If a website doesn’t look great or is hard to use, people won’t stick around, and the business behind it won’t make money. So, these companies turn to front-end developers to ensure they’ve got an offer that people want to see and use consistently. In many cases, companies turn to freelancers to build these sites because they need work in small batches.
That can create the perfect opportunity for you to build a career and work on many exciting projects.
Today, we’ll look at how to start freelancing as a front-end developer, from learning to code and specialize in finding freelance work and becoming a successful business owner yourself. This guide will answer five core questions for anyone that wants to become a freelance front-end developer:
- What is a front-end developer?
- How much do these web developers make?
- What things do freelance developers need to know to start?
- How do you earn consistent income from freelance work?
- Where is the best place to get started?
So, we’ll start with the big picture of front-end development and how you can turn it into a successful freelancing career.
What is a front-end developer?
Not only do they code in those three languages, but front-end developers also learn and work within common frameworks, such as Bootstrap, Backbone, AngularJS, Ember.js, and Foundation. Foundations help you code in ways that the content will work across a range of devices. You’ll also learn libraries such as jQuery that make it easier to code faster.
One of the best ways to think about a front-end developer is that they create the menu of your favorite takeout restaurant. The menu shows food options, prices, and all the other details to allow the customer to order. The kitchen, delivery driver, and creation of the food fall under a different development type.
Your day-to-day will involve coding applications and websites and then tweaking them to look great and accomplish specific tasks. While developers tend to be more technical and analytically minded, a front-end developer also needs some creativity to build a site that’s engaging.
Front-end developers will regularly work with others (typically back-end and full-stack developers) to finalize their projects. You’re going to need to be a team player to be a successful freelance front-end web developer.
How much do freelance front-end developers make?
All web developers can make a significant amount of money through traditional jobs or hourly on a freelance basis. In the U.S., the average salary is around $84,000, or $40 per hour, without including the value of benefits.
Freelance front-end developers will start a little below this at around $35 per hour when they begin their freelance career. But as you’ll see when you start looking for jobs on Upwork, mid-tier developers move to the $50 to $60 hourly rate quickly. As their experience grows, front-end developers can start charging $75 or more per hour.
As a freelance front-end web developer, you can also charge per-project rates. Specializing in a specific type of front-end development (such as development for ecommerce sites) will allow you to eventually charge more while also completing projects more quickly, improving your earning capabilities.
6 places to get started as a freelance front-end developer
Front-end developers have an extensive list of skill requirements, and they’re going to change somewhat based on what you create and the companies that hire you. So, we’ve put together six significant areas where you’ll want to develop or hone skills to be not only a great developer but also a great freelancer.
Knowing this mix of languages will help you code for browsers and troubleshoot any errors as data moves from the back-end to the site or app. The reason to start with these three is that they’re among the most in-demand skills for employers and companies looking to hire a freelance front-end developer.
These three are your core foundation.
2. Study your frameworks and libraries
Beyond languages, you need to take courses or study core frameworks and libraries.
3. Learn about your audience and preferences
Your clients and customers are going to have their audience and needs. Building out your skills and learning the right tools should align with what that industry needs. Do your research to discover what customers are asking for or what’s needed to accomplish the broad tasks.
In many countries, mobile Internet access is more popular than desktop PC access. So, to be successful for companies operating in these markets, you’ll have to learn mobile development. Working in this space and doing your own homework will help you determine how mobile sites and applications are laid out differently than traditional websites, plus how you’ll want to adapt to touch-based interactions instead of a keyboard-and-mouse combo.
Sometimes, you’ll create a responsive design that adapts to the user’s device but is only coded once by you. Other companies or products will demand separate desktop and mobile apps or websites to better control functionality, access, and user success.
4. Specialize efforts and approaches
Thinking about mobile web and responsive design are big categorical items. Companies across many industries will need help with those elements of front-end development, but not necessarily any custom work.
However, you might want to specialize in a growing field so that you can focus your learning on one topic. It’ll help you land customers in that industry and shape your work (and portfolio) to support growth. As long as that area is expanding, so will your opportunities.
One of the fastest-growing areas right now is ecommerce front-end development. Services like Shopify and WooCommerce work with websites and content management systems like WordPress to help people shop and buy goods. This area includes product pages and website galleries, shopping carts, checkout processes, and more. There’s a lot to build and get right, so specializing makes sense for developers and the companies that hire them.
