How to become a freelance web developer: a comprehensive guide

By Jaimie McMahon · 27 Sep 2023
How to become a freelance web developer: a comprehensive guide

As remote work opportunities become more commonplace, web development has emerged as one of the most sought-after remote roles. And with businesses and individuals continuing to establish their online presence, the demand for talented web developers is higher than ever. If you're a web developer wanting to start freelancing, this comprehensive guide will provide you with a clear roadmap to success.

Steps to become a freelance web developer

  1. Setting up your freelance business
  2. How to get your first clients as a freelance web developer
  3. How much to charge for a website
  4. Career development for freelance web developers

1. Setting up your freelance business

Before you begin charging for your services as a freelance web developer, it’s crucial to stay updated with the most current web development technologies, while gaining experience building real-world projects. It’s also essential to begin building your personal brand to help you carve out your own web development niche. This section will tell you everything you need to do to set yourself up for success prior to launching your freelance web development career!

Stay updated with the latest industry trends

The world of web development is rapidly evolving. It’s important to stay on top of the latest trends, technologies, and best practices. Keep yourself informed about changing trends by subscribing to developer newsletters, attending online or in-person web development conferences, and following developers whose work you admire on social media. Here are a few resources and creators worth putting on your radar as an aspiring freelance web developer:

Build real-world projects

It’s important to gain experience working on real-world web development projects. Practical experience is invaluable in mastering your craft, and identifying your strengths and weaknesses to determine which skills need improvement. Reach out to friends, family, or charitable organizations to offer your services voluntarily (and free of charge). Start with smaller projects like single landing pages, and gradually move on to building more complex websites, like ecommerce sites. Not only will this develop your skillset, it will also help you build an impressive portfolio to showcase to your potential web development clients later down the line.

Identify your target audience

Now that you have some experience under your belt, and you’ve built several real-world projects, it’s time to figure out who your target audience will be: what kind of clients do you want to build websites for?

A good place to start is by thinking about which real-world use cases you enjoyed the most. Did you prefer building big projects like interactive ecommerce sites? Or did you feel more motivated by simpler projects, like a minimalistic business website? You may decide to target small businesses in your local area, international ecommerce providers, or anything in between — it’s really up to you. Be as specific as possible about your target audience; here are some key factors to consider:

  1. Demographic: age, gender, income, education level, marital status, occupation, nationality, size of business, stage of business development.
  2. Behaviour: loyalty, benefits sought, usage rate, price sensitivity, purchasing habits.
  3. Geographic: location, both online and offline.
  4. Psychographic: emotional needs, thought patterns, communication style.

Your aim should be to shape your freelance web development business around the needs of your chosen target audience. Don’t underestimate the importance of this step. Take the time needed to conduct research and deeply understand your audience. Your website specialization, pricing strategy, communication style, and marketing strategy must all be informed by the needs of your target audience.

Collect testimonials as social proof

Any new freelancer needs to put effort into building trust with their clients. One of the best ways to begin building trust is through social proof, like reviews and testimonials. Reach out to the people you did voluntary web development work for, and collect reviews and testimonials. Showcasing social proof will boost your credibility as a new freelance web developer, making it easier for potential clients to trust you.

Build your brand & showcase your work

As a freelance web developer, building a brand is essential. Here are the essentials for showcasing your brand online:

  • Build a professional portfolio website to showcase your best web development projects. Be sure to choose projects that align with your target audience’s use cases.
  • Showcase case studies on your professional website to highlight your problem-solving skills, and the benefits experienced by your past clients.
  • Showcase your work, and engage with peers and potential clients on social media networks, like LinkedIn, to further enhance your online presence.

Remember that your portfolio should be an ever-evolving project that is frequently updated with your latest work, new case studies, and testimonials. Over time your portfolio website should evolve into a full business website, with a blog section, and contact form.

2. How to get your first clients as a freelance web developer

Now that you have identified your target audience, built a strong portfolio, and collected social proof to establish your brand, it is time to start seeking out your first paying web development clients! It can feel intimidating to ‘sell’ your services for the first time, especially if you aren’t used to doing this. You can overcome this fear of ‘selling’ by remembering that sales is all about solving problems. You’re not trying to persuade potential clients to buy your services, you are seeking to solve your potential clients’ problems. Always approach potential clients with the mindset that you are on their team, and want to help them succeed! As for where to find your first paying clients, here is where to start.

Tap into your personal network

Who do you already know? Reach out to friends, family, and acquaintances to let them know about your intention be become a freelance web developer. Even if they themselves aren’t in need of a website, they might know someone else who is! You never know who you could be put in contact with by tapping into your personal network.

Expand your professional network

Grow your professional network by attending meetups, workshops, and networking events, both online and in-person. These are great places to connect with potential clients. Remember your target audience and seek out networking opportunities that would appeal to them. If you are targeting a specific industry or location, do some research to put together a list of online and in-person events for that industry, or in that location.

