How to Become a Freelance Web Developer in 2021

CareerFoundry Blog contributor Emil Lamprecht

You’re here because you’re ready to become a freelance web developer.

Maybe you’re sitting at your desk job, imagining all of the creative ways of saying “I’ve had it—I quit!”

And why not? You’ve put in hours of your time and done all the hard work—you’ve learned to code. More than just that though, over time you’ve learned the web developer working processes as well to help you work in different styles according to the project and situation. It’s time to take action and reap some of the rewards and become a freelance web developer.

Freelancing will change your life.

Here are 4 major benefits when working freelance:

  1. A better work-life balance: You can have breakfast with your partner again, say “Goodbye” to your commute, spend more time with your family, or travel—freelancing can open the door to a world of opportunities.
  2. Being your own boss: Being a freelance web developer means you can work all morning (or all night for that matter). There’s no flatter hierarchy that just one employee—you.
  3. Freedom to choose your working hours / clients / rate of pay: Say a polite “No thank you” to that miserable client and to his criminally low budget as well.
  4. The chance to work on more interesting projects: There’s no more monotony, each month bringing a variety of work, clients and opportunities according to which projects you choose.

Why should you consider freelance web development as an option?

If you’re already a developer, you’ve most likely been working for the same company for years, or have been bouncing from job to job each year. What started out fascinating quickly became mundane.

If you’re a tech junkie, you’ll be looking for a way to build a skill set that allows you to work on your own terms.

So, you have the skills:

You’ve already trained in HTML.

Learned CSS.

You’re a dab hand at JavaScript.

Then it’s the perfect time to join the freelance programmer movement.

Learn to code and code to learn

Being your own boss has a huge number of advantages

(And not just because you get to decide the theme for the office Christmas party)

As a freelance web developer, you put yourself in a high value position. However, getting started can be tough. As a freelancer, you have to be able to run your own business, and self discipline requires hard work. You have to be strict with yourself.

If you need the motivation, here are 3 major pros about being a freelance web developer:

First: There is lots of demand.

Your skills are highly sought-after in every industry. There are currently over 32,000 web developer jobs in the United States alone!

Second: There is a huge shortage of web developers worldwide. In 2020, an estimated 1 million software developer roles went unfilled in the tech industry.

Third: Contract salaries are frequently high. An average salary in the US is $75,889 = awesome!!

Win the game as a web developer

Now that you’re convinced the life of a freelance web developer is for you, it’s time for us to walk you through the step-by-step process.

6 Steps to Becoming a Freelance Web Developer

Here we’ll go through a useful process to follow for you to get up and running. If you’d prefer to skip ahead to one particular step, simply use the clickable menu:

  1. Find your niche
  2. Start building—anything and everything
  3. Create your personal brand
  4. Get organised
  5. Build up your experience, project by project
  6. Be brave

1. Find your niche

Want to stand out from the crowd?

Firstly you’ll need to find a web development course and upgrade your skills. Then, find yourself a niche and focus your skills.

While it’s great to be a programmer that can do a bit of everything, your value will be higher as an expert in just a few areas.

“Becoming known as the solution to a particular set of problems is crucial to your freelance career, so you need to be willing to differentiate and then lock it in.” – Ted Johnson, freelance web developer

You don’t ever just want to be “that developer I know” but rather “an expert developer for [insert problem here]”.

It’ll be much easier to advertise your skills and make a name for yourself if you can say you’re the best in a particular, sought-after area, or the only one who can do it.

It’s important to hone your skills and stay on top of current trends. Not sure what’s hot on the market right now? Here are the three most up-and-coming programming languages you’ll find today:

Ruby on Rails

As explained in our full Ruby on Rails guide, this open source web application framework runs via the Ruby programming language.


Swift is Apple’s innovative programming language for Cocoa and Cocoa Touch.

Structured for iOS development, Swift has a number of benefits, including syntax that’s concise yet expressive, and apps run lightning-fast.


Node.js is a platform built on Chrome’s JavaScript runtime to build fast, scalable network applications easily.

As our friend and expert web developer Stephen Young put it:

“Focus on the underlying principles and driving forces behind new technologies.”

The programming language ruby on rails

2. Start building anything and everything

You’ve found your niche. Congratulations! Now it’s time to get building.

The best place to start is your portfolio website, the one website you will update, edit and continually develop for your entire career.

Your portfolio is a way of displaying your skills and having an easy reference for potential clients.

If in doubt, remember: your goal is to be easy to find, easy to remember, and good to know.

So, once you’ve published your CV, previewed samples of your past work and added a contact form—what should you do now?

Build your ideas, they are what make you, you! Once you’ve built your portfolio, next you’ll need things to put in it. This is an opportunity to boost your personal brand by:

  • Practising your niche skill
  • Building your own ideas
  • Exhibiting your technical chops

Your portfolio is your shop window, so make sure that it, and its contents, represent your very best work. And if you want help making it better, help others!

Keep a blog that explains your process, ask and answer questions on social media, and build, build, build every day.

Metaphor for building a career as a freelance web developer

3. Create your personal brand

It’s all about the hustle! Getting your name out there as an expert in the field can be tough, but if you want the freelance lifestyle, you’ll have to hustle for it.

The good news is that there are so many opportunities for professionals to get known without spending a penny.

