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tips on becoming a freelance web designer?

I want to start a freelance gig on the side, more for experience and not the cash. Still active duty for now. Any tips where to start? What I should focus on, what to learn, any good reads or tools that I can use to help with my venture?

12 Answers

James Barnett
James Barnett
39,199 Points

The thing about being a freelancer designer is that clients ask for various things which can require a large range of skills. So you need to be ready for (most) anything.

Here's my suggested curriculum for a new freelancer web designer, should take about 6 months to get through all of it.

  • Start out with some Treehouse courses
    • Build a Responsive site
    • Intro to Programming
    • Javascript Foundation
    • UX & SEO basics

Intro to JQuery (at Codecadmey)

  • Even more Treehouse courses
    • CSS3
    • Build an Interactive Website
    • Build a Blog

Read a good book about the business of design

Joe Hirst
Joe Hirst
Courses Plus Student 6,489 Points

Hi William,

This kind of question isn't easily answered, well... It can be, but i'd wish to give you as much information as possible, its not a short answer. After all, knowledge is power.

Firstly, asses your own skill-set on an honest level. Ask yourself what you can do, and to what extent will something be rather demanding or impractical? Once you tackle that, you can begin to learn new skills to help improve your overall abilities.

Secondly, I would say that practice is never a bad thing. I've never heard of too much practice, only mastery.

Get serious about business. How will you operate? Are you going to operate under your own name, as an LLC? Have a general idea or business plan to help outline the path you intend to take.

To go ahead and start freelancing in any field requires a certain mindset in my opinion. There are both benefits and down sides to working freelance, especially as a designer in graphics or for the web.

There are a ton of resources online to help inspire you and answer the many questions you may have about becoming a freelance designer. I'd love to be able to answer all of them for you but frankly i'd never stop answering questions. Haha!

Here are some great resources that I have used in the past and still use today:

http://www.graphicdesignblender.com/ (I recommend getting the "10 common mistakes" ebook here too)

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/07/09/the-roadmap-to-becoming-a-professional-freelance-web-designer/ (The website itself is a great resource, this article in particular has a large amount of weight behind it)


Also be prepared for "those clients". I use the term "those clients" as its the politest way to sum them up. Here is a link to clarify: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell

If you have other questions about going freelance i'd be happy to help as much as possible. For now, I just wanted to touch of a few areas that I think are important. Each of the links (and the 10 mistakes ebook from GDB) should help.


Excellent reply Joe.

When a person asks me what skills they need for web design, I'll tell them that the minimum the need to start with is:

Concepts: graphic design (colour theory, composition, typography, etc.)

Software: Adobe Photoshop

Development: HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Treehouse can teach you all of this.

These key areas form the base of your knowledge set as a web designer, and from there, you can go on to learn things like Wordpress development with PHP, jQuery, LESS, SASS, UIX theory, etc.

Once you are ready to build up a body of work to showcase in your portfolio, and excellent way to do so is to approach your local charities, clubs or organizations and offer to do their website for them. Usually, they are more than happy to allow you to do so. Once you have a few sites under your belt, you can start approaching larger clients, and charge accordingly.

This community is very supportive, and we're help to help you along the way. Good luck!

Brad Wrage
Brad Wrage
1,365 Points

Great outline James. Love the list. Actually a web app idea I've head that allows you to pull together a learning curriculum based on your skills and focus. I added your list as an evernote clip to my collection.

James Barnett
James Barnett
39,199 Points

@Brad - The web app you are describing sounds very similar to @Kevin Elliot's (another Treehouse member's) Learntribe.

You can check out a Typograhy list over at Learntribe.

This list will probably migrate over to Learntribe in the next day or so.

Awesome. Looks like I have much to learn which is what I love.

Nir Benita
Nir Benita
Courses Plus Student 3,905 Points

I would like to point you to Freelance Switch which is a great resource.

Also, I might suggest, as I too had only recently started my journey to become a freelance, a habit that I am trying to adapt to myself:

If the article\guide isn't worth summarizing in your notebook or in a Google doc (using your own words), then it isn't really worth reading, and if it is worth it, then do it! As otherwise you would find yourself reading SOOOO much content, and not remembering any of it.

At least that is the case for me, but it all depends on your learning behaviors.

I would just like to add that I find James's replies super useful! So thanks James!

Dan Gorgone
Dan Gorgone
Treehouse Guest Teacher

Joseph, Rhys, and James provided some really excellent tips and links at the top of this thread.

I wanted to add one thing that might seem obvious, but you'll see it in action time and time again on this board: continue to reach out to others with your questions, and those with experience will lend their support. It's great to see you guys helping each other out.

Actually, this very topic is something I hope we can develop some video content for in 2013. Learning web design, development, and app coding is something you can already do here, but we also hope to offer advice and tips to those looking to turn this expertise into jobs or freelance work. Figuring out your path is an important challenge, and one we hope to help all of you with as you and Treehouse grow together.

James Barnett
James Barnett
39,199 Points

@Nir - That's brilliantly stated

If it's not worth taking notes on, then it's not worth the time reading it

... because you retain the information

Thanks for all the feedback. treehouse is truly a fantastic environment to come learn and they're just starting out. Can't wait to see where they take it.

I am very passionate about web design/ development. I look forward to this exciting journey and see what I favor the most.

James Barnett
James Barnett
39,199 Points

@William - I've converted this list into Learntribe called Intro to Web Design

Check it out and let me know what you think.