Success or Self-Sabotage: Can Web Developers Freelance?

6-figure freelance web developer gazing out his desk window of his Singapore apartment pondering the question: Can web developers freelance? Tattooed and confident, he decides the answer is yes.

I’ve done hundreds of freelance projects through Upwork, Toptal, and other freelance platforms, earned over $2,000,000 across them. When someone asks me, “can web developers freelance,” I tell them the one thing I notice about just about all of the platforms I’ve worked with: web development is almost always the most popular and highest-demand freelance job category.

In general, freelance web development is one of the most popular job categories on freelance websites such as Upwork, Fiverr, and Toptal, typically making up over 50% of platforms’ gross transaction value. At rates that regularly exceed $100/hour, being a freelance web developer can be a profitable endeavor.

How much can a freelance web developer make?

At first glance, freelance web development rates can be across the board: some as low as $20/hour, and others up to $500/hour. But it doesn’t mean that a client paying $20/hour is happy with the work they’re getting (or that you want to work with them), nor does it mean that someone with a listed profile rate is earning $500/hour consistently.

So we took it upon ourselves to find out: how much do freelance web developers earn that are consistently working?

In an analysis we recently conducted using Upwork data, freelance web developers typically charge between $40-$100/hour, with the average rate of circa $80/hour. However, certain factors allow some web developers to consistently charge $250/hour or more, such as certain specialized skills, high-quality work examples, and work for high-profile clients.

In general, the money can be very attractive as a freelance web developer. At the average $80/hour rate, working a typical 30-hour week would mean $2,400/week (or $2,160 net, assuming 10% Upwork fees). But considering that web developers often work more than 30 hours/week, a freelance web developer can make more than $200,000/year, and be a very profitable niche.

Is it stressful being a web developer?

But it’s not all sunshine and roses in the Web Development freelance niche.

Photo of web developer reading a late-night text message from a client that probably gives extremely-vague but highly urgent HTML code block injection instructions with changes required in the next few hours.
Your stress level as a freelance web developer is often defined by the following equation: (amount of caffeine readily available x number of currently active projects)^(hours since last sleep)

Being a web developer can be very stressful. Long hours, tight deadlines, and frequent client change requests can contribute to tremendous developer stress. In extreme cases, freelance web developers can experience debilitating burnout, anxiety, and even depression.

But that’s not the case for everyone. Web developers that freelance can exercise a surprising amount of control over their workload, hours and clients, creating much more freedom than in a traditional job. Where you’ve carefully selected your clients, agreed to a set work schedule (which sometimes takes “laying down the law” with clients), and given yourself ample time to complete projects, working as a freelance developer can be a great setup.

As a freelancer, either you control the job, or the job controls you.

What qualifications do you need to become a freelance web developer?

One thing that stops a lot of people from entering the freelance web dev game: the Perceived Qualification Gap.

The Perceived Qualification Gap is funny because it’s a mental block that keeps telling you,

“You don’t have enough experience. You haven’t worked with Meta, or Alphabet, or Uber… so you aren’t good enough to get clients to pay you high prices for your work. If only you could get a job with [pick the latest-and-greatest tech company] then it would be so much easier to win jobs from freelance clients…!”

That’s not true. It’s all in your head.

Stock photo of a man with glasses who likely hires his web developers since his office is far too clean and organized, as he wistfully stares at a blank white screen expecting content to magically appear.
Incidentally, some of the most successful freelance web developers are self-taught, and never worked at Google.

In general, there are no formal qualification requirements for freelance web developers. Rather, the ability to set client expectations, define client needs, translate them into code, and deliver high-quality dev work on time are some of the most important qualifications for success as a freelance web dev.

Along with all the other successful freelancers, I laugh at the other articles out there when you search “can web developers freelance” that tell you all the 9,000 things you have to do before you become a freelance developer like…

“before you come a developer, you should form an LLC, open a company bank account, build a website, set up your accounting software… (and on, and on, and on)”

-Most other “guru” websites doing it for the SEO

…but I’m here with the wet blanket to tell you that the reality is this:

In most cases, you just need to be able to use your skills to deliver something of value to a web development client. I got started on Upwork with $0 earnings, no company bank account, no company – and was actually in a foreign country – and won my first contract because I convinced the client I could give them something they found valuable.

That’s it. Skills, and the drive to deliver as excellent of work as you can.

And you can too – here’s a bit more detail on some actual specifics that should help you work better as a freelance web developer.

