Things to consider if you’re looking to move from freelancer to full-time employee

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Making the switch?

Some developers choose to freelance for extra money during the holidays, while others are building up freelance experience with the goal of forging a new career path. Still, other freelance web developers like tinkering as a relaxing hobby. But if you’re expecting your freelance experience to automatically translate into job offers, it’s time for a trip to the mountaintop.

Why are you looking for a job, and what is your experience in the field?

Sometimes, web freelancers look for a job because of burnout. (Let’s put that out there.) You’re great at front-end or amaze at back-end builds, but you’re not a salesperson. Keeping that pipeline full is time-consuming work and, honestly, it’s not work that you enjoy.

Applying for a job can be a knee-jerk reaction to present circumstances. We have to remember that we chose to freelance for a reason. Typically the reasons we freelance include but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Control over schedule
  • Control over projects
  • Control over hours
  • Control over revenue
  • Control over work environment

We freelance to control our schedule

The 9-5 grind is simply that: a grind. Especially when a position isn’t work from home or remote, driving into the office can easily add two more hours to an eight-hour workday.

And deep work? Forget about it. Web professionals skew toward introversion.

We need to wear noise-canceling headphones because Robbie in the next cubicle talks to himself and Betsy is always tapping her foot to the music.

There are so many distractions in an open office layout. We can even forget the real reason why we got up when we got our Monster Energy drink from the communal kitchen. And we know that as soon as we walk to the restroom, we’ll pass by a project manager who wants an update about the wireframe assignment we saw in Trello this morning.

The struggle is real.

We freelance to control our projects

One of the reasons we love freelancing as web developers is to be able to control which projects we choose. The drudgery of building another brochure site makes us wonder why we learned React.js in the first place.

Because we’re professionals who take pride in our craft, sometimes it feels like a demotion to do a junior dev’s work. It’s a legitimate concern for freelancers. Then again, turning over one $500 website every business day for a year calculates to annual gross revenue of $125,000. That’s nothing to balk at.

We freelance to control our hours

Freelancing is different from remote work because we have complete control over our schedules when we freelance. We’re not paid for our time; rather, we’re paid for milestones and deliverables.

Why do we need to control our hours? It may be to accommodate our partner’s schedule, for caretaking (kids or parents), or because of our natural circadian rhythms. Deep work requires large blocks of time during our most productive hours.

We freelance to control our revenue

One of the best benefits of being a freelance web developer is to control our revenue. When we want to save for a vacation or a new monitor setup, we measure that in “number of projects” as the unit of choice. Perhaps we operate like real estate agents and sell one to two homes (websites) a year. But those pesky expenses seem to always get their way. So, we’re off to build another site.

We freelance to control work environment

Do you have an invisible illness (including mental health) that makes working full-time a challenge? Many freelancers choose this type of work for health reasons. You may also have noise or light sensitivity as is common in the neurodiverse. The 9-5 open office plan is the ADHD brain’s nemesis. (But that’s another blog post.)

Do you really want a job or do you want respect?

Freelancing fits into your lifestyle, so have a heart-to-heart with yourself. Do you really want a full-time job? Full-time employment means that you’ll have coworkers who may not understand or appreciate your expertise, a boss you’re accountable to, an HR person who wants paperwork on time, a daily standup that could have been an email (in your eyes), and a project manager who doesn’t give you defined scope.

Sure that salary looks great on paper, but does it fit your actual career goals? The truth is that not everyone is well-suited for full-time employment.

Hey, if you’re like, Yes! Yes, I want to land a great role as a professional developer, then you have a bit of work cut out for you.

This includes:

  • Marketing yourself as an expert
  • Networking with other professionals
  • Telling people about your core competencies
  • Asking people if they have job openings; and,
  • Actually getting hired.

These are soft skills that will help you in both your freelance career and transitioning that reputation into job offers. Here come the hard questions we’ll ask — and you should ask yourself.

What have you done to market yourself as an expert in this area?

If you’re all about building themes with Next.js, then talk about it. Ensure your portfolio site is up to date, includes video and/or a PDF of each site you’ve built, a link to your GitHub account, and client reviews.

Being an expert means people come to you to get that niche work done. Headless ecommerce is your jam? Talk about that on Twitter. Designing with Figma? Show that process on LinkedIn. Launching 200 sites a year using Beaver Builder? Give a talk at a WordPress Meetup.

“Okay, this one seems obvious, but it’s an area where you really can’t afford any mistakes. If there’s one thing that needs to be tight and leave an impression, it’s your portfolio, AKA your website.”

— Inside Design

Clients, peers, and potential employers will only know what you tell them. That initial marketing should start with your portfolio website. Include video, blog posts, and links to well-documented code. Case studies are also very helpful — especially when preparing for interviews. Case studies are also good projects to highlight on your resume.

One of the resources available to freelancers in the web and design fields is reaching out to a staffing agency. Through temporary work, you can expand your marketing to employers while gaining the benefit of predictable, project-based hours.

Have you been networking with other professionals in your industry?

Networking is the four-letter word for introverts. Freelancers can often feel uncomfortable marketing themselves; it feels braggadocious. Learn a few tips and tricks to network with success and you’ll be a hit in no time.

