This last decade has been a JOURNEY. Check out my latest video on the 5 things I wish I knew before I started freelancing as a web developer.
Find the full transcription below.
If I could go back in time and give myself this info, I would have avoided so many missteps as a freelance web developer. But, I’m so glad I was able to break these freelance web dev mistakes down into teachable moments to help you thrive as a freelance web developer. If you’re stuck on how to start freelancing, these tips and tricks are a MUST WATCH! Welcome to Freelance Blueprint! I’m Margaret, and here’s 5 things i wish i knew before i started freelancing as a web developer.
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Hey guys, welcome back to the channel or welcome if it’s your first time here.
So as we know, freelancing can be such a crazy journey, but luckily I’ve gone through the last eight to 10 years and learned a lot of lessons, things that I would do in hindsight, I’m here to pass them off to you guys.
So today, the top five things I wish I knew when I first started freelance web development.
Let’s dive in, and as always, if you wanna keep up to date with honest, relevant, freelance advice for running your own business, click Subscribe below, make sure you click that bell to get notified when we release a video, which is every Sunday, okay?
Let’s dive in.
So starting off as a freelance web developer, before I started a digital agency, there’s so much that I wish I knew then that I know now, but, of course, a ton of it can only come with experience. So the first one would be likely pricing.
There’s so much information about pricing out there and I implore you to read some books before you commit to a pricing model and really explore what works best for you.
I think one of the biggest tips, whether you go for hourly or whether you go for value pricing or whether you go for a day rates or week rates or subcontract from a larger company, like there are so many pricing models, and we’re actually gonna do a full video about pricing to dig further into that. But the suggestion that I would give to you is even if you’re going hourly, even if you’re going value-based, not to itemize the invoice or itemize the proposal per singular item.
So I’ll kind of clarify to give an example. Say you’re developing a WordPress or a Shopify site, so you don’t wanna itemize things as though like, well, after deployment, we’re gonna set up your, or we’re gonna embed your code for the Google Analytics and that’s $50, and do you know what I mean? Like going through each individual aspect because I have done that early on in my career and what ultimately happens is the client will take the proposal, and then all of a sudden, they’ll start throwing things out.
So they’ll start grabbing the stuff that they don’t think they need and ultimately tearing apart the project to be able to get a lower rate.
There’s a few reasons I would advise against this. First of all, the experience you wanna create for your clients is a holistic experience. And I mean that in a sense of like, there are so many different aspects, both project management, technical, software, daily meet, not daily meetings, probably weekly or every two week meetings that you wanna have with them. So there are so many aspects to a project that if a client has the ability to just go in and start chucking things out, all of a sudden, there are components of the project that are missing and that devalues the project as a whole. So valuing the whole project, having faith in your work, don’t itemize things because that’s when people will start to pick things apart.
Now we’re gonna do a whole other video on pricing, but an alternative to that is potentially give options.
So an alternative to completely itemizing a proposal or an invoice is to go in and actually give some options of like, here’s the biggest package possible, here’s all the bells and whistles, here’s everything built from scratch. And then maybe there’s some other components that we can add in that are nice to have. Maybe that’s the biggest sort of version of it. And then maybe there’s another option saying like, “Here’s what we can get by with the bare minimum.
This will make your site functional. This will get it ready to go. We’ll have all of the bare minimum that we need to to make the site function.” And you, as an expert can do that, that’s why they came to you, to evaluate what they need to get started. And then you can phase in different features as they roll out and as they start to get traffic and revenue from that site. So that’s a little insight on pricing, something I wish I knew a long time ago, stay away from itemizing proposals, go more for value-based pricing as a whole, your pricing the, sort of the holistic value of the projects.
Because when you start itemizing, then you’re not taking into account the hours of project management, the hours for, like there’s so much time outside of those individual itemized items to consider. So number one, stay away from itemized pricing. So the next thing that I wish I knew early on in my career as a freelance web developer would be pricing and budgeting for the year. So that also goes into the first aspect that we were talking about as well, which is pricing projects, which we’re gonna do a whole other video on, but pricing projects is one component, but then it’s like, how does that fit into your annual revenue? And how does that fit into your goals over time?
Establishing financial goals is gonna be huge and if that’s something that’s brand new for you, so if you’re used to a job that’s paying you hourly or paying you salary, it’s hard to break down how that translates into owning your own business, because not only do you need to get paid for the jobs that you do, but you’re running a business that needs to be profitable.
Profit will, again, be a whole other video, but my best advice is to pay a few hundred dollars and talk to a financial advisor to be able to set up these sort of goals for you. If you wanna start the process of setting them up yourself, a good idea and a good way to start would be to take the financial goals of, if you’re new to freelance, what are your goals for the first year? And I’d love to know them in the comments below and I’m happy to share my experience in the first few years, as well, too.
What are your goals?
What’s realistic for you to achieve and then start deconstructing and working backwards from there.
So if you have this yearly goal or even quarterly goal that you wanna attain, how much work, how many projects, what kind of projects do you need to attain that goal? And then we’re almost gonna take our yearly goals and reverse engineer them into the smallest components, and that will dictate the steps we can take that’ll ultimately become cumulative to be able to get to those goals. It seems kind of abstract when we talk about it like this, but I’m telling you, getting down to the numbers and planning them out is really the only way you’re gonna be able to achieve that next year’s goal, and then the one after that becomes the bigger, hairier goal, and then the one after that becomes this absolute crazy goal.
And next thing you know, you’ve deconstructed all the steps and you really have a map to be able to take action.
So if I can impart any advice on that, it would be to start with your year or even quarterly goals in mind, start to reverse engineer and work backwards. And if that’s not your strong suit, definitely check out a financial advisor. Now, the third item that I wish I also knew earlier was don’t compete on price.
