To become a Web developer in 2022

How to Become a Freelance Web Developer

If you’re busy daydreaming about the projects and clients you wish you had, plus being your own boss, it’s time to turn that into a reality by becoming a freelance web developer. You’ll join the ranks of thousands of professionals who manage their own day and get to make the rules, with all the benefits and opportunities that come with it.

Freelance web development can be a fantastic ride, but you’ve got to be up to the challenge. A freelance web developer performs the same website, app, mobile, and other digital development for online services and sites as a web developer working for a company. The core difference is that you’re the entire shop.

Your day looks different because you’ll spend time working with clients, finding leads, making proposals, and managing the business side of operations. That includes everything from paying yourself and partners to filing taxes, buying office supplies, and meeting any local government requirements. You’re the one to make sure there’s coffee every morning—thankfully, always your favorite blend—but also the person responsible for work being turned in on time, even if you’re sick.

There’s a lot to it, and we’re here to help you get started. In this guide, you’ll find:

  • 7 core benefits of being a freelance web developer
  • Help in determining hourly rates for distinct experience levels
  • 8 steps for creating your freelance web development business
  • Tips and tricks for getting started and finding that first client

Let’s get started by identifying the benefits available and why so many people are becoming freelance web developers.

What are the benefits of being a freelance web developer?

Many developers transition to a freelance career because of the freedoms and benefits it offers. They want a lifestyle they can control and manage, since they are independent of company structures. You still have clients and must meet their demands plus contractual obligations, but the fine details of your day-to-day are under your control.

There are a few core benefits of being a freelance web developer, especially if you use platforms like Upwork to find a diverse set of clients. Here are some of the ones you might enjoy most:

1. Diverse clients

When you’re running your freelance effort, you have the opportunity to work with a wide range of clients. Looking for customers in places like Upwork enables you to sample different industries, project types, and opportunities. If you want to build a portfolio site this week but focus on community sites the next, you have that flexibility and generally available clients.

2. Lots of opportunities

Nearly every business needs a website, and that means a web developer. It’s a trend that won’t go away, and many predict it to boom. The rise in e-commerce and online services will create ongoing demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is an expected growth rate in web developer positions of 8%, twice the average job’s growth rate. Companies will need your services and may be willing to look at contractors as opposed to in-house teams.

3. Project diversification

One nice thing about being your own boss is that you can choose the projects you bid on and perform. If you prefer a type of development (or there’s one you dislike), you make the call. While you need to work enough to pay the bills, the many available projects mean you can likely focus on areas you prefer.

4. Work from any location

Web developers need their computer and a strong Internet connection, but not much else to get the job done. That means you can work where you want, whether that’s from home or a local coffee shop, or even at an exotic vacation location. Some freelancers find short-term rentals where they want to travel to work and play without worrying about income.

5. Setting your own hours

Most of us have times we prefer to work. Freelance web developers can generally set most of their hours—though you’ll likely need to meet clients during set times during a project. Night owls and early risers can adapt schedules to meet their needs.

6. Grow your career on your own terms

Want to learn something new? Look for small projects in that area and get paid while you hone skills. You can also specialize in industries or client types to further narrow your scope and specialize how you prefer. Specialization can lead to projects you complete faster and higher rates for more complex jobs.

7. Write off expenses

One final benefit for some freelancers is the ability to write off expenses. For example, in the United States, there are opportunities for tax breaks and reductions around areas such as your workspace, equipment, and software. Always check the tax reduction options with an accountant.

Understanding the benefits can make freelance web development an exciting prospect. One important part about learning if it’s right for you is the pay, so we’ll look at that next.‍

How to become a freelance web developer?

Every developer’s journey is different but here are some foundational things to learn about becoming a freelance web developer. You might already know some of these concerns, or they could spark a unique area of expertise that you have. While our guide is a wonderful place to start, one important thing to know about freelancing is that you never stop learning.

So, here are eight necessities for starting as a freelance web developer:

1. Define your skills

The best place to start is with yourself. Define what you know, what you don’t know, and what you’re best at doing. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you choose projects you’re likely to complete quickly and well. The more successful you are early on, the faster you can raise your value.

Ask yourself:

  • What are your preferred programming languages?
  • Where did you excel in school?
  • What have you worked on in the past?
  • What do you struggle with most?

Be honest with yourself so that you avoid painful missteps once you start.‍

2. Look for skills training

When you start listing your strengths and weaknesses, you might notice an opportunity or tool to help your business. For example, many websites use WordPress, and it can be a reliable tool to know. The growth in e-commerce may make WooCommerce a useful system to understand.

Take the gaps in your skills and determine what you would like to solve through knowledge. There are many free skill training programs available online, and some paid options that you can use. Ensure you have the basics down and then look at more complex areas of specialization, such as Node.js or Ruby on Rails.‍

3. Plan your business

Freelancing is a business, and you’ll need to run your operations like one. That doesn’t mean stuffy suits and chats at the watercolor, but it will mean new practices to learn. If you’ve never started a business or worked in a new company, look for online services and solutions to help.

The best place to start is by finding a local accountant. They’ll help you determine what records and receipts to keep, plus what local laws and license requirements you should know. A good accountant can help you save accordingly to pay for your annual taxes, track expenses and deductions, and even help you standardize invoicing and other needs.

Review local laws and see how you need to register your business and if it requires its own bank account, address, phone number, or other details. You might also need professional liability insurance if you’re working with customers on your own instead of through a platform that manages jobs and payments for you.

