Even if you plan to eventually move on to a full-time salaried job, beginning your career as a freelance web developer can be an excellent way to build your portfolio and make industry contacts. Unfortunately, new web developers often make the mistake of working for free, especially if they’re still working on building up their portfolio.
My advice: NEVER work for free. Seriously.
For one, your time and skills are incredibly valuable. Second, it can be a recipe for disaster. Even if you’re doing work for a friend, if they aren’t obligated to pay you for your work, they may not feel comfortable being honest with you about whether they’re satisfied with it or not. It’s also hard to have that determination to “get the job done” if you aren’t getting paid. You don’t need to ask for much, but charge something.
Now, with that behind us, here are 7 tips on how you can find paying work that will also add to your web development portfolio.
- Make Your Own Website A Showpiece: Your first chance to show off your web development skills might be building your own freelance business website. As you take on new projects, you can use this website as a great place to show off your portfolio and client testimonials that exemplify your expertise. Make sure its relevant, modern and in pace with current design trends. Also, be sure to link your website with your social networking accounts.
- Reach Out to Friends and Family: Even if you don’t have a robust portfolio, people tend to do business with people they know, like and trust. If you have several hundreds of friends on Facebook, it’s like one of them (or someone they know) will be interested in having you build a website. If you’re out and about, start talking about what kind of work you do – essentially having soft sales conversations, which could potentially attract leads.
- Leverage LinkedIn: After you reach out to your friends and family, you should take advantage of LinkedIn since it’s a powerful tool for connecting with peers and potential clients. Make sure your profile is up-to-date with the skills you bring to the table, and also link to any previous examples of projects you’ve completed. LinkedIn also has a job board with many freelancing opportunities. You can gain more visibility by joining and participating in relevant groups.
- Avoid Freelancing Websites (for now): Freelance sites like Upwork, Elance and Guru help connect freelancers with small design/development projects. While some developers swear by it, it can be extremely difficult to get work just starting out, with the majority of time dedicated to securing billable work. This is definitely an option, but the best option is always through word of mouth and personal networks.
- Reach Out to Local Small Businesses: Most small mom and pop shops don’t have a web developer on staff, but would be willing to pay a reasonable amount for some web development/design help. Send an email out to the owner letting them know you’re a local web developer, a fan of their business, and want to help out by extending your services at a discounted rate.
- Partner with Peers: Many web developers have said they found the most freelance work by networking with other freelancers. Some freelancers have more work than they can take on, or projects that extend beyond their capabilities. The good news, is they are often willing to provide referrals to other freelancers they trust and respect. You can network with other freelancers through groups on LinkedIn, Google+, meet-ups and sites likeWeb Design Forum, Freelance Gossip, and Digital Point.
- Establish a Digital Presence: If you want someone to hire you as a freelancer, set yourself apart. First, get started on GitHub and start blogging (either on your own blog, our as a guest blogger). If you learn something new, work on a project, write a clever bit of code, make sure to share it! Establishing your digital presence is a great way to establish credibility, even if you’re new to the industry.
I’ll leave you with a few other pieces of advice:
- Find and develop your niche
- Keeping pushing yourself to expand your technical chops
- Find new ways to build your personal brand
- And, last but not least, hang in there and be persistent!