Freelance web developers / web designers: 5 tips I wish I knew when I got started

Freelance web developers / web designers: 5 tips I wish I knew when I got started

Freelance web developers / web designers: 5 tips I wish I knew when I got started

Freelance web developers / web designers: today I want to share 5 tips I wish I knew when I got started. You’v decided to escape the rat race and fly on your own, welcome to the freeland my friend.

Hello, I’m your host Kaycinho, I’m a digital alchemist, and today I want to share 5 tips that will save you a lot of time, frustration, and money in your freelancing career.

So, let’s dive in!

1. Don’t try to be everything to everyone

Freelance web developers / web designers: Don't try to be everything to everyone

When I started freelancing as a web designer / web developer I branded myself as an agency, as many of us do, and it must have been credible because leads started coming in and asking me estimates not only for website creation but also for logos, flyers, billboards, marketing campaigns and so on. I was all-in because, you gotta understand that I had just left my job, moved to another country six thousand miles away (or then thousand kilometers) and I had a lot of pressure, to pay the rent and put food on the table.

So I was all-in and accepted all kind of work related to either the web or print.
But what I found out was that even if I could do all of that, I wasn’t as fast and effective in all disciplines. And the consequence of that is that I had to work a lot more hours than what I had initially estimated in order to deliver quality.
So I was actually losing money because at the end of the project, sometimes I had worked twice the time I initially thought the project would take me.

Also: it was very stressful because I had to learn some of the stuff on the fly but with crazy deadlines.
So as a consequence: I was getting burnt out. I started not enjoying my days anymore and started wondering if this freelancing stuff was really for me.

But the good thing is I had no choice

But the good thing is I had no choice, so I had to figure out how to make it all work.
So, progressively, I started focusing on what I enjoyed most doing and what I was the best at, without having the work twice the hours. And that’s when I started enjoying it again and stopped wasting money.

2. Freelance web developers / designers: Have a plan


Freelance web developers / web designers: Have a plan

Freelance web developers / web designers must have a plan. If you go into freelancing thinking you’ll just throw your name and a nice logo on a business card, work on a beach with your laptop and customers will start fighting to give you their money, well… That’s a nice failry tale… The truth is that Freelancing, is your first step into Business and you should treat it as such.

You need a plan.

Actually you need at least two: a business plan, and a marketing plan. Now don’t be scared, nobody’s asking you to craft hundreds of pages with all possible scenarios imagined.

For the business plan you should know which services you are going to sell and to which audience / where you see yourself 5 years from now, 10 years from now and so on, and what measures you are going to take to get there, how much you are going to price your services and which investments you need to make for your business (that could be equipment, software, and so on). So that means that you will need to do some market research, as simple as it may be, as well as an analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, also known as the SWOT analysis of your freelancing business.

For the marketing plan, you will need to identify your audience, understand what are their needs, fears, and problems that they face, where they hang out, what triggers their interest and which response you can give to them. Then you will have to choose the best channels to get in touch with your audience so that you can deliver to them what they are looking for.

Sounds very simplistic, I know! But I like to keep things simple and if you are interested in the subject I will create dedicated posts for each plan.

3. Be prepared to eat sardines for 6 months

Freelance web developers / web designers: be prepared to eat sardines for 6 months

Freelance web developers / web designers should be prepared to eat sardines for 6 months!

When I got into freelancing I was told I should have 3 months of income savings, so that I could support myself before the money started coming in. The thing is, although it may well be correct for some people, the truth is: is really depend on where you live, the cost of life there, the market you’re in, the state of the competition and a bunch of other criteria.

I would say be at least prepared for 6 months, but if you can, go for 9 to 12 months.

Now I don’t want to discourage you but I just want to give you my personal experience so that you can go through that on easier terms. If you don’t have that kind of money then you need to be creative: save money where you can, eat sardines or whatever cost-effective food you can digest for the next 6 months. Be also prepared to make some compromise: maybe you can go back and live with your parents or save some money rent by sharing your place. Or maybe get a smaller place?
The key here is to lower your expenses while you are stacking up clients and revenue.

4. Build a portfolio on your terms

Freelance web developers / web designers: Build a portfolio on your own terms

Freelance web developers / web designers should, especially when starting out, should focus on building a great portfolio.

When you freelance, your portfolio is your best friend. It can convert better than any ad, it gives you social proof and shows your potential clients what level of work they can expect from you.

Now when you’re just getting started it can be tough to already have a portfolio because you’re just getting started right? Kind of like the chicken and the egg story.

