With the advent of wix, squarespace, and other code free forms of website developement, it seems as if the demand for custom built sites are at an all time low.
The little demand left is shared among a seemingly never ending hord of aspiring freelance developers, many of whom are willing to work at prices far below that of what their skills had once demanded.
With a market such as this what place, if any, is there for new developers who wish to break into freelancing? Is there any hope at all for these developers? Or have the days of freelancing been put to an end by abstraction and oversaturation?
Not really. Wix and GoDaddy clobbered it, and now there are others. At one point I had over 30 sites requiring regular maintenance, and upgrades. Plus a few I developed, installed on other servers, and did not maintain. Now I’m down to about four. These days there’s almost always someone in a small business’ office with the requisite skills to do basic upgrades, and small changes. I get called when things go wrong, or there’s a major overhaul in the offing. Many small businesses do quite well with a Facebook page, or some other self development tool. The sites look amateurish, and derivative, but they get the job done. All you want is the ‘Who, what, where, when, and why’, and standards are so low there’s no functional penalty for having a lame Web presence. I find more clients hiring full time ‘social media’ specialists rather than me. I have pondered becoming a ‘social media expert’, but the fact that I have worked building some of the early experiments taints me against the concept.
Almost all Web sites are similar these days, and there’s a value to designing the UI/UX in a way users expect. I suggest that, for startups, and small businesses, there’s virtually no need for anything other than a basic Web presence. With the rise of social media, the appropriate account(s) will solve that problem for most.
I worked through the wild west of this industry, and it was semi-fun, but I think we’ve moved on, things have settled down, or are settling down, and there’s a minimum sufficient requirement for a Web presence that’s pretty freakin’ minimal.
To your point about "becoming a social media expert", I actually began lightly dabbling in this, and felt nauseous after some time...Allow me to describe:
You begin admirably trying to help a business (or individual) to gain legitimate views and insights from their audience...but hoping to grow to full, positive engagements, and so forth - not for merely having a social media presence, but rather, with the overarching goal of growing their business, or meeting some other business goal of theirs...and eventually, they begin to get addicted, and whether its a true value to their business goals or not, they begin chasing the dragon of growth. And, much like i can only imagine like drugs - they get hooked. Whatever ethical advice i would provide is ignored, and they only want advice on how to grow their audience like crazy (think: hockey stick growth numbers, etc.) including employing fake follow bot accounts, etc. Their "chase" for ever more audience continues on a darker route...wanting ever more clicks/likes/views/attention - even at the risk of their business' main value proposition. They begin outright ignoring your continuous protests. You begin to feel sick - as if somehow you are the gun salesperson selling a gun to a person you are only now discovering is dangerous. Your client keeps pushing you for more and more dark patterns to employ, and you continue to refuse...ultimately ending the business relationship.
Now...are all clients like what i noted above? No, i'm sure there are good clients out there that don't go dark...But for me, I kept encountering the dark ones. So, for what its worth, I would not go down the route of being a social media expert. Good luck, and cheers!
Is not just social media. This is a problem in all aspects of human life. The drive for more more more! Nothing is ever enough.
Indeed. Lucky for us flint hand-axes weren't enough for our ancestors.
Really? First of all you don't miss what you don't know or are you miserable now because you are missing out all those fantastic "things" which are going to be there in a thousand years? Also those inventions are what brought us to the brink of climate disaster - okay, maybe your children will be the lucky 1% having a good time on the moon but talking on a broader scale the rest will suffer or simply not get that old - just like back in the hand-ax days.
Once upon a time progress was based on survival. How does a phone that unlocks with your face aid the survival of you or the human race, whichever one you like the most? Don't mistake movement for progress.
> Lucky for us
Are you sure?
I’ll be sure when humans sustainability live off Earth.
I’d contend this. Just spoke to a mate last week turning £250k at a 50% margin doing nothing but websites and SEO for B2B clients.
Websites need design, visual assets, integrations, customised features, etc. It’s definitely a volume trade: you need to primarily be concerned with new biz, but it’ll be viable for a long time to come if you know what you’re doing .
Agreed. "Basic web presence" is important, but there are a ton of businesses that could benefit from and desire small, custom, web-features. I spent some freelance time in this space, making about $75-100 per hour of pure profit, purely developing against existing web infrastructure to add small, but meaningful, features for various business sites (often hosted on GoDaddy or similar). These varied from custom client communication forms, payment integration, simple admin tools, etc. Ultimately I stopped because I didn't care about the extra cash more than my free time (competing with grad school), but could have easily filled 40 hours per week with the requests I got.
I think it heavily depends on your network and the market in your location. Sure, if you're in the Bay Area, freelance might not make sense; but find a city with 100-200k population and start building a network among small-business owners/operators and you can do just fine.
Do you have any strategies for building a network with small businesses like you describe? I have 2 or 3 clients right now, not enough work to keep me busy full-time, but I keep them happy and they love my work. I need more clients in order to reach critical mass but I have no idea how to pull it off.
Your best clients are you past and present employers/clients.
If 2-3 represents all of them then I would just put in conversation with them that you'd appreciate any referrals they can make and if you think it would help offer them some financial benefit for it (the amount is culture dependent, I find).
If you exhaust them and the rest of your professional network, try local industry meetups (especially industries that you have made sites for before).
If all else fails then try your luck in the forums and job boards. I suggest taking on small stuff to get your foot in the door and aggressively vetting the personal and business characteristics of new clients for this way.
I'm back to full time employment though so make of that what you will!
Thanks. I'm basically at the point where I've exhausted my network and some of the work has just dried up. I guess this is good, because I've been really efficient and actually gotten some of my clients to a place where they don't need much anymore.
I'm also at full time employment but I miss the autonomy and working from home.
Join a freelance network, like toptal.
The sibling to this by jrumbut has great suggestions! Personally, I made some good client connections through other freelancers in different markets, like video FX and graphic design. They often have clients that also need dev work. Or, sometimes you can find people who want it but don't know it yet; you can start a good conversation like, "you know, there's some good tech out there to add X to your site, so you or your customers could do Y much more easily." Sometimes business owners don't even consider some of the options available to them through commissioning custom software!
Agreed. I’ve no idea which businesses OP is talking about. Even if he’s referring to small mom and pop shops or local bakeries I’d argue that design, content and SEO matter.
