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Ask HN: Becoming a Freelancer in 6 months?
106 points by olso4052 1428 days ago | hide | past | web | 64 comments | favorite
Hey All,

Bit of an odd, specific question here, but I think it brings up an interesting discussion, so here goes -

If I have 6 months to get my web development skills to a level where I can be paid $35+/hour freelancing, what's the best way to go about it?

Now a couple things I want to mention to help keep the question clear: the timeline is somewhat arbitrary (give or take a few months), but for personal reasons I'd like to be able to quite my current job and move home for at least a year, while still being able to make some money (hence the freelancing). Also, I do have beginner/intermediate level experience with HTML, CSS, Java and C++, but nothing that anyone would pay for right now.

So, with all that being said, what's the best way to go about positioning myself to make money as a freelancer in the very near future? Is it possible in that timeline? What language(s) should be focused on, and where/how should I learn? And what projects should I do to prove to someone that I'm worth hiring?

Edit: One other note, learning to code at a high level is something I've been wanting to do for a while, so this isn't just a 'one year and done plan.' After my hypothetical sabbatical, I'd like to join a start-up as an engineer and use the programming skills I've acquired. Anyway, thank you for the help. I'm interested to see the responses.




Golden Rule: Do things, tell people.

Seriously, coding skills matter less in the real world than you think, those will get better with time anyway. Eventually you'll get to a point where you can work in places where coding skills do matter, like dev studios, startups, big companies etc, but for non-tech small to medium businesses, they only care what you've done, not what the quality of your code is. You can make a damn good living setting up wordpress sites, installing a theme, adding content and managing it with social media accounts if you wanted, and that requires the least amount of skills out there.

Lets take the above scenario of being a wordpress installer. First, its about selling yourself in the right light, you're not a wordpress installer that makes people websites. You're an online presence consultant that helps SME's engage with their audience and thus increase their profit.

Second, get your first client, ask everyone you know to put you in touch with small business owners, get meetings and show them the package you're offering, do it for $500 or something, hell do it for free if you have to, just get something you can use as a case study, anything, a local pet shop, whatever. Once you've got your case study, get your own presence setup, put your case study on your website, get business cards printed up etc. Prepare a powerpoint presentation and a few handouts with the benefits of an online presence, making sure your contact info is on this.

Now join your local non-tech business groups, chamber of commerce, networking events etc, and get yourself speaking engagements, make presentations to local SME's explaining that they can increase their profit and talk to their customers using an online presence, tell them about social media accounts and how successful companies use them, show them they can build a mailing list, show them stats on how well conversions work using the mailing list, and at the end, show them how you did all of this for your local pet shop.

You are now the expert in all these guy's minds on how to do this, they will call on you if they need it done, they will recommend their friends to you cuz you knew what you were talkin about. Get their email addresses and add them to a mailchimp account and send out a weekly newsletter re-iterating techniques on how to communicate with SME's customers online.

Work will flow in. Now, i've used a very low skilled example for you, i dont know if thats what you want to do, but this can be applied to just about anything you want to go for, generic stuff like iOS/Android apps or specific stuff like ordering and invoicing systems for oil and gas companies.

Do things, tell people.


Seriously, coding skills matter less in the real world than you think, those will get better with time anyway.

I wish I could upvote this a hundred times. The thing to remember is that most people don't know the first thing about how stuff works on the internet. So you could have the shittiest spaghetti code in the world, but if the site looks and acts like it's supposed to, 99% of your clients will be satisfied.

Edit: Don't take that to mean "shitty code is okay," it's just that you don't have to set the bar as high as you think when it comes to feeling like you're good enough to charge what you want to charge for the work.


I wonder if somewhere there's a forum where electricians or plumbers discuss things like these... "Most people don't know the first thing about how wiring works." On second thought, maybe I don't want to know!


Because software is like writing. It is a creative process.

When we want life or death critical software, like life or death critical writing, we take a lot more care, as in making laws, writing treaties and contracts.

But we can never make it prescriptive.


Theres not really any standard qualifications for us, plus, if an electrician or plumber screws up, its much more serious than if we do.


That's an unwarranted generalization.

Say you work on an online calendar app. Might not feel so critical. But when a bug loses someone's appointment, who knows how serious that is? You probably don't really know in just what ways people are relying on your product's quality.

