Freelance Web Developer Manual
What It Takes
A project of Frontntweaks.com
Author: Gerald Watanabe
You must be interested in becoming a self-employed web designer or developer.
Congratulations, being a freelancer can be a rewarding and profitable career.
You won’t find any front end, back end, coding, or CMS tutorials in this manual.
There are literally hundreds of these training tutorials available on the internet dealing with the technical aspects of web development, and many are free.
What you will find in this book are all the things I have learned since opening the doors of my freelance business back in 2007. There were a few things I was prepared for, but far more surprises appeared as I started freelancing.
The goal of this manual is to share all of the tips, and suggestions for overseeing and operating a successful Freelance Web Design/Development business.
The information I am sharing is from my own personal experience.
Other freelancers may have different experiences then what I am sharing with you.
Who is this publication for?
The information presented in this manual is targeted towards anyone interested in going out on their own as a freelancer. Technically, you could be a student, novice, junior developer, or already have experience in launching numerous websites.
The material written in this manual is not a quick to make a buck scheme.
It will take lots of patience, planning, and good old hard work to be profitable.
Quite often, many aspiring developers are enticed by the advantages of a freelancing lifestyle.
Such attractive factors as:
- You are the boss
- Choose your work hours
- Work from home or place of choice
- Pick your projects
- Set your breaks, lunch, and even take a nap
- Profits are all yours
They sometimes forget or overlook the disadvantages of being a freelancer.
In other words, many developers are so excited about the possibility of becoming a freelancer, that may only see the narrow or small picture.
That’s why it is essential that everyone recognize that there is a much bigger picture involved with freelancing.
I will present some of these other factors to you, which can be uncomfortable for some.
After evaluating these elements, I think you should have a much clearer answer to the question, “Is freelancing for me?”
What it takes
Using the notes from my journal, I came up with two checklists for you to ponder over.
With this information, I hope it will help you in determining if freelancing is the business model you would like to pursue.
1) Soft Skills (Vital Requirements)
In my opinion, these are the non-technical skills you need to be successful in finding and dealing with your clients.
2) Hard Skills (Important Requirements)
Mostly technical abilities and skills to accomplish the job.
Soft Skills (Vital Requirements)
As you noticed, I have these soft skills listed first, above the hard (technical) skills.
I believe learning the skills of coding, UX Design, Database maintenance, SEO tweaking, etc. are all easy as compared to the soft skills which many don’t understand and practice.
Soft skills are the personal attributes, personality traits, inherent social cues, and communication abilities needed for success on the job. Soft skills characterize how a person interacts in his or her relationships with others.
[The Balance Careers]
Having a freelance business is all about relationships.
Simple formula: good relationships = business opportunities.
The potential client already knows that you and your competition can build beautiful and functional websites.
It all comes down to a simple factor, do they like you?
First, do have the passion to do this?
It doesn’t matter what your knowledge, experience or technical skill level is.
The Key point you have to ask yourself is: “Do you love what you do?”
If you don’t have this strong passion and desire, you will quit when you face the first obstacle.
And there will be many bumps in the road.
So how do you know this is your passion?
I will take a deep dive into this subject in a separate chapter, but here is a quick short checklist:
- Do you always think about building websites?
- Do you actually dream of running your own web agency as you fall asleep?
- Do you get excited about watching a youtube video related to web development?
- Do you read articles about freelancing over and over.
Second, People Skills
This is the topic that most potential freelancers dread the most.
As a freelancer, you will be dealing with people, there is no way around it.
That’s why some developers would rather work for an agency, so they can just focus on their skills and not deal with clients.
But as a freelancer, you are:
- The CEO
- Job recruiter
- Main contact point
- Problem resolver
- Client support/complaint dept
Catching Red Flags Early
That’s why I always try and meet the potential client in person.
Of course, if you have a long distance client, that may not be possible.
So your other alternative is to connect by Skype or at least talk to the client by phone.
You want to find out what kind of client you will be dealing with.
Potential red flags can be exposed when you are a conversation with them.
I will have a whole chapter on types of clients, as this is another deep topic.
So don’t accept every project, with basic common sense, you can learn about a potential client during a live conversation.
- You will have to deal with customer complaints.
- Clients who will try and squeeze in extra work outside of the scope of the project.
- Picky clients, whom you try and satisfy by spending extra hours to get it exactly how they want it.
- Chasing down clients you don’t pay you or their check is rejected by the bank.
Is this something you can handle?
Believe me, you will meet them.
