How I Got Started Freelancing As A Web Designer [True Story]

I started freelancing as a web designer in my late teens and now I’ve been freelancing for over 2 years. If you’re considering starting a career as a freelance web designer, this article is going to show you the exact steps I took to get my first client and keep clients coming in as I did it. One day I woke up and decided I wanted to start freelancing and since then, I haven’t stopped!

You might be wondering how I got started as a freelance web designer

You might be wondering how I got started as a freelance web designer. The answer is simple: I decided to. That’s right, you don’t need a degree or years of experience to start your own freelance business. There are plenty of people just like me who have taught themselves everything they know about web design and are now making a living doing what they love.

The truth is that you don’t need to be a coder in order to become a web designer. You can learn layout and design on your own, even if it takes some time. With the right tools and a desire to learn, anyone can be their own boss and succeed as a freelancer!

Life After Graduation 

After I graduated and was struggling to find a job in my field, my wife and I went to visit her parents. While I was there using their Wi-Fi to apply for jobs, she asked me to set up the wireless connection on their new computer. 

Being a broke college grad, I happily took the $25 they offered me for the task. The next day, my father-in-law wondered aloud if there were other people who might need help with computer problems. He suggested that he be my first client and would give me more projects if I did good work.

So began a period of freelancing in earnest, as well as a time of learning all sorts of lessons: how to bid competitively against larger firms; why you should never quote an exact price for completing a project; how to scope out projects ahead of time so you don’t end up working 30 hours on something that you quoted at 10 hours.

That it’s always easier—and more pleasant—to have your clients come to your studio than vice versa (unless you live in New Mexico); what contracts are for and why everyone should have one; that it’s OK to say no when someone asks for work outside your area of expertise or experience level​; and perhaps most importantly, that “free” is not synonymous with worthless!

They have an established business, so we were able to stay with them while I continued my job search.

As a friend put it, I was “super-stressed out” at the end of last year. My wife and I had decided to leave San Francisco in November and move back to our hometown in California. I had two job offers on the table, but they were both seasonal jobs working at an ice skating rink. 

One of them was my old position as a “skate guard,” and I’d be working five or six shifts per week on weekends and holidays, while also taking classes online during the week. It wasn’t exactly a long-term solution for us—or something that would help me build my freelance web design business—but it was the best way to transition from San Francisco back to our hometown until we could find something better.

We didn’t want to leave San Francisco without having some type of employment waiting for us in our hometown. In order to help cover expenses while we looked for more permanent work, we stayed with family friends who run a hair salon that has been established since 1980. 

They have a house with an extra bedroom behind their shop. They have always treated us like family when we visited, so we asked if we could rent out the room for three months until we got situated (we paid less than $500).

Her dad had been looking for someone to help him design their website and social media, so one day he asked me if I could do the work for him pro bono. My first clients were two small businesses that wanted websites and a non-profit organization that needed a website. I also worked on some freelance projects that I found through Craigslist. While they weren’t glamorous jobs, they paid my bills and gave me the experience of working with clients (and getting paid).

When you start freelancing, it’s important to have a great portfolio site that showcases your work and shows people exactly what you can do. But you also need to build your network in order to find new clients. Networking is an important part of being successful at freelancing because it helps you find new clients who may not have heard of your business before.

At First, I Was Hesitant About Starting A Freelance Career Without Much Experience

I was hesitant about starting a freelance career without much experience. But I also knew that if I could get some clients and build a portfolio, then I would have the experience—I just needed to jump and figure it out as I went along.

The other big factor in my hesitation was that freelancing often means asking people for money. It’s no fun to ask someone for money, but you have to do it. If a client isn’t willing to pay what you’re worth, you might need to find a different client or re-think your pricing structure. Either way, you can’t be afraid of having uncomfortable conversations about money (especially when you’re trying to make more of it), so just bite the bullet early on!

But What Better Opportunity Is There Than To Start Your Career By Working For Your In-Laws?

Learning a new skill is already difficult. Learning to do it in front of your family, and while also trying to get along with them, can be even more daunting. You might want to spend every free minute practicing or doing some research, but you’re afraid that they see it as an excuse not to spend time together or help out with chores around the house.

For me, the best solution was to find a way to use those skills for good. While I was worried about not being able to keep up with my online course, I offered to redesign my mother-in-law’s website for her. 