I work in the field of electronic medical data. If some banal UI flaw causes a certain icon to scroll out of view, a doctor might miss your medication allergy. If two columns of a certain table are too close to each other, your lab result might be grossly misinterpreted.

Whatever you work with, the only ethical position seems to be: be careful, and do things properly. Of course, with skill and experience comes an understanding of what corners can be cut.


I think that depends a little on what you're writing:

"Oh no! The flight system on this rocket ship is going haywire!"

"Ok, ok, but at least it's not the plumbing!"


Building a flight system for a rocket ship is probably not something you're going to find as a job on elance or craigslist.


IME a lot of low level jobs, especially where the company is offering to train people themselves, without any sort of regulatory oversight and where results are difficult to measure, have that sort of culture. If your rep's not that important to you....


Judging by the state of the electrical wiring and plumbing in the houses I have lived in, this is absolutely the case...

Sadly when their 'code' has had 'buffer overflows,' I have needed to fix water damage or put out a small fire!


there's also the building code and inspectors, at least here in the US. A complete PITA when doing remodeling, but this system truly does save lives.


Not sure about online, but yeah, this sentiment is not unique to softwre people.


"Bad code" is something that a lot of people worry about. Honestly though, it's all made up and it doesn't matter. The vast majority of "bad code" that I've worked with was written by good programmers, but the requirements changed so much over time that the core models no longer represent the domain. Even bad code written by interns is usually just in need of a bit of refactoring before it becomes good code.

Just wanted to throw that out there. At the end of the day, "good" or "bad" is less relevant than whether it passes QA, and how maintainable something is depends on what "maintenance" means to your project.


This.

Every single time I do a hackathon I get job and freelance offers. Being visible and impressing people is key.


Really? What kind of hackathons have you attended? I attended one once and all I got was some (crappy) pizza.


I have been freelancing for four years. I am graduated from business school (not the kind of place where learn to build websites) and learnt web dev by myself I can say this is the best piece of advice. I would just complete the golden rule : Do things, tell people and train your skills


I love this.

Just get out there and do it.


You could go REALLY far just by leveling up your copywriting and business/sales skills, and applying them to $7 WordPress themes you buy off Themeforest.

The majority of web designers/developers are so focused on aesthetics, design, and technology that they completely miss all that matters for their clients: "Will this website get me more customers / sell more widgets / make me more money?"

Once you're comfortable with writing for business and tweaking WP themes, start attending networking events and start talking with business owners. Do a lot of listening and learning, and make connections with people who might be interested in what you have to offer.

Create a positive ROI for your clients (and remind them of it), ask for referrals, get a testimonial ("Brennan redesigned my website and doubled my online sales in less than 6 months"), and rinse and repeat.


OP, keep in mind that this type of work (copywriting, sales, business) is a different kind of fun than coding. Still fun, just different. From your Ask HN text, it does seem like this might be more up your alley, though.


Someone's going to kill me for saying this: The biggest opportunity you could hit in the shortest amount of time is probably with PHP/Wordpress.

Learn how to write smart, clean PHP (if there is such a thing), and learn writing Wordpress plugins and themes inside out. And build a portfolio to woo clients. A lot of developers think they're above this type of work, or that it's soul-sucking and pointless. It is. But if you're willing to buck up, and you want to be a free man/woman, and hit a (fairly average) target rate of $35 - $50 an hour, it's the fastest path.

Keep in mind, there's little respect for PHP and Wordpress development on HN, but there's a ton of demand for it among the growing number of novice bloggers who need help with their site. I get asked all the time, and I usually refer the work to a WP dev I trust (the quality varies quite a bit).


This made me laugh, Is true everyone hates PHP on here but in my hometown Seattle all the jobs on craigslist or anything other domain is mostly populated by PHP requests for a lot of jobs. How long does it take to get into PHP freelancing for someone who has experience with some Java.


If you are familiar with another programming language, and able to DO programming, then, on average, it wouldn't take longer than a month. That would be sufficient, I GUESS. I built a social networking site in PHP in the last semester. And it was my first PHP web-application! I did learn PHP (and Relational databases) in a month before that. I made a post about it, if you want to see (http://xworkspace.blogspot.in/2013/01/build-your-own-social-...)

