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Freelancing as a self-taught developer with no experience

Web development is a lucrative business. In fact, any job related to design, development or programming can be incredibly lucrative. Especially today.

And freelancing, in particular, does come with its fair share of benefits.

This modern work style allows you complete reign and creative freedom over your work, allowing you to engage only in projects that you are truly passionate about.

But at the same time, establishing your mark in the industry can be incredibly hard.

So is it possible, feasible, and sensible for a self-taught developer to embark on a freelance career without having a relevant employment history in the field first?

It’s certainly possible.

And in many ways, it’s also feasible.

But realistically, it’s probably not advisable.

As most working professionals appreciate, there are a whole host of differences between working in an employment environment and as a freelancer. That’s a given.

More importantly, though, is the difference between privately practicing your skills as a developer, and actually being paid by clients to complete challenging tasks on your lonesome.

Whenever you are providing professional services to a client or organization, there are numerous formalities involved, some of which can land a naive freelancer in some dangerously hot water.

So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to explain the potential challenges in this blog post, in hopes that it helps you avoid a costly (even if only to your reputation) mistake.

Dealing with clients brings a complex series of processes, shared expectations, and financial dealings. All of which are best placed in the hands of somebody who has at least a little experience behind them.

Before you begin freelancing as a web developer, it might be best to get some experience working for a friend or family member.

Treat them as if they were a real client, and brief them about this too. They also need to treat you as if they had hired you as a freelancer.

You could choose to charge them, even if it’s a relatively low sum, just to practice your transactional skills, which you’ll need when taking on your first clients.

This way, you can get used to the process of working with somebody else in a (semi-) professional capacity, and begin to learn the ins and outs of the two-way relationship you’ll be building with future clients.

It may seem simple, but you’ll probably be surprised by how much you could have otherwise overlooked.

And it’s much better to learn with somebody you know, rather than a paying client.

You may be self-taught with web dev courses, but remember that skill doesn’t correlate with education history in web development (and related professions). Most clients also realize this. In fact, this is something that works out heavily to your advantage.

The fact you haven’t worked in the industry previously (at least, not as an employed professional), isn’t going to bear any impact on your development prowess.

Some of the best web developers have freelanced for the entire length of their career, and have never set foot in a corporate office.

Hold your head high, and remain confident in yourself. As long as you have the necessary skills behind you, you’re golden — previous work experience or not.

But there’s one key fact about freelancing as a web developer.

It’s easy.

Really, dead easy.

There are no barriers to freelancing itself, especially for aspiring web developers.

So long as you can convince your first client to work with you (and one will turn up), and you have a strong webdev game, nothing can stop you.

The first (and biggest) hurdle in freelancing is scoring your first client.

One of the major factors to swaying a prospective client’s decision is your portfolio. Clients love examples of freelancers’ past works. And in many ways, it’s the main ingredient to focus on in order to get hired.

Previous work examples are something you’ll certainly have to prepare.

This is especially true for jobs that involve more front-end development work, which can easily overlap into a design-centric position.

Any kind of freelance design job is going to demand a strong portfolio, and a good one at that.

If you haven’t yet had the chance to work for previous clients as an aspiring freelancer, and have no examples of work you completed for a previous employer, you’ll have to be creative in developing your portfolio.

One great option is to develop mockup or concept work of fictional websites, using these as the foundation of your portfolio. These will function just as well as legitimate portfolio pieces, and in the eyes of clients will impress just as much as works intended for production use.

In fact, it’s highly likely that the client won’t even recognize that these are works of fiction.

So, even without a work history, you’re already winning.

Don’t get us wrong — making it as a freelance creative in the web space requires focus and hard work.

Attentiveness, appropriate scheduling, and good time management are all skills that are going to be put to the test. Especially in the early stages.

Starting out will likely feel tough, but as your experience grows, so will your confidence.

Of course, it’s like this in just about any career. But web development can be challenging at the best of times. And freelancing in any field brings its own potential complications.

You’ll have to take into consideration the additional challenges that freelancing entails, such as good financial management and planning.

If you’re just starting out — and especially if you’re self-taught, with no prior employment experience in web development — it probably isn’t the wisest of ideas to say goodbye to your day job straight away.

Instead, allow some time to develop your ability and work process, as well as a modest client base.

But from a team of fellow web developers — it’s worth it.

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