How To Become A Freelance Web Designer
My Ultimate Web Freelancing Compilation Guide: How to Quit Your Day Job and Start Full-Time Freelance as a Web Designer or Developer
It’s common when asking people what they’d like to end up doing in the future to hear a response similar to; “one day I’d like to be working for myself. I’d like to have my own clients, perhaps with my own my company – earning my own money”.
Having seen lots of great resources knocking around on the internet, I thought it would be nice to compile a comprehensive list of tools and services that I myself find useful as a web designer and freelancer. Hopefully this compilation I have put together will prove useful to anybody looking to start out in the world of freelance web design, although most are transferable to whichever industry you find yourself freelancing in.
You may have heard of almost all of the services or tools below, but I’ll consider it ‘job-done’ if I can at least introduce you to one new service that you’ll find useful. Becoming a freelancer and working for yourself can be one of the most rewarding moves you take in your career… if you do it right.
Table of Contents
- Introduction & Purpose
- Setting Up
- Getting Online
- Improving Awareness
- Generating Business Leads
- Additional Revenue Streams
#1 – Introduction & Purpose
Starting out in such a competitive and virtual marketplace can be daunting at first, although given the right tools and know-how; you should find it a breeze and you’ll soon be on your way to enjoying the benefits of working for yourself as a freelance website designer or developer. I have compiled this guide with the aim of providing a one-stop resource and introduction to many of the useful services that I use as a freelancer.
As the list that I have compiled is quite large; I have tried my best to categorise them by topic. Of the tools or services that I use and mention in this series of posts a good portion are paid, although a fair majority are free. I will highlight paid options (and estimate prices) where relevant.
For the sake of this guide, I am going to presume that you are already fairly competent in at least HTML and CSS (so you can put together a basic website and manage content). If you’re looking to learn or brush up your skills; TeamTreehouse.com offer web-based learning at your own leisure.
When compared to college or university, I think Treehouse is a huge advantage that bears no second-thought. Completing a course on Treehouse is a miniscule cost in comparison to the average University course in the UK (approx. ~£27,000 for 3 years in 2013). It also doesn’t take you three years and a whole lot of waiting around to complete. You can get your first month absolutely free if you sign up today at TeamTreehouse.com.
Treehouse is also ideal if you have some spare time and want to learn more about the field to expand your existing knowledge. There’s so much to learn in the web design industry that no one person can know it all!
If you are interested and for the sake of saving you a few pounds, here’s a selection of the best of their current exclusive web offers:
- Learn Web Design, Coding, Business & More.
Get 3 Months Off Our Silver Annual Plan ($75 Value). Limited Time Only!
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Get 3 Months Off Our Gold Annual Plan ($147 Value). Limited Time Only!
- Treehouse has teamed up with various companies who are willing to offer students jobs with the right badges! Unlock your full potential at Treehouse – GET 3 MONTHS FREE!
After completing a few of the courses and modules on Treehouse; you’ll soon be on your way to having enough skills and knowledge under your belt to either work on your own as a freelancer or at least land a job in an agency.
Now, moving swiftly on to the task at hand; my ‘Ultimate Web Freelancing Compilation‘! Below you will find a list of services and tools that I use as a web freelancer. Each and every one of the following has its own place in my toolkit and is often employed into action. My life as a web design freelancer would certainly be a lot more stressful without them!
#2 – Setting Up
When beginning as a freelancer, you need to ensure that everything is in place in order to allow a seamless transition and smooth process with your first real client. It’s important that you start as you mean to carry on. A quick, rushed and unprepared start will likely mean you either have to start again at some point, or will find it unbearable to continue. These services really helped me to get started out in the early stages and some are even a legal requirement…
Bank Account (Usually Free)
You’ll definitely need one of these. It might be worth setting up a separate account from your personal one to handle all business transactions. I’m sure that you don’t want to mix up your personal money amongst your freelancer earnings! I won’t offer any particular consumer advice when it comes to personal or business banking, you can easily find out about them by visiting your local high street or quickly searching online for a reputable bank near you.
Register as Self-Employed
In order to legally trade in the UK, you will need to register as self employed with the government’s HM Revenue & Customs department. You can register easily online.
Invoicing by Invoice2go (Free Trial / from £2.92 month)
Invoice2go allows you to set up your own custom invoices and estimates which you can then use to effortlessly create invoices. Preparing an invoice on the fly via your iPhone or iPad device whilst being able to centrally manage them and access them from whatever laptop, computer or device you are using is a definite bonus.
