The ability to design a website used to be the stuff of legend is something that only the invisible geniuses working at software giants like Microsoft or Google were capable of doing. However, with better internet infrastructure and improved digital literacy, a job in web development is not only a possibility but a very viable career choice.
Career prospects for those with web development skills usually end up being 9-to-5 positions in a cubicle, but these days there’s another option: freelancing web development services.
Know the What and Why, Before Thinking About the How
Before proceeding, take a moment to figure out if freelancing is what you want to be doing. Working at a company might mean more restrictions on your time, but there’s also less risk involved. Freelancing also amounts to being able to complete jobs on time while also staying on top of administrative tasks like bookkeeping and filing taxes.
Figure out what sort of business you plan to be involved in – the services you will be offering to clients, your areas of interest, or specialties. Being able to answer these questions will have you starting out on the right foot.
Having an accountability partner, someone you can trust to be honest with you and keep you working towards your goal, is never a bad thing to have as well.
Putting it Down on Paper: What is the Plan?
Start by taking stock of what technical skills you have to work with. If you’re new to web development and are not even sure of where to start, a quick Google search will bring up a whole list of web development-related skills that you’ll need to know.
Practice Makes Perfect
First things first: do you have the skills to be offering web development services in the first place? If this is your first foray into programming, fear not! There are plenty of online courses available that offer web development and programming training, many of them free of charge. Amazing, right?
Check out sites like Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, and Udacity for starters. For those who come in with a bit more experience, go beyond your basic understanding of programming. Take more advanced courses or get a tutor who can assess your current abilities and give you an expert’s opinion on what you should look into developing next.
Find Clients and Practice Your Programming Skills on Upwork
The best sort of practice you’re going to have is by completing paid work for clients. Getting your first paid gig, no matter how it pays, is a great confidence booster for anyone.
Set yourself up on websites like Upwork or Freelancer, where clients post jobs for freelancers, which are usually small jobs for a set price. This is a great way to learn on the job while gaining important business skills like communicating with clients or delivering a finished product professionally.
Do or Do Not – There is No Try
Once you have a rudimentary understanding of web development skills, start to experiment with small tasks or projects. This practice stage of building your business is meant to set up what will become your first portfolio of work.
Initially, it’s probably a good idea to complete simple tasks many times over. Having strong fundamentals is something that will help you immensely down the road. With a solid grasp of the basics, expanding your programming knowledge and moving on to learning more advanced programming languages and concepts will be much easier.
Don’t forget to move on to more challenging projects when you feel like you’ve mastered foundational programming.
Remember that the intention is to create material that potential clients will see and be impressed by. There’s no purpose in putting together multiples of similar tasks that don’t demonstrate unique skills learned.
Publish Your Portfolio – Show Them What You Can Do
When you’ve completed a number of pieces, it’s time to put together your portfolio.
A portfolio is essential for any business with a deliverable component, like your web development services. Clients want to be able to refer to samples of work that you’ve completed, to get an idea of how skilled you are, and if they want to give you their hard-earned money.
A little of This, A Little of That
Ideally, this portfolio should be comprised of paid work completed for a past client, but since we’re just starting out, you should put together the best out of the different projects that you’ve been trying out on your own for practice.
Your portfolio should represent the best of what you can do. If your end goal is to offer web development services for companies, that should make up the bulk of your samples in your portfolio. Design a few company websites that demonstrate what you can offer to clients.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t throw in a few pieces that are not exactly going to be your bread and butter. If your main deliverable is going to be company websites, but you happen to have some experience with developing applications for smartphones or developing flash animation, put it all in your portfolio. You might be surprised what sort of clients start knocking on your door if you keep yourself open to a range of opportunities.
Marketing Yourself: Do it Soon, Do it Often
With your portfolio set up, it’s time to get yourself out there. It takes time for small businesses to gain traction or a following, so it’s really important that you take every opportunity to advertise yourself.
No Shame in Plugging Yourself on Social Media
Your first target market is the one you’re already using: your online social networks! If you’re active on social media, start plugging your new start-up. Facebook and Instagram are great places to upload images of your designs, while Twitter and LinkedIn are essentials for getting in touch with potential clients and keeping current on what is the need in the market.
Using hashtags on social media and blog posts that are optimized for search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial to reaching your target market. Learn to check the analytics of your social media accounts and blogs to stay on top of whether or not you are using the terms that will connect you with prospective clients.
You may want to create a separate business account on social media for your social media activities related to your business. Think of an attractive logo and a name that reflects what your business is all about.
Breaking Out on Your Own as a Freelancer
While you’re working on client projects and restocking your portfolio with the results from paid projects, begin to put together your marketing plan and business workflow.
Your Company, Your Website, Your Rules
At this stage, you’ve gone and got a social media set up and maybe have even decided on a business name and logo. Now it’s just a matter of building your own website under the same banner.
You’ve got your portfolio as well, and that should be front and center on your website. There should also be a description of the services you provide, contact information, and your rates unless that’s something you prefer to discuss directly.
At some point, you’ll get contacted by someone interested in your services as a web developer. From your experience on worksites like Upwork, you’ll have a bit of knowledge about dealing with clients, and this should be no different. Keep your communication professional and focus on the value you can deliver to the client. Be proactive in communicating what other services you provide, but never try to hard-sell anything. Building relationships, not just revenue, is the way to success.
Welcome to Freelancing – Your New 9-to-5
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you’re well on your way out of an office job and into your next life as a freelancing web developer. The rest of the way is a bit of everything – building increasingly advanced skills, updating your portfolio, online marketing, and connecting with clients.
With any luck, your social media will generate interest and direct traffic to your website, where clients can see your curated body of work and be impressed enough to want to connect with you for a paid job of their own. You’re now at the starting line of the marathon that is freelancing. Where you decide to go from here and how you want to grow your business is entirely up to you.
Break a leg, and see yourself outside the cubicle one day!
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