1. Have you got the design skills? Design is subjective, but you need to have a great eye for detail if you want to become a freelance web designer. You will also need to know how to code html and css. There are few freelance web designers who can’t code html. You can learn code, but you can’t really learn design: my first designs were god-awful and I bet the majority of web designers will agree, getting good at design is something that takes time and experience. Enter design contests, join forums and get your work critiqued. Don’t get upset when you get negative feedback; it’s not personal! The design part is fun so practice practice practice and eventually people will love your work and you’ll find yourself in demand.
2. Have you got the coding skills? As mentioned, not only do you need to offer cracking design skills, you also need to learn how to code well. You can attend classes, or teach yourself, there are some fantastic resources on web design for beginners. I taught myself over a long summer, using free online resources so you can too! I aim to write some tutorials in the hopefully-not-so-far future.
3. What sort of competition is there in your area? Check out the websites of local web design companies to see what you’re up against; of course you can aim your services to anyone around the world, but local businesses area great way to start, get a little cash and add to your portfolio. You can always offer your services to them as well!
4. Extend your portfolio. Your portfolio is one the most important tools in your arsenal, pick out a selection of your best work; QUALITY OVER QUANTITY, that’s right, don’t put everything you’ve ever done in there, it won’t do you any favours. Offering live links to webpages you’ve built are a great way of showing off your work, so try to have a few decent links in there. There are lots of ongoing arguments about paid web design contests and spec work, personally when you’re first starting out I think they can offer a very positive experience for the inexperienced. You get feedback, a portfolio piece and maybe cash if you win. I sometimes enter contests even now to make sure I’m still beating my competition in terms of design skill. It can be fun too! Check out 99designs.com for an idea.
5. Getting work. So you’ve got the skills, and a swanky, shiny portfolio that you’re very proud of, good for you, but work won’t suddenly start falling in your lap, you need to get it all seen. Network, both locally (offer business cards to local companies in need of a web presence) and online, all your twitters, flickr’s and other er’s offer a great way to get links to your portfolio and into the public eye. Hopefully someone will love your work and want you to design them a new website.
6. The pressure to get clients. The pressure to get work can be pretty intense at first when you’re trying to make rent every month, but this is true in all aspects of the freelance lifestyle, you’re selling yourself as much as your work. You will need some business/marketing skills if you want to fully monetize your skillset. This means doing that little bit extra for clients to keep them coming back as well as creating a brand identity; business cards, a decent, recognisable, memorable logo.
7. Don’t expect too much too fast: Money won’t flow in to your bank accounts right away, or for a while, it’s hard work. You probably won’t be able to live off freelancing right away, so moonlight if needs be. It takes a bit of courage going from salary to no guaranteed freelance work, but it’s so rewarding when you’re up and running and well worth all the hard work!