Becoming a freelance web developer – our subscriber’s experience

We’re gonna be talking about how to become a freelance web developer . This actually came up, as sort of all transparency, I watched a video from Brad Traversy, where he did a very similar thing to this. And as I watched it, there were things that I felt like I agreed with, things I disagreed with, things I wanted to add and so forth.

My experience as a
web developer

I’m just gonna be going through this. I’ve been a freelance web developer for about 15 years now. And so, I wanted to share some of my thoughts, on this idea of freelancing as a web developer. I am a freelance web developer, like I said, I have done that for about 15 years now. I’m probably most well known for my work with Ink magazine and Tim Ferriss, Lewis Howes, Michael Hyatt’s another big one. I’m married, I have three kids, I live in the Ozarks in Missouri. My wife and I are actually building our forever house down here, as you can see from some of the construction going on back here. And you know, like I said, I’ve done this at home for a long time now. So, I want to go through some of this stuff.

All right, so let’s start off talking about some of the pros of freelancing. And I’m not gonna try and convince you either way. I’m just gonna sort of go through this and you can kind of make your own decision.

Pros of freelancer’s life

So, some of the pros of freelancing.

Probably, the biggest one is, or the biggest two, are freedom and then flexibility. This is some stuff that Brad mentions as well. But, freedom is probably the biggest one for me. So, you have the freedom to sort of run your business how you want, work how you want, work when you want, work with who you want, all those sorts of things. So there’s a ton of freedom involved with that. Of course, that can be a double-edged sword. Because with that freedom, you know, with freedom comes responsibility and so forth. So that’s probably a big one.

Flexibility is another one. For me, that’s especially important, you know, I homeschool my kids. It’s something that’s important to me. Having the flexibility to be able to do that. Be able to jump in and out of work and so forth when I need to home-school them. It’s a big one for me. You can work from anywhere, I mean this is sort of a perfect example here. We moved from Omaha, Nebraska down here, to the Ozarks, and for me the move was pretty uneventful. Didn’t have to find a new job, didn’t have to do any of that stuff. I basically came down, got my computer set up, and I was ready to go. So, it’s nice to be able to, sort of, move like that and not have to worry about finding a job and all that sort of thing. Matter of fact, we probably wouldn’t be able to live here, because the local economy here, it’s a very poor county down here. The local economy probably wouldn’t have, you know, the jobs and stuff, that I would need in order to do everything that we’re doing. So again, that makes it very nice. You can work when you want. For the most part, I mean, you’re still gonna be holding the clients a little bit. But generally speaking, you can work the hours that you want to work. You can put in as much, or as little as you want, which again is a double-edged sword. So, there’s that. And you can work on the projects you want, which is sort of a big one for me.

Being able to say no to certain things, and not have to just do whatever my boss tells me, and that sort of thing. That’s a big one for me because there are plenty of projects out there that I just, I don’t have any sort of, especially after 15 years, I don’t have any interest in doing and so forth. So, that’s really nice. So, those are some of the pros. Looking at some of the cons.

And cons: no salary – unstable income

Probably the biggest con, that everybody thinks about and talks about, is unpredictable income. And that’s, it’s sort of the biggest fear. It’s what stops a lot of people from becoming freelancers. And it’s a legitimate fear. You know the– it’s certainly not as predictable, as a monthly paycheck. Now there’s two sides to that. Sometimes it’s less, and it’s kind of the fear mindset a lot of people maybe kind of get wrapped up in. But also it can be unpredictable the other way. You can one month make a bunch of income. So, there are two sides to that coin, and the one caveat, that I would say here is that, if you treat your freelance business like you would any other online business and you build out a system for bringing in clients, instead of relying on a platform or word-of-mouth or just sort of hoping that you get work; if you do that and treat it like a, sort of a real online business, then you can make your income a lot more consistent and you can, sort of, deal with that.