For startups it’s even more important.
Going down the social media expert path with a web development background can be very lucrative. 95% of the work done can be automated and the competition is primarily marketing guys who can't code shit. I've been literally shocked when I realized what most shops charge to handle social media accounts for their clients considering the amount of work done, which basically is a few minutes per day.
> 95% of the work done can be automated and the competition is primarily marketing guys who can't code shit.
What exactly would you try to automate? (Having done some coding) I see very little room for automation. Social media marketing is all about strategy and content. Or is it not?
Social media management isn't only about posting content. It's also about analyzing competition. You can build tools that process posts from competitive pages and start making correlations to draw conclusions. A lot of social media analytics shops do that.
Content generation can be automated if you know what you are doing.
Also, it’s not only about content but about proper timing and strategy in your communications.
I don't understand how good content can be automated either.
Recycling content, finding out optimal posting times, posting content ... sure, these can all be automated.
But how do you automate generating content, especially good content and not article spinners or whatever? Can you explain?
Some things you can do in bulk (economies of scale), outsource, schedule, or otherwise automate.
You can create pipelines that save labor - like clients for platforms that make answering common questions / interacting with users way more comfortable and suited to your targeted workflow than the default clients.
On the creativity front, you can also generate random, semi-plausible stuff to inspire you when you're in a rut.
It's not quite about making everything automated, but about leveraging code, systems thinking, and collaborators in such a way that your performance is incredible. It's really feasible.
You can automate:
1) Curating third-party content to post.
2) Scheduling owned content to post.
3) Sending DMs to new followers.
Do you mind sharing what will you do next then?
It's amazing that its taken over 20 years for other players to actually take this space over. Given how fast we move in tech it's surprising that it's taken so long and there's so much room for so many players (wix, squarespace, godaddy, etc etc)
I wonder to what degree helping to setup an email newsletter and maintaining it would go hand in hand with the social media side?
I agree, What are you working on now?
I've been freelancing for 7 years, and the market has never been better for reliable web developers. A knowledgeable full-stack dev can earn above SV-level salary as a remote freelancer.
However, if you're marketing yourself purely as a "web developer", you're already commoditizing your skills. Instead, become an expert in a specific type of business/client and sell your ability to solve problems in that business domain. Your clients should not care about the tech you're using. You need to instead be seen as the expert who solves their problems with tech.
If you go this route, not only is freelancing viable - I think it's the best way to maximize your earnings as a developer.
I wrote about freelancing in more detail if you're interested: https://andyadams.org/everything-i-know-about-freelancing/
This is right. "Building websites" is what all the low-priced developers do. Differentiate yourself, be reliable, and solve real business problems with code.
> solve real business problems
Any examples you'd like to share?
Most freelance developers would do well to simply rethink how they describe themselves, focusing on specific business needs.
A couple of lame examples:
Instead of "I'm a React Developer", think "I build web-based software for the mining industry".
Instead of just "I build websites", think "I help nursing homes build websites that bring in new clients"
Though nothing has changed with the freelancer themselves, this has many benefits including:
* Helping the freelancer to realize who their ideal client is.
* Allows said clients to self-select into the freelancer's services - clients don't know they need a Shopify developer, but they sure know they need a website that can take customer orders and do fulfillment.
How do you make that business mindset intuitive for people that are used to being technical workers?
I actually would not want to limit myself to one industry. Working at a digital agency has its short comings but one thing I enjoyed is the variety of clients we get.
For example, I have a mixed skill set of web development and graphics programming. That's allowed me to interview at companies from a variety of business problems that leverage the graphics skill set, such as CAD/CAM, indie video games, or space mission simulation.
I want to say "I solve these problems" without limiting myself to one industry but relying on my tech skill as the niche. Is that just as good?
Sure, it's possible to focus on a tech-specific niche (security consultants come to mind) - but if you do so, you should be sure you know _exactly_ who your potential clients are.
The trap I fell into: I specialized in WordPress performance. I was really good at solving complex performance problems. But...who is my client? Maybe eCommerce stores, but which of them have performance problems? Typically, when they did have performance problems they felt it was a temporary problem and didn't _really_ want to spend the budget to fix it.
So that's my warning: If you tout yourself as a tech-specific problem solver, you should have a clear picture of how you're going to find clients with that specific problem. I find this harder to do than the reverse process of picking a type of client and THEN identifying their problems.
Looks like a recommendation to use the plain language of problems solved instead of dropping tool names. Ironically, the opposite needed to get past HR at a big company.
Any process/interaction in the physical world is a candidate for a digital version.
Just curious, do you find the websites of small/medium-sized businesses are predominantly PHP/Rails/Django or are you seeing ASP.Net and Java? The reason I ask is because if you market yourself as simply a problem-solver you'll need to be proficient in a wide range of programming languages.
I see mostly WordPress, Shopify, and a smattering of Rails (but Rails may be because that's one of my favorite tools). I've never seen ASP or Java out in the wild, but I'm 1 man who doesn't focus on those techs.
PHP dominates the web, but I'm sure there is plenty of business elsewhere. The internet is pretty vast - some of my clients are in niches you've likely never heard of. If you were working in particular industries, you might see ASP/Java more often, depending on who the major players are there.
Oh, and I'd shy away from marketing yourself as a generic "problem solver". Try to find a more specific problem to solve (i.e. "I boost sales for eLearning websites by improving website speed"), and focus on that instead.
I say yes, it is viable, and I'll explain!
Different clients will value your skills differently. If you can fix a website and that creates 10% more sales revenue, somebody making $2,000 can only afford to compensate you $200 or else they're losing money. But the same skills and labour to a client making $2,000,000 represents $200,000 of value. If you want to make money, you have to work for the people who value your time, skills, and labour _more_.
So with that in mind, here's my secret: the profile of a profitable freelance client. This has been from my experience, and I've made money from clients that don't fit this profile too, but in general this is what making money in freelance looks like now:
- US-based small to medium sized business
- that is already profitable and making money via their website
- that is an organization still small enough you can speak directly to the owner or a key decision-maker
This is the kind of client who:
- has money to pay you
- values your skills
I think too many freelance clients think that because they are a small business, they must work for like-sized businesses, but tiny businesses simply don't have the money to value what you do enough to compensate you. A profitable company that's already making money from their website is precisely who will value what you have to offer more!
