How to Crush it as a Freelance Web Designer in College

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Hi, I'm Chris and I'm super glad you're here. 7 years ago I taught my self-web design and freelancing. Now, I do my best to teach others what I've learned so they don't have to struggle as much as I did.

Every week, I write an article and release a podcast episode. Sign up if you want to get notified when that happens.

Not many college students can say they make $120 an hour. But, that’s not the case with Josh Ahles.

Josh started freelancing as a web designer only a few short months ago. But, in that time his success has skyrocketed.

Here’s the crazy thing, only 8 months ago, Josh was afraid of freelancing as a web designer. He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to find clients.

But, with a little bit of encouragement and guidance, Josh has gone on to absolutely crush it.

Josh is such a good picture of what you can accomplish as a freelance web designer. It doesn’t take a long time to find your stride and start making some serious money while enjoying the work you do.

If you’re a college student trying to figure out how to make extra money OR if you’re out of college and need some encouragement to just go for it, this episode is for you.

You’ll Learn

  • How to freelance in college
  • How to be a top-rated freelancer on UpWork
  • How to have a side hustle in college
  • How to make extra money in college
  • How to start a freelance web design side hustle
  • How to raise your rates on Upwork
  • Tips to getting your profile accepted on UpWork


Josh Ahles 0:00
You can do this. You have the knowledge. You're the one stopping yourself like, if you want to make something then do it go after it. It's not that hard.

Chris Misterek 0:15
Hello, everybody and welcome to the self-made web designer podcast. My name is Chris. So excited that you're here with me today I'm recording this episode from my laundry room. And if you can hear that, that is the sound of my dryer right after this episode is done. I'm going to be doing a load of light clothing because you got to keep them separated. If you know what I mean. Today's a great episode. It's special to me because I am interviewing somebody who I've been mentoring for the last few months. And I talked about him a lot on my website. His name is Josh and I work with Josh at Show It Josh is a part of our support staff. So he helps customers figure out why their sites might be having issues or they might not be able to figure out something. But Josh is also a computer science major at Arizona State University out here. And Josh and I were talking one night, and I just asked him straight up, Josh, why, why aren't you freelancing? Why aren't you doing web development or web design in your spare time and making extra money? And he responded that he was just afraid of how it all worked out. And if he was able to do it. So I gave him a few pointers, I helped him out with his first gig. And he went on to crush it. And now he's making $60 an hour as a freelancer and as a college student, right, like making way more money than all of his friends could ever imagine working at McDonald's in their free time. And so I hope this encourages you. I hope that it shows you that anybody can do this that you don't have to. You don't have to be a genius. You don't have to be an entrepreneur, a go-getter that stays up all night, Josh has another job. And he is a full-time student. And yet he's still able to figure out freelance web design at the same time. And so if he can do it, if I can do it, I know that you can, too. And so I can't encourage you enough. Go to my website, self-made web Take the starter kit course. And let's get this thing started for you. Let's get going. There's never been a better time than right now to give it a go as a freelance web designer, and Josh is going to take a second and he's going to tell you that very same thing. So without any more of me talking. Let's hear from Josh. So excited to have with me today on the self-made web designer podcast. Mr. Josh Ahles. He reigns from Gilbert, Arizona. He is a computer science major at ASU right now. And he also works for the same company that I do: Show It. And he works in the support staff here. So, and just recently he's begun freelancing as a web designer. So he is a self-made web designer. Josh, so good to have you on the call today, man.

Josh Ahles 3:28
Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Chris Misterek 3:30
Absolutely. I mean, a huge portion of why we're here in the first place is because you and I had a conversation in a hot tub, and it got a little steamy.

Josh Ahles 3:42
It was a steamy conversation down in Cabo.

Chris Misterek 3:47
Cabo San Lucas, you were just punching back some mudslides if I recall.

Josh Ahles 3:55
Might have had a few mudslides. Those are good.

Chris Misterek 4:00
Yeah, it's more milkshake than it is anything alcohol, but you're young. So it's all good, man. And they were 100% free the whole time. So you add a lot of them. Hey, why don't we talk a little bit just about your journeys, like how you got to where you are as a freelancer and where you are today and your dreams and visions and aspirations for the future.