The Beginner’s Guide to Freelance

Now, if you’re interested, I do have a course that will teach you the system that I built for myself, to be able to do this for 15, over 15 years now. The course is called The Beginner’s Guide to Freelance. It’s available over on Skillshare, if you go to the link johnmorrisonline.com/freelance or I’ll link it in the description here, You can get an exclusive 2 month free trial of Skillshare, and you’ll get full access to all of the courses there, including my freelance course, so you can take it for nothing, you just cancel before the 2 months is up and then you won’t get charged. So, if that interests you, again the link is johnmorrisonline.com/freelance. All right, another big con is that there’s no benefits. So, no health benefits, that sort of thing.

Now, for me, my wife got a job here and they have benefits, so we actually get our benefits through that. Before that, I was paying for a health sharing program that you can get here in the United States, and that was what we used for our health insurance and so forth. So, that’s something that you have to figure out, if you don’t have a spouse or somebody that has those benefits that you can use. So, that can be a big one. I wrote down “loneliness”. Now for me, I’m more of an introvert. So, it’s not a big deal to me. I’ve got, you know, two boys that keep me plenty busy, and my wife and so forth. So, over the years, that’s become much less of a thing for me. But, you know, if you’re someone, who is single, you know, maybe you’re not living around where your family is, like, it can be easy to be inside of your house for weeks at a time, and not realize that you haven’t left. And after a while, no matter how introverted you are, that will start to get a little bit lonely, so you have to be more conscious about making sure that you get out and you contact people, and it’s not just gonna happen naturally, be with coworkers or just being out and about and that sort of thing.


Self-management of web-developer

So, you do have to manage that a little bit. Another big one is self-management. So, procrastination, motivation, time management, being, you know, detail-oriented, to-do lists, all that sort of thing, it’s really on you. You don’t have a boss standing over you and again, that can be a double-edged sword. It’s nice to not have a boss standing over you. However, it’s easy to, “Oh no, I accidentally watched Netflix all day, and I got nothing done.” And ultimately, that kind of stuff is gonna hurt your business. So, you have to think about that and then work-life balance. You know, you work from home. I mean, there’s, even after 15 years, it’s not perfect for me. Last night, I was working on stuff at 9 o’clock at night, when everybody was watching TV and doing that sort of thing. So, there is a balance there. But I think that one with time– when you first start out, you’re just gonna be all work, work, work, work. But as you, sort of build out a business, and you get a clientele, and you’re making good money and so forth, that one kind of tends to work itself out. So, but again, that’s something you need to pay attention to.

So, how do you know if freelancing is for you? So, these are some of the things that I’ve come up with over the years to help people to determine if freelancing is something that would be a good fit for them. So, the first one and probably the most important one, is that you value freedom over security. And this is why I kinda go, sometimes say, use the, the sort of GaryVee line, that it’s a little bit in your DNA or it’s not. Because values are these sort of core things that come from how you were raised and so forth. And they can be difficult to change, and a lot of times you don’t even really want to. So, if you value freedom over security meaning, you are someone, who’s willing to risk being a little less secure income wise, to have more freedom in how you actually go about your work. If you can evaluate those things and identify that you value the freedom of work more than you value the income security, then that’s probably the biggest factor of whether freelancing is for you or not. The way I like to put it is, is the people who are gonna be best at freelancing, are the people who see no other option.

All right, if you’re someone who looks at freelancing as one among many options, I could do this, or I could do that, or I could do that, then maybe freelancing isn’t for you. Because the people who tend to do really well at it, are the people who say I can’t do that. Like, I don’t want to work a nine-to-five. I don’t want to run some big company with 30 employees. I just want to do my own, and so they kind of tend to see it as the only option. If that’s you, then you’re gonna have a lot better time freelancing because you’re just gonna stick with it and that’s really ultimately, the name of the game when it comes to freelancing.