Accounting & Invoicing (Free 30-day Trial / from £15 month)
If you handle more business than you fancy keeping track of yourself, freeagent is a brilliant online accounting application that can help you make sense of your finances and track your expenses. This is probably more suitable if you require something a little more ka-pow than just a simple invoicing application. It also helps you to perform your self-tax returns, send invoices and receive payments – happy days!
PayPal for Business (Free or Pro from £20/mth)
A business PayPal account is an essential online payment gateway for any freelancer or business to have at their disposal. PayPal allows you to request money from other users, or accept payments online through your website. It comes with invoicing and payment tracking facilities so you can keep an eye on where your money is going and when. Offering your clients PayPal as a payment method is a very secure and trusted choice on the internet. PayPal do not charge you to send or withdraw money, although they do take a small transaction fee for incoming payments – it is rather negligible though. If, however, you’d like to retain more of your profits you can upgrade your account (paying a monthly subscription) in order to take advantage of the lesser transaction fees and more powerful business-enhancing features.
Payoneer (Free Account)
Payoneer are a globally recognised payment provider that you can add to your arsenal of payment options. It allows you to manage payroll and accept payments internationally.
Skrill (Free Account)
Skrill (formerly Moneybookers) is another secure online payment provider that you can use as an alternative, or alongside, your PayPal and Payoneer account(s). At the end of the day, it is only another way of accepting money and there’s no harm in being able to offer multiple payment options to your clients.
Stripe (Free Account)
Stripe is a developer-friendly way to accept payments online via your website and in your mobile apps. It comes complete with a very intuitive and well-documented API, as well as quick-start documentation to have you on your way in less than half an hour. Stripe integrates fully with your existing website (I’d recommend an SSL and https though!), allowing you to bill your clients cards securely. Your server never has to come into contact with your customers card details because they are converted into a token by Stripe, and you use this token to make a charge to the card separately. It’s also possible to use Stripe to create subscription based purchases. Stripe is fast becoming my preferred method over PayPal.
3 – Getting Online
Now that you’re legal and you are prepared to start accepting business and you can handle the paperwork with no problem, it’s time to get online – letting people know about your services.
Build your website (Free – you’re a web guy!)
This is where things get exciting; it’s my favourite part anyway! It’s now time to build your website and let everybody know about your brilliant services that you have to offer. Designing your own website is a great way to showcase your talent and hone your development skills. It is also a good opportunity for you to be rather ground-breaking and push the boundaries, showing off the capabilities of the web in the most creative way you can. It’s all about impressing your customers whilst demonstrating your capable ability.
Domain Name (From £2.99 / year)
A catchy web address or one that is relevant to you or your business is important if you want to be noticed and found online. Website developers or designers usually opt for some variation of their own name, whilst others chose to think up a creative tagline or brand name – this one is completely up to you.
Website Hosting (From £2.99 / month)
A great website needs a great web host who offers a great service and fantastic support. Heart Internet tick all the boxes on absolutely every front in the web hosting industry. They’re leading experts in the UK and regularly set the standard for all others to follow.
#4 – Improving Awareness
Okay, so your business is set-up, your domain name is a-rockin’ and your hosting is a-go. Now it’s time to let your potential customers know that you exist, and to encourage others to spread the word. This is where social media, word of mouth, advertising and search engines come into play. This stage of your freelancer career is all about establishing your brand name, your business and your client pool (who will you target?). These are essential for driving regular traffic to your website and increasing organic visitors; all in combination with an effective SEO plan (discussed later).
Printing Business Cards or Flyers (Starting at £2.99)
Designing your own business cards or flyers is a great way to let people know about your business and to pass on your contact details. If you consider the cost of having say 500 business cards printed; all it takes is just one customer to get in touch and hire you – and they’ve already paid for themselves!
Become A Partner (Absolutely Free + Benefits!)
If you are a recognisable web or print professional, you might want to submit an application to Exaprint UK to become one of their partners. They offer exclusive printing services to professional contractors only and have an enormous range of awesome products to choose from. By becoming a partner, you receive a whole bunch of bonuses; most notably the Exakit, which is your design sample kit to share with your clients. This kit is sensational and will impress the socks off your clients. It should hopefully add another dimension to your business and help in promoting your print-services.
Google Places for Business (Absolutely Free)
Google Places for Business allows you to list your website or business in the local directory. Any local search queries matching your listing will be paired and have your business details displayed to your potential customers alongside a handy interactive map for directions.
Yellow Pages (Free and Paid)
Often overlooked, local offline advertising is just as important as mass marketing your services to the general public online. Yellow Pages allow you to claim a free listing to the back of their A-Z business index so customers can easily find you. They also offer a variety of advertising options to suit almost every budget.
