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Freelance web design developer looking at code on a Macbook beside a large window

So you’re ready to start a freelance web development business? 

Let’s assume you’ve already got the skill set and some great experience building sites that look phenomenal and that get results for your clients. The next thing you’ll need to do is focus on the business side of your operations. 

After all, you can build the most beautiful, responsive, functional websites in the world, but if no one knows who did it, or is persuaded to pay you a decent freelance hourly rate to build one, then you won’t get too far with your business. 

How do you get started? We put together a list of steps to get your business in order upfront, so once you get your first clients, you’ll be able to work seamlessly through both the technical and operational sides of your freelance web development business. 

Build a Portfolio Website for Your Web Design Business.

While every business needs a website, for a freelance web developer, your site is more than a landing page or a place to get your contact information or read your latest blog post. 

It’s a portfolio and business card; it’s the way you show off your work and skill set. It’s a foot in the door to get hired by other small businesses. Make sure your website shows off what you can do. 

Develop a Freelance Business Strategy and Set Your Hourly Rate. 

Once the website is built, you can begin dedicating time to considering your business operations and what you want life as a freelance web developer to look like. 

How many hours do you want to work? How much money do you want to make? Do you like building and maintaining sites through a long-term relationship with your freelance clients, or do you prefer building a site, launching it and moving on? 

Assess Your Skill Set 

Honestly assessing your skills should be your first step toward building your overall freelance business. Are you capable of creating the sites completely on your own, or will you need to work with a team of graphic designers and copywriters? 

What’s the typical turnaround time for a project? How many hours should be spent? Answering all these questions will help with the next (and most critical) step: determining what to charge. 

Decide What You’re Worth 

Don't set your freelance rates based on your own previous salary as a web developer. When running a small business, a few other expenses should be factored into consideration; overhead as a freelancer should be considered and will make rates generally more costly than hourly wages working as an employee. 

  • How much will you have to pay for health insurance that an employer might have previously covered? 
  • Are there any software programs or tools you’ll need to pay for on a regular basis
  • How much are others charging for similar services? 
  • How many unpaid hours do you expect to work? Unpaid hours are those spent on business development, operations, marketing, etc., for your freelance business. They take up time during the week and detract from paid hours, so they should be calculated into your business formula. 

Order Business Cards and Create Virtual Ones

If you’re going to be attending events or pitching to clients, you’ll want to have a traditional business card. You can order unique and eye-catching options from several online services -- whether you create your own design on Canva or order variable-printed cards from Moo.com

In today’s business world, you need a virtual business card as well, and it can sometimes be even more useful than the digital ones. You’re not limited to your local area and can sell web development services to people across the country or around the world. 

Make sure you’re showing yourself to their best advantage online. Your LinkedIn profile should be up-to-date and highlight your best work. The same goes for other social media sites, especially the ones your target audience tends to use. 

Create an Organizational Structure and Choose a Project Management Tool. 

Once you start signing up clients, you want to be able to dive right into the work and keep your behind-the-scenes processes flowing smoothly. Spend some time in the early days -- while waiting for new clients to sign on -- setting up internal processes.

Set Up a Business Email Address

It always looks more professional to connect with clients from your own URL. 

You can even develop different email addresses for different types of conversations-- one for new client inquiries, one for billing and one for project-related work.

Once clients have been onboarded, you may want to set up a chat or instant messaging conversation with them, where you can keep messages easily threaded and maintain all documentation in one place. 

Choose a Project Management Tool and Develop a Process

It’s always easier to build out processes before becoming busy, so you can keep things on track as work starts flowing in. 

Putting a project management tool in place early can make a lot of sense. Take time now to think through the steps of each business process, so nothing gets skipped once you grow busier. For example, if you know you’re going to struggle with writing up client proposals or getting contracts in place, go ahead and build out what you need now, so you can modify and send it easily when a client is eager to start their project. 

The same goes for project tasks and workflows. Think through each step that’s necessary to get a project out the door, then write or build it all out in advance. Then, nothing will get skipped as you go forward and grow busier.  

Reach Out to Small Businesses Who Could Be Potential Clients. 

Once you have your house in order, strategy and process-wise, it’s time to start building your client base. 

If you’ve worked for a company in the past, it may make sense to reach out to them and inquire about whether they have any need for freelancers. Don’t stop there, though. 

Connect with small businesses in your community to ask about whether they may need web development support. You don’t have to focus only on companies that haven't yet built a website. 

Think also about companies or organizations that have a website but could use improvement, either in aesthetics or in functionality. Many businesses may need support in upgrading their sites to benefit from the e-commerce boom, and you can offer services for specific upgrades as well as for building out sites or applications. 

Draft an Elevator Pitch and Start Sharing It on Social Media.

Once you’ve connected with people in your current sphere, you should also consider spreading your message and value even further afield. Before you do that though, make sure you’re making the value you provide perfectly clear. 

Draft an elevator pitch for your web development business. It should take about a minute, or the time you’d spend riding an elevator with someone, to share; and, it should highlight what makes your business valuable, unique and worthwhile. 

Once you have this pitch designed, you can find groups where it would make sense to share it on social media. There are often social media groups, particularly on LinkedIn and Facebook, where you might be able to acquire clients. If the clients you want to reach are more frequently on Twitter or Instagram, the elevator pitch can be adapted to be more conversational and suitable for these mediums.

Running a freelance business is hard work, but it can give you freedom, autonomy and room to focus on the parts of your profession that make you most happy and fulfilled. As you build your freelance web development company, make sure to check in with yourself frequently to ensure you’re meeting the goals you set and the dreams you had when you first started the business. 

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