You can always network at BNI meetings, meetups, and your local chamber of commerce. Be the web person in your circle of small-to-medium business owners. Those peers can easily become referral sources — for clients and full-time employment.

“As a freelancer, the majority of your work will come from referrals and through word of mouth on the back of clients, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. As such, it’s going to be important to make an effort to develop and nurture relationships with people in industries and organizations that would be interested in your services.”

— Proposify

Your referral relationships are gold. They’re only good if you make the effort to keep the connection and stay top of mind. How that looks to you depends upon your true self. Personally, I like to send unique gifts to my referral partners and even half-birthday cards. What you do should be authentic or it will be seen as phony.

If so, do they know about your freelance work and why did you quit that job?

Employers will always want to know why you left a job — or a series of jobs. Be sure to own any of your mistakes. They’re likely to find out when they call references anyway. Be upfront. It’s okay if you didn’t find your ideal company culture. Be sure not to blameshift, however. That is worse than job gaps, etc.

Do any of them need help on a project or would be interested if you were employed by their company?

It’s completely acceptable to ask your peers and colleagues who know your work if they’re hiring for a position that would fit you perfectly. When you’re interviewing, keep at the front of your mind that you’re interviewing for a job — not to gain a client.

“Note that most bad hires are a result of a poor culture fit, so be open to suggestions and alternative methods. Who knows? You might even learn something new!”

— Kelly Services

Honestly, there is a bad reputation out there for freelancers who don’t follow through. Do your research and make your pitch. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

How can I get hired by these people who don’t even know I exist yet?

Your network will make introductions to a freelancer when it makes them look good. Once the lead is in your inbox, the ball is in your court. How do you approach the project or job? How do you communicate with the client or team? The cover letter is the differentiator that lands you a new job — just like it is with a good freelance project.

“I would investigate who they are, what they do, where they are from and what kind of problems their business is solving in general. This would allow me to really [understand] them and then write the cover letter in a manner they would feel we’re on the same cultural level.”

— Codeable Editorial Team

The importance of research cannot be understated. Once you hear about a job opening, study the company online. Read their website. Follow the company on social media. Find them on LinkedIn. Follow the CEO and read some of their social posts.

Why? You want to be able to see if that company is the right cultural fit for you

When applying for a job as a freelancer, don’t forget to tailor your resume to the keywords of the job description. Yes, it’s extra work but well worth it. Think of your resume like SEO. More often than not, resumes are scanned into a system looking for keywords.

Highlight the extra things to stand out once you have an opportunity to meet with HR or the hiring manager. And then follow up after the interview. It’s so important to make and keep that good impression. Yes, thank you emails are relevant and important.

Freelancing isn’t going away

The fact is that 64 million Americans freelanced in 2020 according to Statistica; that number is projected to be 90 million in 2028. Freelancing isn’t going away, especially as the cost of living continues to increase.

“Living expenses are also a major factor in why people shift from traditional office desk jobs to freelance work. As housing and food costs continue to skyrocket among top cities in the US, remote work is becoming a more practical option for average Americans.”

— Financing Online

As much as the gig economy comes under attack, we will always want services. It’s exactly the same with web services. Businesses continue to need websites; freelancers will continue to fill those needs. Bottom line: there’s plenty of work.

If your goal with freelance web development is to build a career, why hasn’t it translated into job offers? There are a few questions you’ll have to ask yourself first. But let’s talk about freelancing as a mindset.

How should you approach freelancing?

It’s important to understand that as a freelance web developer you are also a business person. This is a simple truth. While you’re freelancing, you have more tasks to do on your list than the actual website build. You need to market yourself, do accounting, answer client questions, keep the project on schedule, and more! Oh and don’t forget, it’s okay to outsource some of those tasks as a freelancer.

“When we start owning the fact that our work has value — intrinsic value — and that clients and people are monetizing it, then we can stop giving it away and start standing by it and asking for what we’re worth.”

— Soness Stevens

The first step in freelancing to build a career is to see yourself as a professional. This means you set client expectations and boundaries. You have an accounting system like Freshbooks or Xero. You send professional proposals and have contracts. Being a professional freelancer also means that you turn down work — politely — that doesn’t fit into your production schedule. Turn down work? Yes. You do this by charging for your value.

Why not join a community?

Hey, being a freelancer isn’t a bad thing. As a WordPress expert, you’ll get the best of both worlds — flexible hours and great pay! For example, we build with heart at Codeable and believe in networking and professional growth while rejecting the race for the bottom.

“[Codeable’s] experts collaborate on making the projects better; clients get better results at the end of it. There’s no weird $5/hour bids that are just distracting and cluttering up and wasting the client’s time.”

— Me, on the In the Loop podcast

So, if you’re freelancing with the goal of landing a full-time gig, maybe this is the right step for you. Why not join a professional freelance marketplace? And here it’s certainly worth looking at GoDaddy Pro, a robust community aided by free tools that save you time managing your sites, clients and projects — benefits to support all aspects of your business.

Mike Demo
Mike "Demo" Demopoulos is a lover of open source first, specific tools later. Because of this, he speaks at Ignite! Conferences, Meetups, WordCamps, Joomla! Events, and more. As a helpful person, he gladly contributes to Open Source projects in any capacity necessary. Aligned with his mission to empower WordPress experts, Mike is now the Expert Community Development Lead at Codeable.