Get a Website
First of all I’d suggest that you get yourself a website, if you’re going to be a freelance web developer, it’s nice to have a website that actually shows potential clients that you know how to make one.
Domain & Hosting
You can get a domain from NameCheap for under 10 USD with one of their coupons from their official coupon site and great shared hosting with CPanel from MDDHosting or if you prefer, you can grab a VPS from DigitalOcean and set all of that up yourself.
When it comes to the domain that you chose, I recommend either using your own name (like me) or to brand yourself as a “web studio” like Michael Heald does with Fully Illustrated (His work is awesome!).
Don’t be discouraged if the .com or .net version of your name is taken, there are plenty of domain extensions to choose from nowadays, some of which are pretty cool and brandable, like .ninja, .co, .name, .me and .io and if you are so inclined, there is also a .beer
If you are not a front-end developer or designer, I would recommend just getting a free or paid template and customizing that to reflect what you do, this is what I have done with my own homepage, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
Here are some of my favorite template websites that you can grab a template from:
Take your website serious as this is pretty much the first impression a potential employer will get when he looks you up online, you may optionally also get yourself an SSL certificate to give your visitors a little extra confidence that you are a legit freelancer and will take their projects seriously.
When I applied for a job at FrontTek (which I got), the guy who interviewed me pointed out that he was happy to see that my website had an SSL certificate.
A website will also make you easier to find online, this is very positive in the eyes of a potential client or an employer, I am very easy to find online and rank #1 for my name due to my name being relatively rare and because I have done some search engine optimization on my website.
If you want to learn more about search engine optimization you should read my “What is SEO – The beginners guide” article.
High Quality Freelancing Sites
These websites are not worth your time as pretty much all the clients on these sites are on a shoestring budget and there are a lot of offshore agencies and freelancers that will underbid you no matter what, clients will give you unreasonable rates and unrealistic deadlines.
Instead, go ahead and sign up for Gun.io or TopTal, these freelancing sites are very high quality with a high minimum budget, this is great for you and great for any potential employee, as you will get paid what you deserve, and the employee will get a high quality, professional individual to build their product, only apply to these sites if you are serious about freelancing and can deliver high quality work.
Once you’ve gotten a few clients you should start emailing them and connecting with them on LinkedIn, Twitter and various other social media sites.
I don’t personally like doing this on Facebook as I feel Facebook is not really a place for business, but you might want to try it out anyways.
Ask them if they either have some work that needs to be done or if they know anyone that might need a developer, asking them to pass on your information or share your website is also helpful.
Never forget your previous clients, often they might have some more work that they want done as well!
Going to meetups in your local community can be a great way to network as well, I recommend being on the lookout for tech related meetups on either Meetup, Facebook or any other places where people announce these things and go and talk to the people that attend, you might meet a few developers or a designer that needs someone to do some work that they don’t have the time or skills to do.
Grab yourself a stack of business cards or flyers and go out in your local community and hand them out to business owners, put up your flyers in the mall, conference center or hotel lobby (ask for permission first!).
I wrote a more detailed guide on how to get local clients in this blog post, if you are interested in learning more about that.
Knowing what you’re worth
This is a point I have very often burned myself on, knowing what to charge and not under charging for your work is one of the key aspects you should learn when deciding to become a freelance developer.
You should set a minimum hourly rate or fixed price that you will use as your minimum payment no matter what the project is.
You should always seek out high quality clients that are willing to spend what you are worth, do not bother with penny-pinching clients.
Take your rate and double it.
Don’t worry about not getting the job because you are too expensive, if the client is worth working for, he or she will pay what you are worth.
Being quick at respond to client emails and request is a very important thing to do, as people might be hesitant to hire people online due to the high risk of getting ripped off.
If you go the extra mile to be the freelancer that they liked to work with, provide suggestions and helpful input towards the project and respond to emails within 2 hours, your clients will love you.
Although there is such a thing as overdoing it, don’t go overboard, the weekends are your own and you should keep them sacred if possible.
Speaking in layman terms
Using layman’s terms is also a good thing to get good at since your clients might not be very technical, they might not know what you mean when you say “URL Rewriting to make Search friendly URLs” or “Your .htaccess file was causing a 500 error.
It’s worth the extra time it takes to explain for your clients exactly what you are intending to do, what you have done, and what any potential problems can be.
Again don’t go overboard with this, there is no need for you to teach your clients how to code, unless that is what you’re paid to do of course.
Knowing your shit!
If you’re going to work as a freelance web developer, you should be very confident in your skills, If you are advertising yourself as a front-end developer, you should actually know and understand front-end development.
Nobody is going to flame you for not knowing the entire HTML5 Specification by heart, but you should be very confident in acquiring new knowledge.
If you are a PHP developer for instance, you should be extremely comfortable reading documentation and be able to quickly find solutions to problems you will face when writing applications or APIs.
Remember that people are hiring you to solve a problem they can’t, or do not have time to solve themself.
Note: This article contains affiliate links, if you purchase a product from namecheap.com, mddhosting.com or gun.io I might receive commission for that sale.
Disclaimer: These are all my personal opinions, and advice, there are no guarantees this will work for you.