How to become a website developer in 29 easy steps

become a website developer
become a website developer
I started telling people I was a website developer and hoped they would believe me.

I started developing websites for money in 2012 when I was unemployed and 42 years old.

Behind me was my experience as a social worker, retail shop owner, textbook salesperson, and vending machine sales manager. I had recently recovered from a series of three back surgeries in three years. I needed to take frequent breaks from sitting or standing and most companies don’t take lying down on the job too well.

I couldn’t go back to full-time work.

Years of struggle with physical pain also affected how I thought about work.

Life suddenly felt very short and my time without pain felt precious. I decided to do work I really wanted to do; work that would give me what I needed to take care of myself.

I wanted to become a website developer.

Eight years later, I’ve identified four skills you need to have in order to become a great website developer:

  1. Communication skills
  2. Sales skills
  3. Project management skills
  4. Website development skills

When I started, I only had two of these skills. Communication and sales.

I did not have much going on regarding website development skills.

My first WordPress website was for my own experimentation. I had this vision that people would flock to my website to read my local business reviews. They didn’t. Here it is:

My first website
April 2011. All I had to do was upload photos. The design was already in place.

My first WordPress website for a real business was for a friend. I did it for free using the Hoon theme from Press 75. Take a look at it here:

I started telling people I was a website developer and hoped they would believe me.

It totally worked!

That’s when I really started to learn WordPress. I knew enough about WordPress to make a free website but getting paid by a customer who had expectations and their own vision…that was psyching me out.

My first paid website job was for $750. I had to Google “how to make a website proposal” which is how I found Bidsketch. I was so nervous that they would say no to my proposal! But, they said yes.

It was by far the most difficult website I’ve ever built. Here it is:

First wordpress website for pay
My first website for money. An adoptee rights nonprofit.

It was over 450 pages! My eyes hurt just thinking about the energy I put into that website. 🙂

I did lots of Googling and spent hours watching YouTube tutorials. I would get halfway into most videos before realizing they didn’t apply to my situation.

Not knowing what I was doing was stressful. My internal freak out machine was shouting, “Your customer is counting on you!” and “You’re going to have to give their money back!” and I had already spent their $450 deposit.

Get this… I didn’t even know how to make their website go live once I had completed the development. I had to hire someone to do this final step for me. Thank you Brad Dalton!

A lot of people think you have to know how to code in order to build websites. But, I didn’t know a lick of code when I started my first paid website project and I didn’t know any code when I finished it.

Instead of learning code or boning up on graphic design skills, I stuck to building one skill: creating WordPress websites. That allowed me to get better, faster, because I wasn’t wasting time trying to learn a bunch of different skills.

That’s why I gained two things from my first paid website project: confidence and practice.

My customers loved their new website.

I took my impressive new portfolio of exactly three websites and joined a networking group. I built a few more websites, learning project management and WordPress along the way.

Today, I own a website consulting agency with six people on my team and comfortable office space. Website development is now just a small part of the work we do for our clients. I’m no longer part of a networking group because people contact us everyday to ask about our services.

How did I go from struggling to building my first basic websites at my kitchen table to the place I am today?

The same way I went from knowing nothing about website development to being an in-demand website developer.

I didn’t wait until I knew everything to get started. I didn’t wait until I felt confident before risking failure.

I didn’t wait.

The only two things I really had going for me were my communication skills and my sales skills.

If I had waited until I knew everything I needed to know or felt confident enough, then I would never have started down the path which led me to where I am today.

I am still learning.

If you are thinking about breaking into website development, then stick around. Leave a comment below. I write about my own experience with becoming a website professional and growing my business.

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When I was just getting started, I wish there had been a guide to help me along my journey. A list of the 20 Best Practices for Website Developers would have been very helpful.

Mentioned Resources

Press 75
Brad Dalton
My former networking group

Welcome to WebDev Success. I’m Emily Journey and this podcast is where I take a hard look at the challenges facing the website development industry. Learn how to attract loyal customers, how to raise your prices with confidence, and take steps to craft the work life you’ve always wanted. Subscribe, listen in and develop brilliantly.

Join the discussion

  • Hello Emily
    Great story. I think when someone is willing to move through uncertainty, and learn, among other things it says they’re willing, or better yet, teachable. When you then hire others, since you’ve been there, now you’re in the best position to teach. Next…the best books I’ve read were on relationships. One taught me how to speak clearly. Another taught me how to listen. Now you can truly help. That’s why your business is successful. Congrats Emily.

    • Thanks Dan! I appreciate your comments. I agree! A willingness to learn from others, whether it’s books or from mentors, is key to making the changes you want to see happen.

  • Thanks for the mention Emily. I didn’t know you have a team of 6 people in your agency. Well done! 8 years seems like it’s flown by so quickly.

Further reading

Web developer working at table

Hi, I’m Emily Journey. I founded and lead a website consulting agency with six coworkers. This blog is where I write about the things I’ve learned at my real job.
I respond to your comments at the bottom of my posts. Subscribe to get my weekly email.