It is also important to expand your professional network within the world of web development. Join developer Discord communities, attend web development workshops and meetups, and stay active in online forums. Collaborating with your peers not only helps you learn, but also opens doors to potential partnerships and projects. Another web developer may recommend you as a better fit for a particular project! Here are a few places to start connecting with your peers:

Use freelance platforms

Make use of popular freelancing platforms by bidding on suitable web development project listings, and advertising your own services with a business profile. These platforms are great for new freelance web developers because you can guarantee that someone who has posted a listing is actively seeking web development services. Although, this is a double edged sword, because there is also more competition, making it even more important for you to stand out from the crowd.

Here is a list of freelance platforms for web developers:

Use digital marketing

While it is essential to be proactive about seeking out potential clients, it is equally important to make it as easy as possible for potential clients to find you and your web development business! Consider your digital distribution channels: where does your target audience spend their time online, and what are they searching for online?

Use your blog for inbound content marketing, so that your clients will come to you. You can use free tools like Google Trends and Answer the Public to discover what your potential clients are searching for online, and then write blog posts that answer their questions to attract them to your website.

Where do your potential clients spend their time online? Are they Facebook users? Do they prefer LinkedIn? Twitter, Mastodon, or Bluesky? Or even Instagram and Tiktok? Your social media strategy must focus on the social channels and content types that appeal to your target audience. Share your expertise and engage with others on digital channels to put your work in front of your potential web development clients, and don’t be afraid to show off your unique personality!

Partner with compatible businesses

Partnering with complementary businesses will broaden your potential client base and lead to new web development opportunities. Seek out collaborations with web designers, marketers, and any other compatible businesses in the web development industry.

For instance, as a freelance web developer you can apply to join CloudCannon’s Partner Program, which works to drive your growth and connect you with clients in need of a CMS solution. As a CloudCannon Partner, you'll unlock exclusive benefits and savings for you and your clients, with every new client you bring on. Unlimited trial periods, co-marketing opportunities, dedicated support, exclusive roadmap influence, and discounts, just to name a few of these benefits!

We’ve been very fortunate to have developed such a great partnership with the CloudCannon team.

-Tom Beck, Directors of Operations, Ocupop

3. How much to charge for a website

Now that you’ve got clients knocking on your door asking for a website, you need to write up a contract! A contract must outline the project scope, timeline, payment terms, and any security or confidentiality clauses requested by your clients. Whipping up a contract is easier than ever with AI tools like Chat-GPT, but you should still go over your contract details with a fine-toothed comb. Remember, contracts exist to protect your interests and maintain transparency with your clients by setting clear expectations. **

Getting clear on how to price your web development services will help you create easy-to-understand contracts for your clients. You may be asking yourself how much you should charge for freelance web development projects. You should determine your pricing strategy based on the complexity of the project, your experience level as a web developer, and standard market rates. This section will provide you with a comprehensive overview of effective pricing strategies to help you decide how much you should charge to build a website.

Conduct market research

What industry, region, or niche audience are you targeting as a freelance web developer? Who are your primary competitors? First of all, you need to find out what your competitors are charging to build a website. This will give you an idea of the competitive landscape, and help you better understand where you fit into the market. It’ll be helpful to conduct a full competitor analysis, and dig into your competitors finished web development projects. Be honest with yourself about how you compare — are you more or less experienced than your competitors?

If you are just getting started in web development, it may make sense to undercut your competitors’ prices to help attract your first clients. Although, you don’t want to sell yourself short. If it is evident that you build better performing or more user-friendly websites than your competitors, you should set your prices accordingly, at the upper end of the market.

It’s essential to understand what matters most to your clients in terms of web performance. While some clients will prioritize the site’s search engine optimization (SEO), others may prioritize the site’s design, or unique user experience (UX). Knowing your strengths as a freelance web developer will help you back up your prices. Keep track of key metrics, like core web vitals, to help you assert your position in the web development market to your clients.

Determine your pricing strategy

There are many different approaches to pricing your websites. Each approach comes with a unique set of advantages and disadvantages, so choose one that aligns with your preferred working style and your web development clients’ needs.

Pricing StrategiesHourly-basedProject-basedValue-basedRetainer-basedTier-based
OverviewPricing per hour.Fixed price per project.Fixed price based on value delivered.Fixed price for a set number of hours.Fixed price packages at different price points.
BenefitsStraightforward and easy to calculate.Ensures budget predictability, and encourages efficiency.Higher earnings when the impact is significant. Emphasizes results.Ensures a steady and predictable income stream. Builds longterm business relationships.Caters to various client needs and budgets. Simplifies clients’ decision-making.
ChallengesMay incentivize slower work. Emphasizes hours worked rather than value of work.Unforeseen changes or requests can lead to scope creep, and threaten profitability.Dependent on ability to communicate the value delivered effectively.Dependent on client’s trust.Lack of transparency in terms and pricing may cause confusion.
Ideal projects or clientsSmall projects, or projects subject to change due to timelines or requirements.Projects with clear expectations and scope.Clients with clear pain points and business goals.Repeat and ongoing client projects.Client roster with widely varying needs and budgets.

