Let's face it, being in business as a web developer can be really hard. Once you start your business, you are no longer just a developer. You are now a business owner, and you have to provide your clients with solutions that handle whatever issues they have.
You also have to deal with stuff like writing client proposals, marketing yourself as a freelance developer, properly taking care of your taxes, and dealing with the ever-growing pool of competition out there for the development work you would like to do.
All that stuff can be stressful to think about, especially when you have bills to pay. That's why I think that if you want to get into freelance web development, you should consider working as an Independent Contractor (IC) first.
In my opinion, working as an IC is one of the best things you can do to give yourself some breathing room while trying to get your freelance web developer business off the ground.
In this blog post, I'll tell you about my experience working as an IC for a Web Design agency. I'll share how it is helping me get my own freelance web development business started the right way.
For this article, I will be discussing how working as an IC can:
- Give you consistent income
- Make you a better freelancer
- Help you improve on your time management skills
- Allow you to see how another company runs their business
Feel free to click on any of those links above and skip ahead to the part you are most interested in.
Also if you would prefer to listen to this blog post instead of reading it, I created an audio clip of the entire post below. Please check it out if you don't feel like reading.
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Well, now that you know what we are going to be talking about, let’s get started.
Working as an IC Gives You Consistent Income
In my opinion, there are two things that really suck about getting started in freelance web development (or in any business):
There are so many approaches you can take to getting started, and you have no idea which one will work best for you
At the beginning, you’re not making any revenue yet but you are incurring expenses.
Learning how to navigate the freelance world can often feel like taking an endless walk through a desert with no real destination and no food or water.
Now when I started my freelance development business, I thought, “Hey well, I have really good front-end dev skills and I’ve used WordPress before. And WordPress websites make up a large percentage of the web, so it shouldn’t be that hard to find work.”
And I could not have been more wrong about how it would be. I spent months trying to get my first freelance client. I tried Upwork, I tried asking people in my network, and I even tried cold approaching local businesses that didn’t have a website up.
Then one day, I got my first client, which was a pastor of a church that needed a website. That was the sweetest $800 that I ever made. But then once I was done, reality set in. I managed to get one client, but how was I going to get another one?
Now I know this might sound a little dramatic, but the thought of not knowing what to do next made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. And working as an IC helped me breathe again.
Working as an IC helped me:
Have some extra space to figure out my approach to marketing myself
Offset the cost of business-related expenses, which in my case meant having money to pay for accounting software, plugins to help me build sites faster, and courses to improve my skillset.
Pay my bills every month (I didn’t have any other job so this was my main source of income)
You can think of working as an IC as that middle-ground between the financial security of a 9-5 job and the freedom of working for yourself.
And having that security of consistent revenue will help you navigate the highs and lows of learning how to market yourself in a way that works for you.
Working as an IC Will Make You a Better Freelancer
This year, I have had the opportunity to work as a Front-End Developer at Modern Website Design under the guidance of Lead Developer Luke Ciciliano. At Modern Website Design, I got the chance to create many different types of websites for small business clients.
Working on all of the projects that I was given taught me a really important lesson that I believe made me a better freelancer. And that lesson is that you have to be willing to look past your code to produce real results for clients.
A great example of this would be when I was building a website for a client that owned a gymnastics gym. In addition to the website, the client needed to be able to list different events that would be going on at the gym throughout the week and have the ability to edit or delete events whenever they wanted.
To implement this feature into their website, we had two options:
Pay for a plugin that would do exactly what the client needed and customize what it would like with CSS
Build a custom plugin for the client that allowed them to create, update, or delete events and list them on the front end of their website.
I’m sure that Luke and I could have put our heads together to create a custom plugin, but we ended up just purchasing a plugin that did what we needed to do.
If we were to build the custom plugin, the client would have had to pay for the cost of developing the plugin on top of the original cost of the website. Creating the plugin would have made us more money but it wouldn't have given the client more value.
It was our job to do what's best for the client so we decided to use one of the many great WordPress plugins that allow people to list events on their website.
So in the end, that decision allowed us to launch the website quickly and give the client what they wanted while staying inside their budget.
This is a great example of how you can look past your code and think about how you can best serve the client. Doing what is best for the client is an important concept to consider when working as a freelancer because when you are finished, that client will be happy with the work you've done for them.
A happy client can then go on and refer business to you for months or years to come.
Working as an IC gave me a safe space to learn that lesson which improved my ability to provide value to my own clients.
That’s why I think that developers interested in building a freelance business should become an IC as well so that they can have the space to learn valuable lessons like the one I learned.
Being an IC Will Help You Improve Your Time Management Skills
One of the most important parts of working as a freelance web developer is figuring out how to manage your time. Once your business starts to take off, you will be in situations where you will have to manage multiple client projects and other business-related activities at once.
It can be pretty overwhelming to deal with this at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can provide more value to your clients in less time. And this means you can make more money.