This is absolutely true. There's no money in building new websites. Instead, solve problems for people who already have well-established websites (read: a steady revenue stream) and want to go further.
The client doesn't even need to be a business that's larger than your own, as long as they have lots of money. There are websites out there that are run by literally one person and get tens of millions of page views per day. Be the engineer who can solve his scalability problems, and he'll throw at you whatever money you ask for.
I've also found professional associations to be well-paying clients. They're too busy making money in their own professions, if they encounter an IT problem, they'll pay anything to make it go away.
If you go down this path, though, be prepared to read and endless stream of legacy code, write compatibility layers, do live data migrations, and spend a lot of time in general trying to untangle other people's spaghetti PHP/HTML/JS/whatever. It's an established website, after all. You're not there to rewrite it in your favorite framework. Come to think of it, maybe that's why I face so little competition ;)
But how do you find these business who are established, but have problems that can be solved. I don't want to be the guy who has a solution in search of a problem.
Good old fashioned networking, I guess. Both online and in the local community. I don't think there's a quick answer to that.
How do you profile such a company's revenue stream/profitability without inside information?
I am working as a freelance front-end developer in Germany since half a year. Some things I learned on the way:
Building websites for individuals (personal portfolios), non-commercial clubs and small scale businesses like barber shops or restaurants is a pain. You have to compete with website builders like Squarespace and pre-made templates for Wordpress. The amount of work needed to create one of these is way too expensive for most customers. There is still a demand for people settings these sites up (using a pre-made template), installing updates and so on, but I would hardly call this front-end development.
If you present yourself in a good way on Linkedin, you will be flooded with requests from recruiters.
I would go with React, because there are the most jobs waiting for you. The market is huge!
> Building websites for individuals (personal portfolios), non-commercial clubs and small scale businesses like barber shops or restaurants is a pain
I used to do a decent amount of this work, and I couldn't agree more. Outside of something I'm going to do Pro bono, I turn down requests altogether. Generally speaking, the budgets are nearly non-existent. And, you end up fighting with clients about small details that don't matter.
How did you get into freelancing, specifically in Germany? Do you get most work from Linkedin? I really don't like that site for various reasons but if it's necessary for freelance work I might have to sign up...
I was not happy at my old job any more and decided to try if freelancing works for me. At first I was struggling a bit. You have to get projects, figure out how everything works, get insurances and so on.
Now I mostly work for a recruiting agency. They get a cut from what I make (quite a huge cut actually), but they in return make sure that they have work for me.
I am still figuring things out. What I most struggle with is finding a good work-life balance. I work way much than I did before.
Before starting to freelance you should make sure that you have enough money to survive ~3 month without any gigs. It will also take a while until your first gigs are paid. Something to keep in mind.
Being on Linkedin is absolutely essential imo, if you don’t have a network already. I just use the site to answer to recruiter-messages, that’s it.
Similar process for me. I worked in a few startups in Berlin and didn't enjoy it so switched to freelancing out of frustration.
There's a lot of react contracts on LinkedIn which you usually find through recruiters that take around 25%, they pay well but the work isn't as interesting or engaging to me (usually big corporations in generic markets).
The best work for sure is through referrals. My first gig was through an old boss, and I'm starting to learn that letting your friends and old coworkers know you're looking for work in the near future is often better than taking something more 'secure'. Clients often want someone immediately and aren't willing to wait two or three weeks while you finish up a previous project, especially if the project is more attractive (and the competition is higher).
Thanks for sharing. I am exploring freelancing, and I am seeing a lot of demand for React (and similar projects). Full stack POCs with mobile clients seem like a good way to go.
Would you mind describing your path from deciding to freelance and where you are you now? You mention networking and unpaid/low paid gigs. I assume that you found projects in your near network, these projects were lower risk / with trusted connections, then you eventually built a portfolio and got the mechanics of freelancing down. Then made a connection with the agency and have continued your success inertia.
Congrats by the way!
My path to freelancing went something like this: I used to have some small gigs on the site while being employed—projects which were not interesting for the company I worked at the time anyway. This way, before I actually quit, I already was able to write invoices and did not have to figure this out as well (but it is not that hard).
My first project was a web-experience for a venue which was paid okay, but resulted in a lot of back-and-forth with the client. I am still working for that client every now and then. I was applying to a job-offer of a small agency on a job-board looking for a freelancer for that project. I spent a lot of hours initially to go through all available freelance jobs on that (German) platform, made a selection what I would be able to do and wrote some messages. I don’t know any more how many messages I wrote, but it were less than five until I got a gig.
The second project was a big Vue.js one for an agency, which is still ongoing part-time. I got this gig via a freelance consultancy. Everything is quite personal. No corporate. Remote work okay. At first I spent a few weeks working from their office, then enough trust was built for remote work. I now track my time and write an invoice each month. Being billed by the hour gives me some peace of mind to not make wrong estimations. It is still hard for me to realistically guess how much feature xyz or a whole web applications will be. I guess that comes with time and involves to look at projects in retrospect more.
Since starting to freelance I noticed a few changes:
I say “no” more often. I had to say no to a few projects in between. Mostly interesting, badly paid short term projects. If I did not have to care about money I would have loved to work on these, but right now I prefer “stable”, well-paid projects. This is also because I come from a creative background, where projects are often interesting, but chaotic. Finding the balance between interesting and stable is not easy and everybody has to decide on their own what is important to them. Working on better paid (maybe less creative / interesting) gigs gives me more time to work on my own projects (in theory, if I would reject more client-work). It is very important to spend enough time writing proposals. It happened a few times already that the client and I had different views on the final outcome of a project. If you took your time to put everything in writing in the proposal, it will be much easier, because there is no ground (or very little) for ambiguity. At first I just wrote something like “Design and build website”. Now it will be much more detailed. I will write how many pages the website has, if there is animation, if xyz is involved or not and so on. My productivity in general increased. When being employed you usually know that e.g. at 5 PM you can go home and do whatever you want. If you don’t feel like working between 3–5 you have to look busy or just do some work somehow. When you are freelancing you can listen more to your body and decide on your own when working is okay. If I notice that I am not productive I will most likely stop working and continue at a later point. This way I get more done in an hour of freelance work than an hour of work in my old job, which gives me a better overall feeling.
