The Internet is one of the most groundbreaking inventions of modern civilization, if not of all time. So, it’s no surprise that the web development industry has rapidly grown along with it. While many of these talented professionals go on to work for tech departments in larger corporations, others find themselves wondering how to be a freelance web developer.
In a world where traditional employment is the status quo, breaking into freelance can seem deceptively difficult. Fortunately, that’s not really the case.
Actually, all it takes is a little critical thinking and a few simple steps to get started toward becoming a freelance web developer yourself.
Employment vs. Freelance: Which Is Right for You?
Many industries rely on traditional employment to function. Web design, however, is not one of those industries.
But that doesn’t mean that every web developer is cut out for freelancing.
While some professionals prefer contract work and others prefer a salary, neither is inherently better than the other. With that said, though, one is almost guaranteed to be better for you.
Before you dive headfirst into freelance web development, take the time to consider if independent work is right for you:
Web development is in high demand
Between the boom of eCommerce and the popularity of smartphone apps, web development is a rapidly growing industry. In fact, estimates put the field’s 10-year growth between 2016 and 2026 at around 15 percent.
Web developers serve all types of businesses.
From yoga studios to auto shops, everyone wants to get their name out there on the web. Even government agencies must build and maintain websites as part of their day-to-day operations.
When these businesses and organizations don’t have an in-house development team, freelancers are there to pick up the slack.
Competition is fierce
While web development is in high demand, you’re not the first person to consider jumping into the world of freelance. As a result, freelance web development is an extremely competitive field.
There may be plenty of clients looking for professional web developers at any given time, but there are even more freelancers striving to gain their business.
Every time you reach out to a prospective client, potentially dozens of other developers will be as well.
Complicating this even further is the fact that many web developers live in countries outside the Western world. This means these freelancers can offer lower rates while still making a worthwhile living in their home countries.
Contracts come with a hefty income
Web development contracts might be hard to come by, but they certainly pay well.
In the U.S., freelance web developers make an average of just over $75,000 per year. If this doesn’t seem like much at first glance, keep in mind that it’s over double the national average of just over $31,000 per year.
Of course, some freelancer developers make more while others make less. But you can rest assured that the trouble of landing new clients will almost always be worth it in the end.
How to Be a Freelance Web Developer: Your First Steps
While it does come with pros and cons, freelance work suits countless creative professionals extremely well.
If the thought of having full control over your schedule, services, and clients is appealing to you, then perhaps it’s time to take the first steps toward becoming a freelance web developer:
1. Narrow your offerings
As a freelancer, you have the freedom to do whatever you like. Because of this, many fledgling entrepreneurs are tempted to offer anything and everything they can.
But this strategy rarely leads to success. At least, not highly paid success.
Instead, you should try to focus your offerings on a selection of services. Maybe these services are ones for which you have an innate knack. Or, perhaps they’re a range of services you have experience in that few other web developers are offering.
In one way or another, your success will depend on your ability to corner part of the web development market. There are many ways to do this, but focusing your skillset on a particular niche is one of the best.
Some example niches to consider are:
- Back-end development for eCommerce retailers
- Network security management for financial organizations
- UX design for gaming websites and mobile apps
If you’re particularly experienced in the world of web development, there’s a good chance you know how to do more than one of these things. However, your goal should be to become the best at one type of service, not a jack-of-all-trades.
2. Find your ideal client
This doesn’t mean literally find a client, but decide what type of client you want to target. If you skip this step, you’ll find yourself aimlessly searching for work and, most likely, coming up empty-handed.
For example, do you want to work with small, non-tech businesses that have little knowledge of web development and need you to take the lead?
Or, do you want to manage the day-to-day operations of an existing website that the client could handle themselves, but doesn’t have the time to do so?
Perhaps, instead, you’d prefer to consult with tech-focused organizations about their network security and how they can stay on top of changing technology?
As you can probably guess, your ideal client doesn’t just affect the types of work you’ll perform. It will also have a lot to do with how you market yourself.
3. Market your skills
So, you’ve got your service niche and perfect client figured out. Now it’s time to get your name out into the world.
In all cases, putting together a high-quality web portfolio is the way to go. But from there, your job search can vary greatly depending on the type of client you’re targeting:
If you’re targeting non-tech savvy small businesses or individuals...
If your target clients are business owners or individuals with no web development know-how of their own, they’re likely coming to you because they simply can’t complete the work themselves.
Remember, many of these clients won’t know the difference between a front- or back-end developer, or the difference between their home computer and a server.
Patience is key both in how you market your skills and how you approach these clients personally.
Keep your information accurate, but consider simplifying more technical terms or offering laymen definitions when appropriate.
Along with your professional website, consider marketing your skills on more traditional job boards like Indeed, LinkedIn, or even through Facebook ads.
If you’re targeting larger businesses or organizations...
Many large corporations will maintain a tech department on-staff.
However, sometimes the organization’s regular needs aren’t great enough to justify a full-time web developer. Or, perhaps they have a project outside of their existing staff’s wheelhouse.
Generally, these client contracts are large enough that they don’t go out searching for freelance web development services. Rather, the freelancers come to them.
While cold-calling is a technique used by many freelancers, it doesn’t necessarily have the highest success rate.
You should completely abandon cold-calling potential clients, but consider prioritizing networking within your target industry.
After all, successful business-to-business marketing often depends on personal connections. Not cold advertising.
If you’re targeting security-focused organizations or those in the tech industry…
For the inexperienced, these clients aren’t the hardest to land. And for good reason.
Those in the tech industry or with specific security needs require the best-of-the-best web developers. If that’s not you, chances are you won’t land many of these contracts.
But if you are one of the best in your field, how do you get your name out there and build authority in the industry?
In addition to all of the other marketing techniques mentioned so far, one of the best investments you can make is to produce content for your target industry.
For example, is there a popular trade magazine that prospective clients are likely to read? Consider writing an informational article and submitting it to the magazine for publishing.
Not only will this place you on the radar of potential clients, but it will also serve as an excellent portfolio supplement.
Other options include publishing an industry-specific blog, producing informative web videos, and acting as an interview guest for agencies reporting on topics within your field.
4. Land your first client
That’s it! You’re officially a freelance web developer.
But, not so fast, because sealing the deal on your first contract is just the first step toward success.
Before you can really take off with your first job, and the other to come after it, you need to take care of some freelancer housekeeping.
Handling the Technical Side of Freelancing
As a talented web developer, you have a host of high-demand skills under your belt. Sadly, that doesn’t necessarily mean you know everything about freelancing.
You see, freelance entrepreneurs don’t just need to know how to code websites or design apps. They need to know how to run a business.
Before you can reach success, you need to write client contracts, handle self-employment taxes, keep track of the bookkeeping, and maybe even register your business with the state.
Luckily, there’s plenty of support out there for beginning freelancers who don’t quite know how to navigate the world of business.
Small business lawyers are a valuable resource when it comes to drafting contracts. And there’s a variety of tax software out there catered to freelancers.
For invoicing and other bookkeeping tasks, invoicely is a sleek, easy-to-use alternative to printed invoices and pen-and-paper expense tracking.
Learn how invoicely can help you get started in the growing world of web development.