How I got my first freelancing client at the age of 15

Freelance web development is a path taken by many, yet mastered by few. At 15 years old I thought it would be close to impossible to secure a client, but I was wrong.

This is how I got my first freelancing client at the age of 15.

Research

I researched the topic of freelance web development online. It's a decently sized niche, so there were quite a few articles online on how to break in and get started. I found several resources, such as:

  • Study Web Development
  • Traversy Media
  • Florin Pop

I read up on how they got started. They all said the same thing:

  1. Build up a portfolio of work
  2. Advertise your services online and attach that portfolio

Execution

So, that's what I did. At the time I only knew very basic HTML/CSS/Javascript, so I built a couple of small static websites and launched them on Github Pages. I collected all the domains together so I could track my work; unfortunately, I did not have a portfolio site at the time so I just collected the URLs to send to leads.

With the 'portfolio' complete, I set out to advertise my services. Where did I do that? Kijiji.

If you're not familiar with Kijiji, it's a classifieds website used primarily by Canadians. Think Craigslist but for Canada.

Now, I knew from my research that my first couple of jobs would not be very lucrative. They were mainly for experience, and unless you have a very valuable skillset, that will likely be your experience as well. Freelance web development is a long-term game.

For this reason, I priced my services at $20 for a full one-page static site. That is pathetically small compared to how much those sites normally go for, but I had no prior freelancing experience and needed to prove my value to the world.

Feedback

Once the ad was posted, it was a couple of days before a potential client responded.

This client would end up becoming my first ever freelancing client; but at this point in time, nothing had been accomplished yet. They gave me their number and I called.

The first conversation between me and the client discussed the ads, the services I offer, and how long a site redesign would take. I set out to gather the needs and pain points of the client by asking, literally, "What problems have you been having recently?".

After I asked the question, I muted myself and took notes of everything they were saying and the general ideas they were discussing. At this point, I had to be silent and let the client speak. After all, I had to squeeze as much information out of them as possible if I was going to solve their problems and do a good job.

Their main issues were:

  • Their existing site was very old
  • It was unresponsive
  • It was designed more than a decade ago, and was generally very ugly
  • They needed a new site to represent their brand in a more modern light

With the problems identified and their site's domain in my search bar, I told them that I could solve their problems and that it would take around 2-3 weeks.

It was also around this time that they said the following:

Also, I'll give you $100 instead of $20.

I was surprised but grateful to hear this. I accepted the offer and said that after a 20% deposit I could start right away.

Design

Since this was a site redesign, I had to design the new site before I could code it to life. For context, this was the original site:

During this stage of the project:

  • Showed client some templates to base their new site off of
  • The client and I discussed color/font options
    • After design options were chosen, I got to work redesigning the website.
  • I made some prototype designs based on the feedback I received from the client
  • After each redesign, I submitted them to the client and gathered feedback.

I am a web developer, not a designer. At the time I had few design skills so I drew inspiration from templates from Themeforest and designs on Behance/Dribbble. I was also new to Figma and UX/UI design, so the design of this site was a great learning experience for me.

After a week of iteration, they gave the green light on a final design and I got to work bringing it to life.

Development

At this point in the project, I only knew HTML/CSS/Javascript. I didn't have any framework knowledge at the time, such as Vue/React. The site was very basic so I wasn't concerned; a static site with some pictures, contact info, and a form.

My first steps were to create the GitHub repo and activate Github Pages as a live preview. I designed the site desktop-first then made it mobile responsive, which was a mistake in hindsight. Nowadays I do mobile-first then expand to desktop.

During development, I emailed the client bi-weekly to update them on the project progress. It helps to do that for your freelance projects since it keeps everyone on the same level and prevents unwanted surprises (delays, problems, etc). The development of the site was pretty smooth and normal; the goals were to modernize the site and optimize it for mobile users.

After roughly 3 weeks of development, the site was complete.

Hosting

When the development was complete, the client gave me credentials to their hosting service so I could make the site live. All domain and hosting infrastructure info was provided by the client, so I was grateful for that.

I initially had no idea how to use this hosting service (IONOS), but I eventually figured it out. With that, I launched the site with SSL and secured the rest of the project price (the remaining 80%).

Conclusion

Compared to other stories I've heard on the internet of my first freelance experiences (like Brad Traversy's first freelance client), I had a very good first client. They were respectful of me and my time, communicated well, and were reasonably hands-off about the development of the project.

I gained lots of valuable info from this project:

  • How to actually deploy sites on hosting platforms
  • How to communicate with people
  • How to cut through the fluff of conversation to get to the exchange of value.

As for the site itself, I was a very beginner web developer and the budget was $100. My skills were pretty garbage compared to what I'm up to nowadays, especially since I ventured into a Javascript framework (Vuejs) and a CSS framework (TailwindCSS) alongside backend programming with Nodejs and Expressjs. Overall, I'm very glad to say that I look back at my earliest work and visibly see how much I've improved since then.

Before:

After:

15