*This article contains affiliate links. See my “Heads up” disclosure at the bottom of this page.
This handy guide hopes to inspire you to learn more if you’re considering remote work, or you are interested in location-independent work. This guide shows you how you can create a modest recurring income by taking advantage of three proven ways to earn a self-employed living from just about anywhere with an internet connection. This is not a get rich quick scheme.
For those who already have experience working remotely or building websites, this guide hopes to show you a different, perhaps simpler way to increase your income and decrease your stress. But most of all, to improve your value to your clients.
If you’re new to this sort of thing, you will need to learn a few somewhat technical skills, sign up for some services, and then apply yourself in the form of actual work. This guide is NOT a complete step-by-step manual covering all aspects of web development. It is simply a guide to getting you started and inspiring you to look deeper and learn more. You will be introduced to tools, resources, tutorials, to jumpstart your learning process. Many people have done these things and have been successful at creating a decent income for themselves. You will need to commit some of your time every day to teach yourself the necessary skills and be able to do the tasks described in order to make your efforts pay off.
Why work as a Web Developer?
There are many kinds of web developers and web designers, web engineers, coders, and lots of specialists. The kind of web developer described herein is somebody who is self-employed and thus makes their own hours. This kind of work is appealing to people because of many reasons, but I enjoy most the freedom of this work. I can work from just about anywhere in the entire world as long as I can get internet access for a few hours every day or for a few full days a week. It’s flexible work that almost anyone can do from anywhere. That’s a huge plus for many people. For the most part, the web developer I am talking about here is someone who wants to help people create, improve, or maintain their company or organization’s website. If done right, a web developer can have the freedom to travel the world, have flexible hours, and works as few days and/or as many hours a day as they need to maintain the lifestyle they want for themselves.
Is this type of work right for you?
You will need to determine on your own if this type of web development work is a good fit for you. So here are some important things to consider before diving headfirst into this type of work.
- Don’t buy into Get Rich Schemes. Many people are in the business of selling you dream jobs or “passive income strategies” with promises of riches and making money doing next to nothing. If you don’t already know — I am here to tell you — that’s just a pipe dream. Searching Google for “earning an income online” will present you with 1,000,000 empty promises that are filled with costly pitfalls, bullshit sales funnels, and a deep bitterness for get-rich schemes. Don’t go to the Dark Side! If you are the type that falls for hoaxes and schemes easily, then this type of work isn’t for you.
- There’s going to be actual work involved. Anybody who says you can make a lot of money by doing next to nothing is selling you something you don’t need. How much you make from self-employment is largely dependent upon your efforts (how much work you can accomplish, and how efficient you are at getting things done).
- It’s not going to be free to get started. You can learn everything there is to know about web development without spending a dime. There are numerous resources available online to help you gain everything you need to know. I will provide some links to useful (and free) information towards the end of this article. But be prepared to pay some money to get going when you are ready to make the leap to working for yourself.
- You are going to need some basic tools. You probably already have most of the tools you need, but here’s the short list of tools you should consider: a computer (laptop), smartphone, a credit card, internet access, a bank account, a secure way to backup your computer, an online payment gateway or service provider, and other useful online tools that I will describe in the coming paragraphs. I will not go into every aspect of the above-mentioned tools but suffice it to say that you need to have the right tools for the job for you. The more proficient and experienced you are with these tools the better. You will need to maintain them and make sure they are always working for you by monitoring and making sure they are secure. Your tools are the means to your livelihood.
- This is just one way of many. You can find your own path if what you learn here isn’t your speed. What follows is a few carefully curated ways to make some money with as much freedom from hassles, hurdles, and headaches as possible. I’ve found over the years that the web development world is made up of many wildly diverse opportunities, amazingly fun communities, and many different styles. There are many ‘schools of thought’ that will tell you the best way of doing web development is the raw code approach to building from scratch. While others profess that building upon what others have already done is more efficient and less time-consuming. Ultimately, you will find your own niche style. But I’m here to tell you that sometimes it’s best to simplify and work with proven services to provide the best value for your clients. What follows is a simple way to build a small empire for yourself. You’ll still need to keep up with technology and always improve your value to your clients.