In addition, even though you may have a shy personality, you are your own job recruiter. Your task is to go out into the community and advertise yourself and built networks. You must get out and meet people, business’ and organizations and let them know that you build websites.
Meeting people and developing relationships is not easy for most of us, it takes practice.
But if you have the desire to be successful, you will do it.
Since you are working alone, there is no boss to push you.
Can you discipline yourself to set aside time to focus on working?
You turn on your computer with good intentions, to accomplish some quality work.
But you remembered that you almost reached that difficult next level in the video game you played yesterday.
You think to yourself, I can get to that next level, just give me 10 minutes.
1 hr later, you’re still gaming. You got so involved because you successfully advanced to the next level and can’t stop.
Does this sound familiar?
Don’t forget, you have a deadline to meet in your agreement.
Did you always cram the night before the exam in college?
Don’t copy this technique in your business, it can be disastrous.
You will begin to take shortcuts and reject good practices to finish your project on time.
Everything may look fine on your computer, but is it cross-browser compatible?
How about rendering correctly in all devices and platforms?
You always want to leave a good impression so your business can receive referrals.
How about your finances?
The income for freelancing will vary each month, that’s just the way it goes.
If you have a very lucrative month or quarter, can you discipline yourself to set aside part of it into your savings for those lean months?
How about depositing all your income, then giving yourself a monthly salary?
This will really take self-discipline!
You have to be self-motivated.
There are two main types of motivation: ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation.
In their simplest form you can think about these two types of motivation as:
Intrinsic = love, because we want to.
Extrinsic = money, because we have to.
A more detailed definition is:
Intrinsic: To perform an action or task based on the expected or perceived satisfaction of performing the action or task. Intrinsic motivators include having fun, being interested and personal challenge.
Extrinsic: To perform an action or task in order to attain some sort of reward, including money, power and good marks or grades. [SkillsYouNeed]
If not, you have to find and regularly meet with other freelancers so you can encourage each other.
Having discipline is easy to think about, putting it into action can be a very difficult task for some.
Forth, Communication Skills
One of the most common problems between the business and the customer is miscommunication.
1) Be a good listener: did you understand what the client wanted, or did your own desires override their request?
“I’m the expert, I know what you need.”
“You’re ignorant, I’ve been doing this for years so I know best”
Put aside your ego and just listen.
2) Speak clearly: avoid technical words to impress the customer.
If they ask a question, make sure they understand your answer.
If they have that glazed look in their eyes, stop and start over with an even simpler explanation.
3) Always have an agreement in writing.
Both parties must understand what the scope of the project is, including price, payment conditions, time of completion, and so forth. Having conditions in writing will save a lot of headache down the road because people often forget what transpired weeks or even months ago.
Fifth, Already have a plan
Before even starting your business, do you have a plan or vision?
Do you already know what technology you are going to use?
What market are you focusing on?
- Build websites (examples below)
- Non profits
- Organization, schools
- Photogragph, video, music
- All or some of the above
- Build plugins or themes.
- Refresh, modify, repair, maintain, and migrate websites.
- Build web and mobile Apps.
- Do all or combination of the above.
What strategy will you be using to reach customers (advertising, social media, etc.).
Hopefully, you are not starting your freelance business cold turkey.
That would only bring failure before you even get started.
Sixth, You would love to work from home
As a freelancer, your office will be from your own home.
If you have a family, is everyone on board with your plan?
Do you have an area in your home that you can call your office?
Loneliness – ask yourself can you be alone for the majority of the time?
No one to talk or intermingle with?
Meeting clients, talking business on Skype or on the phone, and running errands take only a small fraction of your weekly time. For the most part, you will be isolated.
Suggestions to help overcome freelance loneliness:
1) If this is an issue, you may have to build your own little network of other freelancers or developers so you can have fellowship and bounce ideas off of each other.
2) Work from a different location sometimes (coffee shop, fast food location).
All you need is WiFi.
3) Get a pet.
Hard Skills (Important Requirements)
Hard skills are quantifiable, such as proficiency in a foreign language, earning a degree or certificate, operating a machine, or programming a computer. [Investopedia]
First, Adept at your chosen technology
You don’t have to be a full stack developer to venture out on your own.
But you need to have some skill level in the technology or platform that you will be using to build websites.
As an example, if you choose a popular CMS such as WordPress, are you confident of your ability to make adjustments to satisfy the client?
How about setting up an online e-commerce store with all the required third-party sources (credit card payment, shipping, and social media)?
