6 Tips to Become a Remote Web Developer [Digital Nomad Guide]
Updated on November 29th, 2020
The following article on how to become a web developer is a guest post by Katie
Web development is one of the original, somewhat notorious and (still) well-suited job roles for those wanting to be location independent. A web development business takes on a multitude of guises, from creating a site with a few simple yet stylish pages – to building complex, client-specific systems with lots of bells and whistles. If you want to know how to become a remote web developer and get started creating simple sites you don’t need a degree or any experience to get started creating simple sites.
The old cliched idea of a web developer is that of someone geeky, mathematical, tech-obsessed and probably male to boot! As systems and tools have changed over the years, to more friendly ways of creating sites (rather than just hard-core coding), web development has, in fact, becoming a strong-hold for creative women.
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Hi, I’m Katie, an online Web developer and Tech VA, originally from the UK, now based in Spain whilst travelling as much as I can.
I was a late bloomer in the long-term travel world. I’d vacationed whenever I could and would save my pennies like mad for my vacations.
One day I stumbled upon the blog of a couple who were travelling slowly and spending as much money in 4 months as I had been in 14 days!
We put our apartment up for rent, put our stuff in storage and off we went on our big adventure. A year in, and my previously un-enthused other-half, was now emphatic that he wasn’t ready to go back home so we looked at how we could keep going.
We both worked in corporate IT so were both pretty tech proficient. We stumbled upon the online development world, taught ourselves and started picking up WordPress development jobs through this great new (at the time) online work system, Elance (now Upwork).
We weren’t making lots of money but it was paying for our everyday outgoings and it meant our 1-year trip got extended to 2, enabling us to head to some amazing extra locations including Japan, Cuba, Canada and Iceland.
Preparing to become a digital nomad
Leap forward a few too many years and we’d gone back to the UK and to the daily grind, working at corporate companies. However, the seed had already been planted and the whole time we were working towards and planning our escape to becoming digital nomads. We lived simply, keeping costs low, resisted getting cars and saved like crazy.
We sold our apartment and bought a cheap, little house in Spain as part of the plan for our final escape from the rat race. I had so much going on and was out for 13+ hours a day, so I didn’t really think about or make any preparation for the kind of work I might do when I finally left. Because I’d done it on our trip years ago, I had a (possibly risky) confidence that I’d pick work up again.
How Do I Become a Digital Nomad as a Web Developer?
After leaving my proper job, luckily (and sensibly), I had savings to tide me over so I didn’t have to start making money immediately. I quickly found that things in the website world had changed, not only technically, but in the tools and ways that the online business world operated. Not to mention that I’d also forgotten so much over the years.
All confidence that I could easily get work as a developer petered out. This prompted me to think about putting my softer skills (being organised, methodical and technically apt) to good use, by getting some projects helping people on the data/content side of businesses. I didn’t want to be a VA in the sense of being someone’s full-time assistant, but doing various girl Friday type jobs for an online business seemed to make sense.
I was in the somewhat disconcerting position of having plenty of skills and experience, but the online business world had moved forward without me. I was out of touch and out of work and feeling a little lost and a lot despondent. I had no network and really didn’t know how to go about finding anyone I could potentially work for.
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Getting Clued up on Running an Online Business
During my search for a way ‘in’ to get working again, I came across a VA course that generated a bit of buzz and seemed to have lots of happy customers, It felt a lot of money to gamble – was it a scam or with my experience in the corporate world – would it just be teaching granny to suck eggs? It most definitely was neither of those things.
The VA 90 Day course was exactly what I needed. It taught me much more than I expected and was frankly invaluable to my moving forward. It sent me off on my online business journey with tons of new skills, a new vocabulary and most importantly, self-belief.
90 Day VA Course
There are tons of different areas in the course and you can learn about potential services to offer that you didn’t even know existed. Although I knew I didn’t want to do a classic personal assistant, I found so many things which complement web development work.
Because you are learning skills which will enhance a client’s online businesses, you are, of course, learning how to enhance your own!