One last thing about the biggest down-side from my perspective: work-life balance. You have to decide for yourself when it is enough. For me it is not easy to tell myself: “You worked enough today, now you should do something fun”. There is always more to do. Also if you get more done today, less work will be there tomorrow. Right? Nope. I personally need to find rules to restrict myself regarding working hours. Having some (personal) rules might make things easier.
For whatever reasons, at least in my market (East Coast USA), Angular seems to be the framework of high paying salaried work.
My suspicion is there are two things driving this: Angular is More Enterprisy™, and the businesses that have committed to Angular have a slightly smaller pool of experienced Angular devs to draw from, increasing dev negotiating power. I expect that to continue for as long as Angular can hold a significant enough threshold of the market, but regardless, longer term, I expect React to be the new jQuery (essential for most web devs to know).
For small businesses, not really. The site generators have won there. Bigger budgets are few and far between and its tough to convince anyone that they need a maintenance contract - billable hours are always met with pushback. And I find that budget size is inversely proportional to how big of a pain in the ass a client is going to be.
For established businesses in healthcare, accounting, legal, and many other non-obvious, absolutely. A law firm might pay 100k for a simple website because they both have the budget and want to be absolutely sure they're paying for quality.
So if you target the right clientele and position your freelance business well (look established and not like there's a chance you could be out of business tomorrow), it's absolutely viable.
I have drawn a graph to explain what I think has been happening since 2006 when I started freelancing. https://www.dropbox.com/s/i79fv0brlkvc79c/the-graph.png?dl=0
The x axis is "complexity of website" and the y axis varies. For the red line that slopes from top left down to bottom the y axis is "demand for website". The blue line is "Cost of website produced by web developer". Everything to the left of the vertical green line has a tool (wix, squarespace, wordpress etc) that makes it easy to produce that type of website. And over time that green line moves along the x-axis complexity scale. But the green line will only go so far, because you can't justify handling increasing complexity with a decreasing demand indefinitely.
Also, at some point it becomes easier to hire a web dev to make you a custom ecommerce solution, than to search through the 500 ecommerce solutions to find the one you want, when what you want is weird.
My strategy since 2006 has been to stay to the right of the green line, but not too far. My experience is that clients I've had on the right side of that line are still clients, and those who were not, have moved on.
I think there's a lot of legs left in that strategy. Finding a client who is on the right hand side of the line often means starting with some kind of integration work they are struggling with, or updating a legacy web app, which is always a pain. Or doing something weird. But once you've got through that successfully you're established as a meaningful cog in their corporate machine.
Interestingly, I drew the graph in 2006, and wix was founded that year, and was one of the examples I used at that time, so it's funny to see it still being mentioned now.
The strategy has given me a varied set of problems, I've worked on custom ecommerce solutions, funding application and claim management systems, CPD management, eLearning tools, and other more mundane things.
I've earned more each year I've been doing this, and it jumped up a couple of years ago, so it's still working well for me.
"at some point it becomes easier to hire a web dev to make you a custom ecommerce solution, than to search through the 500 ecommerce solutions to find the one you want" I can't agree more. ecommerce solutions space is so crowded its hard to tell difference between them. Every one says they are the best and after having developed an ecommerce system for wholesale businesses we are having hard time getting the message across. I wish there was a giant matrix with all e-commerce solutions with their pros and cons listed for potential clients to get a better idea what is best for their situation
Hmm, but for a one-two person freelancing gig, how complex of a site can you realistically build though? How much time do you spend on marketing & sales vs actual development?
Complex enough that someone wants to hire someone else to worry about it, but not so complex that they can't communicate what they want without descending into madness. I don't know how good an indicator of complexity SLOC is, but I've a project with ~ 150,000 SLOC, another at ~ 60,000, another at ~ 16,000, another at ~ 18,000. That's all the code I've added, not the included libraries and so on.
My business grew organically, with introductions from friends, old colleagues and distant family. So there were calls at the beginning. Now my business number goes straight to voicemail, and important clients get to call my mobile. So the answer is that I don't do marketing and sales so to speak, I do quotes, so I suppose that should be included. That accounts for less than a day a month.
I see. Thanks!
There are 2 things:
1. Commoditized website development where any tom dick and harry can setup a quick website on wix/squarespace etc because frankly, they don't need more than that. It is really hard to compete against tools like these because they sell $2/Year websites (or something low enough)
2. There are businesses (small-mid sized) that have built something way back (read:late 90s-early 2000s) who are struggling with their in-house system and looking for a better solution. But they are too scared to think about changing because they don't know who to talk to and what it will cost. You need to find those businesses.
Source: My company finds the #2 and it is a gold mine.
How do you find customers for #2 though?
Not easy. We found out that most of the #2 types are not necessarily looking so the whole "let them find me through inbound marketing" doesn't work on them for the most part. You really need to come up with an outbound strategy i.e. how to hunt for those clients. It comes down the niche that you are interested in. If you are a generic web dev. shop, it is harder. The client has to really understand why you could make their business better and get them a better ROI.
For us, it is easier in the sense that we only deal with one specific niche. So we use things like linkedin sales navigator, hunter.io (to find emails)and plain old google.com. You ill be surprised how many prospects will actually give you 15 mins of their time if your call is well researched and relevant to their needs. This is not something you can do in your part time though. Requires a lot of research and execution. More about quality than quantity.
I'm guessing you don't want to share your niche. Broadly, is this how you find clients?
1. Find businesses in your niche with not-so-great websites 2. Find their contact details 3. Contact them with specific action items that can improve their SEO, sales funnels, conversions etc
That still doesn't explain how you can find clients with poor in-house tools, unless they are talking about it publicly?
Thank you for answering, this sounds like a lot of work - no wonder prospects are willing to talk to you!
If they have a bad website, its likely that they do not have good in house tools. Obviously not every one of them will be in that position, or have interest in changing things, but still having that list of prospects to go through is a lot more effective than spray and pray (not having a niche to go after) or relying on people reaching out to you. Once you do something well for 1 client, its pretty easy to show other similar companies that success and have them understand the value you offer. It won't be a 90% success rate, but still would be a lot better than not getting specific and niche-ing.
Source: My company employs this same type of method, and previously were generalists with no niche and didn't target specific companies we felt were a good fit. Being on the offensive and actively finding clients is night and day difference to before.