But it all really depends on the amount of time (with brain) you spend on learning. :)


    $email = $_POST['email'];
    $password = $_POST['password'];
    $query = "SELECT emailAddress, password, userID FROM users
    WHERE emailAddress = '$email' AND password = '$password'";
    $result = $db->query($query);
Um... not to digress but it looks to me like there's a SQL injection hole here. Please use PDO and a bit more validation, this doesn't properly escape anything. You could validate the email address with filter_var, for instance.

Otherwise, it looks neat, good job. You might want to learn to code more defensively though. Especially if you're putting something up on Github.

Refer to: - https://www.owasp.org/index.php/SQL_Injection_Prevention_Che...

- http://stackoverflow.com/questions/60174/how-to-prevent-sql-...

for some direction towards better practices.


Hey krapp, thanks for your input :D It's a great example of quick & dirty job. There's still a LOT of work to do, I accept. The images are not scaled, passwords are not `hashed', and no validation, of course. I should have had worked on it later on, but I really didn't look in to it later.

I guess, I am also on the same path as with the author of this post. But yeah, thanks again, I will improve it as soon as I can. :-)


Bear in mind, that since it's on github, even though it's a 'quick and dirty job', people WILL just download it, run it and expect it to work, and if it works, not care about auditing the code.

Those people deserve what they get, maybe, but still. Getting into a habit of never releasing anything that doesn't at least have basic security is a good idea.

When you come around to hashing the passwords consider https://github.com/rchouinard/phpass


Right krapp. I will absolutely take care of that from now on, and also, I will fix that code ASAP. :)


Oh, definitely. Everyone hates PHP, and all the 'real' coders won't even learn the language or take the ton of jobs for it.

Although those jobs also tend not to pay much. Wordpress especially.


First, advice:

Like many people here, I agree that there is nothing more important than building things that you can show people. However, the process of getting to that level of capability can often be somewhat mystifying. There are a few tools I recommend for that. First of all, interactive tutorials, like those at Code School, are fantastic introductions to web frameworks, if you're just getting started. I first learned Ruby on Rails with Rails for Zombies. However, these tutorials will not give you the skills to actually build anything—rather, they are a good primer. From there, find a good book, preferably one that focuses on actually building something, like Michael Hartl's Rails Tutorial. Finally, I really love to use screencasts (a la Railscasts) for picking up domain specific information for particular tasks. Hope that helps!

Second, a relevant question:

I've just recently started freelancing myself, and I see a variety of advice. "No Rails developer should make under $75/hour!", "Take what you can get, work your way up slowly!" "You probably charge too little!", etc. How do you actually evaluate how much your skills are worth as a freelancer? How do you match with clients who need and are willing to pay for your particular skill level? If anyone has any links to relevant advice, those would be great to.


Your skills are worth what someone will pay. "How much are you worth?" It depends on how you frame the question. Consider the following scenarios for the same question.

If you make yourself available on oDesk or similiar, your client is looking for a cheap code monkey to do usually, crappy work. You'll maybe get $10-$15 an hour.

If you get yourself a permie job at a small agency in Edinburgh where i'm from, you'll get maybe £28k a year.

If you become a contractor and work in London, you'll command £450 a day.

If you position yourself as a technical business consultant that provides a piece of software that allows an international car manufacturer to sell more cars every year, you'll earn millions.

All of those things can be true for "a rails developer". It depends on a lot of other factors that have nothing to do with programming and are often overlooked by developers.


> How do you actually evaluate how much your skills are worth as a freelancer? How do you match with clients who need and are willing to pay for your particular skill level?

They are worth what a client will pay.

Trick: if you show a client “this will make you $20K in 6 months for this, this, and this reason, as I have done for this, this, and this client”—they don't care how much you make an hour. Bid $8K for the project, even if it only takes you a week, and they're still crazy happy.


How do you get to the place where you can give clients numbers like that though? (this will make you 20K).

Past clients would be reluctant to tell how much a new site has made them I would imagine (and it can be hard to pin down for certain markets).


How I got work as a freelancer in one month.

Created an on line presence/blog. Wrote about skills I have on blog. Posted some programming posts. Went to Craigslist / Gumtree. Emailed people looking for people with skills I had. Navigated to Google. Searched web agencies near my town. Emailed web agencies. Wrote more emails. Answered phone and replied to emails. Told customers my rate ( it was too low ). Easily got work. Did good work. Got paid. Increased rate. Repeated.


