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From a volunteer web dev to a paid freelancer, here are 6 lessons I learned about setting up workflow

I built my web development experience by offering free web improvement for 2 nonprofits. It brought me from being a new grad with little professional web development experience to solving real-world problems for real users and getting paid for my work. So much of this comes down to knowing how to plan my workflow. And here are six things I learned so far.

  1. Select the projects that will let you hone the skills you want or learn about your targeted audience’s problems.
    – Narrowing down the list of skills you want to improve and the cause or organization you care about supporting them. Reach out and offer them what you can do to help. 
    – This is such a win-win approach. You get to practice your skills, gain the experience you want, support the cause you’re passionate about, learn about their problems, and get their testimonials. At the same time, the organization gets the help they need.
  2. Prioritize solving their problems before working on your desired tasks. 
    – Although it’s not always possible to solve all of their problems, try your best and tell them the results. Because it shows that you care about them and want to improve their situation, not just focus on your gains. After that, then you can work on what you want. 
  3. Propose the changes you want to make wisely.
    – After learning about their problems and needs, take time to think about what you can or can’t do before proposing changes.
    – Under promise and over-deliver. This is key to gaining the trust of your client.
    – For the problems you’re certain you can solve, set them as primary goals. For those that you’re unsure of, they are your secondary goals.
    – Once your proposal is approved, focus on completing your primary goals before getting into the secondary ones.
    – If you achieve only your primary goals, you make a good impression on the client because you finish what you said you would. If you achieve only the secondary goals, well, you’re not too bad, at least you’re being helpful in some areas. But if you finish both, you’re a star. They’ll talk about you and refer you to others, giving you more work. That’s because you solve their biggest pain points and also care enough to solve their other problems.
  4. Set a document that will be a project dashboard.
     This dashboard is like a contact point or a one-stop hub for all things project related between you and the client. Use a document software you like e.g. Google Docs or Notion. 
    – Keep things very organized and easily browsed using bookmarks or a table of content. 
    – In it, you can put in a project proposal, task checklists, resource links, weekly updates, time logs, questions, contact information, notes, etc.
  5. Observe your workflow and document it.
    – After working on the project for a while, say, a few weeks, you will start noticing your work pattern or routine. Document it. Write down what you do and how long it takes for each task. This helps establish your workflow and calculate your price for future projects.
  6. Be specific when asking for a testimonial and feedback.
    – Come up with a few questions that help your client recall the time when you solve problems for them in more specific detail. These questions help guide their answers to highlight your skills and expertise for the next potential clients.
    – For example, “What did you like most about this project?” or “What did you like about working with me?”
    – Asking for feedback will help you see what to improve in your workflow or your ability to deliver results.
    – For example, “Does the project meet your expectations? Why or why not?” or “What do you think about my working style and communication?”, or “Is there anything I should improve about my communication?”

There you have it, 6 lessons I learned and have been adopting in my project workflow to this day. They set me up as a trustworthy web developer who solves problems for a meaningful cause, is clear about what she wants, and works towards her bigger goals. 

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