.

Of course, the potential advantages are high but only apparent if you are a success.  The good news is that web development is a massively in-demand area and it’s growing and growing. There is a world-wide shortage but it is also a very competitive industry. But bear in mind, web developers from all over the world are waiting to undercut you on price, to outbid you on deadlines, to pinch clients, and promise a better service at a better rate. There’s competition from big agencies too, who have the resources to outcompete the lone wolf.

There’s a lot to think about, but you know that! If you decide that freelancing is the way forward for you, and millions do, then follow these…

Steps along the road to success in Freelancing:

1. Plan your Business

Going from being a web developer for a company, or just playing around to becoming a fully-fledged freelance web developer is a mighty step. You need to set up a professional business and that needs planning. We’ll take for granted that you have the skills and let’s add that’s you’ve probably had good feedback and encouragement. This does not guarantee success. You need to go from being a talented web developer to a business-minded, professional and that means adding more strings to your bow than just coding. You are sales and admin, marketing and project managing, customer service, and communication hub, the brand, and the businessman – the buck stops with you. So plan, and plan from the start.

  • Finance

How are you going to finance to new business? Do you need set-up funds? How much do you need to make each month before you start making a profit? How much flexibility and reserve funds do you have to start-up?

Vital questions to ask yourself. The time to sit down and work out the numbers is before you start freelancing. Break down your costs, including utility bills and other extras.
Work out how much money you need to survive each month. How much will you need to spend on branding to marketing? What about costs of equipment and software? These are the sums that will tell you if it’s worth it, the numbers that make freelancing viable or not.

You may be interested in our article How Much Do Freelance Web Developers Make? 

  • Technical

The planning stage is also the time to look at the technical side of setting up as a self-employed person. You need to go through the legislation in your resident country and establish what hoops you have to jump through. How will you pay your taxes? Do you need insurance? What accounts will you need to produce and when? Do you need to be registered self-employed?

These are the boring parts of setting up on your own, but they are the foundations of a good solid business plan. There’s plenty of information and help to guide you in whichever location you are, make use of it.

  • Ideas and Vision

Write a plan of the aims and goals of your venture. Where do you want to be and at what stage? Keep it realistic and be prepared to change as you go along. This is your road map, and you might need to take the odd diversion but the destination should be firm.

This is also the point to make decisions about your services, prices, and price structures, and what kind of work you are prepared to do and what you are not. You’re not coming into this game as a complete freshman, so take your experience and make your choices.

  • Your strategy and focus

Plan what is going to make clients want to come to you, what are you going to offer? What is your focus? If you can find something that you enjoy, are good at and there is a market for -then you’ve got the ideal combination. Grabbing at any work that comes along is understandable at first and certainly better than starving, but for a sustainable business, it isn’t a great idea.

You may well be able to offer a bit of everything but it’s best to focus on a particular. This means you can concentrate your marketing and highlight your expertise. Spreading yourself too thin is unlikely to benefit you in the long term. If you developed a reputation in a certain area, firstly you can charge more and secondly clients are going to hear about it and come looking for you.

By all means, learn new things and keep up with the trends, but remember you are now in business. And time spent learning is time spent away from doing.

2. Organise

When you are setting up on your own, you are very much expected to be a master of all things. No longer will are readily defined project land on your lap and just need doing. You’re going to need to communicate, give quotes, invoice, manage, set and meet deadlines, track and chart progress, update clients – and hopefully, you are just dealing with one client at a time.

And that’s just the project side of things. Additionally, there’s the business admin. Accounts and taxes that need doing and paying. Records and archiving of communication. Banking and payment in and outs, contracts, etc. And let’s not forget your marketing, social media strategy, creation of brand awareness, updating your own portfolio site…it might all seem too much at times. Without decent organization, you are setting yourself up to fail -and it won’t be very long before that becomes very, very clear.

Luckily there are plenty of tools to help you. You’ll know most of the project management and web development tools such as Asana, Slack, Trello but there are some great tools for freelancers to make the business side of things easier too.

  • Accountancy & Invoicing

Accountancy software can really help you control your finances. Software such as Quickbooks, Wave Accountancy and Freshbooks, are all ideal for freelancers.

  • Client Communication

It’s possible to work through general communicating software such as email or video conferencing such as Skype or Zoom. However, for better organization, you might want to use a more business-focused app such as Basecamp or Zendesk. These help you keep a business mindset in your communications.

  • Multipurpose Apps

There are also multipurpose apps such as Kitchen App that allow you to create a communications client area, and send invoices, quotes, and files securely through the same system. Plus you can secure your files, letting them be opened only on payment so you can rest assured you won’t be delivering the project without being paid.