The second thing is just being good at managing yourself. So, if you’re someone who is good about to do this, good about time management, doesn’t knows how to deal with procrastination, those sorts of things, then freelancing is something, that you can probably do and have success. Now, you don’t need to be perfect at that stuff, right off the bat and I don’t think anybody is, I’m still not even after 15 years. But you need to be able to get stuff done, and you need to be able to not watch Netflix for 8 hours a day, every day. So, if that’s something, then freelancing would be a good fit. I would say you like, or at least do not absolutely abhor and hate sales. If you’re someone who just thinks, anybody who does sales is, you know, a charlatan, gimmicky, if you go around on Facebook ads, commenting spammer or that sort of thing like, then freelancing is gonna be tough for you because there’s a lot there, that you’re gonna have to overcome mentally for you to be able to do the things that you need to do to sell your services. To be open to running Facebook ads or YouTube ads or that sort of thing because there– you’re gonna have to go out and get clients, and so you’re gonna have to be willing to do those things.

So, if you just absolutely hate sales and think every sales person is a charlatan, then, that’s probably– freelancing’s probably not gonna work well for you. You work well with others, so one of the, especially as a developer, it’s easy to sort of go into a cave and just, sort of like, kinda… grunt at everybody else and grumble and that sort of thing. But you’re gonna be working with clients, and at the end of the day, they’re the ones paying your bills. So, you have to be able to work with and talk with others and so forth, and not just be absolutely miserable, because then, you’re gonna be miserable, and so what’s the point of freelancing. And the last one is, you’re reliable. So mainly, it comes down to being honest and doing right by people. Because ultimately, the way to succeed as a freelancer in the long term, is to do good work, to be honest with people, to do right by people when things do go wrong as they inevitably will, and that sort of thing. So, you have to be someone that’s trustworthy, reliable, that sort of thing. All right.

You should know your client

So next, talking about some things you can do to get started if you think freelancing is something that you want to try. And I will start off this by harping on the thing that I always do. And sort of just give you the big secret, the one competitive advantage that you can have, as a freelancer, over a lot of other freelancers out there and that is, research, research, research. And the big thing here is people just aren’t willing to do it. All right. They’re just not willing to spend the time. They want to get to doing the marketing and getting the business and all this sort of thing. But you have to understand your client. You have to know who that is. What services to offer? How to package those services? All of those sort of things. So, research, research, research. And specifically, spend a lot of time thinking about and researching what services to offer. Who your ideal client is and what services to offer them?

The biggest mistake you can make as a web developer is just be like, “Hey, I’m a web developer, you know, come at me.” What’s gonna end up happening is, you’re gonna end up working on all these different sorts of jobs, that are completely unrelated. You’re not gonna develop any sort of authority or specialization. You’re not gonna make nearly as much as you could and it’s just gonna make freelancing a lot more miserable. So, you want to, sort of, pick something specific that you can offer, a set of services that are all sort of related to each other, and kind of stick to that, become known as an expert, an authority on doing that. That is just gonna allow you to make more money, work on projects that you actually like working on, and so forth. But you have to do the research to know what are those things. What are, how… what actual parts should I, of my service, should I have? How should I package it? How much should I charge? All that sort of stuff. Now, again as a side note, I have a new course that I created… that I just did, that digs in to doing all this, and helping you figure out what services you should offer. So, you learn things like the four criteria for identifying your most ideal client.

How to determine if a niche is profitable? Four different types of course services you can offer. The three elements of a properly packaged freelance service. How to price your services? And more. And again, it’s also over on Skillshare. Just go to johnmorrisonline.com/niche, that’s N, I, C, H, E. I’ll also link it up in the description to learn more about the course. And again, get the two month free trial of Skillshare. You get access to all these courses when you do that, by the way. All right, another thing when getting started is, you want to think about and prep for the legal parts. So, taxes, bookkeeping, contracts, etc. You know, QuickBooks is one. My younger brother does, sort of, does a little bit of freelancing along with his regular job. And he does all his stuff through QuickBooks, he really swears by it. I used a one called Wave. So, Wave Accounting that I really like for tracking all of my expenses and all that sort of stuff and doing my bookkeeping. But you want to make sure and do that. That’s one of the things I did early on, that kind of bit me is, I… I did not properly set aside the tax money I needed to, for the year. Come the end of the year, I ended up borrowing a bunch of money, and it took me about another year to pay it off and it was a real pain in the butt. Was not a fun time for my wife and I. So, you want to make sure you’re doing that stuff and keeping track of all that stuff, and doing it properly. Of course, it depends where you live and so forth. Contracts.


