According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, web developer employment from 2012 to 2022 is projected to grow 20 percent, faster than the average for all occupations. In 2012, the size of employment in the field is less than 150,000 with a quarter of web developers being self-employed.
If you ever wanted to be a freelance web designer, web development is an exciting field to be in, though it can be tough at the beginning. In addition to creativity and skill, freelancer web developers are required to have a business mind-set. This means even before starting out, freelancers must have a business plan outlining your services, rates, marketing, and goals. Brent Galloway, freelance graphic designer specializing in logo, t-shirt, and website design, explains the importance of writing even a simple business plan. Preparing an emergency fund is also a good strategy in the beginning to keep you financially stable and concentrated in running your business. Alexa von Tobel, founder and CEO of LearnVest.com, said that having a "freedom fund" had been a valuable strategic asset that allowed her "to stay laser focused" on building her company and suggested that every entrepreneur must consider the benefits of having one.
Here are some more things to consider as you take the plunge in freelance web development.
Though you can start bidding for web design projects without a portfolio, it is best to have something to give when a client asks for it. One way to build a portfolio is offering to create or redesign a website for friends or non-profit organizations that you can do for free. Another way to populate your portfolio while still starting out is by creating mock project websites that show your skills and creativity.
When presenting your portfolio to potential clients, provide the context of your work. Be concise and describe the circumstances of your work to let potential clients know the benefits of what you can offer. You can do this by answering the following questions:
- What is the scope and goals of the project?
- What are the issues you were able to solve?
- What are the skills you used to achieve the solution?
- How long did it take to finish?
- If the project is for a client, was the client satisfied? Testimonials can be used to answer this question.
Be careful not to break client privacy or confidentiality when explaining works in your portfolio. Most importantly, be honest. Do not claim to know or be able to do things if you cannot deliver because your reputation and personal brand is more important than your portfolio.
The University of Kent Careers and Employability Service provides great tips and guidelines in how to prepare portfolios for students and new professionals here.
Drum Up Business
Without clients, you do not have a business. Freelancers have to constantly hunt for projects. Tell your family and friends about your services and encourage them to spread the word. Utilize job marketplaces like oDesk, Elance, Freelancer, Guru, and even Craigslist to find clients and projects.
Using search engines or social media, look for local businesses and see if you can offer to redesign or improve their websites. Attend meet-ups, conferences, and events where you can interact with people and start a professional connection with them. Always be professional in dealing with potential clients and strive to develop lasting relationships that can turn to new projects and referrals.
Martha Stewart said it best in an episode of television show 2 Broke Girls, "When you're in business for yourself you have to take every situation as a business opportunity."
Being an expert in a web development niche takes time and as a beginner, you do not have much leeway when it comes to turning down projects. Unless the work is beyond your skill set, market your services to everybody. Create different types of websites for different industries, skill set requirements, project scope, and even budgets. Focusing solely in a small part of the market early in your freelance career will make you miss a lot of opportunities. Though being known as an expert in a niche has advantages, it should happen gradually. As you gain more experience and discover the segments you are really passionate about, you can start considering how to scale up your business.
The chairman and chief executive officer of Big Red, Gary Smith suggests to entrepreneurs that, "A product's branding should be focused on something a mass audience can relate to."
Being a freelance web developer, your skill is the product and you are the brand.
Keep on Learning
Web development is an ever evolving industry, with ever growing opportunities. Being up to date with the latest technologies, being driven to learn new design trends and development techniques, and utilizing a sustainable work-flow can lead you to become a successful freelance web developer. In addition to mastering the technical and creative aspect of your business, discipline is also a very important thing that budding freelancers should learn.
Though there are a lot of perks in being a freelancer, it is not always easy. Having control on how you work and where you work also means an extra effort not to be tempted by distractions. You need to constantly look for clients, have fewer vacations, and for many freelancers, work alone. All of these can get overwhelming for beginners.
But having a plan, strong work ethic, and sustainable work-flow will help you go a long way in becoming a successful freelance web developer. And never forget to look after your clients because in addition to the money, testimonials, and referrals you get, their success due to your work is an achievement to be truly proud of.