3. Build Your Website

Websites are a way of getting your information and service out there but for a budding web developer, they are so much more. This is your portfolio, your way of showing off what you can do, of letting your skills and talent impress enough to win you the deal. If you have a shoddy website, that lacks panache or is difficult to navigate – then really ask yourself some serious questions.

You need to include examples of completed work, even if it’s just example work. It’s essential to spell out clearly what service you offer, what you can do, and what you are willing to offer. You also need testimonials and quotes from satisfied clients from your freelance services, and the sooner you build these as a fundamental feature of your site and incorporate them into your marketing the more trustworthy you become.

Add some personal information, make the site engaging and use the latest most impressive techniques. Up-date if frequently, even add a blog, and perhaps the most important thing is to make sure you can be contacted easily through your site. Time spent by clients trying to find out how actually to offer you a job is time they don’t want to spend.

4. Market Your Web Development Services

You’ve found your niche and tailored your web development website and now is the time to get your name out there.

  • Website

Your website should be one of your marketing go-to’s. Now you need to direct traffic there, Note the best tools and tips available for pushing your SEO. Quality content is high on a search engines list of good practice, so an informative blog that is regularly updated will not only help spread the news of your web development services but it will help your ratings.

  • Social Media

Social Media presence is also a must, get on all the platforms especially the business ones such as Linkedin. This will help generate traffic to your site, as well as getting your brand recognized and spreading the word about your services.  Social media ads are also one of the most effective ways of targeting ads and they are pretty affordable.

  • Branding

Branded emails from a company email account will help you get taken seriously. With a good quality email, even cold emails have a better chance of attracting the right kind of attention. You can also think of building your brand by creating interesting YouTube content.

  • Testimonials

Focus on reviews and testimonials of your work, they will play a dominant role in generating the trust that a new business needs to have a chance of success.

  • Networking

You can network on social media and contribute to forums to show your expertise. Quora is a great example of a platform that is subject and field-specific.  Guru and BNI are other great networking platforms for professionals.

It’s always a good idea to do some physical networking too. Attending events and industry-specific trade fairs will help you meet people and hopefully get them interested in what you offer. Once the industry professionals get to know who you are, you’re on a forward journey.

It’s also worth considering shouting out to friends whose website you think need improving or updating. this gets the word out and adds to your portfolio. The same with non-profit organizations and charities- why not offer something for free to build up contacts and experience.

5.  Finding Clients and Keeping Them

To get your freelancing business off the ground you need clients and to make it a success you need to keep hold of the ones.

  • Short Term

In the short term, you are probably going to have to throw all your energy into attracting clients from anywhere you can. With a bit of luck you’ve already built up some contacts, and now is a good time to give them a call and let them know what you are up to. There are also freelance services for advertising yourself and bidding for work. Check out freelance sites such as Fiverr, Upwork, PeoplePerHour, Truelancer, and Freelancer. They offer a cheap way of finding clients from all around the world. And let’s not forget your social media ads and presence should get some clients interested.

  • Medium/Long Term

To have a really successful sustainable future as a freelance web developer the only way is to build your brand and reputation. This is down to your quality of work, and quality of overall service. Now that you’re in business for yourself you have to utilize the skills of client communication and client management. You want to be the first person the client comes to with a project because you are reliable, you get the job done and the client feels reassured and comfortable with you. You need to learn the tricks of the trade – concentrate on your communication skills, hone your organizational qualities, and don’t just presume these come naturally. The technology and tools can help but the human touch is still important.

Success in business is about building relationships.

6. Keep on, Keeping On.

Every project and every client contact is a learning experience and you should be looking to get something out of each one. Even the bad experiences, and you are sure to have some, can be beneficial if you treat them as a lesson learned.

From a technical point of view, the projects give you experience and you can push yourself and develop new skills. From a business point of view, every email or video meeting, every successful or unsuccessful negotiation, every deadline – made or missed is a chance to learn for next time. Reflect, review, reset – and keep on growing.

7. Stay Up-to-date

There are few fields that move as fast as web development and standing still is falling behind. It’s often hard to keep all the balls in the air at the same time as it is, never mind finding time to learn new skills. However, it is important that you stay relevant. Learning new skills, languages and technologies are part of this but so is staying up-to-date with the latest trends and movements in web development.

You may also be interested in Website Methodologies: The Best Ways to Run Web Development Projects

And finally…

Becoming a successful freelance web developer is not easy and it won’t happen overnight. There is an enormous amount of pressure on your time, and always a degree of risk. But if you follow the processes above, then at least you are on the right track. The structure for development is in place and you can concentrate on making a success of your freelance projects. The ideal scenario is that you get return clients through building quality relationships and providing a great web development service that they value. The rewards can be fantastic, giving you the control and responsibility alongside the flexibility to it your work around your life so follow these steps to give yourself the best chance.

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