Being a web developer doesn’t require much in the way of equipment. You need a computer – usually a laptop these days although some favour a permanent setup with multiple screens (it’s more a matter of personal preference really). And it doesn’t require much in the way of office architecture either. Especially if you code on a laptop as then you really are free to work wherever – even the beach if you can keep the sand out of the fans.
Which makes freelancing as a web developer a highly attractive proposition. But is it the dream career that you’re looking for?
Have you got experience?
If you haven’t got a portfolio of projects to show potential clients you might find it hard to win those all important early contracts. Much of your time will be taken up with self-promotion – marketing your skills to an audience that, hopefully, contains a lead you can turn into a sale.
Signing up to freelancer finding sites can help you widen your net, but you may find many will either expect experience you can’t demonstrate or expect you to work for far below your rate. If you can seek out a graphic designer you may be able to find a ready-made customer base of their clients and create a mutually beneficial “partnership”, but again you need to take time to find someone willing to send work your way!
Coffee room chat
Having the flexibility to work anywhere can mean you miss out on the social aspect of working in a team in an office environment. Whether you prefer to be able to bounce ideas off real people (there’s only so much help a rubber duck can offer after all) or simply just enjoy being able to talk about the latest series on Netflix over coffee some people just find working freelance a bit lonely.
Having the flexibility to work when you want and where you want can be a curse as much as a blessing. Freelance work tends to come in blobs – so sometimes you’ll have to burn the midnight oil to get a two or three projects done, whilst other times you’ll be twiddling your thumbs with nothing to do. Some people can find it hard to switch off from work mode if their commute is just from one end of the house to the other.
Is agency work any better?
The main attraction of working for an agency is that you’ll actually get to work. You’ll be able to focus on doing what you enjoy and are good at – creating websites. Your work is also likely to be far more varied than working freelance as agencies usually take on clients from all areas of industry, as well as schools, charities and not-for-profits so you can avoid getting stuck in a rut.
Once you’ve had a few satisfied clients as a freelancer you should start to get work through word-of-mouth. This is good because it means your work was valued and you have to spend less time on self-promotion. The flip-side is that recommendations tend to keep you working in the same industry, and while that means you can become very experienced at what companies in that industry want it can also become very boring and repetitive.
Agencies tend to want their staff to keep their skills up-to-date. Of course there’s nothing to stop you learning new technologies as a freelancer – it can just be difficult to keep a balance between working on jobs that actually give you income and on the other tasks you need to do to keep your freelancing business afloat.
If you’re a social animal then working in an agency team will be more rewarding than working alone – even if you collaborate through forums. A team will consist of different specialists, all bringing their own point of view to bear on the direction the project takes. You will also have instant access to their experience and it will allow you to gain a much broader as well as deeper understanding of web development. And by working alongside more experienced developers you’ll be able to expand your skill set outside of web development technologies – client liason or UX design.
So which is best?
That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? Both working for yourself as a freelancer and working for an agency have their pros and cons. Not everyone is cut out for life as a freelancer, and although it seems attractive to have the flexibility of working for yourself, you do need to be organised and self-disciplined enough to make it work.
Working for an agency is a great way to focus on your core skills of web development and to be able to hone them. You’ll be able to devote almost all your working hours to the job and, working within a team can help some people stick on target in a way they would struggle to do on their own. Daily, weekly or monthly team meetings can be a good place to discuss issues you need to focus on, and a good team leader or manager can help you do so.
A new freelance developer may find it hard to land contracts on their own as most clients are looking for experience, but once you’ve built up a few successful jobs it should become easier to get more work. While your skills are still relatively untested you may find working in an agency is far more beneficial as it allows you to learn from more experienced developers, as well as get a better insight into how related disciplines such as photographers, videographers, UX and graphic designers, or project managers work.
Which suits you best really comes down to the stage in your career that you’ve reached and your own personality. And to some extent it may come down to income security – if you need to know when you’re getting paid then freelancing isn’t the way to go.