Digital Masters - Growing Your Web Dev Business

How to Make More Money as a Web Developer

February 16, 2022 Marisa VanSkiver, Captain Coder Season 1 Episode 42
Digital Masters - Growing Your Web Dev Business
How to Make More Money as a Web Developer
Show Notes Transcript

This episode is definitely geared more for the web developers, but it's certainly applicable to anyone who's building websites.

There's a trend in our job market right now to stick to what's on our "responsibilities" list. With web developers, that means we think we code and we only code.

We get told to specialize and not learn too much because we can't be a jack of all trades or we'll be a master of none.

You know what, that's kind of bullshit.

There's a lot to be said for specializing and this all depends on the career path you really want for yourself. However, in today's episode, I'm going to get a bit personal and talk about my own dev journey and how my non-conventional approach has not only positively impacted my career and earning potential, but how it's made me a better web developer.

We're about to get a little personal and I've got some tangents to follow but I swear it's worth it. You ready?

Not being totally honest with you, I had another topic planned for this week, but a recent discussion and one of my women in web development groups got me thinking. This episode is definitely geared more towards web developers, but it is totally applicable to anyone who is building websites on a regular basis. There's a trend in our job market right now where we stick to what's on our responsibilities list with five developers. That means we code and we only code. We get told to specialize and not learn too much because we'll be a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Know what? That's kind of bullshit. There is a lot to be said for specializing. And of course, all of this depends on the career path you really want for yourself. However, in today's episode, I'm going to get a bit personal and talk about my own dev journey and how my non-conventional approach has not only positively impacted my career and my earning potential. But it's made me a better web developer. Now we're about to get a little personal, and I got some tangents to follow, but I swear it's worth it. You ready? Now, if you follow me on social media or if you listen to every episode of this podcast, you may already know that I was 13 when I started coding. Picture it, it was 2000. GeoCities was sweeping the nerd world because I think only nerds knew it existed with free, easy to build websites. And I was in eighth grade thanks to my software programmer, older brother. My family had long had the internet and decent home computers. I still remember when we got my first handy and I'm pretty sure I was only four now was actually watching my older brother work as a teenage coder. That got me interested in coding to begin with. He was working a full time job with real adults earning real money right out of high school. He was able to work from home when he wanted to. And he seemed to love what he did. So is any other normal eighth grader might do? I assign myself homework and I began learning. I recognize that that's not actually normal. Now, the actual details of how I got started are a little fuzzy. I mean, it was a few years ago, but I remember building practice websites on GeoCities with their now archaic drag and drop builder. The cool thing about their builder was that much like classic WordPress, you could toggle between the visual drag and drop side and see the code side. I was basically able to reverse engineer what I was doing. I spent months absorbing myself in articles about KSAZ H HTML and learning how to code and tape holes to get the right layouts.

If you've been coding longer than 5:

