Becoming a Freelance Web Designer: Beginner’s Advice
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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work for yourself rather than going into an office every day?
As much as you love working as a web designer, helping someone else achieve their dream might not be what you want to do for the rest of your life.
It turns out that the dream of working for yourself might be more possible than you think.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about venturing out on your own to become a freelance web designer.
We’ll cover the benefits of becoming a freelance web designer, how much freelance web designers make, and what steps you need to take to make the leap.
What are the benefits of being a freelance web designer?
Working as a website designer can be an incredibly rewarding job. Working as an in-house designer with a salary and benefits seems like a great gig, but there is another option. Plenty of designers choose to work for themselves as freelance web designers (either instead of salaried employment or on-the-side of it).
And it’s not just web designers. The number of self-employed workers in the United States has grown significantly over the past decade, and around 1 in 10 are now working for themselves:
Every industry has inherent perks when it comes to choosing freelance work over full-time employment. One of the more significant benefits for web designers is the ability to choose your own clients and projects.
Sure, to some extent, it comes down to what jobs you can land. But your job is no longer about taking on whatever project lands on your desk from your boss.
Benefits of being a freelance web designer
There’s also a lot of freedom and independence in having a career that allows you to choose where and when you work. The traditional office environment might be stifling for many — Those people can find a work environment that better suits them as freelancers.
If working alone is a priority for you, you have the freedom to work from the privacy of your own home. On the other hand, plenty of coworking spaces exist to allow you to connect with other creative workers while also having a place to get your work done.
Freelance web designers are also free of the traditional 9-5 workday. While you might have to keep some regular hours in cases of client calls or interviews, you can usually choose your hours.
So if you’re a night owl and work best after the sun has gone down, there’s no boss around to prevent you from doing so.
The freedom of working as a freelancer expands far beyond just being able to work from your couch or a local coffee shop. Millions of people today are living as digital nomads, meaning they work in online fields while traveling the world. This lifestyle is one that is available to freelance web designers too.
Just look at the growth in popularity for the term “digital nomad” in the past few years:
Downsides to being a freelance web designer
First, there’s a sharp contrast between being a freelance web designer and a salaried one: When freelancers aren’t working, they aren’t making money. The paid vacation you might have in your in-house design gig doesn’t exist for those in the freelance world.
Other employee perks are also non-existent for freelancers. About half of employees receive health insurance through their employers. That number jumps up to more than 80% when you’re talking about people working in mid-size and large companies (meaning companies with more than 100 employees).
When you are your own boss, health insurance is on your dime. Finding affordable health insurance on your own can be a struggle, especially if you don’t qualify for any subsidies within the government healthcare marketplace.
These are a few examples of potential pitfalls of freelance life. Depending on your life situation, you may or may not allow these to second-guess this type of lifestyle.
How much do freelance web designers make?
Now that you know the perks of being a freelance web designer rather than an in-house designer, you’re probably asking yourself one crucial question — How much does it pay?
There’s no cut and dry answer as to how much designers make.
A business can hire a web designer for $5/landing page:
Or a business can hire another web designer for $125/hour:
What goes into web design salaries?
First, new freelance web designers will earn less than their more experienced counterparts. It also depends significantly on the project. How big of a project is it? How many pages are they designing? Is it a new client or an existing one?
It’s also important to note the different ways that freelance web designers charge for their services. Some charge an hourly rate, while others opt for a flat-rate amount per project.
There are certainly pros and cons to both options. In the case of an hourly rate, designers can ensure that they’ll be paid for every hour they work.
In the case of a flat rate, you run the risk of a project taking longer than anticipated. This miscalculation results in not getting paid for every hour you work.
But it could work the other way, too. You could charge a flat rate under the impression that a project will take you a particular number of hours, and then it takes a lot less. You still make the same amount of money.
So let’s talk numbers — How much do freelance web designers make?
In the case of flat-rate projects, designers bring in an average of $6,760 per project. For hourly projects, the average is $75 per hour.
Let’s say they’re billing 30 hours of work, which brings the total to $2,250 per week (or $117,000 per year).
But how does this compare to the salary of a full-time web designer? The average annual salary of a web designer in 2020 is right around $50,000. When you compare that to the average earnings of a freelance web designer, it’s clear that the freelance web designer makes more.
