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The Skills You Need to Start Freelancing as a Developer

Here's the bottom line: you don't need much to get started as a freelance developer.


The biggest obstacle developers face when they're thinking about getting started is that they tend to overcomplicate things.

Most are intimidated by the sheer number of different paths or skills deemed necessary by various blog posts or "industry experts".

The truth is that you just need to know how to create a website.

Whether that be with WordPress, Webflow, or simply hand-coding a site, it really doesn't matter.

The important part is that you get results with your website – and that is the only factor that will set you apart from other freelancers.

This article could stop right here with “Learn to build a website and get going!”

But I think it's only fair to you, the aspiring freelancer, to provide you with some extra substance that will accelerate the start of your freelancing career.

How to Define your Freelancing Goals

A lack of clear direction can severely hamper any chance you have of making quality progress when you first start out as a freelancer.

This is why it's crucial to define your own goals:

  • Do you want to earn a side income by working on websites for friends and acquaintances?
  • Do you want to go “full-time freelance” by building a web agency that can upgrade and handle small to medium businesses’ online presences?

The particular end goal you have in mind plays a very important role in deciding where and how you will spend your time at the beginning of your learning and working journey.

For most people who start freelancing, the dream is to go full-time freelance and break free from the shackles of a 9 to 5 job.

Others simply want to supplement their income with a web project every now and then.

Identify your primary goal before moving on to the next stage.

Of course, many people often start off by thinking that they will only be able to do freelancing as a part-time gig only to realize the perks and potential of going full-time. This is completely normal and end goals do change with time.

But at least try to figure out a direction for yourself at the start. The conviction to acquire the skills to achieve your goals will largely come from within. If you haven’t decided on your goal, then you won’t have the conviction to keep going when things inevitably get a little tough.

This leads us to the part where you decide what skills you’ll need to become the most successful in your chosen path.

Choose Which Skills You’ll Need to Start Freelancing

It can be incredibly simple: learn HTML, CSS and a bit of JavaScript.

Or maybe no code at all, and only WebFlow or WordPress (where there are so many high earning freelancers).

The combination of these skills will allow you to build out fully functioning websites that you can sell to clients in any field.

Most clients will simply want a website to “increase online presence” while others may come to you with pleas to help them update their outrageously outdated website.

The crucial point to always keep in the back of your mind is that clients care the most about one thing: The Outcome.

Those magic words are what give you the freedom to explore other options if manually coding sites with HTML, CSS and JS is not your cup of tea.

Of course, it will benefit you greatly to have at least a basic understanding of vanilla code for when you inevitably run into debugging issues with web builders.

Speaking of web builders, this is a perfectly valid approach to creating websites for your clients. In fact, many freelancers prefer using web builders for several reasons:

  1. They often have built-in security.
  2. Setting up a CMS and hosting is generally a breeze.
  3. You can save an incredible amount of time using a web builder's drag-and-drop interface
  4. You can easily upgrade a website’s functionality thanks to rich plugin ecosystems.

It’s important to be aware of the tools available, know your reasons for wanting to use them, and become skilled in using those tools.

Decide What Clients You Want

This can be a tricky idea for most people starting out on their freelance journey.

It's fairly easy to get clients, but you want the RIGHT clients.

Due to a lack of confidence or just wanting to get started, newbie freelancers will often accept any and every potential client.

This can lead to some positive outcomes, such as knowing what sort of people you like to work with (something many of you will already know). You'll also gain exposure to different kinds of project requirements which can show gaps in your knowledge – serving as an opportunity to level up.

The riches are in the niches.

What do I mean by that?

By focusing on a niche, say “Lawyers in Cape Town”, you can start building a reputation as the expert web person in that area. This will require more upfront work before you start seeing the benefit and often it can take quite some time to get going.

But the thing with building a quality reputation in a field is this: it takes time but the rewards make it well worth it in the long run.

Eventually, if you’ve been strategic, helpful, and persistent, you will have clients reaching out to you, the Lawyer Website Expert, asking for your help.

Now that you’ve positioned yourself as a specialist in this niche, you’ll be able to charge more for your services allowing you to potentially have more work-life balance, and grow your freelancing business.

Package Your Skills as Services

Potential clients don’t like to see technical words when reviewing what you can offer them. Think about it…

When you’re about to purchase a new drink or snack, what do you think would convince you to buy it more: an explanation of the technical process undergone to achieve the flavour or a description of how great the flavour is?

Think about explaining your services to potential clients in much the same way. Only a very small percentage of clients will understand (and therefore get value from) a description of your services that includes the following:

“Skilled in the JAMstack approach and a big fan of server-side rendering libraries.”

The following description, on the other hand, gives a potential client – regardless of technical know-how – a great idea of what you can offer them:

“I’ll build your website to be fast and beautiful so that your visitors can get the value you’re offering them without any confusion.”

This shift in thinking will allow you to package your skills as services in a way that makes sense to potential clients. And making sense to a client is the first step in any successful project negotiation.

Do yourself a favour and try to reword your skills into services as if you were a potential client of yours. It may show you a lot you can improve on.

Create a Portfolio Site

One of the most overhyped aspects of starting out your journey as a freelancer is the portfolio site.

This can be one of the biggest time sinks ever.

Why?

Well, your client probably doesn’t really care about your custom loading animations or self-designed vector images. Your client also doesn’t care that your site is a progressive web app or that you spent two weeks custom coding an API that speaks to your social profiles, collates the data, and displays it in a cool infographic above the fold.

Your client cares only about one thing: Can this developer help me achieve my goals?

The only way to show the client that you can is by doing three things:

  1. Tell them by wording your skills as services
  2. Show them by providing evidence of great past work
  3. Convince them by providing testimonials from past clients (do free work in exchange for these at the beginning if you need to)

It’s really that simple. The rest is extra fluff.

Strategize Client Discovery

Whereas your portfolio site is an overhyped part of freelancing, the way in which you discover clients is quite the opposite – most people gloss over it. It’s not given the same level of importance but it is where your persistence will be tested and the great rewards will come.

You can discover clients in a multitude of ways:

  1. Cold calling
  2. Cold emailing
  3. Creating or joining Facebook groups in your niche
  4. Using your existing social media platforms to source clients
  5. Reach out to friends and family who may need a site
  6. Walk into the building of a potential client and speak directly to the decision-maker
  7. Set up Adwords to drive traffic to your portfolio site

This is certainly not an exhaustive list but it could give you a couple of ideas. One thing is crucial to remember though:

Keep going.

You need to stay persistent in your effort and revise your strategy as you fail and progress.

Eventually, you will find success but this is the point where many budding freelancers give up, so approach it with an iron will and you will find success.

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