I would suggest that with 6-9 months of dedicated learning you could absolutely put yourself in a position where you could charge for freelance web development services.

A few important things to note from my (limited) experience:

- How much you are worth (per hour) as a freelancer is largely based on your existing body of work and your network of contacts. As such, you might not be able to make your stated figure straight away - instead as an average when your earning potential rises with each completed job.

- Go around your local community first. A lot of people say that you shouldn't work for friends/people you know, but when you're starting out you need portfolio pieces and people are far more likely to take the risk on someone 'green' if they get some face-face time now and then. Local restaurants and clubs was where I started.

- Contract up ... always >.<

- Specialise a bit. There seems to be a commonly held belief that freelancers should be full-stack engineers - largely because you are likely to be working solo on projects. Not only is this not realistic given your learning timescale, but I've also found it to be untrue. If a project needs work that you can't do then you sub-contract to another freelancer. They will be happy for the work and there is always the possibility of payment in kind. One caveat is that you obviously take on the risk of the contractor messing up.


>> - Contract up ... always >.<

yes a million times. Don't think of it as being confrontational, think of it as memorializing an agreement. You want to make sure you and your client are on the same page, and it's a great reference (particularly when it comes to defining a scope of work) down the line. It's as much for the client's protection as it is for yours and as long as you keep it simple and to the point, you'll be fine.


> - Contract up ... always >.<

Do you have any suggestions on creating these contracts? Mainly, is it necessary to lawyer up before even starting to make sure your contract is bullet proof?


>> - Contract up ... always >.<

This might be relevant (also found it on HN): http://vimeo.com/22053820


Take this with a grain of salt. There is no right way or the only way.

- Learn complete web development. Use something like CodeAcademy/Udacity to learn the complementary skills you need. My guess is since you know Html/css and Java, you are better off learning Javascript as well. Nodejs / advanced Java might be a good fit.

- Learn some of the theoretical fundamentals. This might not be of immediate need for freelancing, but you should almost always be honing your fundamentals. Take up the core computer science courses on Coursera - Algorithms (1,2), Programming Languages, Basic Math (linear algebra, graph theory etc) are some must haves. This can be a longer term goal and plan it beyond 6 months.

- Sharpen your skills with coding exercises. Do some of the stuff on InterviewStreet and other such sites. Being able to solve small problems effectively and time bound, is very important skills. You should practice hard for the first 6 months I think.

- Know your domain. Being a web freelancer means you might have to be full stack. Being able to write the client and server side with ease. You might want to be good at some specific domains - like building sites for X, Y, Z (you can build your own reusable code). Then expand. Looking at stuff at elance is an easy start.

Its doable in 6 months. IMO don't stop learning.


I think one of the most common misconceptions people have about freelancers, is that we know everything about every project we throw ourselves into. That couldn't be further from the truth (at least for me).

As a freelancer, the most important skill is NOT coding. Yes, writing code gets you to the end-goal, but what the client really wants, is results and growth for their business. As a freelancer, you will often have to work on something that you don't know 100%, and maybe even having barriers to accomplish the project. However, hiring a freelancer is very much looking at their past successes, and using that to gauge the result of their current project, along with the value this freelancer can bring. As long as you get it done and bring results, and maintain an amiable relationship with the client, not much else matters.

So in on that note, I would say which language you choose hardly matters. But that's not true. You want to choose a language you are familiar with, and one that seems to be brought up in whichever areas you are looking for clients.

As many have already said, and I kind of hinted at above, learn as you build. This is the best and fastest way to gain the knowledge and skills you need. Much like building a startup, have something early on to put out into the world, and build on top of that.

Any projects can prove to someone you are worth hiring. As a freelancer, part of your job is to instill confidence into this potential client, and demonstrate to the the VALUE you add to their business. Not the algorithmic complexity, not the pretty code, not how many lines of code you've written, but the VALUE (increase in revenue, lower costs, higher conversions, putting their product on the forefront, etc) you bring to them.

I wrote a blog post[1] recently about things you should know about freelancing, it's not too in depth as it's targetted towards people who have not begun freelancing and are curious about it.

Keep improving yourself, and good luck!

[1] http://www.jayhuang.org/blog/things-you-should-know-about-fr...


