The best — and worst — of being a freelance web developer
What’s not to love about freelancing? Being your own boss and setting your own hours has long been the pinnacle of employment. And yet, it’s not so simple. While more and more Americans turn to freelancing – with more than half of Millennial Americans currently freelancing – that does not mean it is easy to secure contracts and make it worth your while.
This is especially so in the field of web developing, where workers require the right skills and motivation to progress in the online industry. There’s just no denying that writing proposals can take an ungodly amount of time and contribute to burnout in the longer term. So, let’s dig a little deeper to discuss the best – and worst – parts of being a freelance web developer, and what workers are best advised to do about it.
The best of times
The internet and shifting cultural norms have made working outside the office not only possible, but normal – and it is easy to see why freelancing only grows in popularity every year.
Setting your own hours, working remotely, selecting projects of interest and generally being your own boss translates into worker autonomy. And when employees feel empowered to make decisions about their work, they generally feel more positively about it. Take the fact that 79 percent of freelancers report that it is better than traditional work. These workers typically feel more respected and engaged to start each day – and this probably has to do with them working four hours less every week than the average office worker.
Studies also show that freelancers are more likely to participate in skill-related education and training. So, freelance web developers work less, have more say, control their hours and do not even need to leave the house. What’s not to love? Well, just because it is a good arrangement does not mean it is perfect.
The worst of times
Not all that glitters is gold – and prospective freelance web developers shouldn’t think that the journey to online success is an easy one. For example, it’s very time-consuming to submit proposals, work for clients, and strategize on how to grow your business. If you want free time to do things you love, then you will eventually want to hire a team to lighten the workload.
Build your team to do the things you do not want to do. If you love building websites, fixing bugs, implementing new features, or other types of projects, then keep doing those. But marketing, sales and other elements might be better handled by other people. However, this may not be possible at the start and will likely take a percentage of earnings from the work you do complete.
Also likely: serious burnout. If freelance web developing is your full-time job, then you need to make sure you’re paying the bills. It can be quite frightening when you have two weeks left in the current month to make enough money to pay the next month’s bills. Then there’s the money you need to pay for Google Ads, direct mail marketing to select clients, and special gifts for prestigious clients.
Where’s the rent money coming from? Or food money? Coming up with solutions to these problems requires some serious out-of-the-box thinking, and it will burn you out. Business is war and freelancers should remember that. However, with experience, workers should eventually find that things grow increasingly smooth, and you might choose to have the company you build exit for some nice profit.
What to do about it
There are two sides to every story – but the important thing is to be prepared for negatives. Have a marketing plan in place, even if you’re working through an existing marketplace. You need to attract clients to you. With existing marketplaces you’ll be vetted against other freelancers, and if you work outside of a marketplace, you’ll need to dump a lot of cash into marketing efforts to build your client base.
My top tip: If you just learned how to write software, be honest about it. Just like anyone starting out, you’re not the best, you’ll be inefficient, and you’ll need to let clients know that the reason you’re not charging much is because you need to practice. If the client wants quality code and will pay for it, they won’t shop with you. If they don’t have a lot of money then they might be willing to work with you knowing that your work isn’t going to be the best.
When just starting out, you’ll be the $10 per hour coder, but your benefit will be honesty instead of promising clients the moon and stars like so many others who charge the same rate. Once you’ve spent at least five years working as a software engineer, there’s no reason why you can’t charge $50 or more for your services.
Clients will want you to prove yourself to them which is quite exhausting, and while you can show them your GitHub, not many clients will understand what’s in it. To bypass the fact that you currently need to prove yourself to all and sundry, you’ll need to skip the hiring process by proving yourself to a marketplace or agency that prescreens the contracts for clients.
Marketing is the one thing that will make or break your business, and it’s brutally expensive. That’s why it’s best to start out with a marketplace to get some cash flow coming in.
Never lie to clients or mislead them to believe your entry-level skills will give them the best possible product. In the beginning you must offer clients lower rates and be honest about your skill set. You’re not the best, and they need to know that. Everyone starts somewhere.
The good certainly outweighs the bad when it comes to freelance web developing. The most important part for anyone coming into the field is continual “upskilling” and working smart. This job can be hell if the freelancer works hard and not smart. There are plenty of time-sucking elements to this type of employment and anyone coming into the industry needs to work out the most efficient way to get the job done and get it done right.
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