I often smile to myself when I see the same stereotypes of what it’s like to be a freelance web designer. The pictures are very enticing. You know the ones.. “person sat on the beach relaxing with laptop”, “person in coffee shop smiling and chilling out”. For me these pictures have become such a cliche. Of course, if this is your life as a freelancer I congratulate you. Sincerely, well done.

Unfortunately for most of us, this is not the reality - especially in the beginning. Becoming a freelance web designer is very hard. In 2021 it’s possibly never been harder to start out. The barrier to entry is very low and you will have a lot of competition. There’s a lot stacked against you, and only the most determined will succeed.

My top 7 tips for succeeding as a freelance web designer

Here is the best advice I can think to share after spending 13 years in the industry, starting out as a freelancer in 2008.

Plan the business side of things as early as possible

Decide early on how you intend to take payments. What payment gateways will you use? (I am in the UK so use a combination of Stripe and GoCardless). Will you use an automated invoicing system? (I use FreeAgent). Will you need professional indemnity insurance and at what level? etc etc. You will also need to get your contracts in place and think of how to create professional proposals that will win clients. This is all boring stuff but it’s the minimum that you will need to get in place asap. It’s all about being organised and professional from the beginning.

Don’t be afraid to fail

Failing, strangely, is often part of the journey. Many people who have gone on to be successful testify to that. Here are some of my favourite quotes.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” - Bill Gates

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” - Albert Einstein

“One who fears failure limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity to more intelligently begin again.” - Henry Ford

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” - Thomas Edison

You might not know yet in what way or how you will fail, but when it happens the main thing is to learn from it and embrace it as part of the journey.

Remember that every “overnight success” was years in the making

A lot of what we perceive as “overnight successes” were actually years in the making. The story of Paul Jarvis at Fathom is just one of many I could have picked as an example. You can read his story here:- “20 years to overnight success”.

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to impress other web designers and developers

Your goal is to win clients, and these are rarely other web designers or developers. Trying to impress fellow developers will lead you down the wrong path. This means you might not use the latest ‘on trend’ technology for your site, but rather you use what you are familiar with and that gets the job done efficiently, whether thats PHP, Jekyll, Ruby, WordPress or something else.

Don’t bore your clients about your tech stack

It might be hard to accept this point, but the fact is your potential clients don’t really care about what tech stack you use. Rambling on about nodes will probably put them to sleep or leave them looking for the back button. They only care about how you can solve one of their pain points or what you can do for them and their business in terms of real business value and solving business problems.

Quickly learn how to market yourself

Accept that in the beginning you will need to spend far more time and effort on marketing yourself than on the thing you love - making websites. At least 80% of your time at the beginning is marketing. This percentage might fall later on to around 20-50% of your time, but it will always be a part of your business. Only around 10% of your time at the beginning should be spent on building your actual website.

Finally, remember to enjoy the journey

You may find that the path that works out for you is not your original direction. Go with what works and ditch what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to change. When you are starting out you never really know how things are going to pan out, and that keeps things interesting.

My personal journey progressed from some really small gigs at the beginning to working on a major e-commerce site with over a million users. I never envisaged at the beginning that my path would go in that direction. (By the way, one other thing I learned is that small gigs are not such a bad thing. I recently decided to go back to doing smaller gigs as I missed the variety and challenge of working on different projects.)

Of course, these are just a few things I could have shared. There’s much more to consider. Perhaps you would like to share what has worked for you (or not as the case may be). I am always interested to hear about other peoples journey. Feel free to leave me a comment.

Image credit. Photo by Vojtech Bruzek on Unsplash.

Yes, I did search for “freelance”.