Facebook for Business (Free or Paid)
Creating a facebook page and listing for your business is a fantastic opportunity to have your site featured on the largest social network out there. Facebook has more users than any other social network and is many businesses preferred choice for social media campaigns. Facebook allows business owners and freelancers alike to create a business listing, advertise and generate business. It also allows for implementation of social sharing via the facebook likes widget – so you can allow your customers to spread your details by word of mouth.
Start Tweeting on Twitter (Absolutely Free)
Regularly posting tweets on twitter is another brilliant way of regularly letting your customers know that you are still active and looking for work. It’s a good idea to mix up your tweets so that some are humorous, some are industry related and some are business lead-generating. Doing this means you’re likely to build up a good base of followers from a variety of backgrounds and not just fellow web developers. The idea is reaching out as far as you can, you know the song by The Script – Six Degrees of Separation? Well, if you can get as far down the line of separation as possible – you’ll soon have the whole world knowing your name; according to the theory anyhow!
Google+ for Business (Absolutely Free)
Google allows you to create a business listing/page for you to showcase your services and let everybody know about what you do. They also allow you to create a personal profile on Google+ so that you can interact with your peers and customers and join them in social circles.
Buffer App (Free or $10/month)
Buffer is an online application and mobile app that allows you to link up all of your social media accounts, pages and listings; publishing non-stop messages on your behalf. This helps to prevent what is probably best described as “radio-silence” on any of your social media accounts. I’ve used this a fair bit myself and I’ve found that the traffic directed to my site is much more sustained throughout the day by drip-feeding the social networks with little nibbles for them to bite. I definitely recommend this one, especially once business starts to pick up and you have less time for social enterprising and have to focus more on the business and development aspects.
Pin Stuff on Pinterest (Absolutely Free)
Another great way of sharing content with people online is by ‘pinning’ things on Pinterest. A ‘pin’ is essentially anything that takes your fancy and you can pin it to a board and share it with other people using Pinterest. This is a great way of sharing things you love with like-minded people, or individuals looking for your pins.
Start a Blog (Absolutely Free)
Publishing your own blog content is a sure fire way to be confident that search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing are constantly finding new content on your site. It’s a good idea to blog about the industry you’re working in (so website design or development). The more relevant and engaging your blog posts; the more they will be shared which ultimately means more traffic for your website. Consistently pushing new content to your site is quite probably the best way to rank up your search engine presence and build up backlinks to your site. Mixing up your posts with some general information about you and what you find interesting is another way of helping your visitors and potential customers get to know you better.
Klout+ (Absolutely Free)
Klout is a tool invented to fill the market in measuring your social influence across all of the popular social media networks and content sharing platforms. Using secret algorithms, Klout asks you to connect your profiles and using that information, Klout calculates a score out of 100 to illustrate how influential you are. Search engines seem to place a lot of importance on influence and gaining a brand following, whilst also favouring websites which have engaging content – so signing up for Klout is something you should certainly do if you want to monitor how well you are keeping up. Ideally you want to see the graph of your social influence increase alongside your new freelancing career.
#5 – Generating Business Leads
As you build up your online presence you will begin to notice an increase in visits to your site. Consider each unique visitor a potential customer to your freelancing services and you can start to get a picture of how you are starting to perform. As the traffic to your site increases the likelihood of that visitor needing to use your services grows. Organic visits are a godsend for freelancers, but we should still be proactive in trying to generate business leads and keep our cash flowing. There are a bunch of great websites that offer jobs to freelancers, perhaps you should sign up to some:
NEED HQ (Invite Only)
Need is a service created by freelancers, for freelancers. It acts as a platform to connect companies to freelancers in their local area, and allows them to receive instant and realistic notifications as to which freelancers are available to complete their posted projects. Each freelancer matched with a job posting will be asked to reply to a message asking you to declare your availability. From there the companies will have the option to contact you. Need is currently free for freelancers to sign up, for a limited period – although it’s invite only, so if you’re interested, please send me a message with a link to your portfolio. This is certainly a very cost effective way of generating leads. You’ll save a heap of cash by not spending all your days sourcing clients.
Freelancer.com (Free or Paid Account)
Freelancer.com is a crowd-sourcing marketplace for freelancers and entrepreneurs alike. The concept is similar to eBay except we’re bidding on projects that employers have posted. This is great for building up your portfolio, receiving reputable reviews, or finding some jobs to tide you over when your direct business slows down. The jobs available start from as little as £20 and go up to around the £10,000 mark – so it’s relatively easy to find a job matching your skill set and price tag. They charge a small commission for introducing the parties, in exchange for that they offer escrow services (they hold the money whilst you do the work) meaning you can be sure you are being paid for your time.