Let’s define some basic terms
Web Developer. In his CareerFoundry article, Eric An defined the difference between a web developer and a web designer. He made some very important distinctions. “A web developer would be responsible for using various components like the engine, transmission, wheels, etc. to construct a fully-functional car that is error-free in its technical aspects” and “A web designer would be responsible for the aesthetic design of the car (the comfort of the seats, the layout of the dashboard, etc.) as well as the convenience in driving and riding in the car”.
For the sake of simplicity, when I use the term “web developer” I am talking about a hybrid of both of the two definitions Eric described (web developer and web designer). The reason is simple. Most web developers are also web designers and vice-versa. In the real world of this kind of work, you will be doing a little bit of everything.
WordPress. Most websites today are using some form of Content Management System (CMS). WordPress is a type of CMS that is vastly supported and trusted by hundreds of millions of professionals worldwide. There are two forms of WordPress you’ll run into. Self-Hosted (WordPress.org) and Hosted (Wordpress.com). The self-hosted version uses open-sourced software that you can use for free on your own hosting server or service. Most reputable hosting companies offer a simplified WordPress installation service. The self-hosted version has the most flexibility and gives you more control over the finished product. That’s what I recommend you use. Using hosted WordPress.com is severely limiting, and you will likely run into headaches and hassles trying to scale your freelancing business with WordPress.com. If you want to learn more about the two platforms (.org and .com), take a look at this article by WPBeginner.com. In this article, I will be focusing on Self-Hosted WordPress for best results.
Digital Living. The terms, “Digital Living” and “Location-Independent” are used to identify remote, freelancing type work that only requires some basic tools and access to the internet. Some examples of digital or remote work are writers, graphic artists, freelance photographers, consultants, social media managers, SEO and marketing specialists, content creators, YouTubers, etc. The main reason some gravitate to a location-independent lifestyle is to gain the freedom to travel. Many also find living in other countries cheaper than in the US, Canada, Australia or the UK. Whatever your reason, working as a web developer can help you get there.
*Remote Working / Digital Nomading Note:
You can learn a lot more on this subject by reading this article:
Summary of what you’ll be doing
In a nutshell, you will be creating websites for clients, setting up hosting for their websites, designing and constructing layouts and site functions, connecting the domain name to the website, setting up the domain name email for the client, and ensuring that the website is published and working as designed. There are three related services that are in demand, are reasonably profitable, and that complement each other. Each of these services can be done with a little bit of knowledge and some time and effort on your part. There are several ways to accomplish what I will be showing you, but I will focus on a simple way that has proven to work with quicker results, fewer hassles, and saving you a lot of time and money. What follows is enough knowledge to get you started, some important services that will help you get going, and several resources to learn more and get you started on the right track.
The 3 in-demand, complementary web services that you can earn a living doing just about anywhere
1. Building Websites. You will be creating high-performance websites for small businesses and professionals. Building a website is basically a ‘one-off’ income stream where you get paid a fee for providing web development services. Some people write a contract for an hourly fee, and many offer a per-project fee where you quote the client for the entire website. I recommend you find the type of client that is easy to work with, flexible and is able to stick to the scope of work outlined in your quote. That way any additional work has an extra fee to work out. Most clients will need a hosting company that’s fast and reliable (see #2 below). Estimated earnings for building websites range from $1,200 to $50,000 per website depending on several factors. The fee for a basic website probably costs between $1,500 to $2,000 in my opinion.
2. Hosting Websites. Hosting websites, and setting up your own bundled web hosting packages, if done right, can lead to recurring revenue. If your client pays your monthly fees for hosting a website in addition to the fees you receive for building the website, you are on the road to a long term relationship with that client instead of a one-time fee. This opens the door to other services your client may need like, editing, maintenance, updates and changes over time (see #3 below). Estimated earnings for hosting websites depends on several factors, but you should expect to price you hosting services between $30 and $150 per month. The average recurring monthly fees for high-quality hosting services are probably $40 to $99 per month for each individual website in my opinion. Charging too little for hosting is unsustainable.
3. Web Services. You will be providing ongoing web services, tech support, regular maintenance, nightly backups, updating content, installing new features, editing on behalf of the client, and handling monthly updates as needed. Once you have established a great relationship with your clients, they will inevitably need more help, or want to recommend you to their friends for new web development work, hosting, etc (see #1 and #2 above). Wherever you live is a good indicator for what you will be charging for hourly web services. For example, in one area the going rate where I lived was $65 per hour for updates, editing, etc. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the average cost per hour went up to $130 per hour, but most people hiring for web services are finding them online for less (UpWork, Freelancer, etc). You will need to find your own market and price your services accordingly. One way to price your services is to forecast your monthly budget needs and work backward. If you need $3,200 per month, and you can work a maximum of 20 hours per week, that means you could charge $40 per hour and receive $3,200 per month (gross earnings). I like to pad that a little to take into consideration taxes, slow period, and then I add my monthly costs of operations (web hosting costs, fees, etc). These are just some pricing considerations. Don’t use my example to price your services. Research what’s best for you where you are, and ask around with local WordPress developers.