Of course, working for someone you love can be even more stressful than having them like a boss at work—you don’t want anything you make for them looking bad if they show it off at their office—but it can give you invaluable experience in learning how someone else works and what kind of approach they need from you.

So, we set up a monthly retainer and agreed on what his business needed from me as a designer.

A retainer is when a client pays you to have you on call, or on retainer. You might need to dedicate a certain amount of hours each month to this project or project.

For example, if your agency offers copywriting services and you set up a monthly retainer with a client, they’re paying you in advance for some number of hours that they can use however they want—whether it’s for blog posts, email newsletters, press releases, social media copywriting, etc.

You can charge by the month or by the hour for retainers (just make sure to bill them how much time was spent). I usually do mine based on an hourly rate with the expectation that I will only be required to work about half of the hours in a given month (because some months are just busier than others). 

It makes my life easier because I don’t have to worry about running out of hours if there is a particularly busy week. Also, if there are months where we don’t need as much content written and I end up having extra hours at the end of the month…Well, then those are just bonuses!

The website has since been completely redesigned using new software tools, but my first version remains life as well since it’s turned into a speaking point with clients.

It’s worth noting that since then, the website has since been completely redesigned using new software tools. That old version remains life as well, though—and it has turned into a speaking point with clients. When I tell them I designed my own website and that it was my first web design project ever, their jaws drop. 

They’re often surprised when I show them the previous iteration of my site and explain how it was built using only basic HTML coding and no WYSIWYG editor (a software tool used to create websites without needing to learn code). For many of these clients, this was one reason why they came to me in the first place: 

Because they’d seen what I could do even with such simple materials. So yes, you can definitely teach yourself enough HTML to build a personal website, even if you’ve never done anything like this before!

Clients have been surprised that I designed it that way because they haven’t seen sites designed like that before–which is why they came to me, of course!

I’ve had a handful of clients tell me they love the design I’ve created for them, but are shocked that it’s been designed in a certain way because they haven’t seen sites designed like that before. This, to me, is the whole point of hiring a freelancer: to have something unique and not cookie-cutter-ish.

Why You Should  Build Up Your Portfolio

Another reason I recommend getting started as soon as possible is to just build up your portfolio and get your name out there. Once you actually start doing client work, you’ll be able to showcase that on your site and will be more attractive to potential clients.

And lastly, if you want to join the growing community of freelancers, get started on this journey as soon as possible! You can’t really lose by starting early; the worst-case scenario is you learn a lot about web design or another skill with minimal effort and cost.

Don’t ignore the mentor

Putting my skills to use right away taught me the value of having a mentor and an example of how not to make the same mistakes twice.

Once I had my website up and running, I was able to put my skills to use right away. This taught me the value of having a mentor and an example of how not to make the same mistakes twice. I worked with a friend who was also experimenting with web design and we would share feedback on each other’s designs and code. We worked from free templates and software until we got comfortable creating websites from scratch. 

We watched tutorials together, read books together, and worked on projects side by side. This allowed us to learn about our strengths as well as our weaknesses in more detail than we ever could have done alone.

Final Thought

Freelancing as a web designer is fun, but it’s also hard work—and it takes time to figure out the ins and outs. But you like a challenge, right? If you’re interested in freelancing on your own terms, working for yourself, then you should consider giving it a try. There’s no better way to grow as a designer than building up client work. And I promise that it’ll be faster than you think when you’ve completed your first project!

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Become A Designer?

Aspiring web designers, take heart! There are a lot of ways to get started, so read on to learn how you can quickly make your mark on the industry.

First off, if you’re looking for an internship in order to gain experience and build up your portfolio, there are plenty of opportunities out there. Start by searching for local internships in your area. You’ll also be able to find listings for full-time positions as well as short-term projects that are often called “hackathons.”

If you’re looking for some design work in the meantime, check out sites like Fiverr or Elance. You might also find yourself posted on sites like Upwork or Freelancer (both have millions of clients). If you want to go with the more traditional route, start by applying to design jobs locally.

What Is Web Design?

Web design is a broad term used to describe the process of designing websites. The core components of web design are HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Why Did You Choose Web Design?

I’ve always really liked computers, coding, and creating things that people could interact with online. Web design seemed like the perfect mix of all those things so that’s why I chose it!

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