5. Make your sites and more
Whether you go the freelance route for a long time in your career or use it in between more traditional jobs, you’re going to need a portfolio. Create templates and custom sites or apps to showcase your capabilities.
Front-end development focuses heavily on presentation, so many companies will judge you based on your portfolio. Make your site engaging and highlight interactivity so companies will trust your capabilities. If you use a service like Upwork to find a steady set of clients, you may still want a separate profile that showcases advanced functionality.
If you’re struggling to get that first client, consider building a site that you want. Make something you enjoy showcasing. Or look for volunteer opportunities for a local group to create a quick, engaging site.
6. Join the community
Developer communities are robust and active. There are continuous updates to programming languages, frameworks, libraries, APIs, tools, and much more. Get involved with GitHub, CSS-Tricks, or even communities within platforms like Shopify so you can stay on top of the latest changes and improvements.
Developers almost always work in groups and need to have their code compatible with code others create, update, and manage. Joining communities not only helps you learn and sharpen skills, but you can learn how to optimize your code to be a better partner to other coders.
Long-term success in freelance front-end development always includes being able to play well with others.
4 tips for getting consistent work as a freelance front-end developer
Front-end developers are in high demand, so you’ve got an excellent opportunity to find work, especially on freelance platforms. Landing your first client can take some time, but if you have a portfolio, then you’ll be well along your way.
The vital part of working with clients and turning freelance work into a front-end development career is to secure consistent work. You need to be able to pay the bills regularly, and that can be trickier. So, after speaking with developers and the people who’ve hired them, four core points stand out for how you can sell services and become a freelancer with a large pool of clients and potential work.
1. Discuss how you solve problems
This probably isn’t the place you expected us to start, but solving a problem is generally the place where your development work begins. At their core, businesses don’t approach you just to create a website. They ask for you to accomplish a goal.
Websites can educate customers, generate sales, protect reputations, earn engagement, and much more. Consistent work requires that you understand these underlying purposes and build websites, apps, and content structures that reinforce those goals.
To earn business, you’ll need to discuss how you help companies solve problems and meet their goals. To turn that into repeat business, you’ll have to deliver what you promise.
2. Showcase your custom work
As you grow in your freelance career, you’ll build a range of specific applications and websites. As soon as a project wraps and the site or app is live, put it on your portfolio. Highlight the custom features you did, whether that was a unique visual or video element, smarter search displays, or motion-based controls for smartphones.
Anything that you create that is out of the ordinary or took specific development skills is worth highlighting on your portfolio. It’s even better if you can link that custom functionality or development to the specific need the customer had.
3. Stick to a specialty
Companies often want to see that you’ve worked on businesses like theirs before. Focusing on one area of expertise can give you a leg up on the competition by demonstrating familiarity with a customer’s industry.
Having a specialty also helps the business side of your freelance career. You’ll be better able to write out templates for RFPs and then customize them in small ways as needed. You’re also likely to know what customers in that area need and how they like to solve their problems. As you do more work in one area, you will become more familiar with their end-users, too.
Knowing what will help a company achieve their goal and building sites specifically to achieve that is a big selling point when it comes to offering front-end development services.
4. Ask for feedback and reviews
Your work isn’t done after you’ve uncovered problems, figured out how to solve them, and created something custom to execution on that solution. You need to provide upkeep and maintenance support, which means maintaining a relationship with the customer. This is separate work from your initial development, so it can quickly turn into long-term, recurring work.
Developers should ask these customers for feedback on projects and reviews or testimonials that can be shared publicly. Ratings help other businesses know they can trust you, which is why they’re a core part of portfolios on Upwork and other sites.
Getting high-quality reviews and feedback helps you not only address any errors you’ve made in the past, but they demonstrate growth and your capabilities. Companies are more likely to trust your claims when you’ve got satisfied customers backing those promises.
Start a front-end developer career today
The best advice for how to start freelancing as a front-end developer is to join job boards and apply for the work you see.
Jumping in with both feet will push you to where you need to be. Sign up with Upwork, where it’s easy to create a profile and search for companies looking to hire freelance front-end developers right now.
It’s running your own business made easy, because customers are right there waiting for you to build the websites they need.
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