If you’re reading this then you’re probably thinking about going freelance, becoming a web developer, or best of all, some combination of the two. You’ve done all the hard work and learnt to code, but now it’s time to reap some of the rewards that having these in-demand skills can offer you.
It’s a good idea! But, err, how?
You could have a number of reasons for making the decision to break out of the corporate machine, but if you’re looking for examples, here are four that you might have considered while sitting at your desk job, imagining all the creative ways of saying “I quit!”:
1. A better work-life balance: You can have breakfast with your boyfriend/girlfriend again!
Being your own boss: You can work all morning (or all night for that matter), and then spontaneously take a couple of days off to, I don’t know, play disc golf?
Freedom to choose your working hours/clients/rate of pay: Say a polite ‘no thank you’ to that miserable client and a ‘no thank you’ to his criminally low budget too.
The chance to work on more interesting projects: No more monotony, each month bringing a variety of work, clients and opportunities. Cue envious looks from your former colleagues.
Perhaps you’ve already trained in Ruby On Rails , or you learned HTML at college, or you’re a dab hand at Java. If so, now could be the perfect time to join the freelance movement and become your own boss.
[Sidenote: if you haven’t learned to code yet, then that should be your first order of business! Check out the CareerFoundry Web Development Course, and once you’ve learned a bit, come back and read this post again!]
Who should consider freelancing as an option?
If you’re a developer already, in all likelihood you’ve been working for the same company, or bouncing from opportunities year by year, leaving every time something that started out fascinating became quickly mundane. For a while now you’ve been thinking about calling your own shots, and breaking away from your circular work life.
On the other hand, if you’re a tech junky looking for a way to build a skillset that allows you to work on your own terms, this is a pretty stellar option.
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 (Jumanji, anyone?) but getting started is tough.
As a freelance web developer you put yourself in a high value position, but only for as long as you are able to run your own business, which includes managing the worst kind of employee you know… you!
Just kidding, but let’s face it, self discipline is tough when your other options are watching movies on your sofa with a box of cookies. You have to be strict, but in case you need the motivation, here are a few things about being a freelance developer that work to your advantage:
- Your skills are highly sought-after in every industry (AKA lots of demand)
- There is a huge shortage of web developers worldwide (AKA lots of demand)
- Contract salaries are frequently high (AKA … awesome!)
Think this might be the career choice for you? Thought so. Then let’s get you started!
1. Find your niche
Wanna stand out from the crowd? Find yourself a niche, find a web development course and upgrade 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.
“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, longterm freelance developer
If you’re not sure your current abilities solve a common enough problem, consider learning a new language altogether, or try building a skillset of complementary abilities other than coding. We have a UX Design Course, or UI Design Course for the more creative types. A developer who can also plan out a usable and effective information architecture is rare, and this dual-skilled approach could see you turning clients away left, right and centre.
You don’t ever just want to be “that developer guy/girl 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.
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
Ruby on Rails is an open source web application framework which runs via the Ruby programming language. Currently the hottest of the hot among startups worldwide.
Swift is Apple’s new innovative programming language for Cocoa and Cocoa Touch. Structured for iOS development, syntax is concise yet expressive, and apps run lightning-fast.
As our friend and expert web developer Stephen Young put it:
“Focus on the underlying principles and driving forces behind new technologies.”
2. Start building - anything and everything
So you’ve found your niche. 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 that your goal in self-representation is to be easy to find, easy to remember, and good to know. You can read more about this in my article My Secrets To Becoming A Successful Freelancer (And How You Can Get Out Of Your Desk Job In 30 Days.
But once you’ve published your CV, previewed samples of your past and added a contact form, what should you do?
Build your ideas, they are what make you, you! Once you’ve built your portfolio, you need things to put in it, which is your opportunity to boost your personal brand by:
- Practising your niche skill
- Building your own ideas
- Exhibiting your technical chops
You’re essentially killing two birds with one stone: you’re improving on and applying your new skills while simultaneously showing your wares.** 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 build, build, build every day. A great example of this is here: Confessions Of An Unlikely Developer
3. Build your personal brand
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 so get ready for some sleepless nights.
There are so many opportunities for professionals to get known without spending a penny that advertising is not a route you need to go down, not at this stage. By showcasing your work, building a network and 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.
The internet, as you may know, is a marvellous marketing tool. There are so many opportunities for creating and building on new relationships that with a little tact your voice will quickly become vastly superior to any ads you’ll produce. 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!
As professional freelancer Rebecca Shapiro told us:
“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.”
From a visibility standpoint, keep your goals simple. Getting Google to find you if you have a normal name can be tough, so focus on attaching your name across your portfolio, social profiles and content to the terminology of your niche skill, and the problems your clients will search for.
To kick it off, here are some great websites for online marketing:
- Twitter - create a following by tweeting about current news in your niche, having conversations with people in your field and answering questions.
- Quora- answer questions from people interested in your niche. Make these as detailed as possible: the more content you write the more likely Google is to associate your name with web development.
- YouTube - create online tutorials and upload them using YouTube. Put them on your own website. Give them easy-to-Google titles like: “What is ” or, “How to ….” so that people can easily find them when they search. Try to make them personal and funny - without going too far off-topic - the more watchable they are the more people will come back to you for more videos.
Finally, a great opportunity for web developers to build a brand with is teaching. There are thousands of opportunities across the web for building, writing and mentoring in your particular niche, including our own platform.
4. Get organised
Becoming a freelance web developer is not just about knowing how to code. It’s about being a project manager, a sales person and head of customer care. You might not have had much experience in these areas but they are just as crucial to the success of your freelancing career as anything you can do with your programming skills. This means you need to get organised!
Check out these time and project management tools and you’ll see how things have moved on since the days of the Filofax.
- 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 can be a great way 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 calanders and management apps.
- BillingsPro can be used to do project management and invoicing.
- FreshBooks can organise your projects, invoicing and expenses all with one app.
Do your research, ask friends, colleagues and other freelancers what they use.
Josh Boyd, longterm freelancer and writer for Crunch, gave us his 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.”
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. Elance, oDesk and Freelancer.com 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 fulltime 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 are still finding your feet, experience is what counts.
It’s a learning curve…
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.
It might also be worth doing projects for local charities, schools or small businesses who simply can’t afford to pay a web developer’s rate. 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. My last piece of advice? Be brave
Let’s face it, 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. No one likes (bad) surprises. Particularly people who are paying you to do something.
Our reliable friend Google can help you with almost every kind of programming query you have, as well as websites like Stackoverflow. But 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.
Summary: How do you become a freelance web developer?
- Find your niche
- Build, build, build
- Get your name out there and establish a network of other freelancers and industry professionals, as well as rebuilding links with previous colleagues and employers
- Do some research into and invest in some decent management and invoicing software
- Start getting experience every which way you can until you’re ready to….
- Take on your first big client.
It’s not easy. It’s damned hard work. But the rewards of the freelance lifestyle will outweigh all of this hard work by 100 times if you do it “right” from the beginning.
Building your reputation as a hard worker, a reliable, honest web developer who treats his or her clients well will pay off time and time again as you continue along your freelance journey.
Word of mouth recommendations are worth a hundred of any advertisement you could pay for. So don’t take short cuts. Don’t rush a project or treat any client better or worse than the next one. Get as much experience as you can and always, always do a good job.