Creating Value as a Freelancer

As a freelancer, this is one of the hardest challenges: how to justify your services to a company

Written by Jonathan "JD" Danylko • Last Updated: • Business Lessons •

Man shaking hands in agreement with a woman

When you become a freelancer, there's always the initial excitement of something new. You dream of making it big, creating a name for yourself, and the ability to build something great.

Yet, there are times when people look at your freelance services and question their value. The ability to present services to a client where they don't question the cost is quite an art and a science.

The reason I wanted to write about this topic was because of a particular tweet last week.

I read this tweet and gave it a quick thought, but ever since I read it, it kept nagging at me where I had to sit down and think about it.

It also hit a little too close to home since I've worked with a handful of clients in the past who thought this exact way. As a matter of fact, they said the same sentence in the tweet (which made me raise an eyebrow wondering if the person knew my client) ;-)

"Why do I need a web developer when I can use <platform>?"

In today's post, we'll examine why this statement is toxic for business owners.

Is Everyone a Web Developer Now?

These kinds of statements remind me of two stories.

The first story harkens back to the 90's with Visual Basic where users would create screens by dragging elements onto a form.

Once the elements were on the form, they would run the application and everyone thought they were developers ("This isn't that hard!").

Of course, there were some who joked about it, but others who were serious.

The second story I coincidentally mentioned in one of my past newsletters.

A friend of mine had a friend who "made a website" over the weekend.

He said he created it with WordPress.

"Oh, he know's PHP?"

"No, he doesn't," he replied, "He dragged elements onto the page and proclaimed himself a web developer."

<sigh>

With these types of stories, people who create these types of websites are building "brochure-ware." A brochure-ware website is almost a direct translation of what they create in printed materials and has no value whatsoever.

It just...sits there.

No interaction. No downloads. It just says to everyone "I'm a company and I have a website." Most sites attach a form so visitors can ask questions, but that's the extent of the website.

Extensions, Extensions, Extensions

With each platform, developers write extensions a.k.a. addons a.k.a. plugins. These extensions shorten the time to get a website up and running with certain features.

You want an ecommerce site. Download an inventory extension and a shopping cart extension and plug it in.

Want a website dealing with podcasts? Download an extension to manage your podcasts.

While extensions are [semi-]easy to implement, you will need someone competent to install the extension and make any adjustments to get it working properly (like connecting to a database). Who do they call when they try to install it and it doesn't work as expected?

Extensions are mainly open-source unless you are working with the company hosting your website like WordPress, Wix, or SquareSpace.

If you need support, you are going to have to pay for it whether it's a hosting company or a web developer.

Building Websites

It takes a while to learn web development.

There are a number of technologies and languages to build websites, but the trick is making everything come together into a cohesive package for a client's website.

This includes the mastery of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (what I call the "Trinity of the Web"), backend languages (PHP, C# Java, etc), and optionally SQL or Non-SQL for persistence.

The amount of knowledge it takes to learn web development takes a while. If you don't believe me, check out the Web Development Roadmap for 2021.

That's a lot to know and connect.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have companies like Wix or Squarespace who use boilerplate templates (maybe over 100) to churn out websites constantly.

I feel these websites are the equivalent of brochure-ware.

Even better, they remind me of houses.

Duplicate houses all in a row

"My website doesn't look like theirs. Mine is blue."

Uh-huh.

While I agree there are certain patterns in web design as to where the navigation and search are located, this makes those options a little less flexible.

With these comments, let's get to the meat of the post.

How to Show Value To Your Customers

When you gained a customer, I'm guessing there was some time invested to win them over with your services.

Sometimes it's hard to show the value as to why they should go with you and not another platform.

Here's my list of how to show value so your customers go with you every time.

1. Trust

This is probably the biggest one on the list.

Your customers trust you with their business.

Always be truthful about whether to include a certain feature on a website or why they shouldn't use another feature just because it's the latest "shiny thing."

Over time, they will respect your advice and see you as a valued and trusted professional.

Not some support/sales person on the phone saying, "Oh, we're having a special on shopping carts this month."

2. Always Be There

While it's always hard to be there 24/7 like some of these hosting companies, the amount of time on hold may make up for it (kidding...I'm kidding).

It's always good to pick up a phone and have someone local to assist with your problem especially when the person on the other end knows exactly how the website was built and structured.

3. Creating a Unique Experience 

As mentioned above, it makes a huge difference to build a website that isn't like anything else on the web.

With all of the templates out there on these platforms, there will come a time when they ask for something that doesn't exist. Their requirements will hit a ceiling.

It will happen.

When this occurs, a web developer is expected to jump into <platform> and start writing code.

While there is something to be said for jumpstarting a website with a boilerplate, the whole idea of branding the site and making it theirs is what takes it to the next level.

If they want a website to look like everyone else, it's their company image, not yours.

4. Personalize

Again, web development is a lot to take in and understand.

Do each of these companies have the following services?

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Web Optimization
    • JavaScript Minification/Bundling
    • CSS Minification/Bundling
    • Image Optimization
  • Analytics
  • Adminstration services
    • Backup/Restore services
      • Content
      • Databases
  • SSL certificate for security (now it's considered standard and included on most hosting platforms)

These handful of services only scratch the surface of what can make or break a website.

My guess is they wouldn't be able to achieve any of these services...without payment.

5. Testimonials

If you've been in the industry for a while, it may be a good idea to talk to current clients and/or friends to ask for testimonials.

Testimonials are the equivalent of references on a resume. This is a freelancers best weapon when it comes to value.

It presents the client with proof you can do the work. It also shows you've already completed past work with other customers before them.

This type of value shows you have the ability to achieve their goals and make them successful.

6. When all else fails, it's their "house"

As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink.

At the end of the day, there are times when you can recommend and advise your customer until you turn blue in the face, but it may still fall on deaf ears.

Write down each recommendation you presented to the customer and make the call as to whether to hand the recommendation list to them or hang on to it for your own record. Attach these recommendations to their file for future use because you MAY need it when they come back.

Be as supportive as possible and able to assist when necessary.

Conclusion

It's always hard to justify your existence to a customer, but I feel companies would look through this list and still say "I don't see why it's so hard. All they are doing is moving elements on the screen."

Any other company would see it as an investment.

I guess some people like to perform their own dentistry.

Did I miss something on the list? How do you show value to a customer? Post your comments below and let's discuss.

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Picture of Jonathan "JD" Danylko

Jonathan Danylko is a web architect and entrepreneur who's been programming for over 25 years. He's developed websites for small, medium, and Fortune 500 companies since 1996.

He currently works at Insight Enterprises as a Principal Software Engineer.

When asked what he likes to do in his spare time, he replies, "I like to write and I like to code. I also like to write about code."

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