Making your first $500 as a Web Designer

When I started to learn how to code, it was about four months until I got my first paying client. During the Christmas break between semesters of my university diploma program, I was out at a pub with my wife and her colleagues from work. One of them just happened to be a chiropractor. He and his wife had recently started their own practice, and needed a website so they could start marketing themselves professionally. The problem was: They didn’t have a big budget, or know where to look to get somebody to help them build their website.

I could see why my wife had introduced me to them. Smart girl!

I was nervous. But, I decided to step up to the plate. I said, “I’m actually studying web design and development at university. I can help you build your website. I’m just building my portfolio, so I’d be willing to design and code your website for a discounted price.”

To my delight, they were so excited. They asked me to send them an estimate so we could get started.

I had no idea what to charge. But, I remembered one of my web design instructors mentioning to the class that “junior freelance designers shouldn’t be charging any less than $40/hour”.

I thought, I’ve never charged for my work before. Because I told the couple I’d do it for a discount, I thought $20/hour was fair.

So, I put together my very first estimate and sent it to the client. I said the project would take twenty-eight hours, plus some extra fees for stock photos and an instructional video.

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The total amount of my very first paid web design project? $595.

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Amazing! I couldn’t believe that I was going to earn over $500 doing something I would have done for free.

In the end, the website was the hardest thing I’ve ever coded (because of the learning curve, and my barely knowing HTML and CSS). It took me way longer than twenty-eight hours! But the client was so happy. I sent him my very first invoice:

Brad's First Invoice

The first $500 is the hardest to make. Once you break that threshold, everything changes.

When you see an opportunity to book a project—whether it’s your first or your hundredth—you need to seize it. Take a chance. Put yourself out there!

I could have very easily not mentioned to my wife’s colleague that I was a web designer and could help him and his wife. I could have said, “Maybe when I’m done school, we can get in touch.”

I didn’t do either of those things! I put myself out there. That single decision changed the path of my career. I was officially a freelancer. I knew I could make something of it.

A timid individual doth not a freelancer make.


This is the third entry in a ten-part series called “Hacking a Freelance Web Design Career”. Last week, we explored how to overcome your fear of failure. In the coming weeks, we’ll be diving into some common questions and concerns regarding freelancing, and how you can build a sustainable and successful freelance career. Are you ready to start building your freelance career? Enroll in my free 60-day email course: “Cultivate a Successful Freelance Career”.

Photo credit: Canadian Coins by Kat R on Flickr.com – license: Creative Commons

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  • Mark Hallam

    You say a timid individual won’t make a good freelancer but by the same token you should not bite off more than you can chew or you could be in for a nervous breakdown…just my experience. It’s important to have a good woekflow in place.

    • You’re absolutely right! I’ve definitely had some experiences where I’ve said yes to something I should have declined. All a part of the learning process, though 🙂

      • Alisha Schaefer

        I am so happy that I stumbled on your blog and your class on Udemy. One of the best decisions I’ve made this year so far. Your way with words and teaching is phenomenal and has given me more motivation to step out of my comfort zone into something wonderful! Thank you again! A fan for life!

  • bannks

    my first website got me £150, it felt like all the world, even though the guy paid in instalments, it just showed me that it is possible

  • Amber M

    Interesting post, Thanks for sharing.

  • I remember when I was 18 during my first semester of college, I managed to get my first wordpress website client at $485 (to make it seemless than $500 to my client). I don’t think anything feels quite like that. $400 is the world to an 18 year old!

    • Isn’t it such an amazing feeling? Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Nice article Brad!

  • Kazi

    It is really encouraging for many readers like me and your story looks very real. Well done Brad!!

  • Thanks for the great artical

  • This is when time meets luck.
    very encouraging.
    Thanks

  • Christophe

    Nice post 😉

    I’m learning a lot with you.

    My first paiement for a website : an ipad mini 😉

    • Cool! That’s a great first payment! Thanks for reading.

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Join my free 7 day freelancing course!

START A FREELANCING BUSINESS. GET MORE CLIENTS. BUILD A LIFE ON YOUR OWN TERMS.

  • Daily actionable lessons
  • Define your freelance niche
  • How to start from scratch
  • How to charge higer rates
  • Where to find your first 3 paying clients
  • Tools & resources for freelancers
Want more freelance clients? Enter your name & email below to get started.
I respect your privacy. No spam. No fluff. Just quality content. Unsubscribe anytime.
By providing your email you consent to receive messages and newsletters from Brad Hussey containing news, updates and promotions. You also understand you may also receive messages from Brad containing information on third parties and you can withdraw your consent at any time. Please contact Brad for more details or use the "Unsubscribe" link found within each email message.