Second, Know your tools
As in any profession, auto mechanic, carpenter, plumber, dentist, they are able to select the right tool for the right situation, and can skillfully use that chosen tool. Here is a short list of developer tools you should be confident in using:
- Text Editor
- File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
- Google Analytics and Google Search Console
- Minify and Unminfy code
- Image Editor: crop, resize images
Third, Other technical stuff
Some of the other things you should be able to accomplish.
- Know the difference between hosting servers (Shared, VPS, Cloud, Dedicated), setting up and installing your chosen platform on a hosting server.
- Basic SEO, installing a Sitemap.
- Installing a SSL certificate.
- Know where to find support for problems you will encounter.
- Processing and editing images and video if required.
Fourth, Built a few websites
You successfully have finished a few projects on the side.
They could be your kid’s soccer team, your church, a local non-profit, your wife’s recipes, or even your own personal business website.
In other words, you have gained experience in customer relations, finished projects, and have a small list of clients (could be two or three).
You need to gain traction, so just build websites, even if you have to volunteer your services for free.
Fifth, Your Portfolio
Since you have already built a few websites, you now have material for a portfolio. It can be websites for family, friends, even your own business site. Something your potential clients can see.
Sixth, Savings or Other Supplemental Income
Ask any freelancer, and they will agree that your monthly income will vary each month or quarter. There will be times when you may be overwhelmed with work, then other times when nothing comes in.
This is one of the disadvantages of freelancing and something to think about if you are going full time.
If you are planning to start off as a part-time freelancer, then this portion of the checklist is not as vital to you.
On the other hand, if you are seriously planning on starting out as a full-time freelance designer or developer, be sure you at least have one of these options:
- Enough savings to lean on for a few months.
- Supplemental income:
- Part time job.
- Build plugins, themes or Apps.
- Teach: Udemy, Skillshare, etc.
- Side skills or hobbies:
- Photograph – sell photos
- Auto repair, fix computers, carpentry
- Guest bloggin
- Deliver Pizza (tips)
Seventh,Benefits – Setup your own health and retirement
Health/Dental Plan: this is another important factor to consider, especially if you have a family.
With the cost of health care today, everyone needs some form of insurance.
You will need to enroll in your own plan and the cost will vary on several factors:
- Your location
- Health Provider
- Marrital status
Check with your local Health Providers for more precise information.
Ways around this
If you are married and your spouse has a health plan through his/her employer, you most likely are already covered.
If you are under 26 and single, you could still be covered by your parent’s health plan as long as you are a student.
But caution here, you will eventually outgrow your parent’s coverage so I recommend you enroll in your own plan.
That’s why I recommend that aspiring freelancers consider starting off on a part-time basis.
The cost of health insurance is expensive and it could drastically cut into your earnings at the beginning.
You need to start planning early, to build up your contributions for a fruitful retirement.
If you are young, I can understand the thought of retirement seems so far away.
But if you don’t start early, you may have to work longer because you won’t have enough in your retirement nest egg.
Possible Retirement Options:
- 401K Self Employed
- Simple IRA
- Ordinary IRA
- Sep IRA
- Investments: stocks, bonds, real estate
You will have to do some research as to what option best suits your situation.
Eighth, Continous Learning
Web design and development technology is an ongoing learning process.
Old technology is evolving, and new technology is appearing on a weekly basis.
Learning never stops, it is just part of the trade.
If you don’t keep up, you will not be relevant in the web dev community.
There are no how to rules or laws for opening a freelance business here in the United States.
You are free to start your business at any time and at any place.
But to be a legitimate business, you will need:
Starting a Freelance Business: US Small Business Administration
All the information presented in this chapter are just suggestions and are very flexible.
I just wanted to share things every potential freelancer needs to be aware of before they take that huge step in becoming a small business owner.
I remember when I had my first client, that feeling of wow, someone hired me.
Then there was my first rejection, something I got over quickly for I knew there are many more opportunities waiting.
So hopefully all the information provided in this chapter has been of help to you.
All the Best in your freelance endeavors!
1. The Balance Careers: “What are softskills?” ALISON DOYLE Updated February 04, 2019
2. Investopedia: Hard Skills Updated Dec 28, 2017
3. SkillsYouNeed: Self-Motivation
4. Starting a Freelance Business – How to Take Care of Legal, Tax and Contractual Paperwork: SBA By Caron_Beesley, Contributor. Updated:Sept 23, 2016
Note: If you find broken reference links, please contact me.
Thank you so much.