Starting a web development business is not an easy task by any means. Not only do you need a solid technical knowledge and to constantly keep up with the latest tools and methods, but you also need to persuade prospects that you have the necessary skills and are able to deliver the results they want. Side jobs offer a gradual entry into this profession.
Until you can provide a convincing portfolio and at least a few clients who are willing to recommend you, you won’t make much money — if any at all. Therefore, it’s more reasonable to gradually ease your way into the industry than plan for a big jump that might never come.
A gradual professional path starts with personal projects, leads through open-sourcing, volunteering, and a handful of side jobs, and finally lands in full-time freelancing.
Although there’s no universal recipe for success, there are a handful of tips and advice that can come in handy to everyone who wants to be an established web professional.
Set professional goals
Not identifying your professional goals is probably the biggest mistake you can make at the start. The web industry covers a huge area, from user interface design to backend programming, and the different fields can be further grouped according to the techniques you use. For instance, you can build websites using different content management systems like WordPress or Drupal, and while WordPress has a much bigger market share, Drupal is preferred by many big companies and organizations.
The tools we use to create web experiences are favored by different types of clients, so your choice of technique will also determine your future client base and their needs. If you want to be successful, you do have to specialize and only focus on your chosen field.
If it’s possible, don’t take on any side jobs that won’t serve you in the long term, as you will have a chaotic portfolio that will hint to clients that you don’t really know what you want and aren’t an expert in anything. Follow industry news, understand the needs of your future clients, and check out the work of others in your chosen field. Only move forward if you have an overall overview of the industry and clearly know what you want to achieve.
Leverage personal projects and open-source
Before finding your first paying side jobs, most likely you will need to do some work for free. This is the phase in your career when you have already acquired the necessary skills, but haven’t yet created anything tangible. For the initial free work, you have basically three choices:
- Personal projects
- Volunteer work for charities and/or startups
- Contribution to open-source projects
The one you should pick highly depends on your chosen field. For instance, open-source projects are for people who code in a programming language, while online galleries are excellent for UI and UX designers.
Since you won’t be paid for these first projects, it’s crucial to build something you are personally interested in to keep yourself motivated.
A personal project can be anything from a simple HTML game, to something that involves your children, to a gallery app for organizing holiday photos. If you want to start with volunteering, choose a charity that works for a cause you are passionate about. Your first open-source contribution should target a tool that you would happily use. At the beginning, it’s only your own enthusiasm you can count on.
Get exposure and gain trust
Before landing your first paying gig, you will need to market your work. Built a mobile app? Submit it to the App Store or Google Play. Created a website? Promote it on social media. Designed a logo? Upload it to design galleries such as Dribbble or Behance. Wrote a cool script? Share it on Codepen. Found a bug in an open-source app you regularly use? Submit a pull request on Github.
Feedback can be surprisingly useful, not only for beginners but also for pros. Moreover, participating in online communities is a great opportunity to begin to build up your professional network in a comfortable way.
A personal portfolio site where you showcase your work is also indispensable. One of the beauties of having an online portfolio is that no one will ask how much you were paid for a project, or if you were paid at all. You will be judged only by the quality of your work.
Editor’s note: Use a platform like GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress to quickly and effectively create a portfolio for your work that will speak to your professionalism.
If you have more complex projects, it can also be a good idea to create case studies that briefly explain the whole working process instead of just linking the projects. And if you have good writing skills, an interesting and informative blog can deliver nice results, especially if you republish them on content networks where people go for professional news, such as Medium or Linkedin Pulse.
If something doesn’t feel good or seems like it might have dubious results, don’t do it. Try to make the most out of your free work, not just because it’s good for business, but also because it will decrease your frustration at not getting paid. For example, always ask for testimonials from places where you are volunteering or even from peers you are working with — most will happily provide them.
Find paying side jobs
If you are at this point in your career, you won’t have much trouble finding paying side jobs. By now, you have at least a small professional network, a convincing portfolio with some testimonials and solid industry knowledge. It can easily happen that someone in your network has already offered you paying side jobs. If it hasn’t yet happened, frequent professional events in your area such as meetups, WordCamps, and local conferences, or join freelancing sites such as Upwork, Freelancer, and 99design, and try to secure your first paying clients that way.
When you have paying clients and more and more part of your time generates income, you will increasingly believe that you are able to make a living as a full-time professional. When you can secure side jobs without too much pain, you can begin to think about pulling the plug on your day job.
Go full-time pro
Juggling side jobs and full-time employment is hard and stressful for anyone. Although it’s not a wise idea to quit your job before your freelance business can provide a living, it’s also not advisable to wait too long and risk burnout. How much risk you take highly depends on your personal circumstances, support system and finances — but don’t forget that being a freelancer will never be as secure as full-time employment.
If you don’t have an outside job, you can spend more time on your business and more quickly increase income. What you also have to consider is your earning potential, which depends on many different factors. These include the quality of your network, the market share of the tools you use, the uniqueness of your personal brand, the strength of your portfolio, the local and global demand for your service, your ability to acquire new clients, and many other things.
If your earning potential has reached the level that allows you to sleep without too much worry, you can seriously start thinking about turning your side jobs into full-time pro status.
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