Working as a web developer can provide you with a lot of freedom of choice. After all, as long as you have a computer and somewhere to work on it, you can do your thing. Whether it’s a laptop on your knees in your conservatory at home, desk based computer in a home-office or even using a laptop in the local business centre, you will have sufficient resources to produce magic. Of course this also means that you can keep overheads very low and don’t have to worry about managing staff unless you decide to expand.

But as a web developer new to the world of work, you have an important decision to make; should you go it alone and be your own boss or start firing off applications to the many web agencies already in existence, looking for long-term employment. Of course there are pros and cons related to each and much will depend on your attitude to risk and personal preferences.

You may even decide to do a bit of each. After all, there is nothing wrong with working for an agency for a time, learning new skills and the tricks of the trade and then going it alone later. By bringing all of your knowledge and abilities to the fore – those learned whilst gaining qualifications and by working in the IT sector – you can provide your own web development service in Birmingham or wherever else you live.

However, if you feel torn and just don’t know which way to go, here is our take on freelance vs agency. The final decision will then be yours.

Going freelance
One thing you must take on board is that there are a lot of other people working as freelance web developers. With this in mind, the competition will be fierce and you will need to stand out from the crowd in order to win clients. Some people will have a tendency to veer towards the more experienced agencies or solo developers, so you need to do something to pull them in. It’s all about marketing yourself in a cost-effective and powerful way. You don’t have a huge budget so most of your advertising will need to be by word of mouth, social media and via freelance websites such as www.peopleperhour.com. Begin by creating a good profile, whether it is on your Facebook page, LinkedIn or ‘People per Hour’ type site. Build a portfolio, tell people why you are good and maybe start your pricing slightly low to begin with. Once you start to build up a regular clientele base, you can gradually start creeping up your rates towards the higher-end.

You then need to decide where you will work from. Starting from home makes sense as it is cheap and flexible. You will need to have the type of personality that does not mind working alone, is not bothered by not having colleagues to chat with and is confident enough to make decisions without running them past others.

Your hours of work depend upon you. Forget working nine ‘til five. If you are a good early riser, start your day as soon as you like. Late riser? Work on into the evenings. You will also likely need to give up at least one day of your weekend as clients don’t expect you to take days off! But you will need to be dedicated and consistent. Use a planner to set out your work, set deadlines and stick to them. When you tell a client you will get finished projects back to them on a certain date, you must do so. Failure on your part will end up with poor feedback, negative reviews and loss of customers. You need to build a reputation based upon professionalism, high standards of excellence and value for money. At times you will find yourself overloaded with work at others, with not enough. Be prepared for stress and for periods of working hard. On slack days, take advantage of the fact and recharge your batteries with time out. You should also find yourself working with a vast variety of clients, so boredom should never be an issue.

As far as income goes, you will be raising invoices in order to get paid. Sites like People per Hour protect you by getting clients to put deposits into an Escrow account. If you are dealing directly with clients, with work coming via social media, referrals, LinkedIn etc., think about using a payment vehicle such as PayPal. This keeps track of and raises your invoices and you can ask for funds up-front. Once you have established trust with clients on a regular basis, you may wish to offer terms such as 7 days. Think hard before committing to 30 day payments as this can put a huge strain upon your cashflow.

Working for an agency
If you don’t fare well under pressure and like to see a regular wage coming in, then working for an agency may be your best bet. You won’t have to fight for the work or worry about when your next invoice will be paid. Working with a variety of clients, you will be able to learn a lot and your focus will be 100% on developing. Forget about wearing a variety or hats and say goodbye to being bothered by marketing, tracking invoices, doing your own accounting and communicating with clients directly. Here the focus should be on finely tuning your coding skills, getting involved with the latest technological trends and knowing that you have enough time to work on each project. Deadlines are more likely to be realistic and you will not be in a customer-facing role or on the receiving end of demanding clients wanting more.

Depending upon your personality, you may prefer to work in a team rather than solo, have the social interaction with others in your field and not have the pressure of not being sure where your next lot of income will come from. In an agency, you will be working alongside many different professionals such as graphic designers, project managers, videographers and photographers and even content writers. Get-togethers during team meetings will allow you to put forward your own viewpoints and gain a good overview of the whole web development process.

You may also be able to make new friends, socialise after work and know that your weekends and holidays are your own.

It’s your decision
Which route you go down will depend very much upon your attitude to business, ability to cope with stress and being able to work solo. Gaining agency experience first is certainly a good idea and during this time, you can decide whether you want to cut loose or stay put.
Working as a freelancer can be fantastic and many say that once they get used to the freedom of being their own boss, there is no going back. Take your time to decide which is right for you and know that if you make the leap to freelancing and find it isn’t what your expected, you can always return to agency work.