I don't mind sharing the niche:edtech. Your guess is a good start but that is just the website part. I m talking more about web app i.e complex dynamic business applications. But yea, finding the gems requires a full time effort. We have a sales and marketing team.
Same, should've added that but my agency mostly deals with web apps or custom integrations to more simple websites such as client portals, custom admin panels, or custom e-commerce.
Also, if you're looking to niche and don't have a client in the chosen industry, you can use other success stories in the industry to the same effect. Our first client in one industry we got because I set up a meeting with one of the companies in the industry that had recently made a large update to their website like we would like to do for others in the industry. Sat with the COO that told me all the improvements they've seen, increased revenue, & other advantages to the website overhaul. I took that info to another similar (but not direct competitor) company and said we could offer the same advantages with a similar product. Literally walked into their office and introduced myself, gave a business card, then followed up with a few emails to various people in the business until the Owner called me up one day out of the blue. Had a contract signed a month later.
for the 1., it depends on the quality you want to achieve.
A business that relies on those platforms can't be called business.
I'd argue otherwise. For example, my sister just opened a local swimming pool for dogs and using one of these platforms is great for her so far. A presence with opening hours, pricing and contact details are all many small businesses need.
I need to know more about this business.
Exercise and rehabilitation, turns out it's something dog owners in the area had been missing.
I can't even
Depends whether the website is your core competency. If it's just there to display your rates or a bit more about your business then there is no need to have anything more.
For instance, I operate a bar as a side business. I just knocked together a WordPress site in a few hours because I don't want the website to suck up too much of my time or to become a cost centre.
We have such "lego block" website builders in Germany since $forever, and while with some experience you can easily tell which builder (and therefore hoster) any restaurant or hairdresser used for their site, it's good enough for their purpose: get the word out there, announce their services and opening times, have something to point at from Maps.
There's also a chrome extension called Wappalyzer that can help you determine what was used to build the sites if its something you check often. Works pretty well in my experience.
As someone who has been a freelancer and ran a web development company for a time (now I work in DevOps), I would suggest that the market for web development as a freelancer is limited. Honestly, I think that you would spend most of your time picking up clients, who regularly will not want to pay the rates that would cover your costs, let alone allow you to make a profit.
I know lots of people who do make a living from web development, but they are largely within medium sized companies that have a marketing/sales budget and are able to cope with multiple large contracts simultaneously.
Strongly no. Overseas workers will work for tremendously less and it's hard enough to get people to understand your value proposition in person. People want cheap. Either start an agency and get real clients, often local, or just get a full time job.
Even with the big projects I've gotten, it winds up being about $20/hour. Versus about $60/hour at a regular job
Most of my work comes from companies who have gotten burned by overseas developers and want someone closer to home who they can meet personally and will be in the same or at least mostly overlapping timezone. So yes, in the US you can't compete on price but you can compete on service.
As a developer in Mexico, I can confirm. You aren't going to beat us on price alone
The money isn't in the website, it's in the related services.
If you're targeting SMBs, you can almost treat the actual site design/dev as a loss leader.
Offer comprehensive packages that guarantee you long-term recurring monthly revenue, rather than a just a one-off "website development" service.
For an example, a "premium" hosting/management service is an easy sell.
* "Your own virtual private server with dedicated IP address and hardware resources"
* "Uptime monitoring" (automated/free)
* "Site & Server Security" (one-time hardening of your CMS and/or any other attack vectors + apt update / apt upgrade every couple weeks)
* "DNS Management" (create or change some DNS record every few months, if ever)
* "Site backup and restoration" (one click on Digital Ocean and many other providers), etc.
* "x free hours per month of updates, no rollover" (will often go unused)
My agency has SMB clients paying up to $250/mo for hosting/management alone (actual cost: $10-15 per client).
Next, we have SEM and local SEO (citation building/management and reputation monitoring).
The beauty of these services is that they're relatively easy to scale and/or outsource to some white label provider. In the case of local SEO, tools like BrightLocal basically do all the work.
Even if you don't want to take this route, you can still differentiate with strong backend development skills.
For example, we secured one contract because we offered a creative solution to integrate the website with the client's legacy on-premise CRM (which has no API), which no one else had the first clue how to do because there isn't a WordPress plugin for that (slight sarcasm).
I've gotten freelance projects from small local businesses, but not for building the sites. After the sites are built, people need help solving the problems that come next.
As an example, almost every local doctor's office in my town wants online request forms that auto-populate their internal calendaring app. They all get emails coming in, and have manual processes to move the emailed data into another app. OK, I can help with that. Other times, they have functional web sites but want help with making them convert more business. So it gets into discussions about the design, the copy, calls to actions, etc. And sometimes, they simply don't understand what a web site can do for their business - they slap up a brochure and call it good, then wonder why it isn't helping their business.
So you end up being more of a business consultant to understand what they are trying to accomplish, and then applying technology to make it happen.
For sure it is. In fact, it's as good as it's ever been.
One caveat though...you gotta know your shit. The days of babysitting websites and charging fairly outrageous fees are mostly over, and good riddance.
I've found that true LAMP or MEAN-full stack dev is really in demand now...so much so that I recently raised my hourly to a once-only-dreamed-about $100/hr US on Upwork, and I'm getting more interest in my services by the day.
Sometimes I actually have to pinch myself to believe this work environment is real...I often tell my friends, as sincerely as possible and with true humility, that I work in an absolute dream world that, up to now, only Rock Stars inhabited.
I mean...who else gets to work their own hours?...do whatever I really want while working?...travel the country/hemisphere on a whim?...goto music festivals and get paid while doing so?...live on the beach one month and on a mountain top another?
Well..I do. And man, am I grateful.
I mean...........yeah. I make $125/hr consulting doing a mix of front end and back end web development. The market is really strong for that. Maybe not for glorified brochure sites, but when it comes to actual web app development the market is super strong.
If you are talking HTML/css, there are many paid and unpaid options for under 500 dollars.
However, those are ugly websites. You could make more being a beautiful website creator. That is a different skill, requiring vision.
You could make more complex websites, ones that interact with the database in custom ways. Full stack web development is not dead. Although likely pays less than working at fortune 500 with the same skill set.
We are in a constant struggle to fill front end web developer roles in every place I've worked at in the UK.