10 years, well, you might just remember coding in tables or that would be considered easy. I did just that by taking the only coding classes that my high school had to offer in about 2003 2004. The problem? It was our basic HTML and CSS s, and I already knew that I did two quarters worth of work in three weeks and then basically did my own thing or acted as a teacher's aide. Now was that teacher who recommended me to my first real freelance client. I remember it being a couple of local women who were helping other women owned businesses find government grants, too. I remember not much about our project. Not really. But I built them a simple website for, I want to say, about $500 for a senior in high school in 2005. That was great money. In that same time frame, I built my high school marching bands, first website and the first website for my district's education foundation. one of those was voluntary. The other I got paid for. Now, that same teacher that put me up for the freelance gig also recommended me to my first full time job. A local computer repair company was looking for a full time webmaster. This was 2005. Everyone needed someone who could actually code because what WordPress and Squarespace weren't really options yet? I had just graduated high school. I was getting ready to go out of State College, but this local company took a shot on an 18 year old female coder. At 18, it was my dream job. I shared an office with the accountants. I got to make website updates all day and spend my time helping to build up the website. And it was an actual adult job. I went off to school the following fall, and even though I was 1000 miles away, my boss allowed me to work part time remotely. A huge deal. Back in 2005, I was able to get the tasks done that I needed work for my apartment whenever I felt like it and earn money for school. So let's talk about the first time I was asked to do a marketing related task. It was the winter break and the summer after my first semester and my boss started to lean on me for marketing tasks. You see, he didn't want me just to help make website updates, so they were requesting. He wanted me to suggest changes to the website, build new components like flash animations. Oh yeah. And even help out with the marketing. I could have easily told myself that and told my boss that I was an 18 year old college freshman studying English of all things and that he should probably not ask me to do that . But I have never looked at challenges that way. I have always learned. I've always loved learning and I've always hated admitting that I didn't know something. Let's be real. It's my desire to be a know it all that really started me on my marketing journey. Instead of telling him now or telling him that wasn't my job. I don't write in and I discovered something I loved more than I would even understand at that time. Now let's take a step back for a second. My educational for educational background, for what I do as a full time web developer is, well, weird. Long before I got my first coding job, I loved reading. I was constantly somewhere in my parents house with my nose in a book. At ten, I was reading adult level books because kids' books were, and I quote myself, boring when deciding on my five year plan of high school. Because getting what kind of nerd I was and what I wanted to major in English seemed like the best solution. I think my original intention was to always be a writer, but an English degree was pretty versatile and would allow me to either continue on to be a teacher or just get to be a better writer. While I was working on my bachelor's degree, I went on to study abroad in Scotland. It was on this sort of spontaneous study abroad program that I fell in love with Scottish literature. After my study abroad, I spent two years of my bachelors degree focusing in on Scottish lit and planning to attend grad school in Scotland, which I totally did. I end up getting my masters in modern Scottish writing from the University of Stirling in Scotland. I loved living in Starling. I loved learning about a story from totally different perspectives, and I got to delve deep into something that I loved. Now, while I was going to school and studying all of this, I switched from the local computer company to working on campus. When I interviewed, I had experience, but I only worked with Visual Basic. Not the dot net C-sharp they were requiring. My boss, though, loved my experience and the fact that I was self-taught and figured I could learn on the job. Now, we started in my sophomore year and I worked up until I graduated. The thing was I was working in an office full of male computer science majors. Did they look at this female coder who was an English major? A little, weirdly. Oh yeah, of course. I walked in and they're like, Hey, guys, do you know that's a girl? Literally. But thankfully, I was quickly accepted and it was never really an issue with my coworkers anyway. My roommates always thought it was weird that I would spend my time, my study time examining the written word and my work time writing code, but it made complete sense to me. And you want to know the cool thing? I was the only coder in that room who had full website building experience, could write English well and had any design experience. So in custom projects, came up for four websites for the department. I was the one tasked with it. Stage one of my unique experience helping me to differentiate myself and get unique projects. OK. You still with me. You can probably guess that as someone who puts a lot of time and money into two large degrees and had been spent about five or six years coding both as an employee and and as a freelancer, I was a bit burned out on coding. I wanted to use my degrees, at least to some extent. And after I graduated to a master's program. My only work experience was in marketing related jobs, so I went to work for a local business as their in-house reputation manager was 2011 on write online reviews and FCO were all the rage . And this was an e-commerce company. I spent my days writing website copy, responding to and encouraging reviews, writing