Just start building stuff (anything) using your existing skills. As you run into "how do I do that" style questions, fill in your knowledge. The benefit of this is that you're able to apply what you know to solve real problems. Big difference when all you're doing is studying theory/books.

Spend six months building stuff and you'll also have a decent portfolio that's inline with your current skill set. Winning freelance work can be a "show don't tell" sort of arena, so having any work helps.


Since you can already code, I'd say you are already ready to go. 35$/h is not a lot. Why not start now?

You could take up a job you can do from home. Then you could still adjust the hours you bill so that they seem fair to you. Like if you spent 8 hours reading a basic JavaScript tutorial to figure something out, don't bill 8 hours (or maybe do, it depends on your judgement - I think all dev jobs require some time spent on learning, too, so it's not completely unfair to bill for it).


Learn a little Ruby on Rails or Django. Do what others are suggesting and build websites for people. Learning either framework is a snap as they do a lot of work for you but are flexible enough to meet the various requirements you will encounter. And you can also get the benefit of transitioning into freelancing with startups with web apps built in whichever framework you chose to specialize in.

You can even take up contracts on oDesk or similar if you're not finding enough local opportunities.


I've had a somewhat similar path to you in that I had no development experience, yet after a year I'm now developing at a startup.

As mentioned, I think that the best route for freelancing would be to start with Wordpress development. I say "best" in that there is consistent demand for websites and these are projects that are great to learn on. You could definitely start freelancing right now and charge $35 p/h. Just bill for 1/3 of your time as a previous poster mentioned & learn on the job - this is the most efficient way.

In your spare time (if any), I would highly recommend learning Javascript. Not Jquery - core Javascript. This will be incredibly useful when you do want to go to a startup. You will most likely be positioned as a front-end dev anyway, so focus on that. I have had to learn angularJS on the job and it's been incredibly rewarding, yet I do wish that I had learned serious JS earlier (rather than just rolling WP themes). Once you've got JS relatively down, move to Ruby & Rails.

Enjoy!


I'd suggest creating a few accounts on elance and odesk and under-bid on as many small projects as you can. I say create a few accounts there because contractors there are limited to the number of bids they can make (per month, I think). I say under-bid because you're up against a slew of Asian developers, who charge $500 for a month's work. But do it. You'll be making real money, building a real resume, and gaining a ton of experience. Once you get a few projects under your belt there it's easy to land gigs. Just make sure you deliver as promised and get rated well and after 6 months you could continue using those sites to source projects, at whatever rate you chose.


It's certainly possible to learn enough to become a competent freelancer, finding sustainable work in that time may be another problem. Here[0] is a link to a guy's progression who learned Python/Django in a month, it includes extremely helpful resources to help. I would also learn the basics of throwing up a Wordpress site just to have a quick way to demonstrate your abilities.

Is this a 6 months off to focus solely on learning development skills or 6 months to learn while working?

0. http://eddychan.com/post/15775730174/how-i-learnt-enough-pyt...


TamDenholm's comment is absolutely correct. At your stage, the easiest way to get revenue is to learn how to sell something, e.g. present your services in a way that demonstrates value to your customer.

You should read "Breaking the time barrier"[1]. It's a quick read, but it presents some key guidelines on how to accomplish this, and will be invaluable training when you're talking with a potential customer and trying to figure out the best deal for you both.

[1] http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/tag/breaking-the-time-barrier...


The quickest way to become a $35+ freelancer with the least amount of skills to pick up is to focus on a CMS like Wordpress or Drupal.

Learning a CMS well is much easier than learning to build applications (mostly) from scratch. Your job is largely configuration (installing add-ons, building / modifying templates, updating settings.)

You can do a lot with a decent CMS without having to learn PHP, but Wordpress and Drupal do require some PHP skills to do significant changes to the templates. However, it must not be much because I know people who freelance building WP sites and know very little PHP. There are other CMS' which have templating systems which don't require any PHP at all.

I mention WP and Drupal because there is a ton of work out there in those ecosystems. At $35 / hour you can pick up work from other developers / agencies all day long. Another reason I mention the CMS route is because it's a niche path. It's easier to pick up work when you focus on a certain area rather than being a general X programmer. It's also easier to focus when you go niche.

