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I just finished HTML, CSS, and jQuery on Codecademy + HTML5 course on Udemy called "Learn HTML5 Programming From Scratch" and I have some experience with Photoshop.

What should I do now to gain experience to be able to work on real projects as a freelancer?

I'm aiming to be a Web Designer/Front-end Developer at the moment and maybe in the future I'll aim to be a Full-Stack Web Developer.

Should I start designing my portfolio (it'll be empty of course)? Or should I wait till I gain some experience to make it actually look good and to have some projects to put there?

I'm really lost and open to suggestions.

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You are off to a good start with those skills. It can be challenging at first. Get good at research by using Google to find answers to questions. Use Stack Overflow and ask questions if necessary.

You should also learn some back-end scripting languages, like PHP, Python, Ruby, Node.js, etc...

Even if you just get the basics down, it will make you far more effective in the field.

If you are looking for decent client base online try elance.com. It's not great, but it's the best I've found so far to get high paying clients (up to $80/hr personally) who actually act like professionals.

I can't think of anything else off hand. I've been doing this for 10 years after quitting a 9-5 as PHP programmer / Unix SysAdmin so there is just so much.

Don't let people manipulate you either. There are all kinds of different tricks people will use and you will learn to spot different personalities. I swear I'm going to write a book about this one day. I have wasted hundreds of hours on people who are just taking advantage of me.

The strange thing is, when it's online, people who are normally decent good people somehow feel justified in burning you. I would recommend getting in at least a voice call with your clients at some point during the project and if possible Skype or Facetime or whatever at least once a week to show them that you are a real person. It really helps.

Also learn how to spot these guys:

  • Stroker: This client will continually bombard you with new projects that are "about to start". He will waste your time getting free information and quotes from you just so he has a guide to go on when he hires someone much cheaper. He will also use any information, research, documents, specification, etc... to help guide his project with another cheaper developer, and in turn get his project that much cheaper.

  • Pumper: This client pumps you for information constantly. He may throw some work your way to keep you happy, he may even pay you for some of that work. But he will waste hours and hours of your time in the long run. If you get a client who is constantly wanting to 'ask one quick question' that is not relevant to the scope of the project you are working on with him, then that is a red flag.

  • Burner: This client just straight burns your ass. Usually one of two scenario. A very charismatic, friendly person who chats you up and strokes your ego and tells you how great your doing the whole time. They get you to feel really comfortable with them and you let your guard down. Then when that check never comes rolling in (or PayPal or whatever), you are kind of like... OK, well I'm sure he's just busy I'll give him some time. And your boy is long gone. Sites like Elance who put your money in escrow "sometimes" will offer partial protection against getting scammed like this, but even with payments through PayPal, you are not protected. More on that in a minute.

    The second type of burner will be someone who communicates very little, seems standoffish, maybe a little anti-social. You went get much communication but he'll give you enough to keep you working. Then when it comes time to pay, he's MIA.

  • Creeper: I would say the creeper is worse than the burner. At least the burner just takes your work and gets out of your hair. But the creeper will cling onto you like a parasite and drag you and your entire operation down to hell and your bank account with him. The creeper appears to be a legit client and is sometimes hard to spot. The red flags are always SCOPE CREEP. One of the hardest things to learn is how to properly address a client who is requesting work outside the scope of your original contract. On the one hand you don't want to offend a legit client, but on the other hand, you don't want to get taken for a ride by a creeper. This is one of the harder aspects of freelancing and too much to get into, but just remember, never do ANY work that you have not agreed to specifically with the client on compensation unless you plan on that work being done for free. Because the client sure as heck loves that. If you let a creeper run amok you may find yourself two months deep into a project that was only supposed 'to take an hour' according to the client and getting paid like it too.