* Bonus web service: SEO services. Once you have nearly mastered creating websites, have a few hosting clients, and are regularly helping clients with their website needs, you might consider adding an advanced web service — SEO. For that, I recommend you spend however long it takes to watch (take notes) all of Brian Dean’s videos on the subject [video link]. When you add clients to your hosting server, adding an SSL certificate is critical to SEO. By having your Divi themed website on your Flywheel server, plus some image optimization, that website will load fast. Fast, reliable hosting greatly improves a clients Google page authority. Same with making sure the websites you create are all mobile-responsive (resizes and works in all types of devices and browsers).
In addition to those three services mentioned above, you will also spend time marketing your services (make time for marketing yourself). As a web developer, you will be on the hunt for new clients that need a website, website related help, and/or website hosting services. Marketing is a huge subject, so I will not be spending a lot of time on the different ways to market and sell your services. But I strongly recommend you spend some time learning the process of marketing yourself and your services to have a better understanding of how you can put yourself out there.
I will be linking some amazing sources of information on marketing towards the bottom of this article. The best advice I can give you on marketing is to share what you are doing with others. Join WordPress groups online and find a WordPress meetup group. You’ll meet interesting people, gain valuable insight, get help, find clients, and have a lot of fun too. One important reason to join groups with other web developers is to understand pricing for your services in your region or area of the world.
So you will be building websites, helping clients get their brand online, and working with clients to improve their websites. The higher the quality of your work, the better word of your services will organically reach new clients.
My advice is to focus on creating really good relationships with clients, providing the highest value to them as you can, and get in the habit of improving yourself and understanding any changes in the technologies you use every day.
A brief note about lifestyle: Whenever you are faced with rising costs of living, wherever you are, you might consider moving to where the cost of living is within your current means. That’s just another benefit of having a portable or remote work income. But remember, the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere. And please don’t bring your problems with you to other countries.
In the next section, you will find information about services and resources that will provide you with detailed tutorials and tools to get started making websites and providing web services.
Getting Started: Tools, Services, and Resources
Let me introduce you to the tools, services, and resources you will need to get started with all three services. You may already know of and understand what these are, or even have used them before. But this combination has proven to work reliably and efficiently for years.
Hosting. Websites need a place to hold all the content (files, scripts, database, and images) so I recommend Flywheel. If you are just starting out, and you aren’t ready to create your own hosting agency, then you can simply sign your client up with their own hosting service. I am a proponent of listening to experts and not trying to duplicate their work. So to get started using Flywheel I recommend you download and read their ebook on the subject. Once you set up your first Flywheel hosting account, you will have the option of either creating a new website with a fresh install of WordPress or migrating an existing Wordpress website for free. Gone are the days when we used to have to upload all the WordPress files and edit the database by hand. All of that stuff is done automatically now. Once Wordpress is installed, the next step is to install and activate a theme.
*Insider tip using Flywheel: If you set up Gravity forms with PayPal and Stripe, then you don’t need what Flywheel calls, “White Label”. White Label is an add-on service that is currently priced at about $149 per month that Flywheel offers so you can bill your customers seamlessly from your Flywheel dashboard. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great service if you can afford it and you don’t want to set up Gravity forms with PayPal and Stripe. You can get all the features of White Label by using the methods and tools described herein.
** Hosting note: there are hundreds of other hosting and managed hosting companies that you could look into. But I have already done that and I have already weighed in on the arguments for and against each hosting option. The result of my 10-years of different hosting companies is that the pros for most is hype, and the cons for many are true. The tried and true winner is Flywheel.
