How To Become a Freelance Web Designer

Over the 5 years I’ve been a freelance web designer, I’ve had many people contact me wondering how I got started and asking me several questions as to the life of freelancing. So I decided to create this post that will benefit many people if they are indecisive about being a freelance designer as well.

Practice The Needed Skills

There is a reason I say “practice the skills”. Most successful people, are so, because they practiced over and over. They try and they fail. Those people understand that failure is just a lesson in how NOT to fail the next time. You will need to have absolute patience and a sturdy backbone to deal with failure. Failure in the web design field is inevitable.

  1. Business: Being a freelance web designer is not “just building a website”. Freelancers DO NOT just build websites. They design websites, they develop websites, they manage emails and support, they manage databases, and most the time they are debugging situations. Error handling websites and code. Being a freelance web designer, is running an entire business by yourself. Here are 5 detailed skills you need to become a freelance web designer. 
  2. Sales: You will need to be a salesman. You will need to be able to sell yourself and your business over the phone and in face to face interviews. You won’t be everyones cup of tea and to some of your prospective clients you will be a hero with a cape. You will fail at 10 interviews and win 1. And 1 is all you need. Learn more about how to sell yourself as a freelance web designer.
  3. Education: Obviously you will need to know the skills in order to build websites. Am I right? You could go to college and get a technical degree or bachelors degree. OR there are plenty of places online that provide the classes you need. Those would include; Lynda, Team Tree House and Code Academy.
  4. Talent: If you want to freelance, you should be good at both development AND design. You don’t have to be an expert at both, but you need to have an understanding of design principals and executing a website that not only functions properly, but looks good and is user friendly.
  5. Focus and Find your niche: When first started my freelance web design business, I thought I should offer many services that are in relation to what I do. I thought I could manage google and Facebook ad’s, but very quickly, as I got into doing it, I realized, I can’t focus on both web design and marketing if I want to be successful. They are two very different businesses and both require 100% of your time if you want fantastic results. I quickly dropped ad management from my web services and now only offer the graphic design needed of those ad’s. I found a few people who were professionals in that field that I could refer clients to in the event my clients needed this. My focus is only web design. And for that matter, I only focus on Wordpress web design, which is why I am now an expert in my field.

Build A Clientele

The biggest question I always get asked is “How do you get work?”. I always answer with, “I get work”. What kind of question is that really? I’ll tell you the truth, I get a little irritated when someone asks me this question. You want to know what I did? I worked  my ass off. That’s what I did. If you have to ask that question, then maybe you are better off working FOR someone than working for yourself.  It doesn’t take a genius to understand, if you have a service or product to sell, FIND the customers and advertise yourself. It’s that simple. You want to sell pens? Find people who buy and use pens.

I spent my first year as a freelancer physically knocking on doors of businesses. I had a stack of business cards and flyers and I gave them out. I didn’t care if they already had a website or not. If you make a commitment to introduce yourself to 25 people a day, you MIGHT hear back from at least one of them. And guess what? One is all you need to get started and get paid.

  1. Do some free work: If you don’t have much in your portfolio, consider doing a free or very inexpensive job for a client. You gotta have work to show prospective clients you know what you are doing. There are lots of non-profit organizations who would appreciate a call from someone who is able to give them a break.
  2. Types of clients: Understand that you will have to learn how to talk to all different kinds of clients. Tech Savvy and the Not So Tech Savvy. The very detailed oriented clients and the client who let you do whatever you want because they trust you. The unresponsive clients and the clients whom will call or email you everyday. Be prepared for this. Learn how to talk with each one without talking over them or under them.
  3. Network: Introduce yourself to web design companies and other freelancers. The benefit to becoming a freelance web designer is that you will discover there is TONS of work. There most definitely is not a shortage of work and many web design companies seek out freelancers to work for them when they become bogged down by too much work or need a skill set you might be more of an expert in than them. I’ve gotten tons of referrals and in return I’ve handed over websites jobs to others. It’s the circle of web design life. haha

Motivation

This should probably be the very first skill you HAVE to have. If you are not motivated to get up and start working, you will not succeed. What motivates you?

I know what makes me successful at what I do is that I LOVE my job. I love designing, developing and debugging. I couldn’t keep my mind off of it if I wanted to. I got to sleep and I think about what I should have done or what I will do in the morning. From time to time I even WORK in my dreams. It’s insane. It’s just something that is embedded in my chemistry. I think all professionals of all kinds can understand this problem. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of days I don’t even want to look at a computer screen and want to hang out with my kids. But my clients rely on me and my reputation is on the line. So I find that balance that keeps me from going crazy.