Now my advice is this: before you quit your job and start freelancing, start building a portfolio on your own terms. And what I mean by that, is target three or four companies that fit your target market and that could benefit from your work.


For example, if you are a web designer or developer, and you spot companies that would look good in your portfolio and they have a crappy website, then simply approach them and make them an offer they can’t refuse.

Now before I continue I want to make a statement: I do not advise to do free work or work paid for peanuts except in this very case, and I’m going to tell you why.

  • You have a problem: you have no portfolio or a portfolio that does not represent what you can do.
  • These companies have a problem: they have good businesses but crappy websites.

By offering a solution they can’t refuse, you will solve both their problem as well as yours.

So basically you are going to offer them to create their website, free of charge but on your terms. And your terms will be: you will estimate the whole project to a price that they would normally have to pay, but you will offer it to them if they sign an agreement that they may not disclose the fact that the work was done for free. This as the advantage to psychologically not lower your work.
Think about it, what gives you more value between “I’ll offer you a free website” or “The redesign of your website is valued at X thousand dollars, and I have an offer so that you can get that free of charge.”.

What do you think?

Also, one of the conditions would be that You‘d have the last word on design decisions.

Because after all, the main benefit to you is that you will have a valuable entry in your portfolio so it may as well be stunning, on your own terms.

The advantage to build your portfolio like that is that:

  • you get to choose who you want to work with
  • you will have a portfolio that will act as your best salesman
  • you will learn the ins and outs of working with clients
  • it will help you to compare your initial time estimate to the time you actually spent on the project and as such, your next estimates will be more accurate and that brings us to my next tip for you.

5. Have solid conditions in your estimates

Freelance web developers / web designers: have solid conditions in your estimates

Freelance web developers / web designers are business people, and as such, should act accordingly.

Now, before I go further, projects can be priced based on:

  • hourly rate
  • project basis
  • value basis.

The best one being value-based, but not always achievable when you have little experience, then project-based comes next, but when you are just getting started, hourly is often the choice.

Now in my own experience, if you choose the project-based route, you must develop solid conditions in your estimates.

And this is how I’ve learned my lesson:

I remember once working 27 extra hours for free against my will. It was my fault. I was just getting started in freelancing and I had made an invoice for the redesign of a website. So in my estimate, I priced the whole project based on the amount of web pages and functionalities that the project required. My first mistake was that I did not describe precisely enough, what was going on on each page. One of the page said “Catalogue” and from the briefing, it was supposed to mention the type of equipment the company was leasing with links to the various equipment manufacturers’ websites. But my description of that page in the estimate was vague.

To give you some context, it was a local company leasing construction equipment. It was quite a large company, at the local level, so they had a lot of people involved in the project, and they had created a board of people from different departments to help bring the website redesign project to its term.

So I started working on the project and all was fine, until I had to work on the catalogue page where eventually they wanted me to list about 100 entries of their catalogue, which meant I had to crop and optimize all the images, and format all the references and text entries for 100 items. Needless to say I advised against that for various reasons (the weight of the page, the user experience and so on) but I was just a freshmen in freelancing with not that much confidence, and I was facing a board of business dinosaurs that would only have it their way.

Now in a future post, I will show you how to never have to go trough that kind of nonsense, because since then I’ve learned my lesson, I developed my confidence, and have rock solid conditions in my estimates.

But going back to my story, because my estimate did not mention precisely the maximum time spent on a revision round, I had to work an extra 27 hours, because I had to go through the numerous back and forth revisions from the board which had kind of an internal war going on between them, and I was caught in the middle of that.

So not defining a maximum time for the revision process was my second mistake.

And I’ll never forget those 27 hours of my life, frustratingly working for free, but the benefit is that now, you won’t have to go through this yourself if you make sure your estimates are tight regarding what is offered for the price your clients are paying. And the “portfolio build up” shared in the previous tip can be a really great live experience to get better at that.

So, I hope that you enjoyed the tips shared in this post and that it will save you a lot of time and money, and if you have other tips you want to share please let me know in the comments of this post. Now which tip have you already implemented? Let me know in the comments.

If you watch the companion video and if you liked it, please give it a thumbs up, as it really helps growing the channel and if you know someone that could benefit from it, I’m going to ask you if you’d like to share it now, because let’s face it, there are so many things to do in a day that if you don’t do it now you’ll probably forget.

Now if you want to brand, market and grow your business it in the Digital Age make sure you suscribe to my email newsletter so that you never miss your share of digital alchemy and tips, tools, services and case studies that can help you grow your business online.

So I hope to see you around here or on the Youtube channel, and in the meantime, do you know what time it is? I think you do, it’s time to invest in your success!

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