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Liz Kipp Front-end Web Developer

Learn how Liz taught herself front-end development while maintaining a successful freelance photography business.

What's your background and what type of services do you offer to clients?

My background is in Photography and I received my BA from Columbia College Chicago in 2002. After graduating I got an internship with a local editorial photographer and from there began my on again off again freelance career. Most jobs were at catalog houses in Chicago and eventually, I grew bored with it. In 2006 I had my first child and began branching out more on my own doing baby and family shoots, events and weddings. I would book my own gigs via word of mouth, facebook stalking, using Thumbtack, and serve as an independent contractor for other companies.

My career change into web development organically evolved out of the need to wear all hats as a freelancer. I made my own website from a template, and eventually, people started asking me to work on their sites. I quickly fell in love with web development and thought that it would be a perfect complement to my photography. I cut back the number of jobs I was taking and began studying web development full time. Word of mouth and networking played a big role in getting both my photography and web development freelance career going.

How did you learn web development?

I first learned web development from Googling. Someone asked me to help them with their site, some basic CSS styling and so I googled it. I quickly learned that there are a lot of resources out there to learn web development. At first it was video tutorials but as I wanted to learn more, I first enrolled in Thinkful’s career path for front-end dev’s. This was a one on one bootcamp where I virtually met with a mentor 3 days a week for an hour. Unfortunately it just wasn’t a good fit. I began hearing a lot that communication was almost as important as your technical skills and based on my experience, I could see why.

After that I enrolled in Udacity’s Front End Developer Nanodegree. I chose Udacity because I had met someone at a meetup who was working on it. It seemed interesting, challenging and didn’t cost nearly as much as other bootcamps. I was grouped with other people who enrolled in the program and we had a mentor/moderator that we met with once a week. My group was great! We worked together well, helped each other and were learning from each other. About 3 months into the course Udacity decided to change the curriculum, no more weekly meetings with the mentor. Apparently our group was the exception as we met religiously every week and most groups were either total no shows or maybe 1 student would how up. Our team decided to keep our weekly meetings and I am happy to report that 4 out of the 6 of us graduated from the course. Udacity reports that only 25% of students who enroll in the front end nanodegree graduate. I believe that working together was the reason why we succeeded.

What motivated you to start your freelance career?

A flexible schedule was a priority. My husband works in the restaurant industry so he has crazy hours. It was important to me to be at home as often as I could be with my children when they were little. Freelancing jobs were the way to go.

How do you find and attract clients?

Finding clients can be tricky at first. With my photography, I had to chase every lead I could get and it was hard but eventually, word of mouth came into play and it got a little easier. I learned about Google My Business to get my info out locally, Google Analytics to analyze what was happening on the backend and Google Adwords which worked well until I realized that I set it up nationally and I was getting calls from all over the country! I also tried Facebook advertising but that didn’t work. Eventually, I started using and liking Thumbtack.com to get leads but that got tricky. With Web development, getting my LinkedIn profile up to date, going to meetups and networking whenever I can is the key to success.

Any tips on using Thumbtack to land gigs?

Move fast. Thumbtack only allows 5 bids per job so if you do not respond immediately someone else will snatch it up. In addition to that be choosey. If it doesn’t seem legit or you don’t think it will be worth your while, don’t bid. Set a budget. The cost associated with bidding can add up quickly!

What are your typical front-end developer gigs like? Do you charge fixed fees? Large projects or hourly work? How long do they typically last?

I generally charge fixed fees. The only time I will charge hourly is if I am helping someone with a website they built themselves and they need help modifying it. A great example of this would be for Wordpress sites. Generally people think that they will be easy to maintain themselves and they soon find out the opposite!

What advice would you offer other freelancers that are just starting out?

Google, ask questions and don’t give up. Stay current with the latest trends and technology and go to meetups!

Do you recommend any resources, courses, books or other online services to other freelancers?

There are a lot of great resources out there, some free, some paid. I had a great experience with Udacity but since they have taken the group aspect away from the Nanodegree, I don’t know how successful I’d be had I had to go it alone.

I recently downloaded a full stack developer course from Udemy and I like it very much especially given that it was on sale for only $10. TeamTreehouse & Codeacademy also have good tutorials.

Where can we go to find out more about you and your business?

www.elizabethkipp.com