You’re here because you’re ready to become a freelance web developer.
The freelance web developer lifestyle can be alluring. You get to work on interesting projects, have the freedom to attend tech events and be part of tech communities, work from home, travel, and have a better work-life balance.
However, before you start drafting your resignation or thinking of how to quit your job in the most creative way, it’s important to have a more holistic view of the freelancing world.
Let’s learn more about the freelance web developer—who they are, reasons to consider becoming one, the steps to take to get into freelancing, and some other questions that you might have (like how much freelancers make from web development and the skills that you need).
If you’d like to skip ahead to a section, just use the clickable menu:
- What is a freelance developer?
- Why you should consider freelance web development
- How to become a freelance web developer in 6 steps
- Freelance web developer FAQs
1. What is a freelance developer?
A freelance developer works with clients, businesses, or organizations on a contract or project basis to make apps or websites, test them, and put them online.
They’re usually self-employed and may be affiliated with one or more brands as contractors. Their scope of work includes client and project management.
Some freelancers might have a set of skills, while others are highly specialized. A freelancer, for example, could create an end-to-end mobile app and deliver it to end users. Another might be specialized in testing applications.
A freelance web developer builds websites and web applications. There are many “types” of web developers, such as frontend and backend developers, full stack developers, and Salesforce developers.
Freelance programmers also work under different terms and conditions. Some charge hourly or daily rates; others charge on a project basis; and others run agencies individually or as a team.
Because freelancers are self-employed, they’re responsible for filing their own taxes and other aspects like drafting contracts, sending out invoices to clients, following up on payments, looking for new clients, and keeping the current ones happy.
Now that we know who a freelance coder is, let’s examine crucial factors to determine whether this is a path you should take.
2. Why you should consider freelance web development
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 skillset that allows you to work on your own terms.
So, you have the skills:
You’ve already trained in HTML.
Then it’s the perfect time to join the freelance programmer movement.
Build your craft faster
Having a portfolio is an awesome way to showcase your skills. With freelance projects, you can establish your developer profile.
Better still, working on freelance projects will push you to learn faster and improve your web development skills.
This is because you’ll need to learn some things in order to solve problems in your project and deliver a complete product to your clients.
Even when you cannot figure something out by yourself, you can ask for help from tech communities.
If you suffer from impostor syndrome, seeing yourself create solutions in the real world will help you become more confident.
As you ship more projects and become better at your craft, you can eventually get referrals and take on bigger projects.
Here are four major benefits when working freelance:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The advantages of being your own boss
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’s 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. According to job site Glassdoor, the average freelance web developer salary in the US is $79,806= awesome!!
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.
3. How to become a freelance web developer in 6 steps
At this point, you’re probably really excited about becoming a freelance web developer. So, naturally, your next question might be how to get started.
Step One: 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.
Step Two: Build, build, build
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! Contributing to open-source projects can further boost your credibility as a programmer.
Better still, the source code is accessible to everyone to tweak and contribute. You can find some open-source projects on GitHub and contribute to improving software or adding a use case!
Keep a blog that explains your process, ask and answer questions on social media, and build, build, build every day.
Step Three: 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.
Your personal brand transcends your portfolio. It’s how people perceive you. As a freelance web developer you should strive to be seen as reputable within the tech and business communities.
That means in addition to delivering sublime projects, you need to be professional in how you deal with your clients and end users.
You also need to have a strong online presence. This means being present where other developers and potential clients are.
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.
- Dev.to – this is a publishing platform for programmers. You can write tutorials and share them with other coders, for example. You can also find work via job listings, projects to contribute to, or events to attend.
- Discord — you can interact with developers from all over the world via Discord “servers”, which are similar to channels. Different servers connect different programmers together. Servers can be programming language-based, for example, a Python Discord channel. A lot of software companies also use Discord as a way to stay connected with their users.
- Slack — just like Discord, Slack connects coders and companies. Slack is also used for internal communication and collaboration by companies.
As a freelancer, you can use Slack for collaboration and communication with your clients. If you’re affiliated with a specific company on a longer-term contract, they might create a Slack channel for you for collaboration purposes.
- Stack Overflow — this is the biggest question-and-answer forum for programmers. As you gain more experience, you can help out other coders by answering questions.
- 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.
- GitHub — this is a must-have as a developer. It is part of your oeuvre. GitHub allows you to back up your code, and collaborate with others. You can also contribute to other projects. There are other options like Gitlab and Bitbucket.
These are just some platforms to get you started. Other tools you can look up include tooling around project management like Jira and Trello, documentation tools like Confluence and Gitbook, and of course LinkedIn to show that you’re a real professional.
Step Four: Get organized
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 organized—and we all need help with that!
Time and project management tools
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 organize 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.
In addition, always have a contract in writing. Some companies will have you sign one when you begin working with them. Individual clients usually don’t have contracts. This Github repo has some contract templates you can 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.”
Step Five. 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.
As you become more experienced, you could sign up on sites like Turing, arc.dev, Fiverr Pro, and Toptal, which connect top-tier developers to companies to work remotely for companies around the world.
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.
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.
Step Six: 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.
The tech communities that you’re part of should also be another option for you to get all the help you need with your project.
Finding a mentor is a good strategy too, especially someone who has been a freelancer for a while. They’ll advise you on potential pitfalls and provide you with a road map for your freelance career.
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.
4. Freelance developer FAQs
At this point, you’ve learned a lot to help you become a freelance coder. In this section, we answer a few more questions that you might still have:
How much does a freelance web developer make?
This is a tricky one, as it is highly dependent on experience and expertise. A good move is to research what freelancers who are likely to be your competitors charge. Top freelance web developers on Upwork charge $120 to $125 per hour.
Can I start freelancing with HTML and CSS?
Yes, you can. There are businesses and organizations that want simple websites just to have an online presence and their contact information available. And if you’ve mastered HTML and CSS enough to build a functional, presentable, and responsible site, why not?
How long does it take to become a freelance web developer?
This is dependent on several factors. Are you starting from scratch? Do you have prior experience with building software? What type of developer do you want to become?
One year would be sufficient time to learn HTML and CSS and build your portfolio (assuming that you dedicate time to learning daily or weekly). You might even be lucky enough to get a client or two.
What skills do you need to be a freelance web developer?
In addition, you need negotiation and communication skills when looking for work and working with clients.
5. Freelance web development: Wrap-up
We’ve delved into the world of a web developer, freelance, learned who a freelance web developer is, reasons to consider taking the freelancer journey, how to become a successful freelancing programmer, and answered some lingering questions.
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.
We hope you’re ready to jump in and start a successful freelance web development career!
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