But that’s not the whole story.
First of all, remember that you have to set aside money for taxes. Not only do you have to pay income taxes on your earnings, but you’ll also have to pay self-employment taxes (this is the portion of your payroll taxes that a traditional employer would pay on your behalf).
Self-employment taxes aren’t the only benefit an employer would typically help pay for that freelance web designers have to pay out-of-pocket. These also include health insurance, business insurance, and contributions to your retirement account.
Finally, remember that you’ll have other expenses in your business, such as software and computer equipment.
Don’t be scared away by these expenses — Being a freelance web designer can still be quite a lucrative career choice.
When you first get started, it can be a delicate balancing act to figure out how much to charge. You want to make sure you’re charging enough to pay the bills, but not so much that you’ll send potential clients to a different designer.
How do you become a freelance web designer?
So you’ve heard the benefits, and you’re ready to jump in with both feet. Now what?
The first thing you have to remember is that running a freelancing business is just that — A business.
To run a successful business, you have to treat it as such. There are a handful of financial tasks to straighten out when you get started.
- Filing any necessary paperwork to start a business in your state
- Setting up a business bank account
- Figuring out a way to track your business finances and estimated taxes
- Preparing your bank account to start freelancing full-time.
- You’re likely to have some months where you make a lot of money and others that are particularly lean. You can prepare for the lean months by setting money aside in an emergency fund.
In addition to ensuring you’ll be able to pay your bills, there are other things to budget for as well. For instance, as an in-house designer, your employer probably paid for any design software you needed to get the job done. As a freelancer, those costs are coming out of your pocket.
Building an online portfolio
Once you’ve got the financial steps out of the way, be sure to set up a WordPress website and social media pages for yourself, along with a personal brand. Remember, this will be the first impression people have of your business, and you want it to be professional.
Your freelance website is a great place to list any relevant skills you might have, such as front-end development, graphic design, UX design, UI design, or WordPress experience.
Here’s a snapshot of a great freelance web designer’s website:
On your website, you should include a portfolio of your work. If you’ve done website design work in the past, you likely have work you can include. If not, consider offering your services for free or at a discount to friends and acquaintances to get some work to showcase. You can also design pages for your own website to add to your portfolio.
Even once you have all of the necessary pieces in place to run a business, you need clients. And if you’ve never worked as a freelancer before, you might not have experience landing them.
A great place to start is any previous employers or partners you’ve worked with. If they know and trust your work, they might consider hiring you on a freelance basis rather than hiring someone in-house to do the job.
There are also job boards that cater specifically to freelance workers. Sites like Freelancer and Upwork are great resources for beginners to find freelance web design jobs.
Helpful resources for freelance web designers
One of the most challenging things about being a freelance web designer is that you no longer have the tools at your disposal that you did as an in-house designer.
When you venture out on your own, it’s essential that you find the tools that can best help you to create structure in your business and make your life easier. Here are a few tools you might want to consider:
Accounting and invoicing software
As a freelance web designer, you’ll need a way to keep track of your business income and expenses.
Not only that, but you’ll need a tool that allows you to send invoices to your clients. Two of the most popular accounting and invoicing tools for freelancers are QuickBooks and FreshBooks.
Project management software
Next up, you’ll probably want a tool to help you manage the multiple projects and clients you’ll have. A few popular tools to help you with this are Asana and Trello.
One of the most significant changes associated with working as a freelancer is that you’re no longer bringing in the corporate salary. You’re usually only making money the hours that you’re working.
So you’ll definitely want to become more aware of how you’re spending your time. Additionally, taking on hourly jobs will mean you’ll want to track your time so you can adequately invoice clients. A few popular time-tracking apps on the market are Toggl and RescueTime.
If you’ve considered moving from an in-house web designer to a full-time freelancer, there’s never been a better time to make the leap.
Being a freelance web designer has plenty of benefits — The greater freedom and earning potential are just a couple of them.
In this article, we’ve broken down why being a freelance web designer might be for you. And better yet, we’ve broken down exactly how you can get there.
It’s not an easy career, but it can certainly be a rewarding one. And by following the steps laid out in this article, you’re well on your way to becoming a full-time freelance designer.