  • Knower: This client knows so much about programming, he probably knows more than you. NOT! But he will sure act like he does. He will try to tell you that he knows this should only take a couple hours and he used to do what you do and program xyz language that you program in, but that was a long time ago and now he's doing much more important things than your dumb job. Too bad when he said he was programming in xyz language it hadn't even been invented yet. And you already could tell just by talking to him that he never touched a piece of code in his life. Never work with a client who tries to tell YOU how long something should take. Or who asks you 'why is it taking so long' in a way that they are implying you are not being honest or that you are maybe not skilled. These are manipulation tactics to weaken your bargaining position when they try to burn you on payment. Never let a client tell you how much your time is worth. I tell them "I'm the one with the talent, skill, knowledge and experience in this field, so I prefer to be the one who decides how much I charge for my time." That usually sets the record straight. And if they don't like it, they can move on. That's another lesson, no client is too important to sacrifices your policies and ideals. No client. None. Always stick to your guns, that is how to make it in this biz.

  • Chummer: This guy is your best buddy in the whole world. He will ask you all about your life, your friends, your family, how's Grandma doing, how's the dog, did your mailman's sister's cat have those kittens? He'll compliment you all day on how smart you are and how amazed he is and what a GREAT job your doing etc etc etc... If you fall for that, you are going to be in a weakened position because you will feel there is something external to the relationship besides the business at hand. Trust me, there is not. This is the clients tactic to lower your bargaining power and save themselves money as well as allow them to insert scope creep into your project more easily. I will friendly and polite with clients, but if someone goes over the top I will pull back to indicate they have crossed a line. If they continue to line step, I will not work with them.

Anyway, that's just a few I could think of.

Just sign up for a freelancing site and build your profile on there for now. You can work on a website portfolio in your spare time. Take tests on those sites, like elance. It shows up on your profile/portfolio. On elance they have groups, so try to join a group (such as jQuery, or HTML5) and it will tell you that you need to pass this test or that. Take the tests. Do really good. If you pass you get the badge on your profile so client instantly sees it and goes, oh this guys good at "xyz technology" . If you score within top 10% or whatever on elance, you also get that listed in your profile instead of just "passed".

Keep re-taking the tests every 2 weeks until you get a few like that. The tests are really just important to get you some kind of credibility on there so someone will hire you. Once you have a decent profile and a few tests passed, go apply for jobs like crazy. Bid them low, and do a great job. The first 5 or so projects, you should not expect to make any money on. DO NOT take on something huge. We are talking $100 or less and less than 1 day to complete. These are just to find some clients willing to take a chance on you and hopefully give you 5 star review when you are done. The reviews are basically the only thing that matters on elance. I ask all my clients if they will please decline to review if they feel I have not performed 5 star worthy. About half of them do not review me and that is fine. I have a 5 star profile. And some jerk gave me 2 stars the other day and it didn't put a dent in my profile, that's how deep I roll in stars.

Anyway, get a few good reviews, then bump your rate up. Don't wuss out and put some crummy rate. You're a freelancer. You get to set your own pay rate. So figure out how much you need to pay your bills, buy equipment, etc., and then double or triple that. But don't sell yourself short. In the beginning you might have to work for 10 or 20 bucks an hour, but after about 6 months to a year, you should be making more like $35 - $50+.

And always quote what you think it's going to take and multiply by like 150% - 300% depending on how bad your estimation is, because it ALWAYS takes longer than you think. Same with your deadline estimates. Triple them.

Good Luck and remember, always stay true to what yourself, don't bend for anyone. It's a shark tank out there and blood is in the water.

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    just wow @Notorious Pet0 – Dinesh Chandra May 7 '15 at 13:30
  • WOW. Thank you so much..That's the kind of information I needed. – Sam May 8 '15 at 19:52
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The best school is the real work life, you will never stop to learn in this field and you will never really start to learn seriously until you will start to work on client's projects.

It's good that you have solid basis but my suggestion is to start to work on projects and problem solving (in your career you will be asked of things that you could never have imagined), start with small or even non-profit work for organizations, and go on with bigger and more complex projects.

The portfolio has short life, what you do now will be old and obsolete in a matter of a couple of years or less, the important thing is your reputation as a serious, transparent and inteligent person, and maybe the clients you work for.

Best wishes for your career.

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    @Sam, please consider to mark answer as valid if it resolved your question. Thank you. – kosmos Apr 22 '15 at 11:39

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