Seems to be a real shortage of quality developers And we offer competitive rates at my current place of work
If you're hiring, I'm currently on the market. FE working faily with Vue.js for the past year and a half in my current company. I live in London and would gladly chat more about what you may be looking for.
Do you have an email / contact info I could reach out to?
without going into too much details, what is competitive rate for a FE web dev?
I work in London and was just wondering what those rates go for.
Perm roles from 60-80k + contractor roles of £500/day and we're based just outside of london ( with some offices inside )
I'm just outside London and earning £23k as a Rails developer. Should I quit?
Haven't been actively pursuing other leads yet because of the fact that I have a three month notice period and people don't seem to be willing to wait that long.
Its entirely possible to get a junior ruby on rails job outside of london earning 30k, even 35k is not unheard of for a junior.
Just go on any of the big job sites, search "Junior Ruby on Rails" in your area and take a look at whats available. If you find some good jobs, apply, go for an interview - if you get an offer put that to your current employer, maybe they will match it, if not you now have the option of leaving to a higher paid job if thats what you want. Its pretty simple really!
EDIT: Sorry I read that you are "outside london", but really you said you are "just outside london" - does that mean you can commute into london? If so then at 23k you are being paid far below market rates.
I'm 20 minutes give or take by train from central London.
Basically I'm a sole developer for this company - I do everything from developing the Rails app itself to managing a bunch of servers running Docker / Docker Swarm. Fun.
Thats great, you are gaining a TON of really valuable experience. It also means that you are worth a hell of out lot more to this company than 23k. If you were to quit and they had to hire somebody to fill this role, they would have a very hard time finding somebody to do all that at 23k, even at 35k it would be difficult. Junior developers are not really expected to be able to do everything that you're doing right now.
If I were I would start applying to jobs, and when they ask you what salary you would expect I would go for 35k, you could reasonably push it to 40k depending on how confident you are at negotiating.
Feel free to PM me if you have anymore questions.
You should be earning double.
Do your research and you will see what the going rate is in your location.
You are in a good position to get that pay rise, because your current employer would have to backfill and pay market rates anyway.
In terms of your notice period - if you don't like working there anymore, quit now and then look for jobs after month 1 or 2, so that would give mean your new employer would have to wait only a month.
Or consider contracting.
Depends on how experienced you are in the field? I started on 21k also but I'm happy with my progression - My years pay went something like this
20, 30, 45 - 50 ( with bonus ), 60 - 80 ( with bonus )
The JS field is booming if you are passionate there are many desperate companies I think I may even be getting underpaid in my new role But I have WFH and perks :)
Also I've had 3 months notice on both my jobs it sucks but many companies will wait ( especially larger ones ). Although my new one is 1 month luckily
Depends how confident you are that you can succeed on your own. 23k is basically slave labor though.
For a mid-senior role that sounds about right. Grads / juniors would be lucky to get half of that.
But do you offer remote work?
There’s plenty of need for developers, yet almost no companies consider remote positions.
That's not really true. There's lots of companies that offer remote front end dev positions in the UK - but only if you're somewhere else in the UK. Otherwise tax and timezones are painful.
I know because I've been looking recently..
I run a small consultancy in the UK (not web dev) and hiring people outside the country is a pain.
You have to really want that person because it is a trade off in terms of admin overhead and cost.
Today, we have one full time team member in Germany and in the past we had someone in the Netherlands too.
In both cases, we used specialised payroll companies who charge a fee to be that person’s legal employer. They take care of taxes, health insurance, and other legal requirements. The cost of such a service has varied between €350 and €450 a month.
The real cost though is in covering the different payroll taxes in other countries. Add that to the payroll company’s fee and it costs us at least £10,000 more each year to employ someone in Germany than if they were in the UK.
I’ve seen confusion here and on twitter as to why more companies won’t hire remote outside their own country. The reason might be that it’s relatively expensive and outside the company’s competence.
I don't get that. Just do what I did: open a single person company and charge them monthly for your (pre-tax) salary. This has drawbacks like not being protected by the employment laws of the country you live in (are any of us really concerned about losing a job?) but advantages such as having a lot more flexibility tax-wise along with usually very significantly lower tax rates due to you paying yourself via dividends instead of salary, also you can have multiple clients simultaneously if you can handle the workload.
Details on tax optimization vary depending on your country of residence and the country where you opened your company.
For the "employer" company this is also very simple as they're just paying the invoices you send them.
Not everyone wants the overhead of running a company.
Some countries, including the Netherlands and Germany, specifically prevent this in either law or regulation.
Why not just ask them to set up their own company and bill you? It seems easier that way and would allow them to optimize their own taxes better...
That makes some things like ISO27001 and Cyber Essentials really hard. Each company involved with user data (which includes things like server logs) has to be assessed separately.
Exactly, it really is silly that the whole "outsource everything to India" mindset was replaced with "everyone has to be in the same building", no remote work, no work from home on some days of the week etc, as it would somehow increase productivity. It doesn't it simply strips companies that mandate such policies to loose the best of their staff which can go away and find work elsewhere in one weeks time.
I’ve worked remotely for the past 13 years and now run a small company that is remote, despite having an office available.
Offering remote positions is not just a case of throwing a switch. It requires significant cultural and process changes.
Speaking from experience, I’d prefer to work for companies that are committed to remote rather than one that accommodates one or two remote people.
We offer partial WFH ( 1-2 days ) in my current role - but I've just for a full remote UK based position :)
Yes, but the honest money is at the higher end of the market.
At the smaller scale (think $2k budgets), clients are honestly better off with a Wordpress template. I never recommend Wix or Squarespace because the code is usually atrocious, which impacts mobile and SEO and accessibility, but there are lots of excellent WP templates.
Clients who have bigger budgets can now look at things like:
- Honest to goodness great copywriting. If the purpose of their website is to sell their products and services, great copywriting is the easiest way to improve. It's inexpensive compared to everything else, it's super fast and easy to test ideas and optimize results.
- E-Commerce. This is usually best served with a service like Shopify, but it's still relatively involved enough that clients tend to like having some assistance in the process.
- Uniquely good design. Design CAN have a tremendous impact on a business. But I list it in 3rd here because the vast majority of web designers are putting out the same site over and over again. If you're not doing something truly unique, or if the client's needs are best solved with a relatively standard template, then why are you re-inventing the wheel?