Killer Contract of top freelance developers

There’s one that is out there called, it’s the Killer Contract or Contract Killer, if you google Contract Killer and look that up. That’s a really good contract. I used that as the base for my contract and I just sort of changed it a little bit further, based on the details of what I do. But that’s a really good one. It’s an open-source contract that you can use. All right, the last thing then I wrote down, Portfolio, Platform and Plan of Attack. So, you just want to go in and think, have some sort of Plan of Attack or strategy, right. Like, a lot of people just sort of go in and they just kind of shoot from the hip. But, this is what I’m talking about, doing the research, and thinking about this stuff and planning ahead. Well, Tim Ferriss, I just watched a video of his, where he talked about, you know, a lot of people should… he said, a lot of people shouldn’t be entrepreneurs, because they’re simply not willing to put in the… do the pre-work necessary in order to set things up, in order for them to be successful. And they end up creating something that becomes a nightmare for them. And it’s very true, a lot of people just don’t, they just sort of go. And what I’m telling you is, just take a step back for a second, really focus on building a portfolio. And I’ll tell you this about the portfolio, your portfolio does not have to be filled with things that you did for clients.

They can be things that you did for a family member, or that you did for free or some, you know, charity or non-profit organization. Or that you just did for nobody, to put in your portfolio. But it’s crucial that you have something in your portfolio, and it’d be good because that’s what people are gonna look at to see, you know, what can you do, what are you good at, what can you build, etc. So, make sure you have a portfolio. Think about any platforms that you want to use. Whether that’s, you know, on Upwork or whatever. Or your own website. But just think about how you want to do that, and then what’s your Plan of Attack gonna be. How are you gonna get people to notice you, get people’s attention? How are you gonna convince them to hire you? You don’t have to know the perfect answers off the bat, but you have to have some sort of plan for how you’re gonna do that.

Where to find freelance work

All right, next is where to find freelance work? So, the immediate one that comes right off the top of most people’s head, is the freelancing platforms. Now, there are two main categories of freelancing platforms, that– at least what I call them, so there’s the Open platforms and then there’s the Curated platforms. So, the open platforms, and I kind of put a asterisk next to Upwork, because Upwork has started kind of curating a little bit more. They have an application process. They don’t just let anybody join. But it’s still fairly open compared to the curated ones.

So, best freelance websites for web developers –Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr, you know, there’s a probably a ton of them. Guru I think, is an open one. You could just go on down the line. But the big one is Upwork. And then probably, Freelancer and Fivver. Those are probably the three big ones out there, in terms of the open ones. And then, in terms of curated, you have Toptal and OnSite are probably the two, the least that I know, that are big ones out there. Probably, Toptal being the biggest one. And the way these work is they have a very rigorous application process. But once you get through that application process, there’s a lot less freelancers on the site. So now, you’re able to get a lot more of the work, and so forth. And you don’t have to compete near as hard. Whereas, with the open ones, it’s easier to get on, but it is, it’s harder to get work as you’re competing with everybody.