Use incremental pricing increases

Don’t be afraid to increase your prices over time, both in line with inflation rates, and your web development skills. As you gain experience and expand your client base, incremental price increases should reflect your growing expertise.

You should also re-evaluate your pricing strategy as you scale your freelance web development business. While hourly-based and project-based pricing strategies are suitable for early-career freelance web developers, you should work towards adopting a value-based or retainer-based pricing strategy to increase your earning potential. Offering pricing tiers should be considered once you have gained enough experience to understand the different types of web development clients you’ll be working with.

Combining pricing strategies or experimenting with different offerings might be the key to your career’s success. In the long run, it’s crucial to maintain transparent communication, deliver excellent results, and ensure a win-win situation for both you and your web development clients.

4. Career development for freelance web developers

Once you’ve established a solid client base, and the payments from your freelance web development projects have started coming in, what’s next? Now it’s time to focus on your career development and fine-tuning your freelance web development business!

Improve your client acquisition strategy

Improve your marketing strategy to attract clients through search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, and social media marketing, by increasing your visibility as a freelance web developer. You can do this by tracking the outcomes of your past digital marketing efforts with free web analytics tools like Google Analytics. Implementing client onboarding surveys is another great way to help you determine how your clients are finding you. Observe and analyze what worked well, and what didn’t, and adjust your client acquisition strategy accordingly.

By continuing to improve your website’s SEO, content marketing strategy, and social media strategy, you can establish yourself as an authoritative freelance web developer, and attract organic traffic to your website. If you have the budget, you may want to consider posting paid advertisements like Google Search Ads, or social media ads, to be seen by more people. It may make sense to outsource this work to a marketing professional.

Cultivate social proof & encourage word-of-mouth (WOM)

Client testimonials, case studies, and reviews act as powerful social proof for your freelance web development business. Be sure to showcase this social proof on your website to instill confidence in your potential clients. Encourage your satisfied customers to refer you to their contacts in need of web development services. You can take this a step further by offering incentives for successful referrals.

Drill down into your web development niche

Becoming an expert in a highly-specific field allows you to better define your target audience and position you the go-to for clients with unique needs and use cases. Specialize in a specific industry or technology, and double down on building connections within that niche. Think about website type, tech stack, client industry, and client region. A highly specific focus will help you stand out in a crowded market of freelance web developers.

Deliver more value to your web development clients

Offering additional services, like ongoing website maintenance, SEO, or a Content Management System (CMS), can help you deliver more value to your clients, while also boosting revenue. Providing more value than your clients expect is a great way to build business relationships that last. Check out our collection of 22 add-on services you can bundle with your core services to deliver more value to your web development clients. Your clients will appreciate you offering a one-stop solution, which will build greater client loyalty for your freelance web development business.

Improve your customer service

Satisfied clients are more likely to return to you for future web development projects, and refer other businesses to you. Provide fantastic customer service by responding promptly to client enquiries, and ensuring clear communication throughout the full project lifecycle, from initial consultations, to project wrap-ups and hand-offs. Focus on meeting deadlines on time, and delivering high-quality websites to establish, and maintain a strong reputation. To take this further, seek out honest feedback from your clients to help pinpoint your weaknesses, and work to improve your services.

Re-invest in ongoing education

Never stop investing in your professional skillset as a freelance web developer. Learning new skills through ongoing-education will help you take on more complex web development projects and deliver greater value to your clients. Being a life-long learner will help you stay up-to-date with the latest web development trends, and technologies, to become a leader within your niche.

Here are a few resources to help you progress in your career as a freelance web developer:

  • Smashing Magazine: Online publication on CSS, JavaScript, front-end, accessibility, UX and design.
  • Online community for developers, with community articles.
  • Hashnode: Blogging platform for developers.
  • ESIF: A historical record of foundational web development blog posts.
  • Frontend Masters: Valuable platform for learning web development, with comprehensive courses, quality content, and trusted instructors.
  • Institute of Code: Online and in-person web development courses designed to help you start making a living doing what you love.

Drive your growth as a freelance developer by applying to the CloudCannon Partner Program! As a CloudCannon Partner, you'll unlock exclusive benefits and savings for you and your clients, with every new client you bring on.

Join CloudCannon's Partner Program

As you bring on new clients, you'll unlock exclusive benefits and savings for you and your clients.

Become a Partner!

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