As well as learning what tools are in demand and being taught the basics of a lot of them, you also learn how to present your online self, how to persevere, deal with rejection and push on regardless. It really gave me the kick up the backside I need to get started and go out and find all the great clients that were out there waiting for me!!
Whether or not you decide doing a VA or online business course is for you, a couple of things are definitely worthwhile doing before offering any VA services:
- Research the tools/systems popular with online businesses right now and integrate them into your own business where you can (great free learning). There’s usually plenty of free online demo videos online to help you familiarise.
- Join groups whose members have the same interests as you and those for online entrepreneurs. Engage in the groups to create your own network – not only might you find potential clients, but you might also find collaborators and people to help when you get stuck. But do ALWAYS follow the group rules to the letter – respect for all admins and moderators out there is not only good manners but will stop you getting kicked out.
It was during the VA course that I discovered the business power of Facebook. A lot of us are prolific users on the social front and as a traveller, it’s an amazing tool to stay in touch with friends and family, or as I have used it for in the past, to moan about delayed and cancelled trains during my arduous daily commutes. But in the online world, Facebook is an incredible tool for community and networking.
Networking in Facebook groups and Instagram engagement can be great for your business. Not stalking/bothering people out of the blue, but getting to know who fellow members are as people/what they do. Helping or encouraging people leads to connections which can lead to opportunities. If someone has a job they need doing, they are more likely to lean towards the person that has helped or supported them in the past.
Want my list of the best FB groups and email templates to help you get started as a VA? Email me at [email protected] *Must be signed up to 90 Day VA
The Technical Side of being a Remote Web Developer
Lot’s of people, especially women, assume they would be no good at web development and the idea of any kind of coding is fear-inducing. But a lot of development these days, even in the corporate world, is often more about configuring than coding.
Like anything, the more you use a development tool like WordPress, Wix or Squarespace, the more you learn and the better and quicker you get. Even for those with plenty of technical experience, getting the hang of any system takes a while. The trick is not to feel intimidated and allow yourself time.
If you are at all interested in getting into development, then the first thing to try is definitely to build your own site – whether for your business or your passion project. Alongside learning the tools and how everything goes together, the fun part is getting to be creative and being able to make things look fabulous (eventually).
Although I had done different forms of web development as a career for many years, it was in corporate tools which weren’t something I could take on the road. So I looked again to WordPress. I personally find it a better option than the other development options, as you can create something quickly and simply, as well as also being able to create much more complex functionality.
Once more I had the luck of finding the perfect course and the perfect group that went with it.
GeekPack is run by Julia, a self-taught, RVing developer. The GeekPack course is designed for complete beginners, but having chatted to Julia about the course content, it seemed it would also work well for me. I took the plunge and haven’t looked back.
What I found most useful was that you start by building a site from the bare bones. Going back to basics gave me a greater understanding of how everything fits together and like with the VA course, there is so much other content besides the technical – stuff about getting and keeping clients. The many aspects of running a remote development business and selling yourself (but not your soul).
The Facebook group is fantastic too – somewhere to go when you are totally stuck with something technical, a client is being a nightmare as well as, of course, encouragement about how your websites are looking.
There are so many great free resources for learning just about anything online, but sometimes a structured course and all the added extras, particularly the community, networking and job opportunities that can pop up can really help you get established quickly and confidently.
The Realities of Being a Web Developer
Finding The Right Clients
The other invaluable thing I Iearned, was that applying for jobs you really don’t want, for people/companies you that don’t really want to work for, is just not worth it in the long run.
I now only go after clients that align with my beliefs/ethos or interests. Because, of course, if you are enthused about the business you are working for, not only will you be eager to do a better job but you’ll also bring to it a certain level of understanding of the business/client’s sensibilities.
Clients Beget Clients
Since getting into the swing of my business, I’ve gotten the majority of my clients on recommendation from existing/previous clients. You really can’t put a price on keeping a client happy and simply put, you do that just by doing a good job and keeping them informed.
