I had a discussion with a associate the other day about making the transition from employee to a self employed freelancer. He’s fairly new to web development and doesn’t have a lot of real world web design experience under his belt. He had a few questions that I could offer some insight on!
His questions basically boil down to; How did I make the transition to becoming a eCommerce web developer? Why I did it and how I’ve succeeded?
Ive been freelancing design and front end development (clemsonwebdesign.com) for a good 3 or 4 years. I have experience with most mainstream CMS platforms. I specialize in eCommerce sites from small budget Shopify and WordPress websites to enterprise Magento websites doing millions in yearly revenue.
As a freelance web designer. The hardest part is balance. You aren’t just developing and designing. You’re answering phone calls, constantly checking emails. You’re balancing your budgets. You’re constantly back and forth with clients. Constantly making up invoices and keeping records, checking data and playing business analyst. All the while you have to deal with personal issues/life and trying to stay relevant and updated on your skill set.
Eventually. As you take on more and more work and your schedule fills up. You’ll only take on work that interest you or you’ll expand your operations by hiring some help or even renting some office space.
I’ve been pretty fortunate in my ventures and I’m still trying to figure out what the end goal is. I just dont see myself being a 55 year old freelance web designer. I guess its hard to imagine anything 20 years in the future! Maybe one day I’ll expand or maybe even start my own eCommerce retail business. One of the great perks of what i do is that I learn a lot about the businesses I work with. That experience and know how could pay off big if I ever find a product or niche that I feel like investing in.
How long does a typical freelance web design job take and what do you charge?
Jobs vary. I’ve had work that lasted two hours and had work that was on-going for 2 years. Pay usually depends on the job. Large projects, I usually break into sections for flat rate qoutes or even offer a hourly option if the scope is just massive. Most people take the hourly. On smaller jobs (think landing pages, simple graphics, small sites) flat rates for sure. I base flat rates on a estimate of hours I’ll spend on the job multiplied by the hourly rate I’d expect to earn. Pretty basic.
Are you designing each site “from scratch” or do you use pre-made themes?
Depends on the clients budget and the job. I’ve never just straight up dropped content into a pre-made demo theme and called it a day. If I use a theme, its as a base for custom design and its usually to save on front end development cost. The intention being so the client can allocate those saved funds into areas that offer better returns. Like design, SEO or marketing.
There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel and have a client drain their budget to develop features or functionality that are already commercially available for a platform. Pre-made themes and frameworks aren’t a negative in the hands of a professional. They are tools to help clients get more for their money.
Do you typically have a standing contract with your customers to update/maintain/host their site?
No. I dont usually offer standing “on going” contracts for web maintenance, hosting etc etc. I normally have a basic contract and that’s usually valid for a year. Most clients do have repeat and on going work. Usually the clients will contact me with work, I reply with a quote and time frame. We move forward or we don’t. Really. Its that simple.
Most of my clients are pretty knowledgeable when it comes to their websites. Mostly successful eCommerce outfits that have a pretty good grasp on what they are doing. Typically they don’t need nor want you to manager their hosting or setup their email. I have taken on smaller website clients but its good practice to show the clients the basics of operating the CMS (Content Management System) their website is on. I usually stick to what Im best at. Front end development and graphic design.
Fortunately for me. I haven’t really had the challenges of being short on work or not being able to find work. The hard part is finding exciting work that interest me. I don’t like working on boring projects and my portfolio reflects that. Trucks, Guns, Home Improvement, Baseball etc etc. Real Manly Man stuff! Ya know, All things that interest me.
I also do overflow work for a few agencies. It’s usually odds and ends, work that I can’t promote on my own site etc. It keeps me on my toes as I never know what their next challenge might be.
Is there something you now wish you would have done differently when you first started freelancing?
Definitely. I’d change a few things to make it easier on myself. I started out using text files and email for organization. When you’re juggling multiple task and clients at a time. That got REAL messy. At the time I didnt have a real resume, much less a portfolio to show off. I would find work via Craigslist and my resume was basically of a few hand written paragraphs and links to some graphics.
Knowing what I know now. I would have had a portfolio up sooner than later. I would have had my organization and accounting figured out before hand.
All said. I don’t encourage everyone to just up and quit their job to be a freelance web designer or developer. I only quit my day job once it made financial sense to do so. As in. I was so overloaded and busy with freelance work that I was losing money by still going to my day job. I was fortunate to have my wifes backing. In the event I failed we weren’t going to be homeless or anything crazy like that. Freelancing has its ups and downs but I would definitely say the positives outweigh the negatives!