There’s simply no stopping the world wide web from growing. As of January 2019, there were 200 million active websites out of the 1.5 billion total in existence. Every minute, approximately 380 new websites go live.
As global e-commerce and internet usage continue to expand, so does the demand for people who can design and build websites.
From 2016-2026, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15% growth in new job opportunities for full-time web developers. That’s higher than the estimated 7% average change in employment for most other job industries. And the average salary of a web developer in the United States is currently $74,043 per year.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about being a freelance web developer. Why freelance? For starters, going the freelance route allows more flexibility and freedom in choosing projects. And you won’t get tied up in a nine-to-five job, endlessly repeating the same coding tasks 40 hours a week. Freelance work lets you tailor your workload and schedule so you can make room to learn and master web development.
An experienced web developer knows that keeping abreast of the latest tech updates and advancing their skills are crucial for a thriving freelance career in web development. It allows them to stay ahead of other freelance developers and find exciting new challenges.
In this article, we’ll explain what web developers do, the different types of web developers, the skills you need to become one, and how to start a career as a freelance web developer.
What Is a Web Developer?
A web developer is someone who builds, customizes, and improves websites. They are responsible for how the website looks and functions. As a freelance web developer, it’s your job to design and create websites that meet the needs of your clients. To do this, you have to be well versed in various coding languages and web applications. You should also be able to troubleshoot problems, make sure the site remains secure, and make the necessary changes and updates to keep it running smoothly.
One important thing to note is that web development and web design are two different things. A web designer is mainly responsible for the website’s aesthetics, graphic design, and user experience.
On the other hand, a web developer handles the technical aspects of a website. This includes building the necessary code and framework to fit the vision of the web designer.
Aside from experience and skills, the web developer’s specialization is a critical factor in determining the type of jobs they get and how much pay they receive. So how do web developers choose a specialty? Let’s take a closer look.
Types of Web Developers
Web development is the practice of taking the visual and functional concepts made by the web designer and creating the necessary code and framework to bring it to fruition. Think of the web developer as an engineer and the web designer as an architect. The engineer takes design plans from the architect then comes up with a strategy to build the structure before moving on to the construction phase.
There are three types of web developers. The first two differ in regards to the areas of the website they work on (internal and external). The last one is considered a combination of both. Let’s take a closer look.
Front End Web Developers
Back End Web Developers
If front end developers take care of the “client side” of a website (how it looks), back end developers manage the server-side. Back end web development can be broken down into three parts: server, application, and database. Back end developers make the code that allows the server and database to communicate with the browser. So when you order something from Amazon’s website (front end), the application can keep your order information in a database located inside a server. This enables Amazon to retrieve it and fulfill your request.
Full Stack Web Developers
A person who has the skills and expertise of both a front and back end developer is called a full stack developer.
Skills You’ll Need to Become a Freelance Web Developer
Now that you have a better idea of what a web developer does and its different classifications, it’s time to look at the essential skills you need to become one.
HTML (HyperText Markup Language)
Considered the most basic scripting language in web development, HTML is used to format and structure a web page’s content. It allows developers to properly tag elements as titles, headings, links, and text.
CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)
It’s used to define the style, shape, colors, and overall look of multiple web pages using a single style sheet. It makes applying styles to a website easier because you can change elements without modifying the HTML code.
This allows web developers to create interactive elements like forms, interactive maps, animations, videos, and 3D games, to name a few.
PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor)
PHP is a scripting language that requests content from a database or server and then shows it to the user’s screen. WordPress plugins that let you show the most recent posts at the bottom of your homepage are an example of PHP script. It works in conjunction with SQL (Structured Query Language) for building databases like MySQL and PostgreSQL.
Ruby and Ruby on Rails
Ruby is an open source programming language that allows users to store information in the database for easy retrieval, even after you close the browser or application. Popular websites like Airbnb, Bloomberg, Shopify, Hulu, Groupon, and Kickstarter were all written in Ruby. Ruby on Rails is a Ruby framework that helps speed up the process by offering pre-built codes ready for implementation.
This is similar to Ruby in terms of purpose but differs in execution. As a programming language, Python emphasizes simplicity, whereas Ruby allows programmers to achieve more with less code and more flexibility. The equivalent of Ruby on Rails in Python is called Django.
