It is not hard to make $100k as an experienced web developer. When you are just starting, don’t expect to earn six figures a year. But after you have been working as a web developer for 2-4 years, you should be ready to make $100.000 per year.
There are two paths that you can take to make $100k as a web developer:
- Freelance work
- Working at a company
Being a freelance web developer will not guarantee you $100k per year, but the good thing is that the upside is higher than the one of a senior web developer. Stefan Mischook mentioned that once you get your freelance business running, you can make several times as much as doing a traditional 9 to 5 web development job.
To maximize your chances of making six figures follow the steps below:
If you are starting and don’t have a steady stream of orders, you will need to showcase your skills to potential new clients. Therefore, a portfolio is an absolute must when starting your freelance career. And remember that styling-wise, it needs to be pleasant to the eye, even if you focus on the back-end. People buy with eyes, so make sure your portfolio looks pleasant.
Practice soft skills
Having proper communication with clients will get you more work, period. Golden rules are:
- Don’t be awkward
- Listen to what a client needs, and guide
- Speak about the tech stack used in a simple way
- Mention why they need a website/new website
Being nice and friendly and not acting awkward in a conversation is a must. Learning to listen to clients’ needs and putting yourself in their shoes is always helpful.
At the same time, you are the one who needs to radiate knowledge about the web design, structure, and anything that comes related to creating the project.
Be confident, but not cocky. And use simple words to describe the technologies you will use. A random person has no idea what React or even WordPress is. Instead, explain that they can easily change the text that will appear on the website if they want to.
After all, nobody likes the doctor who tells you what is wrong with you in Latin. Keep the conversation to a level that everyone can understand.
Probably I should have put this at the top. You need to explain to the customer that having a better-looking website with a clear call to action will increase the number of customers they get and potentially increase their income drastically. It will bring them a bigger exposure at no additional monthly cost (well, almost, they still need to pay for the hosting).
Once you already have some clients, you will get plenty of work from word of mouth. I was working at a company, and by seeing that I do solid work, a coworker contacted me to do a web development project for a friend of his. Then later, a business partner of his also contacted me to build him a website. And this is all without even looking for a freelance opportunity.
But if you are new, you will need to scout for potential clients. Forget about UpWork and Fiverr and similar. Those are a waste of time, and you will not earn good money. You can make it, but the effort and sacrifice to get there are not worth it.
What you should do is scan the websites of local businesses. If you find an outdated website or, even better, don’t have a website yet, then congratulations, you have just found a potential client.
But do not focus on quick food stands or flower shops. While you can make some money, you will never make a lot of money from them. A local flower shop doesn’t make hundreds of thousands in profit, and the same goes for bakeries and quick food stands.
The real money is at lawyers, dentists, and other businesses that have no problem making solid six figures per year. Make sure that you explain to them that they could get many new potential customers with a nice website and a good booking system. And each customer is worth a lot of money to them. So if you create a website that will, in turn, make them 10% or 20% more revenue per year, you can charge them thousands, sometimes even tens of thousands, for a project.
Fullstack web development pays more
The sad truth is that back-end web development will be where you can earn more. You can only charge so much to create a website with only a front-end and no back-end.
While you can charge higher hourly for nicely looking projects, adding back-end functionalities adds even more.
With some back-end added to the project, you can easily triple or quadruple what you would charge just for the front-end.
The problem is that the clients don’t often know that having a booking system or an email system would be very advantageous and would pay for itself in a matter of months. After that is pure profit for them for years, but that is on you to convince them. But please, convince the customer of the benefits of having a back-end only when you genuinely believe that it makes sense. Honesty goes a long way, and I am sure you will get some extra projects because of it later.
The good thing is that you can implement the next step’s advice to elevate the earnings even further and gain more free time simultaneously.
Create reusable code snippets for forms, calendars, booking systems with calendars, navbars, etc. Each time you need to code something new, prepare yourself a template that you can reuse in another project.
For example, if you need to create a customized Google maps that might take you 50 hours to develop, make it easy to change the colors, API keys, click events, etc. This way, the next time, you can still charge the new customer for 50 hours of work, but in reality, it will only take you 5 to 10 hours of your time.
Keep track of how long each section of the project takes you. The more detailed you are, the better. Start doing this already when you are creating your portfolio of projects.
Ask yourself if a client would rather take an order from someone who shows them exactly how much each thing costs them or if they just receive the invoice of the total price.
Have tracking for anything from customer form, back-end database implementation, calendar, deploying to web hosting, etc.
This way, the next time when you are about to start a new project, you have a much better idea of how long a specific project should take you.
WordPress is very popular as it makes it easy for the customers to make changes themselves later. But many developers, including me, don’t like working with WordPress.