When you have decided on a CMS, setup some development instances and practice doing different things. Setup another development instance for your own freelance services site and use that as practice as well. Set aside time for learning PHP and Javascript. As the back-end (CMS) guy, you will be okay with not having to do much on the front-end, but knowing Javascript well will help a lot. For your PHP practice, spend some time in focused practice which stretches your comfort zone, but also spend some time building helpful add-ons. You can use those as part of your portfolio. Stick to simple add-ons at first. If you aren't sure what to build which hasn't already been done many times over, then look for newly released API's which could be helpful for a general web site.

A big part of learning a CMS is learning the ecosystem. Figure out the "go to" add-ons for a given task. You will find that for something simple like a contact form there is probably 50 add-ons that you could use but only a handful which everyone actually uses. Find out who the biggest players are (most well known general developers and add-on developers) find out where they talk to each other. This is most likely going to be a combination of Twitter, forums and Google Plus communities. Get involved and show off what you are building. These channels will be an important source of leads for work.

You can also learn and build your profile / reputation by helping people who are asking questions. Spend some time answering questions in the above mentioned channels as well as http://wordpress.stackexchange.com/. In some cases, people ask you to fix their problems for them. Congrats, you just got a freelance gig and a lead for more work in the future.

Look through Elance, Odesk and related sites to see what jobs are being posted. You will see a lot of low budgets and developers offering to do the work for low rates, but just ignore all that. If you pick the right jobs and you can sell, then the $5 / hour developers become invisible to the buyer. You can get a sense of who the buyer is from the history as well as the description. Go by your gut, if the client seems like a good one, then drop a proposal.

You will need to learn how to sell. If you are in a good niche and you can sell well then you can land 8 out of 10 jobs that you apply for. The other two fell through because you were too late. You need to develop proposals which convey to the client that you are exactly what that person is looking for and you know exactly what the client needs.Aside from examples of your work, you might pull specifics out of the job description to tell the client exactly how you would do certain parts of the project. This will show that you know what you are doing and gives you a leg up on general PHP programmers who don't know the CMS as well as you do.Of course, the approach depends on the type of client. A non technical client who needs a site for a new business doesn't care about technical details, so adjust accordingly (though you would be better off starting out with other developers so that you can learn from them and so they can back you up if you run into problems.)

Go this route and you could be freelancing in 3 months. You could start out at $35 / hour and then raise your rates from there. This isn't the most sexy route. PHP isn't the most sexy programming language. But by going this route you would be tapping into an ecosystem with a lot of work and which is relatively easy to break into. As you gain experience, then you could move into other directions. Really, when doing freelancing, the tech side is easy and isn't nearly as important as the people side. Learning to sell and communicate well is far more important than working with the sexiest platforms. Once you learn the important stuff, then you can change the other variables as you progress (breaking into different programming languages / platforms / ecosystems.)


I personally wouldn't even bother waiting three months. Bill yourself out now at $35/hour, then only put one-half to two-thirds of the number of hours you're actually spending on the project on your bill. Learn on the job.

Another thing worth trying is charging per day.


This was actually very help Gexla, thanks. I've been trying to learn Java as a freelance opportunity but this thing is massive and takes forever to learn it seems. Is PHP the right way for freelance web development? I noticed you mentioned Wordpress and PHP. Coming from Java how long it will take to get into PHP ? I tried it a bit but everyone here seems to hate it and rants about the language ugliness so I didn't even try and went with Java.


I won't speak for Gexla, but from my experience getting into 'PHP' is far different than getting into 'Wordpress' or 'Drupal'. Unless you are subbing for another software dev, most clients don't care about the language, they care about what business value the software will deliver. For SMEs, I don't think there's any ecosystem out there that compares with Wordpress or Drupal in availability of talent (keeping prices reasonable) and free functionality (making it possible to build a very full featured site quickly).

To answer your question directly, I had a couple of years of Java when I did a PHP project (a CRUD system for my book club) and it probably took a few weeks. But I've also worked with Drupal and Wordpress and those take longer to get your head around (Wordpress to a lesser extent)--there are lots of moving pieces, and you have to try multiple plugins to know what will work (and the codebase moves quickly too). I'd budget two months for Drupal, six weeks for Wordpress, and I'd start out with simpler site proposals.


Yogo brings up a good point. You can get solid work via referrals, craigslist and e-whatever-lance by rolling a few wordpress themes and customizing wordpress sites.