Competing on price will always be a race to the bottom, and instead you need to focus on your strengths, how you can optimize those and what value those bring to the table. When you start to compete on price, that’s all people see you as is a price tag, and if that’s what they’re comparing you to others as, then it’s a losing battle and they will not see the true value that you’re able to bring to the table. I know this sounds like a little bit sort of woo woo and we’ll get there in other videos, but the reality is it’s psychological. If somebody sees you as being the lowest bidder on every project, that takes away a huge amount of value. People value what they pay for, so that would be, I know this is a shorter one, but that would be the biggest piece of advice.
This also bleeds into the next one too, a little bit about niching. So the fourth thing that I wish I knew earlier is niching down.
The tricky thing about niching down is it sounds so counterintuitive. For example, if you have a really big breadth of skills and let’s use WordPress as an example ’cause WordPress is a pretty wide, there’s a pretty wide spectrum of skills that fall under that. So if your skills fall under the WordPress umbrella, you might think that that’s niched down enough, but if you can specialize in something that’s very, a very specific problem inside of WordPress, that may seem counterintuitive because yes, it narrows the pool, but the people in that pool see you as an expert.
For example, you wouldn’t go to a GP doctor, get like an MRI for your brain, you would generally go to a neurologist. And the specialization is where you’re able to bring more value, solve specific problems, and give your, and your clients get a lot more faith in you to solve those problems, and ultimately, be able to charge more money for solving very specialized problems.
The other thing about niching is that if you become so specialized, that you’re one of a very small pool of people that can solve these problems, especially if these problems relate to an increased revenue for your clients.
For example, if you have a very specific efficiency in like woo commerce, membership programs built on WordPress. If that is your zone and that is your place of genius, people will come to you specifically for that, and because there’s such a small pool of experts in that area, you can, in turn, charge a higher price, and once you charge a higher price, you’ll be able to have less clients. And trust me, it sounds counterintuitive and I fought it at first,
I really fought niching down, but once you experience it, you’re able to work smarter, not harder, you can work for more money and less time because you’re very specialized in the service. That being said, you do have to keep up your skill level and you do have to be on top of this.
Even though you’re getting more money, they’re paying for your knowledge, so make sure you’re staying on top of that knowledge to really rise to the top of that specific niche. So as the last one, I’ve kind of bundled two into one. We’ve got setting boundaries and working with friends and family.
There’s a bit of crossover between these two, but I did learn early on that you need to treat freelancing and owning your own business very differently than an employer-employee dynamic.
It’s also important to have boundaries in that capacity as well, too, but it’s even more important because when people think that they are paying you a high rate as a contractor, especially when you get into higher price projects, some people do start to overstep those boundaries and think that they own your time. So that’s one thing to be very clear from the beginning, what your turnaround rate is with communication, what the best ways to communicate with you are, and if you do, I think texting is one of the biggest things that people either do or don’t allow.
I personally don’t allow clients to text me unless it’s an absolute emergency and we’ll get into like emergency pricing in another video, but making sure you have those boundaries of the hours that you’re accessible, the days the week that you’re accessible to, and what medium you’re accessible through. So be very clear about communication boundaries. That also bleeds into boundaries with friends and family.
There’s a few different things to keep in mind here. There’s one, one capacity is working with friends and family.
I personally have a policy of not working with friends and family. As of now, my rates are to a point where it’s not reasonable for them to pay that. So if they come to me and they have some sort of web development issue, I’m happy to pass them onto my network, pass them on to someone that may be a little bit more affordable to them, but also is better at solving their specific problem as well too.
I don’t have family members that own big websites so that complexity is not really an issue.
The asks would generally be pretty simple. So I’m happy to pass that on to colleagues or newer web developers to give them the clients. If you are working with friends, families, acquaintances, my suggestion to you would be do it for free, instead of doing it for a discount.
Now, this also may sound counterintuitive, but doing something for free is completely on your terms. Timeline is on your terms, the deliverables on your terms now. We all know you’re an amazing developer and you’re gonna produce an awesome product.
This gives you the creative freedom to be able to create something really awesome that you’re proud of, that you wanna create, that’s part of your portfolio, that’s probably, that may be a challenge for you so that you can gain those skills in creating this project. There’s nothing wrong with doing work for free if it’s on your terms.
Don’t do anything for exposure for someone else. Do things for free only if they’re on your terms.
The reason I would do something for free, over doing something discounted is because when things are discounted, like I mentioned before, they are, the value of them is perceived to be much lower. That’s where the value disparity comes in.
If you discount something, that person thinks that they are getting a deal, which they are, and they think that they are getting the same quality of product that they would normally pay full price for, but they’re getting that at a discount, versus on your end of things, if you give a discount, generally people are giving a discount, knowing that they are giving a smaller, like less of a quality of service, so then becomes like the quality disparity.
And ultimately, it will end poorly. Those are my thoughts there. I’ve seen this play out time and time again. So definitely, let me know in the comments below ’cause that’s why I’m curious. Have you guys worked with friends and family? I’m really curious how it went. I wanna hear good stories.
So if you guys have had really great experience with friends and family, I would love to know how it played out, what the dynamic was, and yeah, let me know in the discussion below, shoot me a message on social media.
I’m always curious about different dynamics and within that dynamic, have you had a different approach and what worked for you? So those are just a few things that I’ve learned over the years.
I’ve also learned so much more and I love talking about this stuff with you guys. So I run a live cast a couple of times a month. I’m trying to ramp that up to once a week, but if you wanna get on the list below and I’ll keep you posted every time we go live, we can hop on, chat about freelance, talk about any issues that you’re having. So don’t forget to hit Subscribe if you want more honest tips and tricks about freelancing, as well as my own experiences.
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