WordPress Theme. With WordPress, you will always use a theme and perhaps a page builder. I recommend Divi Theme by Elegant Themes because it will save you a lot of time and money. Divi is a robust theme and page builder that is well documented, highly flexible with a stunning array of options, features, functions, and support. Since I started working with Divi many years ago my work has become more productive, less stressful, and the end results are higher client satisfaction, improved website performance, and higher earnings for my business. With Divi, you also get a giant repository of pre-made layouts that you can use to quickly develop websites for clients. Divi comes with many options and features that are fully explained in videos. Take a peek at all the videos on the Elegant Themes channel. You have several options with Divi, including a backend Divi Building Experience, creating new pages from existing layouts or pages you have already created as a template, or using the visual builder on the front end of the website.
Once you have your theme and layout selected and activated, you will begin building pages by inserting content, images and text copy. This process is where most of your time will be spent. So my advice is to make sure you have a clear understanding of the content your client can provide, and the design elements of the website’s features and functions. Here’s a great video on how to create a website using the Divi Theme I recommend [video link]. The video is very long, but it is very detailed. And here’s another video showing you how to create a website using a Divi layout [video link].
** Theme note: there are thousands of other themes, but for someone that doesn’t want to spend the next 2–3 years learning all the basics of WordPress and CSS, you can get started quickly and create amazing custom websites in half the time with Divi from Elegant Themes. If you want to avoid a “page builder” then I recommend OrganicThemes.com. They have the best quality themes, solid;y clean code, and no page builder hangups.
Domain Name. A domain name is what establishes the web address (url) of a specific website (ie. google.com). If your client already has a domain name, then you need to determine if that domain name is tied to a hosting account. If so, you may want to discuss transferring the domain name to a new Google Domains account. Each domain has an annual registration fee ($12/year or more). Google Domains does a fantastic job handling domains and makes it a lot easier to set up domain email for your clients.
To set up the Domain Name Servers so that they point to the web hosting, you should read this detailed tutorial. You will need the logins for your client’s Google Domain account (or the domain name registrar that the client’s domain name is registered with). To make the website live, follow the tutorial and set the nameservers to the Flywheel IP address on the client’s hosting account (or your hosting account if you have set up your agency account).
** Domain Name note: I believe in having the domain name registration separate from the hosting company for many reasons. That philosophy also rings true with email. To me, email and domain names seem to work well under a registrar, but hosting a website does not. This is just my professional opinion.
Email Services. If you have registered a Google Domain for your client, then this next step is easy. You will need to set up a GSuite account for your client that is assigned to their domain name (ie. firstname.lastname@example.org). Here’s a Google tutorial on how that’s done. Make sure that you are in the client’s Google account when registering their domain name or setting up their GSuite Email. GSuite is about $6 per month per email. Here’s a video on how to set up GSuite, but remember, you will be setting up the client’s email on their Google Account [video link]. There are other ways to handle email, but the combination of having the domain name registered with Google Domains, and set up using GSuite Email has eliminated all the headaches I have ever had from other services. Since I started convincing all my clients to go with GSuite email, I have had no email problems or support issues.
Payment Gateways. You will need some way to collect money from your clients online. There are countless reasons why you should not accept checks, not to mention the fact that it takes a lot of time to wait for the mail and to deposit that check in your bank. The two payment gateways that I recommend are, PayPal and Stripe. I use both every week for invoices and recurring subscriptions, and to provide payment options for my clients.
Contact Forms. Most websites have some kind of contact form where visitors can reach the business to ask questions about products or services. Over the years I have dealt with many different ways to handle contact forms and in the end, after years of trial and error, I must recommend Gravity Forms for all your web forms. One of the many features of Gravity Forms is the ability to set up recurring subscriptions using PayPal and/or Stripe. I offer my clients both payment options. With Gravity Forms, you can also get a bunch of other useful Add-on extensions that can help your client’s website do a lot of advanced things.
Managing Updates & Services. Once you have multiple client websites on your Hosting account, you will want to manage and monitor them effectively. You will also want to improve the value of your services to them, increase your productivity, and save time. That’s where ManageWP comes into the picture. I’ve used them for years with great success. ManageWP helps you manage your websites via a plugin you add to each of your client websites called, “worker”. Another option I use is JetPack Premium. I use it for clients that have their own hosting or are not on my bulk hosting account. The client has many options for different levels of site monitoring and security. However, for all my clients with websites on my bulk agency account, I use ManageWP. That way I can update all their plugins with one-click and handle spam or junk comments on their websites with one-click. ManageWP also monitors the uptime for all my client websites and alerts me if any of them are down.