How to be successful as a freelance web developer

Be good at dumbing it down

It’s a lot more effective than going into a highly-detailed, technical-jargon-filled (from their perspective) tirade where they just nod their head as if they know what you’re talking about, but just “kind of agree with you.” It’s the same feeling that you get when that Ph.D. candidate you just met at a get-together is explaining to you that new super-awesome research from the Large Hadron Collider and its implications on supersymmetric particle location hypotheses…

You just kind of smile and nod.

Don’t put your clients through that. The better you can be at simplifying things that are otherwise extremely complex, the better – and that goes for both your product (what you do) and your process (what you have to do you get there).

Set client expectations at an appropriately-low level

You’re probably not single-handedly building them the next Microsoft website – so make sure they’re not expecting something that’s out there in the clouds.

Only take on jobs that you know you can deliver excellent work on – where it’s a slam dunk for you. Provide a scope of work before you take on any job, and always overspec it. If you think it’s going to take you 2 days, scope for two weeks – you never know what can happen.

More on Scopes of Work in this video:

YouTube video

Define client web development needs

Have a process to ask all the questions you need so that you can fully scope out your web development project, and “fill in all the blanks” so there’s nothing major that you don’t have a complete, in-writing agreement that the client has approved. Some of the main things you’ll probably need to agree within your Scope:

  • Who provides assets (e.g. designs, images, graphics)
  • Who develops content, structure & sitemap
  • What’s included, and what’s NOT included in the price you’ve agreed
  • If you’re working on an hourly basis, is there a maximum budget?
  • Is there a hard-stop deadline that this must be completed by?

Show pictures to confirm, then translate development needs into code

This is where skills come in – not just development skills, but careful listening & “human” skills too.

Since most clients are non-technical, they might struggle to explain what they need, but will do their best to be clear about what they’re looking for. Honestly, my best hack for working with non-expert freelance clients is this:

Show the client a picture and ask, “is this what you want to achieve?”

Use the words the client uses – trust me, I know how frustrating it can be when you’re trying to figure out what they mean by “we need wireframes.” Again – show them a picture and ask if that’s what they want.

Depiction of the difference between an app wireframe, app mockup and app prototype, a key element in answering the question: "can web developers freelance?"
Good strategy: show the client your own version of “this is what you’ll get” for a given scope, and confirm. Bad strategy: Assume they know that wireframes are not a buzzword they shouldn’t just throw around when really they expect a fully-built prototype.

Deliver high-quality work

The best advice I can give you for high-quality work: look at the best examples you can find, and reverse-engineer your way to something “at least 85% as good as what the best of the best are doing.” For inspiration on the best of the best, check out our recent posts.

Sure, you might not be able to singlehandedly develop the next-generation Uber app using a combination of AI, ML, Computer Vision, and NLP coupled with a proprietary demand forecasting algorithm, but a skilled app developer could probably get most of the way to something that got the core job done (requesting a taxi, communicating a destination, tracking a location, executing a payment and logging the activity), right?

Screenshot of messy PHP code vs. clean PHP code which was certainly the work of a highly-paid freelance web developer
This will upset some people. Credit: DEV

Remember that in some cases, looks are just as important as the backend. That doesn’t mean you need to be a superstar UI designer – but it will definitely be in your financial interest to have access to several excellent designers. Upwork is fantastic for this.

If you deliver early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late

A final version is never final.

There are rare cases where I can turn over work, and the client says, “that was fantastic – I just left you a 5-star review. Thanks so much!” But most freelance jobs actually involve a final set of tweaks. We’re 99% of the way there, but the small details typically require one last revision for the project to be considered “fully complete.”

Always budget for the extra time to make those final tweaks.

Reviews are worth their weight in gold

Since most freelance clients have a non-technical background, it can be difficult for them to figure out “who’s good at development” and who’s not – thus making client reviews even more important.

At the end of every project, always ask for a 5-star review, and bend over backward to make sure you’ve made the client incredibly pleased with your work enough to justify that 5-star review. As long as you’ve properly set expectations, delivered great work, and made it easy to work together, then you’re probably in good shape on stacking your reviews and growing your rates.

If you have web development skills but are just getting started as a freelancer, check out our free step-by-step guide for getting started on Upwork. It’s literally the best thing you could do for yourself.

This article originally appeared on, is copyright Freelance MVP LLC and is not authorized to appear anywhere else. If you have found this article anywhere else, it has been stolen.

Evan Fisher

Evan is an entrepreneur, content creator, finance expert and founder of Freelance MVP. At one point, Evan was the highest-earning freelancer worldwide on Upwork by annual earnings, and his collective freelance earnings total over $2,000,000.

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