My recommendation: start with an open platform because I know, for example Toptal, the application process there is very rigorous, and so it’s very likely that if you’ve never freelanced before, that you’re gonna be able to get on Toptal right off the bat. So, start with an open platform, you know, figure out how to get clients, work with clients, deliver all that sort of thing, and then move on to a curated platform. Now again, just as a side note here, Upwork is the largest freelancing platform out there. So, I strongly recommend that no matter what you do, you be on Upwork. You know, if you search for information on Upwork, you’re gonna hear all sorts of opinions about people loving it, people hating it, people, you know, made a bunch of money on it, people got scammed on it, all these sorts of thing, you know, but one thing I’ll say about Upwork is, you can find whatever you want there. It is a huge platform. So, you can find good clients, bad clients, good projects, bad projects, on down the line. But at the, you know, at the end of the day, like I said, it’s the largest platform out there. And there’s thousands of jobs posted every day.

So, if you decided to become a freelance web developer, I highly recommend getting on Upwork. And that’s where I started way way back in the day, and was able to jump-start my career. I do also have a course on it. That course happens to be the number 3 ranked freelancing course on all of Skillshare. So people tend to really like the course and it helps them a ton with Upwork. It walks you through building your profile, bidding on jobs, finding the highest paying clients, how to write proposals, and a bunch more. If you’re interested in learning more about it, you can go to Upwork101.com. Again, I’ll link that in the description. All right, so that’s the main, the big one, I think people think of as freelancing platforms.

Of course, your own website, which I would highly recommend doing, you know, one of the things that I’ll just sort of give you this from my Upwork course– One of the things that I teach there, is that you actually build your business, like you’re going to sell your services from your own website. But instead of linking to a services page on your website, when you start out, you link to your Upwork profile. And a lot of people don’t understand why you would get work on your own, off your offer your own website, but then send it to Upwork because they take their fee and all that sort of thing. And the reason is, is because Upwork is very algorithm based. Okay, and so, if you can start to get those algorithms working in your favor, then it can start bringing you a ton of work. I got to the point, where I was getting like 30 job invites in a month. And like, I could only do 1 or 2 of those projects. So I was just getting overwhelmed with job invites. So, you want to try and get those network effects working in your favor. And one of the ways that you can… but it can be hard when you first start out because you have nothing over there. So, one of the things that you can do to jump-start that is get work outside of it. Send it, send it to Upwork and yeah, you’re gonna get that fee taken off, even though you got the work. But long-term, you’re gonna get the ball rolling and end up getting more work coming back your way. So, it’s a long-term play but it can be very effective. So, anyway you can, you know, use your own website to sell your services.

That’s a strategy, I recommend for people right off the bat, if you, if you want to use that. Another one is of course, social media. So, you can get out there and network on social media. Go on Twitter or some of these other places and find people who have problems and answer questions, or follow people, who are authorities in your particular niche. So if, you know, what you’re doing is building WordPress websites, follow– go on Instagram and follow all of the really popular WordPress developers there and then comment on their stuff, and people will click on your profile, and then, you know, set up your profile on Instagram to let people know that you’re a freelance developer and they can hire you, that sort of thing. So, you’re can use social media to do that. Local business meetup groups. This is probably like, the dirty little secret of all of this. Because local business meetup groups can be very effective. I joined a couple. My older brother got me into a couple. He was in, doing insurance and he got me into some and… of all the meetings that I went to over the years, I’ve made probably 90%, I mean, it was almost every single meeting, I had someone offer me businesses. Give me their card and say, “Hey, call me, I have this thing, you know, I want you to work on and so forth.” That’s how these businesses are set up for people to refer other people to people in their group, but also to work with each other. It just, every single time, it can be very… if you have a local business meetup group in your area, and I’m talking about one, where it’s not other web developers. It’s you know, you have an insurance, they take someone from every industry, you have an insurance agent, you have a realtor, you have all of these different people, and you get in one of those, and a lot of those people need work… have work for you. So, that can be deadly effective.