Logos and Graphics. If your client is a new startup they might not have a logo yet. One place I have found a lot of great talent is 99designs. I also use UpWork and Freelancer to find graphic artists to handle logos, icons or illustrations for the web. I have had a lot of success using 99designs, UpWork, and Freelancer for all my graphics needs.
Free Images. Finding good images have always been a problem. The trick is to always use images that are licensed for free reuse (royalty free). There are many sites that offer royalty free images that you can use for commercial or non-commercial websites. I use Pexels.com often.
Ecommerce and Web Stores. You will one day be asked to create a web store or to add a Shop to an existing website. For that I recommend WooCommerce.
Hosting Agency. In order for you to start hosting client websites, you are going to need an agency account with Flywheel. You can get started with a “freelance” account which gives you space for 10 client websites (for about $100/month). That account is easily scaled up as you continue to grow, so no need to pay for a full agency account ($250/month or more) until you need the extra room. Once you have a few clients on your hosting server, you will be receiving monthly recurring subscription payments and it will feel good knowing you can grow your business one website at a time. The key features that you will offer your clients will be Fast Hosting (high-speed page loading), nightly backups, Free SSL certificate, and your support as needed. Flywheel handles almost everything for you. You simply set up the client’s website on your server, make sure the domain name is pointed correctly, configure the SSL certificate from Flywheel’s simple set up page, and then test. It’s really easy. Flywheel handles the nightly backups, the auto-renewal of the SSL certificate, and the fast page loading is automatic.
“Getting a quality website is not an expense but rather an investment.”
― Dr. Christopher Dayagdag
Web development, Hosting, and Web Services
Once you’ve gained a solid understanding of the three basic services that are in-demand, and you have thoroughly studied the different tools you can use to get started, then you are ready to dive into your first project — your own website.
Many of you already have a lot of experience creating your own website, or you may have a lot of experience with the tools and perhaps even this kind of work. For you, the important take away is that you can simplify your services by using Flywheel for hosting, Google for domain name registration, GSuite for email, Divi for WordPress, Gravity Forms for Forms and Payment Gateways (PayPal & Stripe). These are sometimes referred to as, “outsourced services”. I’ve found that these service providers help bring a lot of value to my clients, and save me time and money in the long run, as well as improve reliability and security for both my clients and my own business.
As you know, there are hundreds of other options out there and a thousand different ways to accomplish the same goals, but I hope you discover a whole new sense of freedom and peace of mind using these services to help you consolidate your current or future offerings.
For those that are brand new to this kind of work I hope you’ve been inspired to learn more and to get started with your own web development business.
Learn more (your homework)
Elegant Themes provides the Divi Theme, but they also have a fantastic blog and video series. If you read their blog posts daily and watch the videos in those blog posts, you will be way ahead of the competition.
The Process of Building a WordPress website, step-by-step. Once you’ve grasped the steps you need to take to build a website, host it, maintain it, improve it, and protect it, then you will have earned the title of ‘web developer’.
Gravity Forms plugin and add-on extensions. You can find a ton of information about the various plugins and how they can help you or your client’s websites.
Google Domains and GSuite Email for Domains. Once you learn how to set up your clients with GSuite and Google Domains (starting with your own business domain name and email) you will have a huge leg up on the competition.
WooCommerce website ecommerce solutions to create online stores and website shops. Creating stores is a profitable specialty.
ManageWP to manage multiple client websites.
Local by Flywheel is a free but powerful local WordPress development tool.
Layout is the official blog of Flywheel and has great articles on Web Development.
Testing SSL Performance (shows what files are insecure).
Ultra simple image optimization tool (cropping and quality reduction for those without Photoshop).
WordPress Meetup Groups worldwide * this is a great opportunity to meet awesome people!
I am certain to have missed something, so if you know of something valuable to add to this article, please leave it in the comments section.
*Update 2020: This content and more: How to make a digital living.
*Heads up: full disclosure — This article has a few affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you will not pay a cent more, but I will get a small commission, which helps me afford my daily coffee habit. Once you get started in the world of remote working, you will likely be asked for help and you will find yourself offering advice and help to others regularly. Sometimes that advice is to use services or products that you trust and that have worked for you. Those companies often offer a small commission for sharing their brand with others who might also benefit from their services or products. My advice is to never offer links to companies you have no experience with or just for the sake of gaining an affiliate commission. Share what you know will help others. Thanks for your support.