Similar to other services, if you wish to take advantage of lower commission fees and better features you can always upgrade your account. It might be worth securing your first project and then using the funds you earn to upgrade your membership – as withdrawing money for the first time can take a few weeks because of security checks (after that only a few days). This will allow you to take advantage of low commissions whilst you build up your balance and wait for your initial security phase to pass.
Elance.com (Free or Paid Account)
Elance is for anyone who wants to do great work and enjoy a great lifestyle. Be your own boss while choosing the jobs you want and working the hours you want. Get hired for interesting jobs whether you’re at home or on a white sandy beach. Elance is the choice for 9-to-5 workers in a rut, talented people in remote regions hoping to be discovered, and everyone in between. With Elance you’re guaranteed payment for all the hard work you do.
People Per Hour (Free Account)
People Per Hour is similar to the above freelancer option, although instead you are able to offer services at a set price, or on an hourly basis. Potential customers are able to browse for the type of service they require and be matched with freelancers offering similar ‘hourlies’.
99designs (Free Account)
This one always puts a smile on my face. 99designs.com is where it all started out for me pretty much. This site, a good few years ago, was where I secured my first ever paid freelancing project working for myself. This was the first time I’d sought work on my own accord, and landed it, so 99designs bears a special commendation on my list. They are slightly different in that they host competitions; where a brief is submitted and designers from around the world compete to win the prize funds. It’s a much tougher marketplace if you’re freelancing (not every contest you enter will result in a paycheck), although, the prizes are generally fair and a good return on your time.
In Person (Old-fashioned Way)
Let’s not forget too, we should occasionally leave our offices or desks to venture out into the real world and introduce ourselves to potential clients in person. Going around and showing your lovely face whilst letting businesses know about your services will leave a lasting, friendly impression. Sometimes, going back to basics and bringing back the personal aspect of dealing with clients face to face is the best way to go about your work.
#6 – Additional Revenue Streams
The buck doesn’t just stop at freelancing and earning money for your hours spent. There’s a million and one ways to monetise your online presence and start to build a substantial earning just by sitting back and watching the figures rise. I say sitting back, although it definitely helps to be proactively tactful in your approach.
Google AdSense (Free to Install)
Another of Google’s services allows any webmaster to begin to monetise their website content. This is probably best utilised on your own blog, as it will be a good opportunity to ensure that visitors are seeing advertisements on your site, as well as providing relevant search terms and snippets dependent upon your site’s content. You can follow the instructions once you’ve signed up to verify your AdSense account; from there you can start to track your online earnings through Google AdSense’s dashboard.
Heart Internet Reseller (3 Months Free then £29.99/month)
As a freelance website designer or developer working with real clients, you’d be silly to not capitalise on the project and offer your clients hosting yourself – rather than send them elsewhere. Heart Internet offer reseller hosting with a 3 months free trial and then from just £29.99 a month thereafter. This becomes a no-brainer once you’ve got at least three or four clients under your belt who you can offer website hosting to.
ThemeForest Referrals (Free to Sign Up)
ThemeForest is a great resource for anybody running a WordPress website or blog. They offer free and premium templates for users to purchase and use as they please. You are able to design your own themes and submit them to ThemeForest to start earning from the sales of each theme, or you can simply refer WordPress users to the site and earn a commission on any transactions.
Heart Internet Affiliate (Free to Sign Up)
Another service provided by Heart Internet; the Affiliate Scheme, allows you to refer customers who are looking for web hosting and earn a commission for each sale. This is ideal if you don’t have the capital to start off as a web hosting reseller, and provides a healthy income if you are a website designer/developer.
ShareASale (Free to Sign Up)
ShareASale is an advertising network that allows you to publish content and monetise traffic via pay-per-click advertising. They also have a referral scheme, so if you ever build a website for a client and they are looking to generate some revenue from their website – you could use this as an opportunity to secure a little something for yourself.
Other Affiliate Marketing Methods…
There are hundreds and hundreds of affiliate partner schemes out there for almost all of the popular services you use. It’s a good suggestion to check up on them and see where you make referrals to services in order to bump up your profile. You can make money from each one just by referring people you know will appreciate and use the service. In doing so you’re helping people become more efficient as well as earning a little extra for yourself in return for your efforts. Check out my more detailed post on affiliate marketing.
Thanks very much for reading and I wish you every success in starting your new freelancing career. Taking the first steps to become a freelance website designer, graphic designer or even web developer is certainly a very rewarding career path. I’m confident that with the right know-how, almost anyone can beat the credit crunch and find work for themselves.
I’d love to hear from you and how you are getting on in the comments section below – it’s always nice to connect with fellow freelancers in the industry to share opinions and learn from each other – so, please stick around.