Tools Freelance Web Designers Need

  • Fusion Invoice: Invoicing, Quotes and Client Management
  • Fusion Invoice Templates: Custom Invoice Templates for the Professional Look
  • Basecamp: File organization, documentation and client & project management
  • Toggl: Time management
  • Trello: Project Management
  • Echosign: Electronic signature of contracts
  • My Code Stock: Organize code snippets

Advantages to Freelancing

  1. Time (both an advantage and disadvantage). Something you want to do? Go ahead and do it. Being able to work from home, you make your own hours and your own days off and you can do so at a moments notice if needed.
  2. You are your own boss. You make your own rules. You can give yourself a raise. Enough said.
  3. You get to go to work in pajamas. You can eat what you want , when you want. You can take as many breaks as you need to. You can listen to your music as loud as you want.
  4. Self achievement. There is nothing more empowering than being able to say “I did this.” Your kids will look up to you, your spouse will be proud of you and your friends will be inspired. There is nothing better that comes from freelancing than achieving success.

Disadvantages to Freelancing

  1. Time. Most people want to get into freelancing because they think they will have more time with their families. Newsflash, you will have anything but time. You will be working day and night to get projects done. There are plenty of days I stayed up until 1am in the morning working. There are plenty of days I woke up at 3am to start work and continued to work well into the evening of that day. That is not an exaggeration. I deal with this almost 6 days a week.
  2. Biggest misconception is that most the time you are actually working. Wrong, most the time you are debugging situations, handling emails and providing support for your clients. When you actually get to work, is when you get to breath. haha

You don’t have to be the smartest developer or the most talented designer if you want to be successful as a freelance web designer. What separates a successful person from one who is not, is the fact that successful people don’t give up. They work their asses off day and night and their only focus is achieving their goals and improving themselves. If you work your ass off, you can achieve anything you dream of.

Got any questions I didn’t answer? Feel free to leave a comment below and I will answer it. If you are a freelancer, please let us know what advantages and disadvantages you’ve had. What tools do you find useful? How do you get clients? haha

 

 

I’m Heather. I’m a master website builder. If you like what you read, help me out with a cup of coffee or a tip toward my ‘house payoff’ fund.

Either way, I’m very appreciative that you came here. Share a post and if you think something is lame, email me and let me know.

10 Comments

  1. FusionInvoice

    Hey Heather – another great post, and thanks for sharing the love 🙂

    Reply
    • Heather Valencia

      Always Jesse! Fusion Invoice is superior to all invoicing systems. Every freelancer should be using it.

  2. Saumya Majumder

    Thanks Heather. Really great post and many thanks for mentioning about my FusionInvoice templates 🙂 Thank you very much….

    Reply
    • Heather Valencia

      Any time Saumya!

  3. Sunfire

    Great share, Heather. Thanks for letting me know about it.

    Over the last 6 months or so, things have really picked up for me. For now, I am contracting through a local company on some website projects, which allows me to learn without risking my reputation too much. I am also starting to get a few website projects on my own, too. Just last night, I started writing up my Website Development Agreement.

    I use Klok to record my time spent on tasks. The upgraded version allows for creating invoices based on the time entries for a project.

    Thanks for sharing the tools you use, though. Echosign is something I actually need now 🙂

    Reply
    • Heather Valencia

      I’m so glad to here you are becoming successful. I’ll have to check out klok as I haven’t heard of that one.

  4. Mahfuzur Rahman

    Hi Heather,
    Now a days, I try to go thorough articles those inspire me very much. This article is a great one. Previously I worked as an administrative assistant with upwork.com
    Now I want to switch my career to web design profession. Eventually I have already designed my personal website (mrwebdesigning.com)after having lesson from treehouse. Now I want to work with other freelancers or small start ups with any project. Please let me know how I can be successful.
    Thanks

    Reply
  5. Tom

    Great list of tools, thanks.

    Regarding time tracking, I would also recommend TimeSheet Reporter (http://www.timesheetreporter.com), since it allows you to track time via your Outlook calendar. It works like a charm, by the way. 🙂

    My two cents, hope it helps. 🙂

    Thanks.

    Reply
  6. Bennett Ross

    Heather you are so cool! And you’re so smart!

    Reply
    • Heather Valencia

      Thanks Bennett 🙂

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