Where to Start?

Decide what area you would like to pursue.

Here are some questions that could help start you off:

Are you a designer, developer or both?

Do you want to be someone who specializes in one area or would you prefer to be a hybrid?

Is freelancing something you want to do forever, or is it a stepping stone to get experience for a full-time position?

Does the career path require certain languages, frameworks or specialist knowledge?

Searching out career paths and planning where you want to be in 3 / 5 years time could help save you time in the future and give you a clear path so you won’t feel lost.

Plan where and with what you would like to start with:

Have a look at tutorials and blogs that suit your path and find the easiest area to start in. To create websites, I started with HTML and CSS; I then moved onto JavaScript and jQuery, and learnt design principles along with some Adobe products.
As I found design and development was a good mix of art and logic, it felt like the correct way to go for myself. It really depends on what you want to make and where you would like to be in the future.

Learn the basics:

Start off with online tutorials, YouTube videos, books etc. Try each resource you find to see which you like the best or keep switching between them. It doesn’t matter which you use, it’s about getting yourself started. Most courses, paid or free, will start with the basics and go from there. However, look up the history of what you want to learn as this can give you more information on why it is used, not just how it is used.

Start your portfolio:

There are many ways to create one; if you want to make websites or go into programming then create a portfolio from scratch to practice your chosen languages. If you are just looking to learn design and don’t want to learn any languages, you can create your portfolio on different sites such as Behance, Adobe or GitHub, if you know how or want to learn to use it.

If you feel you will require a specific domain name and more storage, go with a hosting company for a small fee. I went with an eco-minded hosting company that uses renewable energy and free cooling to reduce energy usage and emissions. This was also part of my plan to learn how to deal with hosting for future clients.

There are many options for creating portfolios and where to host them so make sure you search thoroughly to find the best for you and your budget.

 

Talking of Costs

Plan a budget in advance:

Include such things as: a laptop – if you don’t currently have one, travel fees, a second mobile – if you don’t want to use your personal one, hosting – monthly or yearly costs, domain name, plus small items like stationary. Some of these things, such as the laptop, can be added as a capital asset in your tax expenses and claimed back. Though make sure to read and understand your country’s tax rules regarding expenses and claims.

If you need a domain name keep in mind that even though it might be cheap for the first year or two, be prepared for the price to go up. Make sure this isn’t going to be a surprise for your future budget!

Domain Tasting:

When searching for a domain name be careful which site you use to look for it, as some sites can quickly register a domain that you have looked for and make you pay a lot more to buy it. Search for ‘Domain Tasting’ to find out more about it and which sites may partake in it.

If you want to look up a name and to be safer, do a ‘Whois’ search, this gives you information regarding any domain and who it is registered to, without the fear of domain tasting.

 

 

Practice and Experience

Practice:

There’s a whole idea, and something I believed when I was younger, that to be good at something you need talent for it. I felt like quite a failure over a lot of things but then with learning web design and development I put in a lot of learning and practice and I found I didn’t fail at it. You don’t really need to be talented, it is great if you are, mostly you just need to learn how to do something, then practice it – repeatedly, until you feel comfortable doing it. Or in other words this web-comic by Sarah Anderson:

To practice designing or creating websites, the first and best practice will be your portfolio; as it will probably mean more to you. I fully re-created my portfolio over 5 times before my current one with many half-finished versions languishing on my laptop. I have many sites, such as a tourist and baking site plus loads of illustrations that will never see the light of day as they aren’t very good but they were very good practice. Don’t hesitate to start, whatever it is, even if you don’t finish, you can always come back to it later.

Design and programming are both areas where you will always be learning and it never stops. There is always something new that can come out, a new language/framework, new design software, it doesn’t really end. But don’t worry about not knowing everything because everyone in these areas are in the same boat. This quote from Janet in the Great British Bake Off is always good to remember:

Quote from Janet in Bake Off. You can't always be the best but you can do your best

Support:

No person is an island, so finding someone you know who does do programming, creates websites or is a designer, will really help when learning. If there isn’t anyone in your friends/family circle that can give support or help, then use social media to ask for help and if anyone wants to partner up to learn together. Getting help and support with problems can make a lot of difference, none of us can do everything by ourselves, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Portfolio Review:

Getting your portfolio reviewed will really help you gain insight into what areas you are doing well in and where you can improve. Do this at multiple points in your learning and practice progression and keep notes as a reminder. You can have someone you know look over your portfolio but keep in mind they will probably need to know what you are learning in order to give suitable feedback. Reddit is also another way to get feedback, as there are many subreddits dedicated to areas such as web design, development, freelancing, blogging etc. You can post any questions relating to the subject area or link to your portfolio to request feedback if the subreddit allows it, as in r/web_design.

Experience:

Starting out you will need experience in designing or creating websites for other people to showcase on your portfolio. If you don’t have any, as you don’t tend to get hired for a job without experience (in general), getting experience is a must! You can start off by asking around in your local area if there is a small business/ ‘mom and pop’ shop who would like a website. You can also look at volunteering and charity events, where you can go and offer your services for free. That’s how I got my first bit of real-world experience and I also helped a charity who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford to update their site. 

Marketing Yourself

Business Cards:

Business cards are the first port of call after your site and email are set up and you are ready to go. Shop around online for ones that suit your needs; check the prices, do they use re-cycled materials, do they have offers for certain amounts ordered, etc. Business cards are great for networking and leaving in local meeting places (with permission, of course).

Social Media:

Create as many social media accounts as you can cope with. Facebook business pages, join Reddit for the freelancing subreddits, get a Twitter account; all easy to use and useful for finding jobs and clients. Social media is a great (and free) way to market yourself to people across the world.

Other free ways to get your name out are with local listing sites and Google My Business, each help with advertising your business in your local area.

If you feel you can spare the cash: Gumtree adverts, Facebook paid promotions and of course if you feel very ‘rich’ Google and Bing ad-words. Keep an eye on any paid promotions as you use them, they can start to snowball if you let them.

Networking:

Is a good way to get your name out to people and hopefully get clients, though this can be a harder one for people with social issues like anxiety. However, networking doesn’t always mean going to a business center with people you don’t know in suits. It can be talking with your friends and family to find out if anyone they know is looking for a website, illustrations, designs etc. and passing on your business card or contact details.

If/when you do go to a networking event be assured it’ll (hopefully) go better than in this comic by xkcd:

Finding Clients

Freelancing Sites:

Using freelance platforms can be good for some but not others, especially when using the ones that make you pay a fee to get clients or take a percentage of your earnings. These can be a race to the bottom as you compete with those who can afford to lower their prices. There have also been cases where those sites will not allow you to sign up citing lack of experience or ban your account for any number of reasons. If you do decide to join a pay-to-use freelance platform read up on how others have successfully navigated them to avoid common mistakes.

Emailing:

Cold emailing is a way to find clients/work, though they can have a low rate of return as a lot of people don’t appreciate or read an email from someone they don’t know. This is one of those ‘throw as many as you can and see what sticks’ approach to finding clients. Try creating different styles of emails to send to see which works best and always personalise them to the company/person you are sending them to.

Web Agencies:

You can also search for and ask web design/development agencies in your area if they have an overflow of work and are willing to work with freelancers. If you would like to move into a permanent position then searching for web design/development agencies vacancy/career pages can be useful to find jobs that aren’t on any recruitment sites. Plus your CV is more likely to be read than discarded by a recruiter or algorithm.