All About Freelance Web Development

Want to get started on a home-based web design career? Read on.

You've come a long way since your first "Hello world" web page at Geocities. Now you're wondering whether you can turn your skills into a profitable home-based career. Businesses are increasingly expected to have an online presence, but not all of them can afford an in-house solution. This is where you, the freelance web designer, come in.

But first you'll need to spend some time with the basic home business checklist. Briefly, here are some points you'll have to consider: Have you registered a trade name with your state's Department of Revenue? Is your business licensed with your city's government? Are you prepared to keep track of all income and expenses for tax purposes? Most solo freelance web designers classify as sole proprietors, and their work is not susceptible to sales and use tax. This means their home business income gets taxed as personal income only. But check with a tax accountant in your area to be sure.

Next, look at your own web site. It will help potential customers decide whether your skills suit their needs. Your web pages need to demonstrate both a broad range of technical skills--and good taste in how to apply them. For instance, you might be able to trail comets behind a mouse cursor or make text cycle from neon pink to orange and back again, but very few of your customers will appreciate these effects. Your own web presence demonstrates your style as well as your abilities, so keep it professional.

Your home business web site shouldn't be your only site, though. Every hobby has online potential for you to take advantage of. Consider your favorite TV show. You might keep a web log about it, showing off your ability to design a fun, casual site. Then you could invite fellow fans to contribute to ongoing stories at your PHP/MySQL interactive fan fiction site. You should be confident that each web page you design presents you as a skilled and versatile designer.

Now that you've primed your online portfolio, you're ready to look for customers. Grab your town's phone directory and get started.

Who should you introduce yourself to first? Chains and franchises are more likely to already have company-wide web sites and existing relationships with designers, so start with local independent businesses. Check what kind of online presence each already has. Do they have a web site already? If not, you'll explain to them why they need one. If they do have a web site, how recently was it updated? How professional does it look? You'll demonstrate to them that having it spruced up and kept current will increase customers' confidence. Stress also your familiarity as a neighbor with their product, services, and needs.

After you've acquired a stable customer base in your locale, you can rely on word of mouth to keep bringing you neighborhood business. In the meantime, you and your increasingly impressive portfolio will begin targeting larger businesses.

But don't ever rest on your laurels--a good web designer is always learning. Quick: what CSS2 effects are supported by the Firefox browser but not by Internet Explorer, and what can you do about it? Do you test your work in Safari and Opera too? Can you program in both PHP and ASP? Broaden your skill set as much as you can--and broaden your knowledge even further. For instance, even if you can't create Flash animations yourself, knowing what Flash can do will enable you to suggest Flash solutions to your customer. You can then subcontract a fellow programmer to deliver the goods.

Which leads to one last point: Don't just cultivate relationships with customers. Try also to forge business-to-business connections, too. You can exchange referrals with other web designers, subcontract graphic designers and programmers savvy in skills you lack, and establish relationships both with web hosting providers and friends who just happen to hoard web servers in their basements. You alone can't be all things to everyone, but the less you isolate yourself from your peers, the more valuable your services will be.

© High Speed Ventures 2011