How to Become a Freelance Web Developer Online

Table of Contents

From independent contractors to Fortune 500 corporations, every company needs a digital presence to establish authority, relevance and brand recognition. Websites are the status quo in dealing with businesses virtually. Since web design and development are specialized skills, many companies outsource and look to freelancers for the design and development of their website. 

With no shortage of businesses that need websites, there is also no shortage of opportunities in this expanding field. Freelance web designers and developers are in complete control of their workflow and demand. They work closely with their clients to establish and maintain certain goals, but the web developer ultimately controls the simplicity or complexity of the project. A simple client interaction maintains a steady progression, from web development, website testing, website launch, to project completion – and this may shock people to learn how accessible becoming a web developer is. 

Before we dive into how to become a freelance web developer, or how to find and charge clients, it is important to understand the role and tasks of a web developer. 

What is a Freelance Web Developer?

A freelance web developer is self-employed, and typically works on a project-to-completion basis or with short term contracts. Sometimes called a “gig worker,” freelancers usually land gigs, finish in a matter of days, weeks, or months, then repeat the process with the next client. 

A web developer must acquire technical skills in coding languages such as Javascript or PHP, in order to properly develop a website. Knowing how to code is the most important criteria in becoming a web developer. Once a developer understands the basics of web development, and harnesses a few fundamentals of coding languages, then they’re empowered to find and complete high-grossing projects.

Freelance Web Developer: A Day in the Life

Most successful remote freelance web developers execute a daily or weekly routine that they set for themselves. Time management and discipline are integral when self-managing. 

If traveling, remote workers must still find a way to adapt in order to complete their goals and client projects. 

Either way, the work must get done, no matter the circumstance. Freelance developers must always be readily available for their clients. Web developers must be able to tackle complex issues as they arise, and keep the client aware of any changes or issues. 

It is helpful for a freelance web developer to create a system that works for them to stay organized. They might use desktop apps like Asana, Trello, or Google Tasks to stay organized and to prioritize their duties. These tools can also be granted access client-side, so developers can keep clients informed at all times regarding their project timeline and completion projections.

Responsibilities of a Freelance Web Developer Include:

  • Marketing: Freelance web developers need to know how to market themselves. To land jobs, they need to be able to sell their technical skills and market themselves as a competent problem solving wizard.
  • Understanding User Experience: Web developers must be equipped to build websites that are easy to use, functional, and memorable. Developers must possess knowledge of coding languages and experience various content management systems (CMS), in order to build a website layout that flows and functions with ease and appeal.
  • Scheduling Meetings: Freelance web developers must be prepared to keep in touch with their clients. This might include a daily or weekly teleconference, phone calls or in-person meetings. Knowing how to competently navigate online meeting platforms like Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts, is key in establishing a presence of professionalism, experience, and trust.
  • Balancing Multiple Projects: It is likely that a freelancer will work on more than one project at a time. Figuring out how to multitask is essential as a web developer. Develop a prioritization strategy to help decide when it’s right to take a new client, or simply when the workload might be too much. Balancing and managing realistic expectations is integral to success as a freelancer.
  • Negotiating Rates: Knowing how much to charge as a freelance web developer is an important skill. One should be able to negotiate their rates appropriately and set timelines that are realistic and fitting for the specific project.
  • Paying Income Taxes: Because freelancers are self-employed, they will need to pay income taxes independently. For this reason, most freelancers seek assistance with their tax forms when tax season rolls around.

Freelance Web Developer Jobs

Just as artists use various mediums to express their work, web developers use different tools and skill sets to accomplish their goals. Let’s look at the most common types of freelance web developers, and what jobs their niche enables them to execute.

Front & Back End 

A website can be split into two parts: the front and back end. The “front-end” refers to the user experience and the design aspects of the website. The “back-end” of a website references the server side. 

Web developers usually decide after some time, whether they want to focus on a certain niche, and whether they prefer the technical skills of navigating the server side, or using creative skills as a front-end designer. 

Full-stack developers are those that have the creative drive and technical knowledge to accomplish both roles.

