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The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Freelance Web Developer

If you’re into coding and you have an eye for great design, you may have given some thought to being a freelance web developer. Even though sites like Wix and WordPress have made it much easier for individuals to design their own websites, with some careful strategy, this is completely achievable! With some careful decision-making in the setup process, you’ll be well on your way to having a successful freelance career. Here’s a step-by-step guide to becoming a freelance web developer:

freelance web developer
Becoming a web developer is a long process, but once you’ve completed it, you’ll have an in-demand job where you can create the things that matter to you and others. And remember: even though the journey can be stressful, there are resources out there to help you! (© unsplash.com)

1. Brush up on your Coding Skills

Chances are, you’re familiar with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript as the basic building blocks of web development. If so, congratulations! You already have the first fundamental languages you need to know under your belt. Even with just these languages, you can start landing some freelance work if you know a little about WordPress and other web design applications. However, it’s a good idea to be versatile and have a good working knowledge of other languages as well. Here are some other basic skills you’ll need as a web developer, depending on what type of web development you decide to do:

  • Coding Languages: In addition to the three mentioned above, you can also branch out and learn other languages such as Git, Python, CMD Line, and SQL, depending on the type of work you’d like to be doing. Learn the difference between front-end developers and back-end developers and which side you’re more interested in, and what languages are current with what you’d like to learn.
  • Development Workflow: Once you’re confident with coding languages, you’ll likely start to want to decide on your workflow, which will include picking an Integrated Development Environment that’s right for you, deciding on how you will handle testing and showing your work to a client, which hardware you can afford to start with, and more. These will likely change as your work evolves, but it’s important to decide on something to get comfortable with for the time being.
  • Marketing Knowledge: Your skills as a freelance web developer will be useful to your clients as a way to help them stand out; so a little knowledge about marketing can go a long way to helping your professionalism. It’s helpful to know a little about Google Analytics as well as SEO fundamentals and branding. This way, you’ll be able to situate your work within your client’s larger goal of connecting with more people.

2. Create a Business Plan

Once you’re confident you have the skill set to move forward, it’s time to craft a business plan. Creating a business plan will help you determine how successful your efforts are in comparison to your expectations and market research. It’s important, therefore, to try to be as accurate as possible when predicting how much you’ll earn in the first year, so you don’t set yourself up to be disappointed when you don’t achieve an unrealistic goal. If you’re presenting a business plan to a bank or other institution, it will likely need to be a more formalized document, but even if it’s just for yourself, you should follow these steps:

  • Market Research: The world of web development changes all the time, as new technologies and languages evolve. It makes for exciting new opportunities, but also closes doors on prior jobs that have become obsolete. Take some time to do your market research to make sure you are up to date on the latest developments in the industry, so you can decide where your skills fit in, and how much you are likely to earn with them. 
  • Market Niche: Once you’ve taken a look at the market as a whole, it’s time to decide on a specialization, depending on where your skills lie as a developer. Since you’ll likely be learning new languages and skills throughout your career, this is likely to change over time. Also, remember that you can try something out and adjust later if your first approach doesn’t work for you.
  • Financial Plan: Your financial plan should estimate all of your startup costs, including software, hardware, and any other expenses that go into creating your business. Given your market niche, determine what your best estimate is for how you’ll do financially over the first year, leaning on the conservative side. Don’t forget to include things like marketing costs and subscription fees!

3. Organize your Finances

Organizing your finances is an important step in the process of creating any new business. This will involve registering your business for tax purposes, deciding on a bookkeeping method, and deciding on a system for paying taxes:

  • Registering your Business: Will you conduct business under your name or will you have a business name? Will you be a sole proprietorship, a limited company, or a corporation? Usually freelancers choose to set up as a sole trader, since it’s less work up front – however, regardless of which you choose, in the UK you will have to . You can register online or by mail, after which point you’ll receive a Unique Taxpayer Reference which applies to your business. From this point on, you will be responsible for paying taxes once or twice per year, depending on how much you owe.
  • Organizing Bookkeeping: Having a bookkeeping system in place is essential for tracking your finances. It’s a good idea to open a separate bank account – if you’re a limited partnership it’s mandatory, but even as a sole trader, it makes managing your money easier. Using accounting software can help you keep records like business expenses, invoices, accounts receivable, and financial reports all in one place. You can also create a standardized invoice format for billing clients, and Billomat’s software will ensure that each invoice number is unique. 
  • Paying Taxes: When tax time arrives, you’ll log on to HMRC’s website and follow the instructions for submitting your income and expenses. Your taxes will be calculated based on your net income – so your total income minus total expenses. If you earn more than £50,000 in net income over a taxable year, your tax rate will double, so it’s important to keep track of your expenses to avoid paying too much in taxes. Besides, if you earn over £85,000 in a year, you will have to start charging VAT on all your invoices, but will be able to claim some VAT back from your business expenses.

4. Find Your Clients

You may find that your first clients come from friends and family, but word of mouth can only get you so far. As a freelance web developer, you’ll need an online portfolio that showcases your skills, and you can also get mileage by networking at tech events. Here is a breakdown of a few essential ways to find your clients:

  • Website: The website of a freelance web developer should be well-designed and easy for clients to navigate – after all, your job is to craft user-friendly websites! Once you finish your first few projects, put images on your site with an explanation of what functionality you included, and links to the websites if possible. Remember that a layperson may not be aware of the specific work that went into making a website happen, so make your explanation easy to understand, even if your reader doesn’t know how to code.
  • Social Network Hubs: Coding is well-known for its collaborative culture, and joining social network hubs for developers can not only help you network, but can also help you solve problems that come up as you code. GitHub and Stack Overflow are well-known sites you can join to help you continue to develop professionally, and some sites like TopCoder even offer prizes for top projects. 
  • Networking: Going to conferences and tech events is a great way to meet new people and spread the word about who you are and what you can do. Even if it’s a little outside your field of expertise, if it’s a topic that interests you, chances are there may be someone there that can use your services. Not only will you get a chance to meet other industry professionals, but you’ll also get the latest on new developments in your field.

5. Project Management

It’s important not only to track your finances, but also to track your increasing to-do lists, client projects, and professional development plans as you juggle them on a day-to-day basis. Especially important is being aware of how long your projects are taking you. Although it can be tempting to want to keep improving what you start making, setting time limits on projects and getting them to clients is an important part of knowing how to manage your time. You also need to be aware of how many hours you’re spending on projects, even if you don’t charge hourly, so you know how much you’re making per hour of work.

Becoming a web developer is a long process, but once you’ve completed it, you’ll have an in-demand job where you can create the things that matter to you and others. And remember: even though the journey can be stressful, there are resources out there to help you!

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