The struggles of a freelance web developer

While the perks of freelancing can be extremely rewarding for a web developer, it can be challenging at the best of times.

Most of us are accustomed to working as an employee for somebody else. In many ways, freelancing is still seen by most people as a luxury. But that’s for good reason.

Freelancing in any industry carries its own risks, not least the difficulty of actually finding work and maintaining a stable income from it. Working as a freelance web developer is no exception. While the perks of freelancing can be extremely rewarding, it can be a challenge to find freelance work.

And though the volume of jobs and opportunities for freelancers aren’t necessarily in short supply, developers who work for themselves are definitely swimming in saturated waters. The industry is bursting with young, capable individuals, so setting yourself apart can certainly be a taxing ordeal.

But if you have a skill for marketing yourself, it may well be worth your efforts.

Establishing Your Brand

One of the first challenges that freelancers will experience is selling themselves prior to establishing their personal brand and allowing inquiries to flow in.

Freelancing, for any beginner, will demand you to go out and scour the world for your first clients. And even for those who aren’t beginners, this trend could very much continue if you aren’t successful at establishing a solid name for yourself. It takes work, but it’s definitely worth it if your effort pays off.

There is an inherent lack of certainty regarding income whenever you work as a freelancer.

With web development, though, the stakes are particularly high. In such a saturated environment, where everybody is competing for their stake, you’re going to need to offer something differentiating and game-changing for your clients.

Because of the reduced income certainty, you’ll have to plan ahead financially. That’s a must-know for all freelance web developers.

Running Costs

The costs involved with becoming a freelancer working in web development should be noted, as things can get pretty costly fast.

If you think that all you’ll need is a working laptop and internet connection, you may find yourself very much mistaken.

Once your clientele starts to grow, and your work becomes more demanding, you’ll quickly realize that it takes more than a couple hundred dollars to get things off the ground.

Hosting and development costs are a much-overlooked source of expenditure, and if you’re attempting to build yourself a little empire, might take you by surprise. Once you get working on a couple of projects, you may also find that your current computing equipment also requires an upgrade. You’re likely looking at a machine that can pack in at least a few solid gigabytes of RAM, and add plenty of storage on top of that too.

Even with cloud services like DropBox and iCloud, things can become quite expensive quite quickly. Over time, the costs are likely to rise as your clientele grows. Normally, these kinds of expenses would be footed by an employer, but as a self-employed professional, you’ll be the one footing the bill from now on.

While having to use your own equipment at first might not seem like such a burden, eventually, you might feel the strain as you try to separate your personal life from your work endeavors. As you begin to associate your desktop or mobile work station with work (and its accompanying stress), you may find it increasingly harder to switch off, in the form of quitting your mail application, or closing down work tabs in your browser.

It’s something you’ll have to manage, though it can be done successfully with good management and time allocation.

Time Management

The lack of structure and time management enforced on you by a manager or supervisor can be great for some people — it allows those creative juices to flow uninhibited.

On the flip side, though, it can also prove a challenge to those who aren’t so great at managing time on their lonesome. You’ll have to work hard to maintain a schedule that works for you, even if it’s somewhat loose.

As a freelance web developer, there is a very real possibility of finding it challenging to switch off after a hard workday. Separating work and leisure time can be especially difficult when schedules are hectic and deadlines are tight, and this is a skill that you will soon find becomes mandatory to maintaining your sanity.

It’s certainly possible, but it will take some work, and it may be a while before you manage to get this down.

Client Communication

Clients. They’re great. They offer exciting projects while simultaneously paying the bills. But for a new freelancer, communicating with clients can be challenging at the best of times.

Having to juggle payment plans, revisions to your work and ongoing meetings (whether digitally or in-person) can be taxing for those unaccustomed to being self-employed. As with everything else, it will take work, but it’s possible for even the shyest of developers to navigate through this after some practice.

Other potential road bumps with clients could include disagreements, payment challenges and a lack of general understanding of how the web development process works.

As a freelancer, you’ll have to be prepared to deal with some disgruntled clients, as each project is a learning process for both the developer and the client, no matter how experienced either party is.

Learning to work your way through issues that can arise in communication between yourself and your client is key to maintaining harmony as a freelancer.

You should remember also, that miscommunication with your clients can lead to late (or lack of) payments, or even just a feeling of dissatisfaction if issues aren’t worked through appropriately.

As a web developer working freelance, you will need to take care to involve your clients through each step of the development process, in order to avoid (and rectify) any potential communication-related issues that may arise.

This will likely only be a potential problem in the early stages of your freelance career, but it’s important to be attentive nonetheless. Your first clients are what will make you, in the end. You will remember them for the trust and opportunity they gave you, most likely for the rest of your working life.

As a freelance web developer, you won’t have quite the same access to colleagues as you may have done in your previous place of work. The downside of this is that you won’t have anybody else to lean on when things get tough, and you’ll be left to resolve creative blocks, development bugs, or other work-related issues on your own.

One of the key downsides to working truly independently is that you will no longer have people to share the growing workload or troubleshoot problems with.

Certain people are definitely more suited to freelancing than others. If you feel like it's something that takes your fancy, be sure to check out our guide to starting a freelance web development business.

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