4. Define your tools

Think about how you will interact with clients, and if you have a tool for each step. Think beyond the computers you have and into the software and platforms you need, too. Here are some of the more critical tools and systems:

  • Get your domain and email to appear more professional.
  • Have a reliable phone for communication. Skype or Zoom can be a great backup or primary means if you have international clients.
  • PayPal, Venmo, and Bill.com can give you payment tools, while time-tracking apps might help you stay on task and correctly invoice each client.
  • There are many project management (PM) tools available. While clients may have PM systems they require for their development, you’ll want your PM to manage tasks, to-dos, and requirements both for projects and your business.
  • Templates for contracts, agreements, and projects.
  • Get Google Analytics and advertising accounts to help you understand traffic and eventually start to advertise your business.
  • Wireframing and web font tools.
  • Stock photo websites or subscriptions to populate designs.

Those will get you started. What you need beyond that will be defined by customers and the projects you take on throughout your career.

5. Build your portfolio

Now that you have your business idea together, it’s time to get your portfolio together. This highlights your projects and past work to show customers what you can do. It’s an essential piece of any freelance business and helps prospects know that you can do the work they need. There are free options, or you can create your own site entirely and go with a private host.

Think of the portfolio as your store where people can browse and choose options. This means showcasing a diversity of work to attract more customers. Ensure the site works properly for all visitors.

Portfolios are highly visual because not all customers speak the design language. So, someone might not know they need HTML or a “responsive” design, but they can tell you that they want something that works on most PCs and phones. Highlight a variety of work and be sure to include your contact information.

Many designers will first create a profile on Upwork because it standardizes many elements and gives them a place to add a portfolio with ease. You can see what customers request and what others do, then quickly adjust your profile to ensure you have all the necessary requirements. From there, customization and personalization are easier and more effective.‍

6. Research the competition and market

The Internet has a wealth of information you should review about freelance web design and development. You can quickly get information on salaries and hourly rates, skills, and areas of significant need. Browse every job board you can—you don’t necessarily need to create profiles on all of them—to see what people want. Joining groups on LinkedIn and Facebook can help you understand what’s in demand locally, too.

Asking fellow developers questions can help you understand the right things to know and expect. Many experienced professionals are also willing to share tips on how they got started and initial rates. Gather as much information you can on potential customers and competition. Find profiles of designers and developers you like, plus look at ones for other new freelancers. They might also help you understand how to address developer interviews.

Knowing what you’re up against and what people need is a smart way to learn how to present yourself to potential clients and win bids.

7. Apply to jobs

After you know a little more about the market and what you want to work on, it’s time to start applying for work. You can use a variety of job boards to find your first project. Be sure to ask around, too, because connections, friends, teachers, and classmates may know someone who needs help. People you have an existing relationship with may be more willing to take a chance on your work or make personal recommendations that really help with finding work.

Turning to platforms like Upwork may speed up your efforts because the process is streamlined. People submit jobs in specific ways and mark the skills they need while you create proposals and share related work. That takes away a big part of the task;just identifying who needs help.

When you find a project that you like and want to apply to, there’s one big piece of advice to follow: Read the entire post!

Many companies have specific requirements and needs for their jobs. The best proposals address these specific items. Demonstrate your knowledge and understanding. And don’t forget to proofread what you submit. Take your time with each proposal and you’ll start landing jobs soon.‍

8. Plan marketing and more

Your ultimate step in these initial efforts is to begin to market yourself. While your work product is the goal, you’re really marketing yourself in the early days of your freelance business. Clients need to see you as reliable and knowledgeable so that they trust you to get work done correctly and on time.

If you’re financing this yourself, you might not have a lot to spend on marketing. That’s okay. Begin with social media presences, especially LinkedIn, to share about yourself and make connections. Focus on creating your network to see about opportunities for work, education, and more.

A good strategy early on is to help. You don’t want to give away a lot of work or details, but you can offer suggestions on how people get started solving their problems. Something as simple as suggesting a better plugin or host can turn someone looking for help into a customer. They might also recommend you to their colleagues.

How to get your first client and grow your customer base

Your first customer will depend heavily on how you write a proposal for their project. At this point, you typically won’t have much of a portfolio to share of paid work, and you’ll need someone to take a chance on your freelance web development. So, pay attention to what they ask and answer it carefully. Provide your best work and advice and try to demonstrate that you’re willing to work with the client and accomplish their job quickly and effectively.

There’s a lot of pressure in these first freelance proposals. Formatting, information, and how you write all can help or hurt. That’s one reason many people starting as freelance web developers turn to Upwork. The Upwork system standardizes proposals and gives you access to a wide range of potential clients. You can search and sort jobs to find areas where you’re most comfortable and best able to do an excellent job.

Get started by browsing Upwork’s freelance job page to see current job postings. You can also browse other freelancers’ profiles to see how they write, rate ranges, skills, and ways to improve your profile, like with proficiency tests.

Launch your career today

The best news of our guide is that nothing is stopping you from becoming a freelance web developer. There are free and low-cost options for nearly everything on our list, plus plenty of tools and suggestions to help you get started sooner. The faster you get going, the faster you’ll land your first project and have that first payday.

There’s nothing quite like it.

If you’re ready to take that next step and start freelancing, consider signing up with Upwork to build a profile and portfolio on one of the largest work marketplaces for freelance developers, designers, and web experts.

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