Running ads, you know, I didn’t do near as much as this, as a freelancer. I do it more as a teacher. But, you know, running ads, if you can figure out at least some of these networks, like Facebook and Google, and so forth, there’s a ton of eyeballs, and so if you can figure out how to use them, you can bring a lot of work your way. And then content marketing. That’s probably, that’s been the biggest thing that I’ve done over the years is content marketing and essentially the idea is, you… I mean, you’ve seen it here in this video, just watch this video and take exactly the strategy that I’m using here. I was being blunt with you. Take the strategy I’m using here and do that to sell your services. That’s, that’s content marketing. So, it can be very effective. And one thing that I want to, sort of, add on here, that I maybe didn’t see in Brad’s video that was something that I wanted to talk about is, when we talk about freelancing, we tend to focus in on services. But one of the things that I want to encourage you to do is, build actually, a full business around what you do as a freelancer.

So, you start with your services and you get that nailed down. But, then you look to have a full sort of product line or a full offering of different products and services. So, the main thing is having a core service, then having some sort of product. Actual product, not service as a product. Or any of that, but an actual product and then moving into information. So, just to sort of, to use myself as an example, you know, I obviously have my freelance services that I offer. I kind of stick to WordPress and membership sites and that sort of thing. And I have a particular stack, I use in there and so forth. That’s my core service offering. But then a part of my business is doing this sort of thing. Teaching classes on freelancing, on web development. You know, I have HTML and CSS classes, PHP classes, WordPress classes, freelancing classes. Right, those are information products that are now– have grown to be about half of my business. So I, at first, all my income came from freelancing. Now, it’s about half and half. Half from freelancing, half from all of the information products and so forth. So, build that out and then look at different products, that’s actually something that I need to do with my own business, that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, is what products can I offer that makes sense for my particular audience, that fit with what I do and so forth. And some of this stuff can be tricky to figure out, but over time you want to continue to sort of build a full-fledged business around what you do. Because, it’s gonna make your… that’s gonna make your income more stable. It’s gonna make your income more, and it’s gonna make it just, sort of, more long-term reliable, than just kind of flying with, always flying with the ups and downs of freelancing.

Key to success

All right, last thing that I want to talk about here is, you might call this the big key to success as a freelancer. And it’s something very simple and that is persistence. That’s the name of the game when it comes to this. And that’s why I go back to talking about it being in your DNA a little bit. Because, if this is just one among a number of options that you’re evaluating, and you are totally fine with working a nine-to-five job, and there’s lots of people that are, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that but if you are, then it’s gonna be difficult to have the persistence that you need. So, that’s why I go back to… you almost have to view this as your only real option. Because it’s not gonna be easy at first. There’s all this stuff you got to figure out outside of your actual core skill set, right. You, you know, if you go work a 9-5 job and you’re a WordPress developer, you just need to know how to do WordPress really well. But now, you need to learn how to run a business and market and get clients and all that sort of thing. And so there’s a lot to learn, and you’ll fail.

My first two clients, I ended up having to refund. So, that’s gonna happen probably, stuff like that. But, you know, if you always keep your eye on the long term, and what you’re building, and just really understand that persistence is the name of the game, persistence is the key and if you be persistent, then you will get there. And I believe that, if you just keep hacking away at it, you will get there because you’ll learn all the stuff, you’ll figure all the stuff out and at some point, it becomes a little bit easy.

In conclusion. Is freelance web development worth it?

So, that’s one of my thoughts on that and freelancing as a web developer and I’ll just sort of leave you with my final pitch here, which is, as you’ve seen, I’ve got a number of courses that I teach on freelancing. I’ve helped over 5,000, it’s like 5,300 some students now with my courses. There’s probably more than that in total, but anyway, I’ve helped over 5,000 students with my courses. If you want to get access to all of them and not have to to pay for them, then you can just take the Skillshare two month free trial that I’ve mentioned. It’s a really good deal, it’s a great way to learn this stuff and you can just take the trial, take all my courses, and then just cancel before the trial is up and you’ll never pay a penny. And just so you know, they pay me for watch time. So, my interest is just in you taking the courses and learning from them, and liking from them, so they rank higher and all that sort of thing. So, I’m just trying to get you to learn this stuff, because it’s mutually beneficial for both of us.

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