STEFAN MISCHOOK: How to kick off your freelance career

With working knowledge of HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript, you should have enough skills to start working as a web developer/designer. It takes surprisingly little time given the huge demand. But, if you can do a little server-side coding with say PHP, Python or JavaScript, you will find that your prospects


My focus in this article is to help people get their freelancing career up and running. That said, for both freelancing and employment, it is important that you have a strong portfolio site that you can use to demonstrate your web design and development skills.

So, how to get your first clients? Word of mouth is probably the easiest way to get clients. But to get that first one, you will likely have to offer up your skills for free. Ask friends, family or the small business down the street if they need any web development work done. First offer to do it at student prices, or if they don’t accept that, since you are new, do it for free!

The key is to get some real credits to your name. Once you’ve done one or two small free or nearly free jobs, you will have a much easier time securing good paying jobs. Small business owners tend to know other small business owners and that’s where your referrals can come in. Ask your first few clients, if they can refer you to people they know.

How do you manage clients and projects? Success in a web development often comes down to project and client management. Be sure that you have a contract signed (you and your client should have signed copies) that details what you will be building for them, when you will deliver it and how you will be paid. It’s very important that you and your clients understand what to expect in the process. Being transparent and upfront will go a long way to keeping things running smooth between you and your client.

Success in a web development often comes down to project and client management. Be sure that you have a contract signed (you and your client should have signed copies) that details what you will be building for them

The next big question is ‘What to charge and how to bill clients?’. As mentioned above, for your first one-to-two jobs, you should expect to work at cut rates or even for free, so you can develop some contacts and experience.

Once you’re past that initial step, you should be charging on the low end of the scale, since you are just starting out and as a beginner, you will likely not be as productive as someone with a few years experience. In time though, you will be able to gradually raise your rates according to your skills and experience.

I can’t give an exact dollar amount to charge, since this will vary a lot depending on where you live. So I would suggest looking up local web professionals in your area and research what they charge.

When it comes to billing clients, my preference is to use what I call the 33 split payment method. You take 33 per cent of the agreed price up front, 33 per cent when you deliver the first draft and the last payment when you deliver the final.

This is a much better option than the typical 50/50 split, because what you will find is that the period of time between the first draft and the final is huge. With the 33 split method, you will quickly get 66 per cent of the money. Whereas with the 50/50 method, you might find yourself waiting a long time to get a big chunk of the money coming to you.

I’ve been in contracts where I’ve completed 90 per cent of the work, but because of clients delaying things (not providing text, images or even simple feedback), I would be waiting months to finalise the job. In those situations, you are much better off with 66 per cent of the money than only 50 per cent!

What is the difference between per diem vs cost per project? Per diem is being able to charge per hour, and per project is when a client wants a fixed cost for the entire job. Typically that’s what clients want, so they can control cost. So you have to be very careful when pricing out jobs to be sure you don’t end up working for peanuts!

The most important piece of advice I’ve ever been given, is the lesson of FU money. FU money is emergency money that you keep in a separate account that is used for emergency situations only. You should aim to build up enough FU cash to cover one year’s worth of expenses. Once you have that, you will have a lot more flexibility when negotiating with clients, since you will never be desperate for money.

As a side benefit, what you will discover is that your FU stash will give you a sense of confidence and calm that clients will instinctively feel, resulting in more contracts landed and more money in your pocket.
There’s much more to be said about getting your freelancing career going, but you now have the basics to move forward.

CRAFTED BY – Stefan Mischook, CEO at Killersites.com