There’s a bad reputation that comes along with web development and there are also some real cowboys out there. The benefit for we good developers is that this tends to mean that when someone finds a developer they like, they do tend to stick with them and recommend them within their network.
With online work, being flexible and quick to adapt really is key. There’s a lot of talk about finding your niche and I had ended up with the rather lovely niche client of travel business and bloggers. Definitely the perfect clients for me with my passion for travel. However, along came Covid and whilst it hasn’t, thankfully, knocked those businesses out, many have had to hibernate for a bit.
I lost clients/potential work and my pivot was to not look so much at industry niches and more towards clients who I rather like the sound of. Those who were doing things to help and support people during Covid – well those are the people I’d like to work for, please!
Clients also can also do an about-turn mid-way through a project, so you have to change direction/bend with them.
6 Tips for Becoming a Remote Web Developer
1. Create clear rules and boundaries, but stay flexible
For developments for small clients/businesses, you won’t necessarily be agreeing on the exact look of every page of the website upfront. Many clients don’t even know what they want. Or what they want might not be what you think is best for them. So you need to spend a bit of time working out how it will work with each client.
Once you do have a plan, then you need to make it clear what you will be doing and put down rules around how many times they can change their mind, how long they can take to get back to you etc. If you don’t, your projects and schedules can end up taking forever. It is not easy and there is no perfect way as each client is so different.
If someone seems like they will be indecisive:
2. Ask Questions
You’re going to be their web developer but you are not an expert on everything. No-one is.
If you don’t understand a business term or concept that a client is referring to (and google hasn’t helped) then ask! You know what you know, they know what they know and you can’t be expected to have a comprehension of all aspects of people’s businesses. People never mind you asking questions and often like being asked about how their business works.
3. Be Patient
Clients are often not technical and even if they are tech-savvy, as with the point above, they know what they know and you know what you know. Always be patient and kind. Also when communicating, try to explain things simply with as few tech words as possible.
4. Accept that you Often Won’t know Exactly What you are Taking on
The toughest part about Web Development is you are, most often taking on developments to work on existing sites and you have to agree prices and time scales etc without really know what is in the backend/how things are setup.
You have to prepare for nasty surprises and complications as well as sometimes even having to tell the client that this is too much of a mess. “I can’t sort this out under the original quote and this will take much more time and money.” It’s worth putting this in as a proviso in the quote/contract before starting work.
5. Always have a Wifi Alternative
Whether you are travelling or at home, it is always a good idea to have a backup internet option. In fact, I have needed this at home more than when travelling (I have had 3 different homes be struck by lightning!).
Data on a mobile is usually enough to get you through and I am yet to invest in anything other than a SIM (particularly in South East Asia, you can find great value monthly data packages). It means you not only lose less time on your work, but you can keep in contact with clients who may be expecting to hear from you.
6. Backup, backup, backup!
I’m a crazed backer upper. It really can get you out of so many tricky situations. Sometimes things just mess up and you need to go back to the point before it went wrong. Sometimes sites are hacked or get corrupt. Sometimes the client does something by mistake on a site which makes it break. Having backups available is so often a life-saver. And if you do nothing else – take a full backup of everything at the beginning and end of your project.
Being a Remote Web Developer as a Digital Nomad
Web development really is something you can do ANYWHERE. As long as you have an internet connection, which these days is even possible in the most remote and unlikely of places. It’s also ideal in terms of time-differences across the world, as apart from communicating with your clients, you are not set to any specific times.
Web development is something you generally do alone and can be done at any time. If a 9-5 type routine doesn’t work for you, then you can really pick your development time to whatever suits you.
When during a trip to South East Asia, Covid meant being locked in Vietnam, my 3 months became 6 months and in terms of work, I could just carry on. No-one was expecting me to fit into any time-schedule or location.
Katie Clarke is a travel-loving remote Web developer and Tech VA. Alongside globe-trotting she loves all things vintage, retro and kitsch.
Find Katie at Katie Clarke Virtual Services