- Engineering. Virtually any business can benefit from good web engineering, because the out-of-the-box options will never 100% meet any businesses precise needs. However, the cost versus benefit is usually far too high for most businesses.
This is why I say the money is at the higher end of the market. Businesses that have annual revenue in the double digit millions will not be well served by default Wix or Wordpress templates. They generally need quality design, copy, and engineering. And they won't be scared off if that ends up costing $50k or $100k or even $500k, so long as the value is there.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can make some quick-hit money helping clients who simply don't want to do it themselves. I tend to charge roughly $3k for a simple site, I'm 100% transparent about what they're getting (a template, customized for branding; out-of-the-box WP functionality; very light copy editing), and so far a lot of smaller businesses have been happy with that service. The value is there for them, and they get the confidence of knowing I'll solve any unforeseen problems that might come up.
 Ex: https://www.dagusa.com/
> I never recommend Wix or Squarespace because the code is usually atrocious, which impacts mobile and SEO and accessibility, but there are lots of excellent WP templates.
I can't vouch for Wix, but the code in Squarespace is actually usually very well done and semantic for most themes. And honestly, they can end up being just as bad or good as any WP template you'll find, so I wouldn't personally just throw that accusation around.
> I wouldn't personally just throw that accusation around.
Fair enough. I may be scarred from seeing some truly horribly implementations in the past. But I've seen just as bad in WP.
Totally freelance? Not sure. Small teams doing custom site development? Absolutely.
I've seen large companies pay six figures to stand up a microsite, the kind of thing that one person could easily put together in a few weeks.
The catch is that you don't necessarily have a few weeks, you have a few days to go from concept exploration to go-live. It really becomes more about project management than web development in these instances, having a network who you can turn to quickly when you need more hands on deck.
And though I hate the phrase "full-stack" because it means so many things that it sometimes seems like it means nothing, they do really expect a well-rounded technologist.
Those people are invaluable. Someone who can write a little HTML and CSS and maybe stand up WordPress? I'm sure there are jobs for that, but I don't have any need to hire them as a freelancer because I expect everyone on our staff to have those abilities.
That said, doing freelance web dev is _exactly_ how I got my foot in the door with the job I have now. But it paid squat for the time I was doing it, and I hated it because my time ended up being 50%+ of the time running the business side of things instead of building website, which is the part I actually enjoyed.
I freelanced to gain experience. Most businesses would rather not mess around with Wix, but they also don't want to pay thousands.
Find a small business with a crappy website and make them a better one. I mostly did restaurants/bars. I took partial payment in food.
If you are in it for the money, then no, it is not worth it. If you are in it for experience and to progress in your career, then go for it!
Obviously, I can't guarantee it will work for you, too. But it worked for me. I recently landed my first contract with a start-up, and I should never have to go back to taking partial payment in food :-)
Development expertise in enterprise tech is incredibly lucrative for freelancing/contractors. The day-rate for an on-shore AEM Developer gives me a small heart-attack.
Everyone I've ever met that earns big money writing software has worked with legacy or enterprise tech.
AEM and Salesforce developers make a ton of money, especially if they are good. Contract Sitecore developers also make a ton of money, and never seem to be short of work.
The scariest money I've seen was from a guy that is/was an "ActionScript developer". He made most of his money travelling across the country to work on maintaining and extensing retail systems that used Flash as an interface, and ActionScript for backend logic. He was working for a client of my employer, and we got to chatting when we were in the city for a few days. I didn't get an overall figure, but he'd made £10k that week...
It didn't sound like he enjoyed the work, but most of his skill set was actively around legacy tech - ColdFusion, Cobol, Classic ASP, etc.
i agree, find some enterprise-y software and learn it well and then go out and contract/free-lance to large companies and consulting firms. If there's a certification for your system of choice pick it up. It may seem worthless to you but to the people who have to get budgets approved resources with certifications are a golden ticket.
> find some enterprise-y software and learn it well and then go out and contract/free-lance
Unfortunately this usually means having built your prior career around said software as it's not always cheap /easy / possible to get a cop and self-learn. There are exceptions of course.
I'm guessing it's "Adobe Experience Manager".
It is, and the one of the worst pieces of "software" I have ever has to work on. I was working for a global car manufacturer who consolidated their various local websites onto it. It's USP is it's integration with the Adobe marketing stack. In reality it's a "No-code" CMS/website builder, and follows the worst patterns of both. However going back to the topic of the post, if you learn one of these terrible tools, you will be able to charge an absolute fortune. Netsuite, AdobeAEM, SAP are all cash cows.
don't forget Salesforce. It's pretty shocking what you can be paid for setting up Salesforce, granted it's an incredibly wide and deep thing. I wouldn't call it a webapp nor would I call it a platform... it's a thing heh.
I run a digital development agency specializing in mobile apps. For the last three years, the web app portion of my business has doubled each year. There remains extreme demand for front end web developers though the basic projects for restaurants and doctors’ offices are now owned by Squarespacr and Wix
What is the profile of a typical client in the market for such an app by which I assume you mean one built with React, Angular or Vue?
Seed stage startups with non technical founders, Series B/C startups with big backlogs and deadlines, or Fortune 1000s with idiotic legacy product teams that couldn’t innovate themselves out of a paper bag.
Yes! However if you bill yourself as a "freelance web developer" you have instantly commoditized yourself. The only problem you are solving is someone who's thinking to themselves "man I could really use a developer". This is a lot of people who on average have small budgets.
If you package yourself properly (for example, "I help founders take their startup idea from dream to reality"), you have now placed yourself in a new, more valuable, bucket. You have to hunt for the proper client fit but your offering is of greater value (in this circumstance you make dreams a reality).
Granted, entrepreneurs aren't the best market but the key is having some differentiator in your market and not offering a commodity service (which is what Wix, Squarespace, and frankly "web development" is).
Clients care about the value proposition, and this is the right time to be heavily specialized.
1. In SEM and SEO both, technical performance is blossoming as a crucial need in both search engine ranking and the ad bidding process, say nothing of the benefits to mobile conversions and decrease in bounce rates. All of this is well-covered in numerous e-com/retail studies. There's significant value here for companies if you can articulate why. AMP isn't a cure-all in any way, and many clients are going to look at the investment versus return and decide instead that the investment in optimizing what they already have is worth the price.