It’s the world’s number one content management system (CMS) in terms of adoption. A CMS is an application that allows users to create, manage, and publish digital content on the web. Unlike Ruby and Python where you’ll be required to tinker with the code to build a website, a CMS like WordPress lets you do all the steps for building a website via a user interface. It comes with pre-built templates, making it easy for non-web developers to build websites.
How to Become a Freelance Web Developer
Becoming a web developer is a lot easier than most people think. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be exceptional in math or have a degree in programming to become a web developer. Anyone can learn how to code and obtain the necessary skills to become a web developer. Here are three ways to do it.
Learn From Free Online Coding Tutorials
The fastest and cheapest way to learn web development is to read and watch free tutorials. Sites like Code Academy and w3schools have excellent free content to get you started. Youtube, Khan Academy, and blogs like A List Apart, Scotch.io, and Marksheet.io are also excellent sources. And don’t forget to join online communities like GitHub and Stack Overflow so you can connect with fellow developers and learn from other members.
Sign Up for Online Courses
Once you have a basic grasp on the topics, you can transition to more in-depth content from sites like Skillcrush, Coursera, and Lynda. Online paid courses allow you to further advance your knowledge of web development at your own pace.
Join Coding Boot Camps
Coding boot camps provide the most hands-on and immersive experience for learning. Students undergo training for 8-12 weeks — learning, and writing code every day. However, it’s the most expensive option and requires you to set aside a significant portion of your time and energy. You’ll need to make the necessary adjustments to incorporate it into your schedule. Ironhack, App Academy, and General Assembly currently offer some of the best coding boot camps.
Getting Started as a Freelance Web Developer
Once you have a solid understanding of web development and have gathered enough experience, it’s time to get out there and land your first client. Here are a couple tips to help you out.
Build a Portfolio of Mock Projects
The first thing you should do is build up a portfolio that showcases your website coding and design skills. The easiest way to do that is to build mock websites for imaginary clients. It should be something that highlights your strengths and shows value to potential clients.
Another option is to critique an existing website and come up with a study showing how it can be improved and how you’ll do it. Upload your mock projects on design portfolio sites like Behance and Dribble so potential clients can easily view them. Better yet, set up a portfolio website to house all your samples.
While you’re at it, make sure to post your work on sites like the aforementioned GitHub and Stack Overflow, plus Codepen. Doing so gives your work more exposure and gets you critical feedback from fellow coders. Make sure to post your mock projects on your LinkedIn profile as well.
Check Out Job Listings
With a substantial portfolio in hand, you should begin looking for client work on job sites like Glassdoor and Indeed. Freelance websites like UpWork let you connect with thousands of potential clients all over the world and are an excellent place to look for remote jobs. You should also regularly check out job boards on developer-centric sites like GitHub and Stack Overflow.
Join a Hackathon
A Hackathon is a coding competition where programmers, designers, and web developers come together to build a unique product. Joining one can be a great learning experience, and lets you connect and network with other individuals in your niche.
You don’t have to be an expert web developer to join one. Almost anyone can join a hackathon as long as they have a genuine interest in programming or building a product, app, or website, plus have some skills to lend their team.
Ace the Freelance Interview
Preparation is the key to success in a freelance interview. Aside from having a robust portfolio, presenting your skills in a way that emphasizes the benefits you can bring to your client’s business is crucial to landing the contract. Demonstrate your skills and don’t be afraid to negotiate the right price. It’s all about showing them the value you can bring to their business.
Get Testimonials From Your Initial Clients or People You Worked For
After snagging your first couple of freelance gigs, ask your clients for a testimonial. If they give you one, post it on your portfolio website’s landing page. It helps boost your credibility and shows visitors what you can do. The next potential client who sees it will take note of these positive ratings.
Ready, Aim, Fire!
If exploring new and creative ways to build websites excites you, freelance web development fits that bill perfectly. If you’re a complete programming newbie, don’t let all the technical jargon about language and code intimidate you.
As most experienced developers will tell you, it’s not hard to learn web development. It takes months — not years — to acquire the necessary skill set to get you ready to take on both part-time and full-time jobs. There are thousands of resources online that you can learn from, and most of them are free. So don’t waste time. Check out those free tutorials online, and start learning. With enough dedication and discipline, you’ll be building websites and earning a living in no time.