How to Become a Freelance Web Developer

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Web development is an amazing career choice! Especially in this post-pandemic world, so many of us want to work remotely, and web dev is a great option. Being a freelancer is not always easy, though! But, it’s worth it to have the freedom, flexibility, and work/ life balance that so many of us want.

There are lots of ways to become a web developer, but here’s how I did it:

In 2017, I had already been traveling full time for 3 years. At that time, I was working full time on my teaching resources store. I started it in 2012 and had been creating teaching resources for elementary schools for 5 years at that point. In 2014, I quit my teaching job to go full time with it. I was mostly writing math units and other in-depth lesson plans, and honestly, I loved it. But, I was getting a little burnt out and wanted a new challenge.

I knew I wanted to do something in tech. And, I knew I wanted to continue to work remotely and travel full time. So, I started learning to code on CodeAcademy. I started with HTML and CSS and even a little JavaScript. At first, I really didn’t know where I was heading or what I was going to do with all of this, to be honest.

Then I found a WordPress developer bootcamp on SkillCrush and decided to go for it. It was a three month program, but I was bored and really into it, and completed it in one month. I learned SO much!! Of course, I’m eternally grateful to that program, because I felt like I really understood how WordPress is built and how it works and how all the pieces come together. I had all the basic understanding I needed to start building websites.

Building a portfolio as a freelance web developer:

Once I started building my own portfolio website, I started focusing more on design instead of the technical stuff. I pretty quickly found the Divi theme and decided to try it out. And I’ve been using Divi ever since! (Check out this article for more on why I chose to focus on building with the Divi theme.)

On my own portfolio site, I spent a lot of time playing around with the different modules and layouts and learning what the theme could do. I learned how to structure a website and how the sections, rows (and columns) and modules fit together. Plus, I got a lot faster at using it and learned ‘shortcuts’ like copying/ pasting modules or even whole sections. The more I used Divi, the more I loved it. Eventually, I ended up purchasing the lifetime license, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my freelance business.

I practiced by doing a lot of tutorials from the Divi website. They have loads of blog posts that show you how to create really interesting design effects. I would try those out myself to learn how they were built, and then take those ideas and incorporate them into my own designs and websites that I was building for clients. I was even selected for the Divi design showcase in April 2019. Sadly, the website I built for that no longer exists, but at least I knew my hard work was paying off.

Taking on Clients as a Freelancer:

When I felt ready, I made a profile on Upwork and began taking on clients. I began with super low rates, and underpromised and overdelivered. In the beginning, I think my first client was maybe $18/ hour and I probably did about 20 hours of work and only billed for about 5. I was still learning and figuring things out and I wanted to make certain I got a good rating. Over time, I built up dozens and dozens of 5 star ratings and began to have a portfolio of websites that I had designed and built. And of course, I raised my rates as I grew.

In the 6 years that I’ve been building WordPress websites, I would say over 90% of them have been built with Divi. It makes design and building easier (and more fun) and it’s easy enough to edit that my clients can make most changes on their own. Divi is very popular as a WordPress theme, so I often find projects on Upwork that are specifically looking for Divi developers. I still do work with other themes, mainly Elementory or WP Bakery, but those both feel so slow and clunky to me that I really try to stick to working exclusively with Divi.

I’ve built blogs and travel websites and sites for podcasters. For a while, I worked on an online store for organic dog food, and even started doing online marketing, creating newsletters in MailChimp and writing articles for seo. Later, I built an online store using WooCommerce for an incredible artist who creates gorgeous jewelry using a unique technique called ‘cloisonné.’ Of course, I also helped several authors and therapists build websites for people to find their books or their therapy practice. And lots and lots of starter websites for people who were just beginning on their entrepreneurial journey.

Reflecting on 6+ years as a freelance web developer…

I’ve been pretty happy with my freelance business on Upwork over the years. I’m regularly making over $30k a year, working about 10-15 hours a week. For the most part, I’m able to pick and choose my clients and only work with people I really like. Some of my past clients have been artists, authors, events planners, actors, doctors, divorce attorneys, real estate agents, therapists, coaches, and bloggers. I love that I get to use my knowledge to help other small businesses or solo entrepreneurs build their websites and grow their online businesses. It’s very fulfillilng to be able to work with great clients and help them do more of what they love!

I’m grateful every day that I found something I love doing, that I can do it remotely while traveling the world (I’m writing this from a cute cafe in a wee village in Scotland!), and that I get to work with people I respect and admire. And, I can set my own hours, more or less, and schedule work around more important things, like spending time with friends and exploring the world. It’s creative and challenging at the same time. I learned a lot over the past 6+ years as a freelancer, for sure. For more on that, check out this post on what I wish I knew when I started freelancing.

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