SEO copy and blog posts, doing PR related writing and of course, managing our social media. Facebook business pages were still relatively new, and Pinterest had just launched their beta services. I tried not to tell my boss there that I had ever coded, but of course it was all over my resume. So I'm not sure why I thought that I could keep that a secret. Our site was built on Magento, so I did some minor updates, but mostly I just managed our outsourced web developers to get the changes we wanted. Now, in 2012, I moved back to Scotland. I now had about a year of writing a digital marketing experience on my resume. So I started looking for more of the same. I worked as a freelance ghost copywriter for a few online publications, managed Google ads and other digital marketing strategies for a local eco cleaning company and Edinburgh. Now, at the time, finding full time work was kind of imperative, and I knew that I what I had to do to make better money, go back to coding. So I applied and I got hired more or less in the interview for web developer role at the agency that handled all of the publications for the Scottish Government. A lot of my job at first entailed glorified HTML data entry, but it was also highly focused on creating fully accessible HTML. Now I've talked a little bit about that here in episode 30 recently, so head back to that episode if you want the longer version. But it was at this job that I really began to learn web accessibility best practices because I already knew and understood on page SEO. I also started to see how all of that really played together. Mostly, though, it turned me into a better web developer that cared about all of my audience, not just those with the same abilities as me. It also gave me a skill set that I could monetize easily. Now, I move back to the states in 2014, and I got hired as a full time web developer at a local agency. I remember telling my boss at the time that I would take his lowball offer, but I'd soon prove to him why I was worth way more and I did. Quickly in Scotland, I learned not only web accessibility and piece together how that benefited ACL, but I'd also learned responsive web design. I was able to save a client who wanted their money back because their site wasn't responsive, so post launch I converted it. I then taught the other web developers and even the designers about responsive design, and we completely switched the processes the company followed. I worked with the copywriters on staff to name images, properly tag them implemented and other accessibility best practices to improve our reach. And on page SEO. I could also fill in a gap on a website without turning it back to the copywriters and having to slow down production. And I got two raises over the course of four months that gave me a 70% increase in salary and put in charge of the web development team as a whole. Now, I worked at that agency for a couple of years, but I always knew that I wanted to be in control of my own schedule and honestly, my own stress levels. Tell you what, your clients can be a stress inducing, but nothing makes it easier to handle than being your own boss and being in charge of your own schedule. I left the agency to form my own with a partner. After a couple of rough months, we started quickly leading contracts after contract for websites and other digital marketing services. Now I was able to keep our overhead costs low because I had experience with writing copy for the web. I could custom code the WordPress websites myself faster than with a template or even a premium thing. Wow. And I could set the digital marketing strategy for a website. When I decided to totally go out of my own in 2020, I wasn't even worried because I'd been doing this for so long. I had spent literally 15 or 16 years studying websites from every aspect. And that's really the key to all of this. Yes, my outside of the box skills as a web developer, web accessibility on page ACL copywriting, social media, marketing, digital marketing have always gotten me rewarded with more work, but they've also allowed me to command a higher salary. Now, as a single person agency, I'm able to outsource less and do most of the work myself if I want allowing for higher profits. My nearly 20 years of experience in a variety of avenues also allows me to command more than a traditional web developer or web designer might be able to. In fact, my hourly rate as a single person is pretty close to what a lot of my local agency competitors charge hourly. If you walk away with nothing else after this episode today, let it be this. Learning more about how websites and digital marketing all work together can only help your career. You may spend 95% of your day's coding or designing websites, but if you want to build websites that actually get results, you have to understand how that all works. If you want to make even more at an agency, having skills outside of web development can actually help you command more money. You're not just a code monkey. You can think for yourself, take initiative and do more than just what you're told. I'm not even sure my past bosses know how much time and money I save them over the years with my knowledge and skills. I was terrible at asking for raises and communicating everything I was doing. Honestly. But next time a boss comes to you with a task that isn't your color isn't a coding task. Ask yourself if I say yes to this. Well, I learned something valuable. Specializing is great, but getting even just a basic understanding of the pieces that lead into your own job and unique expertize can only help you. And shoot, I didn't even talk about how I now teach digital marketing at Wichita State because of my 20 years of unique experience. If you want to learn more digital marketing that can help you as someone who builds websites. Well, make sure to subscribe to this podcast on your favorite app. Every topic I cover is literally something that's either helped me in past jobs or as a freelancer, an agency owner who's ready to learn. Now, thank you all for tuning in this week. I can't wait to see you all again next week.