By showcasing your work, building a network, teaching and blogging like an expert, you will find more than enough ways to connect with people and for people to find you.

It’s crucial that you talk to people. Online and off.

Always keep in mind that you’ll have to talk to a lot of people to find and land clients, so get used to it!

Professional freelancer Rebecca Shapiro has this advice:

“Make sure that you seek freelancers outside of your industry, as well. Be as far-reaching as possible. Go into building these relationships with an attitude of giving instead of getting and you’ll find you’ve easily built a reciprocal referral network.”

Make yourself visible by keeping your goals simple. Getting Google to find you if you have a normal name can be tough.

Focus on attaching your name across your portfolio, social profiles and content to the terminology of your niche skill.

As usual, the internet is an extremely valuable resource. There are some great websites for online marketing that you’ll already be familiar with, but they can be great for different reasons:

  • Twitter — Create a following by tweeting about current news in your niche. Great for networking and having conversations with people in your field from around the world.
  • Quora — Great for answering questions from people interested in your niche. Fosters relationships with other professionals, while getting your name out there in Web Development circles.
  • YouTube — Create online tutorials and upload them. Give them easy-to-Google titles like: “How to become a Freelance Web Developer….” make them personal and funny; the more watchable they are, the more people will come back to you.

Last but not least:

Teaching is a great opportunity for web developers to build a brand.

There are thousands of opportunities across the web for building, writing and mentoring in your particular niche, including our own industry-leading learning platform.

Build social media presence as a web developer

4. Get organised

Becoming a freelance web developer is not just about knowing how to code.

It’s about being a project manager, a salesperson and Head of Customer Care—all at the same time.

You might not have had much experience in these areas but they are just as crucial to the success of your freelancing career.

This means you need to get organised!

(And we all need help with that)

Use these time and project management tools to make life easier:

  • Quoteroller is a practical, time-saving way to create and send professional proposals to clients in a matter of minutes. You can chart your proposal’s performance and even see when the client has opened it.
  • Toggl and Timely are great ways to track projects and see how much time you are spending on each one.
  • Asana is an excellent project management system, especially if you are working with others and need to delegate tasks or collaborate.
  • Google has an infinite range of calendars and management apps.
  • BillingsPro for project management and invoicing.
  • FreshBooks organise your projects, invoicing and expenses all with one app.
  • HubStaff is an Asana integration that will help you to track your time and productivity, and bill clients accordingly.

Finally: Do your research, ask friends, colleagues, and other freelancers what they use.

Josh Boyd, freelancer and writer for Crunch, has this advice:

“The most useful thing I realised about freelancing was not to despair when things went a bit wrong. New tax forms to fill out and late-paying clients would make me reconsider, but it’s worth remembering freelancing is meant to be a challenge. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be half as rewarding.”

Freelance web developer offline tools

5. Build up your experience, project by project

Now that you’ve got that new, in-demand skill under your belt and a slick website, it’s time to do some real projects to show potential clients.

Upwork, Glassdoor and are great online marketplaces for newbies in the field to start taking on jobs and gaining experience.

Do this while you’re still in your full-time job to get a feel of the amount of time you’ll need and what you can realistically start to earn per project.

While you’re still finding your feet, experience is what counts. You are still very much in the learning process here: Learning how to be a business person and a freelancer.

Use this step as a chance to learn how to handle clients, to find out what they will expect from you.

Find your feet by helping someone out!

Doing projects for local charities, schools or small businesses who simply can’t afford to pay a web developer’s rate helps you and them.

As Joshua Kemp writes in his blog, Confessions Of An Unlikely Developer:

“Find a friend with a TINY small business (any business), or you can just find a crappy old site that needs a serious facelift.”

By doing this, you are building up your portfolio and getting great references for your CV: crucially, you’ll learn how to deal with people.

6. Be brave

This is my final and most important piece of advice:

When you start out, you’re not going to be an expert in your field.

You may take on projects that you aren’t sure how you’re going to finish. If that’s the case, if you’re not 100% confident of how you’re going to complete a project—give your client a realistic idea of when they can expect that work back. If you tell them it’s going to take longer than they expect, it’s better you tell them that now than when the deadline has passed.

Help is out there!

Our reliable friend Google can help you with almost every kind of programming query you have, as well as websites like StackOverflow.

Don’t let lack of confidence stop you from taking on these bigger projects. It’s how you’ll develop as a freelancer and how you’ll learn your trade.

Anything is possible. You’re your own boss now.
Be your own boss as a developer

Freelance Web Development: Wrap-Up

In case you haven’t picked up on this by now, let me be clear—being a freelance Web Developer isn’t easy. In fact, it’s damned hard work. But the rewards of the freelance lifestyle will exponentially outweigh all of this.

You need to build your reputation as a hard worker, and as a reliable, honest web developer.

Always keep these 3 guiding principles in mind:

  • Don’t take shortcuts.
  • Don’t rush a project.
  • Don’t treat any client better or worse than the next one.

Get as much experience as you can and always, always do a good job.

Looking to learn more? Some of these articles are sure to interest you:

What You Should Do Now

  1. Get a hands-on introduction to web development with a free, 5-day short course.

  2. Take part in one of our live online web development events with industry experts.

  3. Talk to a program advisor to discuss career change and find out if web development is right for you.

  4. Become a qualified web developer in 4-7 months—complete with a job guarantee.