You may be underestimating the value of intermediate skills. While a large agency may not pay you as freelancer, you could easily get a roster of clients through referrals and good old fashion hustle on craigslist (which leads to more clients) I have plenty of experience making this work as developer... which is weird since I am not a developer. If I can do it by accident, I am sure you can do it on purpose.


Also, 35 an hour might be too low. Charging more makes a great first impression, and cheap clients are rarely worth it.


I was once told that the fastest way to get your skills up to a level that people will pay for is to find freelance work that isn't far beyond your current scope.

If you have a deadline and a paying customer who is counting on you to produce something, then you'll quickly learn how to learn quickly.


There are so many things to web development that unless you are already used to building and shipping custom websites and web applications that would be quite a challenge[1]. Anything's possible though.

1. I'm assuming you aren't just looking to setup wordpress or squarespace sites


Today, I wrote an article about what I think is a really good path to teach yourself to become a web developer. You can find it here: http://bit.ly/1246qMU


Have you built anything using those technologies that you can show off publicly?


Sorry but I can't help but feel that the majority of these responses have you focused too much on your short term goal.

Can you become a freelance CMS installer in 6 months with no technical background? Probably. But only just. I imagine most of the commenters below are developers (like myself) who see things like Joomla/Wordpress/etc installs as trivial pieces of work. Don't get me wrong: they are, but only if you've had a considerable amount of previous dev experience.

Let's look at what's involved in becoming a CMS freelancer:

- Setting up a working development environment: probably a few days.

- Getting to grips with PHP (or whatever language) development: harder to estimate but I imagine it will take at least three months to get to place where you're familiar with Object Orientated Programming (OOP), basic app layout, basic database skills, CSS and Javascript. Three months is actually a REALLY short amount of time to get up to speed on all of that but maybe you're a first learner - and hey, you're posting on HN so I bet you are ;-)

- Server setup : lets say you use some service like GoDaddy or Blacknight which offers 1-click CMS installers so you don't have to deal with all the SSH and CHMODing so no real work here

- Nailing your first piece of business: again, impossible to estimate but trust me when I say that this business (particular "cheap" jobs like CMS installs) is COMPETITIVE. If you live in a developed Western country then someone out there will do the job cheaper than you, no question. So basically you've going to have to operate well at a loss for the first few projects.

And here's where my BIG problem comes with the other replies in this post:

After you have X number of projects under your belt, your rate isn't going to start going up at any considerable speed. Yes you will be better than you were a few months back, yes you will have projects to show but guess what? So will all those outsourcers in places like India and Poland and they'll STILL be charging less than you.

My basic point is: this idea doesn't really scale. You'd be better off learning development "properly" (night schools, online courses etc are good) and then starting off at some entry level dev job. Yes its more pain up front but its a much more viable strategy long term.

So to answer your question (finally!): Can you become a freelancer in 6 months? Yes. Will you make any decent money at it? I don't think so.

If you're looking for any help with this stuff then I'd be happy to help you out a bit. You can find me on twitter: @modernprogrammr


I think you're assuming that Wordpress types aren't worth what a Rubyist might be.

I know a quite a few consultants who are ridiculously smart at business and realize that WP and other off-the-shelf solutions can solve the majority of the problems they work on, and have hourly rates that eclipse the majority of "real freelance programmers" rates.


This is correct. I use WordPress, but I use it to accomplish business goals for my clients. That's worth much more to the person signing the checks than someone who knows Rails well, but doesn't bring anything to the table when it comes to what should be built; only how to build.


I'd take a step back, and ask: Do you enjoy coding? If you do, then just keep doing it. The rate at which your skill progresses really depends on you, subjectively.


Do some small projects on Elance in your spare time. That's how I learn new technologies - gives you more motivation because have deadline and get paid.


I would start with codeacademy and once you do a couple of the courses on there build a website.


CodeAcademy will teach you the basics of object oriented programming.

Once you master OOP/ the basic concepts....for loop, output statements, switch statements, arrays, etc....

The original poster will need to start doing web development which is a different ball game. I've been using onemonthrails.com and it has been pretty effective especially if coupled with a programming mentor.


http://codelearn.org teaches rails.


Freelancing has its perks but you also have the option of working remotely.




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