Become a Web Developer Overnight – Well, Not Really

Since working in the technology industry, I’ve had many people tell me that they would like to get paid to develop websites. They’ve asked me numerous questions like: How do I start? Where do you find work? How much should I charge? and so on.

The truth is, there is work out there and ALOT of it. But the work that is readily available really depends on your experience.

When I first started, I was just out of college, with a handful of personal websites I had developed through a Multimedia Journalism class taught by Cindy Royal. And honestly, I wasn’t the best student or the most talented. I was married with a new baby, who breastfed while I worked on my homework. Who has the time or energy to develop award-winning websites with a baby attached to them? And since I didn’t have any real-life experience working with clients, I scrounged up some mom-and-pop type websites for really cheap. And I mean REALLY cheap. I got these jobs from my friends and relatives.

It was when I got a full-time job in the non-profit sector of the technology industry with salary and benefits I honed my skills and learned how the industry operates. When I had down time, I would train on Lynda.com. Which I highly suggest for less than $400/year you get training that would otherwise cost thousands. And lucky for me, my boss loved to send me to training seminars, and said “yes” when I suggested that I go to Photoshop World in Boston and “yes” again when I went to it in Las Vegas, sent me to SXSW every year, Knowbility’s AccessU and a plethora of others. I didn’t make much money at that first job, but the “perks” made it well worth it.

After that job (and my second child), I freelanced for a little bit, but I was antsy to get back into the workforce and see what the for-profit sector held for me. So when I got a job at an advertising and interactive agency with competitive pay, I was psyched.

Compared to my first job where my skill set grew by leaps and bounds and I exercised it at my leisure, this second job was where I put it all into practice. I was constantly under deadline for big name, big money clients. I learned fast that it is all about the client, the money and “getting it right the first time.” A huge adjustment after my “for the good of the people” job.

In fact, the first day my supervisor asked me how it was going, I said, “I didn’t realized I would be already working on a project,” considering I was still setting up my computer and getting passwords for my system. He told me, “Sink or swim!” If I had jumped into the waters of this second job before experiencing the first one, I definitely would have sunk.

That job catapulted me into becoming a true professional. I worked long hard hours. “This is not an 8-hour-a-day job,” I was told regularly. Eventually, the late nights and constant stress got to this mother-of-two (not to mention wife, cleaning crew, and all-around super-woman-extraordinaire). More tired then fearful of whether I would have enough work or not, I went back to full-time freelancing and I haven’t looked back yet.

Knowing people in the industry, has been a key factor in getting jobs. But there are a couple other tips that I can offer those first starting out.

1. Offer referral incentives to your clients, if they send you someone who signs a contract, they get 1-year of free hosting or something like that.

2. Start with the people you know, have business cards ready to hand out.

3. Go to seminars in the industry (Photoshop World, Flash Forward, SXSW, etc) – get to know people via networking to find out how they get clients.

4. Find a niche market and get to know the people in that market. (Ideas for markets listed below)

5. Avoid people who want something for nothing like the plague, try to work with people who know that starting a website will actually cost money.

6. Apply SEO to your own website. Advertise for yourself. Write articles for the industry, you never know when they will be picked up and linked to, which will increase your web ranking.

7. Subcontract with former employers.

8. Subcontract with agencies.

9. Always keep learning. The more you know…the more you know…and the more you are worth to a client.

10. Get to know other web developers and try to get a semiotic relationship going where you can hand clients off to each other.

Niche Market Suggestions

1. Wedding Industry
2. Restaurants and Nightclubs
3. Maintenance (Lawn Care/Plumbers/Auto Care)
4. Government/Non-Profit
5. Music (accomplished musicians, not just rock bands looking to make it big because they usually don’t have money anyway)
6. Children (Boutiques/Daycares)
7. Medical (Hipaa Rules Apply)
8. Home Builders/Construction
9. Lawyers
10. Death – a little morbid but as my favorite personal business finding motto goes “Birth and Death – neither are avoidable nor stopped by recession” (Funeral Parlors, Casket Makers, etc)