2. Accessibility is also massively growing, due to increasing litigiousness and the contemporary view that the ADA covers websites in general as opposed to individual legal mandates (such as those in public education, healthcare, etc). There are also specialized, legitimate certifications such as the IAAP  where you can pretty much write your own paycheck with the amount of consulting work out there.
But you _really_ need to know your shit for both of them, and increasingly, specialized consultancies in these areas have formed or are forming to go after those companies. You're not going to get away with half-assing it either--especially #2 due to the legal liability--and you'll absolutely have to demonstrate your value. Additionally, this actually opens up opportunities to consult for companies that make site builders and other tools, to ensure they're thoroughly considering these specialized aspects of development.
There's also still a lot of good remote roles out there for more experienced folks; about 3/4 of the Front-End friends of mine clear well above $100k/year working for established companies and startups in a 100% remote basis. The best way to get into that realm is networking; the adage that the most important way to get where you want to go is through networking is true, as is the adage that a good percentage of the good jobs are never even posted.
But as for the bottom-of-the-market, I started back in '97 doing those types of small websites, and there's been hardly any appetite for freelancers in terms of being able to make a sustainable living of it. If you're going to go this route, you need to land profitable fish with a real need and actual money to pay you with.
what freelance website do you think is the best out there?
Don’t go this route. If you don’t have a network, team up with local agencies looking for contractors and do staff aug with them to get your name out there.
Advent of mix, squarespace and other website builders is great. In general you don't want to "code" boring similar sites with the same functionality each time. It's awesome that small businesses and casual users can cheaply get some website running without nightmare of hiring/managing, it just works for them.
As a web developer you can code really interesting stuff instead and experiment with other approaches which can't be automated. If client wants to tailor every aspect of logic and look is where the value of web developers is.
I have to say no, as well -- unless you're going to do high end sites that require custom code. Shopify is one option if you can get into their experts program but, like any other platform, they can cut you off anytime they want and there's nothing you can do about it. Outsourced devs overseas have also cut the price of this business to nothing. I did custom web dev from 1995 until 2015 when the bottom dropped out.
the market is great for freelance developer and the demand will continue to grow. Self-development service like wix etc... are failing because development is something complex and people still prefer to rely on professionals.
If you are looking for remote work as a freelance try our platform https://open.studio we don't do interview, so keep your resumate... only our work matter :)
> the demand for custom built sites are at an all time low.
The demand for custom built static sites you mean. Dynamic (i.e. functional) sites, aka "web apps" are extremely popular. Every man and his dog want one (often even when they don't need it).
I think mobile is the real differentiator for today's freelancer. I you have React Native you will always have plenty of work. Better still if you also have Kotlin and Swift. Everything is mobile now.
I believe so, more and more app moving to the web now. I would image most development in the future will be on the web.
Who are you working for?
Freelance doesn't necessarily mean you need to work for businesses without a budget.
Yes. There is the game changing nature of CSS Grid that makes it possible for the freelancer clued up on how to write HTML5 properly to compete against agencies that are still using layout hacks and frameworks to make a website look okay. It comes down to cost.
With a conventional visual design process it takes time for some visual mockups to be made, approved and then sent on to the programmers for them to make in a paint-by-numbers process. By then you have a team of ten and all of them have rent/mortgages to pay. Before you know it the client have a six figure bill. It is actually very difficult to make money if you own an agency and have these UX people, UI people, SEO people, marketing people, sales staff, micro-managers, team leads, test engineers, backend developers, frontend developers, devops people, accounting and admin staff to pay for. The actual job as brought in might actually only have two programmers doing the work that actually gets delivered. Everything else is meeting room hot-air.
This agency team is not going to be able to move quickly to use CSS Grid as everyone is specialised and the process that goes with it is rigid. However, CSS Grid enables frontend web development to be done in a fraction of the time. Getting a team to us it though? Not easy when people know what they know and are used to doing things the way they have always done them.
Everyone has had a website already in the world of business. They know how much it costs and how tedious the process is. They have established their branding along the way. The UX of the web has also settled. But what they don't know is that for the first time ever the web has a decent layout engine - CSS Grid - so what they see as the website no longer has to be built with hacks and more hacks. Even if these hacks are professionalised and given fancy words like 'responsive' it is still a world of hacks and code that is a nightmare to maintain.
For this reason - the game changing nature of CSS Grid - I believe that freelance web development is not only viable it is a veritable gold mine. The only thing holding you back being the realities of running your own business, charging people and getting paid as well as doing the actual work.
CSS Grid is a new skill set. There is no horde of developers up to speed with it. The benefits can be sold to clients as it is quicker, results in pages that download quicker and it can be maintained. Accessibility comes into the bargain too as for CSS Grid there is no need for HTML to be a mix of div elements and class attributes, it can use the proper HTML5 elements and have the accessibility benefits that these elements bring.
There is no point competing in the world of 'naive HTML'. You can make qualitatively better web pages for people and command a premium for it that no agency can pay you for.
Clients don't care what the CSS looks like.
Agreed, you would never sell "CSS" to a client...Rather, you might state that you can turn around projects much faster than your competitors because of your vast experience, as well as your skills in employing some advanced technology...blablabla. You could also add that your use of this mysterious advanced technology allows for web pages to be "lighter", hence faster for their customers to view, and accessible to users with disabilities, which also helps with search engines reading/indexing their website, etc. So, yeah, would never sell "CSS" directly. ;-)
The same can be said with automobiles - customers don't care what is under the bonnet. Except that this is not true, customers do care even if it is just a plastic engine cover that they see.
So the challenge is to market one's CSS as a quality product rather than the naive CSS that most websites use. So it is a 'Mercedes' rather than 'GM' product, a Swiss watch rather than a badge engineered generic Chinese watch, a fine meal rather than a bag of fast food.
The reality of most websites is that they are throwaway, within a couple of years it will look tired. If this premium website product can last longer without having a refurbishment then that can make a difference to a business that cares about more than the next quarter.
I think freelancers should go up market and actually become full on programmers as the lower hanging fruitso to speak can easier be built with a web site builder.
I built a sass called , https://freepage.io. that allows people do get their own personalized subdomain, SSL and publish a webpage using markdown. You dont need hosting etc. Anybody and I mean anybody can create a website in a few minutes. so if you are a freelance learn something lie nodejs, or golang for backend. lots of demand.