5 things to consider before becoming a freelance web developer

If you are working as a web developer for an employer there is a good chance that you have already daydreamed about becoming a freelancer. Becoming a freelance web developer is easy. Working as a freelance web developer for years and earning money for a living is a lot harder, I’m doing it since 2016. In this article I would like to share my experiences and give a few advices about how to become a freelance web developer.

Money and savings

At the beginning the most important thing is: money. My recommendation is to have a financial reserve  of 6-8 months for your needs before you start (and even after that). I know it seems like a lot, but at the beginning you will not make a fortune and you will still have to pay your bills, eat and create some self promotion if you did not build a clientele in advance. A “simple” project can take weeks to finish and when it comes to the payment it’s even worse: your invoice usually will be due in 30-60 days. It is possible that you will receive your first dimes after 3-4 months.

Clients

A freelancer without a clientele is called unemployed. Before I went freelance, I built my reputation and clientele early morning and late night outside of the 9-17h interval. I don’t regret it, a lot has changed in the last 5 years, but I am still working with them and got new clients via their recommendation.

The other path is self promotion which requires some money. Create a website for your business with a few references and try to run ads on Facebook/Instagram for a few days. Personally I don’t recommend services like fiverr or upwork, but it might be beneficial in the first few months.

Start with smaller projects

I know a big project with a big payday is always charming, but you are all alone at the beginning, be patient. Start with smaller projects and create a continuous cash flow from supporting the existing projects. After a few small projects you will have money to live for a few months and start working on a bigger one. Always set a few milestones for a big project if possible!

Cash flow and your hourly rate

How much money does your business need for a month? And for a year?

First of all, set your hourly rate. To be honest I was undercharging at the beginning, but I think it was totally fine. I got new clients because I was able to make a website for much less than others. There is a really good calculator at rimuut.com, I recommend to check your hourly rate based on it: https://rimuut.com/tools/hourly-rate

Then add your monthly income (based on your hourly rate) and monthly expenses to a cash flow template in Excel/Google Docs. I am using this free Cash flow Excel template from finmodelslab.com: Monthly Cash Flow Template Excel . Play around a bit with the numbers to see your numbers in the next 12 months.

Diversify

Always have more than 1 client! The ideal situation is when no more than 10% of your yearly income comes from a single client. At the beginning it is nearly impossible, but avoid the situation when all of your income depends on a single client. I recommend to start with at least 2 or 3 clients, build your clientele to 8-10 and share your time (cca. 30%-70%) between supporting existing projects (new features) and working on new ones.

+1: Freelance developers’ guide

Toptal has two great articles what I recommend to read for every freelancer out there:

  • The Ultimate Freelancing Guide includes a lot of tips, best practices and also some pros & cons about working as a freelancer
  • their Hiring guide has a lot of information on what you should expect during a hiring process, use it as a cheat sheet for your next big project.
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