User Interface Designer or Web Designer

Web designers focus on how users interface and interact with a website. These front-end developers are visual designers that focus on the layout and appearance of a website. They often possess superior graphic design skills and use tools like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. 

UX Designer 

Although minimal coding knowledge is a major benefit, a UX designer focuses on user experience. Their main goal is to emulate user behavior in order to most effectively learn how the website functions. UX designers test the site to optimize the user experience, while also keeping in mind the goal of the company or organization.

Ensuring that when someone arrives at a company’s website, it is easy for them to navigate throughout the website, understand the company’s purpose, and easily complete various actions (signing up to a newsletter, purchasing a product, submitting a donation, etc). 

Back-End Programmer 

Also sometimes called a back-end developer, a back-end programmer is focused on the structure, content management, and the server security. A site that has a complex structure or constantly evolving content requires management and upkeep. 

This kind of developer needs to be proficient in coding languages, must be ready and able to fix issues that arise, and sometimes must build smooth and high-performance websites.

Becoming a Freelance Web Developer in 2020

Making the transition from a steady job and income can be mentally and emotionally taxing on some, but with more control over scheduling and income, the flexibility might be worth the extra hustle. Finding and landing clients as a freelancer is a 24/7 task. It takes persistence, focus, and motivation. Being self-employed comes with a unique set of responsibilities, driven by time management and dedication.

Successful freelancers often have more financial freedom, and the potential to grow their business quickly. They can work remotely, set their own hours, and travel while completing projects. 

Pros:

  • Optimal flexibility
  • Financial and professional freedom
  • Many job and growth opportunities 

Cons: 

  • Less job security
  • Continuous hustle 
  • Many responsibilities

If a flexible and self-managed lifestyle sounds like a better choice than the monotony of a 9-5 desk job, then making the transition from cubicle to self-employment could be a lucrative choice. There are a few necessary steps in order to successfully make the switch in order to become a freelance web developer. 

Learn your Style

Web designers must learn what type of web designer they are ready and able to become. Back-end web developers must be prepared to learn core coding languages like PHP, Javascript or C++, and apply those languages to building functional code and solving complex problems. 

Front-end web designers would benefit from learning some HTML, CSS, PHP, and Javascript in order to more competently build websites. Content management systems such as WordPress enable designers to create memorable user experiences with a solid framework on which to build. 

These skills can be learned online, or in a physical classroom. CodeAcademy, Coursera and Udemy all offer free or cheap coding courses that will enable either front, back, or full stack developers to learn and excel. 

Make an Online Profile

Websites like Fiverr and Upwork are increasingly popular in the realm of freelance and outsourced work. Linkedin is also a powerful tool to enhance an individual’s credibility as a freelance designer or developer. These websites are great places to make connections and network. 

A freelance web developer should choose at least one platform, and build out a comprehensive portfolio and resume. Putting time into this profile is important, as it is one of the first places that clients will go, to learn about the qualifications, skills, and experience of the applicant. 

Create a Website or Portfolio

A web developer’s website must be stunning and functional. It is essential for a web developer to have their own website. It can be a simple, professional site with a combination of links and images to previous client work. 

For an entry-level developer, it may be worthwhile to do some pro-bono work, or find a start-up with a small budget to get started building a portfolio. Landing high-grossing jobs right away is not realistic, so having an impressive portfolio to show clients is the most important step before landing that first big project.

Market Themselves

Marketing is a key part of landing jobs as a freelancer. Many web developers sell their skill-set and make themselves look more competitive by offering free webinars, Youtube videos, or selling online courses. Offering a taste of expertise is often enough to establish trust and attract clients. 

New developers that may not be ready to step in front of a camera, or even land paying clients need to start somewhere. Showing excitement, passion, and offering significant deals or discounts, can quickly attract clients and build a freelance developer’s network. 

After a certain point, freelancers must know when it’s time to assert their knowledge and just dive in! Freelancers must set daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and/or yearly financial goals, in order to keep track of their income, expenses and realistic progress. This should assist when deciding whether or not to make the transition from part to full-time freelancer. 

Self-employment as a freelance web developer is incredibly rewarding, and is surprisingly accessible to anyone with a WiFi connection, a bit of time, and a lot of dedication.

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