Freelance web developers earn some of the highest incomes in 2023 and enjoy flexibility and freedom that their full-time counterparts only dream of.
But knowing where to start can be intimidating for both new developers and experienced developers who have never freelanced before.
Even if you’re brand new to both, however, it’s possible to start earning money in as little as a few months.
Like most good things, this will take hard work, but trust me when I say it’s worth it!
Ready to become a freelance web developer? Let’s jump in! Read on or pick the section that’s most helpful for you.
Which Skills are Most in Demand As a Freelance Web Developer?
With nearly limitless programming languages, platforms, and frameworks, it can be challenging for new freelance web developers to choose a specialization.
But in 2023, there are two sets of skills that are in extremely high demand:
- React and NodeJS – Over the past few years, React has become the de facto framework. It’s used by top tech companies like Dropbox and TikTok, and even WordPress, which powers a staggering amount of the web, chose React to underpin its Gutenberg block system.
- Shopify – Shopify is the largest e-commerce platform on the web. If you’re interested in working with top e-commerce brands like Allbirds or Gymshark, learning to build Shopify themes and plugins is a must.
Both these skill sets pay incredibly well on their own, and support adding in complementary skills like conversion rate optimization and UX design to increase earnings even further.
How Much CAN I Earn as a Freelance Web Developer?
Income varies widely among freelance web developers, but the most successful earn as much as $250+/hour or $360K+/year.
Unlike those with full-time jobs, as a freelance dev your earnings are tied far more to your marketing and sales approach than your actual skill level.
Here’s what you can expect to earn based on how you choose to find clients:
I Don’t Know How to Code. Where should I start?
Before moving on to intermediate skills like React or Shopify theme development, it’s important to learn the basics first.
- Codacademy’s Learn React (free or paid) and Learn Advanced React (free or paid)
How to Get Clients
As a freelance web developer, clients are the lifeblood of your business.
So you need an efficient and cost-effective way to find them. As noted above, how you find clients has a huge impact on how much you can make.
If you’re just starting out, freelancing sites like UpWork can be an okay method for finding that first client, but I highly recommend moving on to more advanced methods as soon as possible.
My free course covers how to do this in much more detail, but here are the basics:
- Identify Your Ideal Clients – Not all clients are created equal. So before you start marketing yourself, you need to know who you’re going after. I’ve found that tech startups and e-commerce companies tend to be the most consistent in terms of paying well and being easy to work with, but just as important is to target companies that excite you.
- Choose a Marketing Channel – Freelance sites, high-value job boards, blogging, social media, paid ads, and cold emails/calls are all viable options. But some of these channels are far more efficient than others. Personally, I’ve found building relationships through one-on-one conversations to be a far more effective approach that results in higher-paying clients and more engaging work.
- Build Your Sales Process – Once you’ve met a potential client, you need to close the sale. That means uncovering their needs, scoping the project, and discussing pricing. But there’s a whole lot more that goes into an effective sales process.
If this all sounds intimidating, don’t worry. I’ve broken it down step-by-step in my free course.
How to Position Yourself
Repeat after me. As a freelance web developer, your skills and experience do NOT determine your revenue.
Don’t believe me?
Imagine two freelancers. The first one simply describes himself as a “react developer”.
The second introduces herself by saying:
If you’re just looking for a competent React developer, there are plenty of options out there. But my clients like to work with me because I don’t just write code. I also partner with them to grow their business by sharing what I’ve seen work at other companies.
Guess who gets hired more often and who gets paid higher rates.
Why is the second freelancer’s statement so much more powerful? Because she doesn’t just describe what she does. She explains why it matters to the client.
If you want to earn top tier rates as a freelance web developer, get good at positioning yourself. Then use that positioning in every sales call and add it to your website, GitHub portfolio, and LinkedIn profile.
How to Manage Your Clients
It’s not enough to just land clients.
You also have to ensure that they’re happy with your work. Happy clients give referrals and sign retainer agreements.
But keeping your clients happy without burning yourself out is easier said than done.
I’ve found that the best way to ensure clients are happy is to make sure you’re both on the same page.
How do you do this?
Create a detailed Statement of Work before you start any project and have your client sign it.
In every statement of work, include:
- A detailed scope
- Payment timelines
- Deadlines for your clients to provide feedback and necessary assets.
- Limits for revisions and numbers of calls/meetings
Always specifically state that anything not mentioned in the scope is not included and that any delays on the part of the client may result in further expenses.
Set Yourself Up For Success
Once you’ve landed your first client, you’ll want to set yourself up for success by automating and streamlining as much of your business as possible.
Here are some tools I recommend:
Loom – Cut down on time-consuming meetings, phone calls, and email writing by recording quick videos when you need to demo a feature or ask for feedback.
Calendly – When you do need to meet, make it easy for clients to schedule with you so you’re not constantly emailing back and forth.
Harvest – As I’ve written before, time is a freelance web developer’s most valuable asset. So make sure to measure how you’re spending it!
Quickbooks – Regardless of where you live, your government will want a piece of your earnings. Quickbooks is my go-to tool for bookkeeping.
Freelance Web Developer FAQ
Do I know enough web development to start freelancing?
Probably! Even if you only know HTML and CSS, there are clients desperate for your help. The vast majority of clients are very non-technical; many are simply looking for a bit of help or a basic one-page website.
Should I pay for a bootcamp?
Some bootcamps are better than others, but it’s definitely not a requirement. Most freelance web developers are self-taught. If paying for a bootcamp makes you more comfortable and provides better motivation, by all means do so. But you can make progress faster and for much less money by simply using free resources are inexpensive courses and teaching yourself.
Is freelance web development competitive?
Yes and no. Freelance web development is a rapidly growing field, so while some sites like UpWork are competitive, the field as a whole is not. If you learn to build relationships and get referrals, you’ll rarely have to compete with other developers for work.
What about legal and accounting?
I’m not a lawyer or accountant, so I can’t officially give you legal or accounting advice, but I can tell you what I’ve done.
If you’re based in the US, you may not need to form a company unless you want to, but you’ll likely need to file quarterly estimated taxes. When I first started freelancing I chose to go this route so I could focus on building my business rather than jumping through regulatory hoops.
But once you’ve gotten a few clients it’s probably worth it to form an LLC to limit your liability and make it easier to open business bank accounts and get insurance. The more you’re earning, the more it’s beneficial to protect yourself and your assets.
If you earn enough per year (usually above $100K), choosing to have your LLC taxed as an S-Corp can save you on your taxes. My business is an LLC taxed as an S-Corp and it’s saved me thousands each year.
Regardless of which path you take, be sure to keep detailed books using a tool like QuickBooks and consider speaking with a lawyer and accountant who can advise you of the regulations you need to follow.
How can I get help?
In addition to my free course and newsletter, I also offer paid 1-on-1 coaching. If you’re interested, fill out the form here to book a time to discuss whether it’s right for you (only available to those in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and the EU).