We have to be agile in today’s economy, and it’s therefore not so surprising that increasing numbers of web developers and designers are turning to freelancing as a career option.
There are some pros and cons to this, just as there are to most career choices. On the one hand, you have relative freedom as to when, where and how you work; on the other hand there are business and legal issues that you’ll need to address, and the pursuit of a suitable work-life balance.
The right attitude
If you don’t want to become just another of the thousands of competent freelancers out there, you’ll need to specialize. That way you’ll be cherry-picked for the more lucrative and interesting work. Decide from the outset which activities you enjoy most and where your natural skills lie, and use these as the basis for building a specialist web design career in which you’ll work at what you love doing most.
As a freelancer, you’ll need self-discipline, but there are a number of things that will work to your advantage from the start. Your skills, for instance, are sought after by almost every type of organization; there’s a worldwide shortage of good web developers – for freelancers in this field, contract salaries are typically high, and occasionally awesome.
When working for yourself it’s often easy to overlook the business aspects of freelancing. Fortunately, there are nowadays many useful software tools to help you get organized with things like invoicing and accounting, and allowing you to keep track of time as well as money. Remember to hang on to all receipts that relate to your business, filing them along with all invoices on a monthly basis to minimize headaches with end-of-year tax returns. Working through an umbrella company is often an attractive option, as much of the paperwork will then be done for you.
Build a portfolio
Once you’ve identified your specialist niche, build a portfolio website to advertise your strengths and show potential clients what you can do for them. You’ll update and edit this throughout your freelance career, and as well as displaying your range of skills, it will be a handy reference point of contact for both existing and potential clients.
If you’re thinking about going freelance, consider doing some in-house agency work first. Many veteran designers actually started by getting agency experience before they switched to full-time freelancing because, along with other advantages such as more security, they learned how to work effectively with other people on projects with tight deadlines.
Remember that you won’t become an expert immediately, even in your own field, and that you’ll always have more skills to pick up. Be realistic with clients about deadlines and, especially in the beginning, don’t overextend yourself. Nobody relishes nasty surprises, so if you think you may not be on target for delivery it’s better to be honest and say so than wait until the missed deadline has passed and appear incompetent.