The Harpoon Blog

The 2017 Outlook for Freelance Web Designers and Developers

by Ryan Battles in Business Tips

It’s true that the landscape has been shifting over the past several years for freelance web designers and developers. A timeline comparison of how frequently people have searched Google for the terms Web Designer and Web Developer shows that there was a peak around 2007 for web developer searches, while searches for web designers have steadily been in a decline for as far back as Google will share with us.

Data from Google Trends

What does this tell us? Well I think that the rise in “web developer” was largely due to people becoming more used to the term, as previously a “web designer” was considered on in the same as a developer. The separation of the two roles seemed to become understood around 2007.

But why the decline in searching for designers and developers? I would venture to say it is a number of things:

  1. Clients have found a designer/developer that they like working with, and are no longer shopping around.
  2. Clients have discovered freelance marketplaces like Upwork and Guru, and are hiring freelancers through those services. Because there is more competition in these marketplaces, freelancers within them tend to make less money.
  3. Clients have hired in-house web designers and developers, creating new roles within the organization that require less outsourcing to freelancers.
  4. Instead of paying top-dollar for a custom site design and development package, clients are using do-it-yourself tools like Shopify and Squarespace to build attractive websites for a low monthly fee.

In addition to a decline in clients searching for a web designer or developer, there is also increasing competition.

More web designers and developers are entering the market. According to Indeed, jobseeker interest in the roles of designers and developers have risen steadily over the past several years.

Data from Indeed.com

How to Thrive in Today’s Environment

It is important now more than ever to differentiate yourself as a freelancer by choosing a particular brand direction. Instead of branding yourself as a freelance developer, why not niche down into a specific language that is trending up?

For example, a Ruby on Rails developer has been in demand for several years now, however, according the search frequency for a Ruby on Rails developer, there are other languages that have surpassed it in popularity (like Angular developer).

Data from Google Trends

To thrive in 2017 as a developer, it wouldn’t be a bad choice to niche down as an Angular developer, build up your knowledge and project portfolio (even if you have to create demo projects), and market your expertise accordingly.

Are we in an Upswing in 2017?

I’ve heard mixed stories here. Some businesses are still struggling, while others are thriving. Software as a Service (SaaS) is on the rise, providing new job opportunities for web workers, and an online presence has never been more important for companies wishing to engage with their audience (and grow new ones). For any freelancer that can effectively market how their services will add value to clients’ unique needs in 2017, it will continue to be a very good year indeed.

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