Dream Job: Freelance Web Developer Zoe Rooney
Happy Monday! I have a treat for you today! With the recent re-launch of Creatively Driven, I really wanted to give props to my developer, Zoe Rooney. I found Zoe through the labrynth of bloggers/designers that I follow and saw that her portfolio was full of projects I had seen before and blogs I was actually following. I knew she would be a good fit for me.
Last year I worked with her on the re-design of my freelance site, LorettaMay Design, and because of her awesome work, I’ve been able to update my site easily and quickly. It was exactly as I designed it! In december I reached out again and asked her for a quote on my blog and she of course obliged. Zoe is incredibly patient with me and always answers every question. I have learned a lot of what i know about designing wordpress themes (which i’ll admit is still not a lot), through working with Zoe, reading her blogs, and having her answer my questions.
One thing that I really admire about Zoe is that she is actually doing SO well, that she has people working under her.
That’s crazy sauce! I can’t even imagine being in that position right now. I really wanted to shed some light on what it takes to be a successful freelance web developer (aside from being super talented) so I asked her some questions. I hope this helps anyone thinking about becoming a freelance web developer.
Please tell us a little about yourself and what you do:
I am a front-end web developer, which means I build websites. The terminology can be confusing, but “front-end” basically means I don’t create apps or whole site infrastructures, instead I generally build custom themes on top of existing content management systems such as WordPress and Shopify. I work with a whole bunch of really amazing designers creating websites for small businesses, creatives, and bloggers.
Outside of website-building, I blog about web design, development, and business, and I also teach classes with Girl Develop It and TechGirlz, both programs that encourage women and girls to get into programming. I also hang tough with my two female cats as the ladies in a household otherwise comprised of boys (husband, two little boys, and a male dog).
What was your background in or any previous experience before you decided to strike out on your own?
My background is in studio art and in elementary education, topics which are actually very related to my day to day work. I’ve been building websites for what feels like forever, but have only worked in my industry as a freelancer and now running my business (I’ve never been employed by anyone else as a developer, outside of contract work).
I worked in education for a number of years while building my freelance business and decided to make the leap after my younger son was born when my project schedule kept growing beyond what I could support on the side of a full time job.
Does someone need a specific degree to do what you do? or can they be self taught?
One of the things I love about web development is that many many people in the field (including me) are self-taught (I hesitate to say most, since I don’t have data, but I suspect it’s true).
What kind of qualities make up a good developer?
The number one quality, I think, is a love of solving puzzles and problems. A lot of development is debugging issues and finding solutions to design problems or requests for functionality that haven’t been done that exact way before. You’ve got to be persistent, patient, and highly motivated by that feeling when you finally get something to work or look how you want it to, otherwise it’s hard to stick it out through misplaced semicolons.
How does one get into freelance developing?
First and foremost, you’ve got to build up your skills in whichever languages you want to work with (which should be determined based on what you want to build, e.g. iOS apps or e-commerce sites or blogs). Then, the more you build the better for gaining skill and for showing potential clients what you can do. Practice on your own site, side projects, whatever you can get your hands on.
What are your top 3 tools on gaining clients and exposure?
I’ve been fortunate to build my business mainly on word of mouth and exposure from great sites I’ve been able to work on. It’s been important for me that I:
- Build a reputation as someone who is nice to work with and who provides results (this seems obvious but it’s seriously the most important thing to get that word of mouth thing going)
- Have lots of clear information available for potential clients, including everything from a professional quote process to a clear, non-legalese contract
- Maintain a presence on social media, especially Twitter (that’s where people in my industry hang out – in other industries other networks are probably more important)
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Some development problems are tough but really the hardest part for me is the business side. Figuring out scheduling, timelines, growth, managing employees, etc., is definitely an ongoing challenge.
At what point did you decide to hire employees to help you?
I hired my first employee when I hit a point where I could no longer maintain the admin side of my business while building enough websites. Answering emails and writing estimates was pulling me away from code and in order to grow I needed to be able to spend less time on those tasks and more on the actual client projects.
I’m continuing to grow slowly and purposefully so that I can take on more projects and have a shorter lead time, both of which mean I get to work with more great designers and clients.
Do you have any other advice to someone first starting out or interested in being a freelance developer?
Build lots and lots of websites and pay attention to the details of design (spacing, type, colors). Also make sure to hone your communication skills, as there’s a lot of client education in building websites.
I highly suggest working with Zoe for any website for creatives, bloggers or small businesses. She will do an amazing job and is worth every penny. Go visit her site!