In my experience, working as an IC helped me to figure out how I like to approach working on new projects and how much time different types of websites will take to make.
Here’s a great example of when my ability to manage my time was challenged. At the time, I was placed on two different projects and had to have them done by the end of the week.
I wanted to implement some components from Bootstrap into the WordPress theme we were using so I spent some time recreating Bootstrap components with my own CSS (so that I could avoid having to load Bootstrap into the theme).
I spent so much time inspecting the CSS used on the components in Bootstrap’s documentation that by the time I had finished one of the projects, I only had half the time I thought I would need to complete the second one.
From past projects, I knew that normally it takes me about 20 hours to come up with a design, create the website, and optimize it for page load speed.
But this time, I had to finish the second project over the weekend and there was no way I could work 10 hours on both Saturday and Sunday. That situation forced me to be very creative with how I went about finishing the second project.
To get the second website done, I ended up borrowing a lot of CSS code from the first website to create the basic structure of the design. Then I analyzed the content that was given to me for the second website and looked for patterns.
I noticed that on a few different pages, the content was grouped in a similar way, so I could use the same design on all the similar pages. By taking that approach, I was able to finish the entire website and test it for page load speed in just 8 hours.
I managed to shave a whole 12 hours off of the process! And based on that experience I came up with a basic workflow for future projects.
My approach looks like this:
- Review all content and assets (images, videos, and so on) given for the project
- Look for patterns in the content to see where I can reuse my HTML and CSS code
- Use the Pomodoro technique to time how long it takes me to complete the project
- Save the code used to create certain types of designs or web components so that I can re-use them later for new projects
- If it took longer than expected, analyze what I did differently to see where I can make improvements
Using this basic workflow, I am now much more productive and more confident in my ability to handle multiple projects at once.
And if I manage to finish a project earlier than expected, I can spend the extra time working on marketing to get new clients or on learning a new skill that I can leverage in future projects.
So working as an IC has helped me ease into the mindset of spending my time wisely which has helped me when I was working with my clients.
This is yet another reason why I think working as an IC can be helpful to developers wanting to get into freelance web development.
You Get to See How Another Company Runs Their Business
This point is probably the biggest takeaway for me working as an IC this past year. Depending on what kind of company you end up working for (on contract) you can get a sneak peek at how they deal with a lot of the same problems that you will be dealing with.
In my experience, working at Modern Website Design has given me insight into how to deal with things like:
- getting new clients
- optimizing content for search engine traffic
- managing the relationship with a client when working on a project.
These three things are very important and it would have probably taken me months if not years of trial and error to figure out a good way to approach them.
One example of something that I learned about that was a game-changer for me was how to use Google Search Console.
For those of you that don’t know, Google Search Console is a platform made by Google that helps you monitor how a website is performing in Google’s search engine results pages. Understanding how to use Google Search Console can help you position your website or a client’s website on the first page of Google for certain search queries.
Google Search Console is used on pretty much every website that we make at Modern Website Design. And I have personally seen how proper use of it has positioned a client’s website on the first page of a Google search.
Getting on the first page of Google for a relevant search term has helped many of our clients get new customers without spending a single dollar on advertising.
Now I know some of the more experienced developers reading this probably already know about Google Search Console. But for me, this changed the way I saw optimizing a website for Search Engines.
Just knowing about Google Search Console will help me get more attention to my website without having to always rely on running ads on Google or Facebook.
Working as an IC can also allow you to see what you like versus what you don't like about running a business. In my case, I learned that I would like to niche down into the type of client that I provide services to.
Over the past year, we have worked with businesses that serve many different industries. This means that the features that each client needed changed drastically from project to project. Sometimes implementing those features required me to use a plugin that I’ve never used before and usually resulted in hours of digging through documentation.
I realized that in my business, I would rather focus on dealing with one particular type of client instead of providing my services to anyone that needed a developer. That way I can spend less time looking through documentation and finish my freelance projects faster.
Doing this will also make it easier to market myself as a developer because I can just focus on the needs of one type of client only.
So working as an IC can expose you to the different aspects of running a business and can help you decide what direction you would like to take your business in without taking too much risk yourself.
Wrapping it Up
Here's a quick recap about why working as an Independent Contractor (IC) can help you start your freelance dev business:
- You will get a consistent income that will allow you to pay your bills and afford to pay for business expenses as you start your business
- You will become a better freelancer by learning to focus on the needs of the client
- You will learn how to manage your time better and establish a workflow
- You will get to see how another business handles some of the biggest issues you will encounter such as getting new clients and managing the relationship with those clients
I hope this article has made your decision to get into freelance a little easier. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about my experience as an Independent Contractor.
More About Me
I am a Web Developer and the founder of Pierre Web Consulting. I often spend my time writing about my experience with freelancing or about building E-Commerce projects with Shopify and WordPress.
If you want to get in contact with me or keep up with stuff that I post about, follow me on Twitter.