Maybe you want to do React projects. That is fine, but know that you might be limited to the number of projects you get this way.
Also, understand that if a client later doesn’t know how to edit things, they will call you. Of course, if it requires a more significant change, you can charge them your standard hourly rate. But if a change is minor, do it for free. I would start charging for anything that takes me longer than 10-15 minutes.
I would say be open about the technologies. If WordPress makes sense, use WordPress. If you think that React can work, then do it in React.
You can even build your own simple dashboards for clients in any framework where a simple option to edit the text is included. But that might be too advanced for what you need for the first year of getting to $100k.
I could write dozens of pages about the steps explained above, but this should be enough to guide you on what you need to succeed as a freelance web developer.
If you have no prior work experience, your starting salary will be lower than $100k. The goal of working at a company for you should be to absorb as much knowledge as possible. You will be working with more experienced developers, and you should take advantage of that.
Watch how they plan their projects and why they decide on specific technologies. But even more important than knowing all these is to be on good terms with everyone. Be friendly and don’t argue. It is the worst thing if you don’t get along with your coworkers.
Always listen to other opinions and don’t argue over them. With such a work attitude your salary will be increased to 6 figures in a few years. But it is also on you to ask for pay raise at regular intervals. In the last three years, my pay increased four times. And it happened each time because I asked for it. A good rule of thumb is that once you get more responsibilities, you should ask for bigger pay.
But even if the responsibilities haven’t increased, you are still a more experienced developer than you were a year ago. Therefore just for that fact alone, it is okay to ask for a pay raise. You now know more about the job projects, and you work faster, which is worth a pay raise on its own.
However, if you get denied for the bigger pay you believe you deserve, then there is always the job market with hundreds of jobs available that pay better than what you currently make.
But keep in mind that getting a new job position that you are happy about can take months and requires you to put in the work. Scan what the job description looks for, and read some basics about it if you don’t know that topic already. Of course, there are some must-haves, but often having some of them and showing the willingness to learn can be enough to land a job. Many interview questions get repeated through different jobs, so learn the most common interview questions.
The hard fact is that an average senior developer’s salary is more than $100.000 per year. Average salaries for a senior developer are between $120k – $140k.
A web developer can be a millionaire. Good tech leads at Silicon Valley companies earn around half a million per year. This value includes the base salary, bonus, stock options, and the additional candies that companies give out (gym membership, public transportation, free lunches, etc.). Good senior developers will earn $200k – $250k with all the extras included.
Experienced freelance developers can also earn around that amount and eventually surpass the tech lead salaries.
Once you reach that level of income, it is just a matter of a few years before you become a millionaire. If you make low six figures per year, you can still become a millionaire. It will require some investment and take longer, but every experienced developer can become a millionaire with consistent investing.
Web developers earn good salaries, but they don’t make 7 figures yearly. You can earn that much if you have your own web development company. Owners of these companies are usually excellent web developers themselves, who started freelancing and eventually started their web development agency.
With time you can scale it to make 7 figures per year, but at that point, you are not just a web developer anymore; you do everything that a boss needs to do to make his company successful.
Many web developers make low 6 figures, and a 6 figure salary is entirely normal for a senior web developer. Good freelance web developers can earn 2x to 4x of what a senior web developer is making, but for anything more, you will need to have a web development agency with a team of developers and designers.
Nonetheless, the web developers’ salaries are considered above average salaries, and once you get to the senior level, you should have a comfortable middle-class life. Here is a link to programming salaries explained, from Junior to Senior.
Okay, so maybe your goals are lower, and you want to get your feet wet in freelancing, or you don’t need extra zeroes in your bank account. It is okay. And it makes the whole journey to reach your goal a lot faster.
It is easy to make $2000 per month as a freelance web developer if you already know web development and have a portfolio to showcase your skills or know some potential clients. Some soft skills like friendly communication and good negotiation are advantageous but not mandatory.
To earn $2000 per month as a new freelance web developer, you will need the following:
- Your website with a portfolio of things you have programmed
- Forget about Fiver and Upwork. You will be working for a low income there, as it simply has too much competition.
- Scout for lawyers, dentists, house brokers or similar businesses online and on Google Maps. If you notice their website is outdated, or they don’t even have one, congratulations. You have just found a potential client.
- You need to build just one front-end and back-end website to earn $2000 per month (on the cheap side; usually those are $5k+), or two front-end only WordPress websites (do not charge less than $1000 per simple WordPress website. Remember, a nice-looking website will earn your client thousands or tens of thousands more in revenue, and you are the one who makes it happen, so charge for it!)
- Once you do a few projects, your good work will start to spread with word of mouth. A satisfied client will let his business friends know, and after a while, they will be contacting you to build a website for them as well.