Josh Ahles 4:23
All right, for sure. So how I got to where I am today, I'm still starting. Not too far in the things, I'd say probably about six months. But just even within that amount of time, I've seen like, more than I would have ever imagined from the start. So how I got to where I am right now. I'm started with that conversation in the hot tub. Chris, you just you approached me you know, we were all hanging out is basically all of us from work in that hot tub and we're just talking, you know, having fun. And then you were just there talking about like what I wanted to do with my life. And you asked me as I told you to like, I want to make something and you know, something I've always wanted to do is like, have something on my own, like, I've tried like twitch streaming YouTube, a passion project, you know, but I've never followed through with anything. And I have all this knowledge that I feel like, hasn't really like, cultivated anything hasn't created anything. So I'm doing all this in school, I love technology. I'm producing these projects, but they don't add up to anything that I can show for and that's what I feel like I want to do because I'm surrounded by everyone in the class like everyone is that either the same level or above me, and we all know so much. But at the end of the day, I just feel like that's not everything. Like I have nothing that says my name on it that I've worked hard to get to this point. This is during that conversation you kind of told me like, you can do this. You have the knowledge. You're the one stopping yourself. Like, if you want to make something then do it go after it. It's not that hard. Yeah. So that's what kind of just resonated with me. Like, if I want to do something, then why am I not doing it? So I just needed that little like kickoff for me, you know?

Chris Misterek 6:28
That's awesome, man. So talk about what was holding you back. What were the things that kept you from just launching out on your own?

Josh Ahles 6:36
Honestly, I think it was a little bit of a fear of you know, what if I fail because no one I talked to is like, has that no one ever has the same thoughts about anything but no one around me was trying to do something like this. So I didn't know where to start. How I was going to go if I did start if I did meet with a client had a contract. There is money involved if I will kind of provide, like, what's going to happen, like, just all these fears of being worried about providing that something I said I'd be able to do. Um, so I think that was kind of what was my driving fear of not doing anything. And so once you got started, was it as scary as you thought it was going to be? Or was it worse? Or was it better? Oh, it was so much better. So much better. So I don't know why I pictured in my mind, but like, the thought of like a contract with the client and don't know how to do something. I'm gonna fail. Like, this is gonna look so bad on me all this stuff. But once I got that first gig, you know, you kind of just told me just to go out there and do it. Yeah, and just get something in place. You know, figure it out. You figure it out as you go within reason, but just get something started. So I had that first gig and I was so surprised because I got the contract. Everything was good. I got my first paid gig from you. And then I realized, like, I know how to do everything that's going on, like, why haven't I, like started this before? I'm capable of it. It's not that hard. Like, I've picked up all these tech skills over the years, like anything that I need to teach myself in this scenario. I'll pick it up like that. Like, it was more so like just needing to be thrown into it

Chris Misterek 8:35
to talk a little bit about maybe a moment when you got something that that you didn't know how to navigate through it, because I think a lot of people who are wondering if they should get started are thinking, What if a scenario comes up that I've never seen before? What do I do from there? Were you ever faced with that amid the projects that you've worked on?

Josh Ahles 8:55
Oh, yeah, definitely. So there's been several times. So for the, for example, the first one I picked up, we had the scope of the project all laid out. Things were going so well, it seemed easy, everything is going to be quick and clear. And then halfway through, he approached me with wanting to do something additional on the project, which was like the custom-built out calculator for his site. And so, you know, I never really made a calculator for the exact thing he was bringing up. So it was kind of like a, like a red alarm like a red flag going. So it's a little bit worried in that moment, but then I realized like, I yeah, I approached you about it and then you said, either do it or don't it wasn't in the contract, but if you feel like you can do it, just do it. And so I just did some research, figure it out. And then he liked everything good. So that was like, probably like the first time I was worried about something and realize like I can overcome it if there's something I'm not sure about.

Chris Misterek 10:06
And I think that's the case for most things that you encounter building a website for a client, especially if it's like a b2b or business to consumer website, you know, most of the time, they're not going to want some functionality that is just crazy off the wall. That's going to take hours and hours of programming, and they're probably is already a solution out there. You know that that is easy to figure out or easy just to plug and play. And I think a lot of people are just so afraid of getting caught with their hands behind their back going, I'm sorry, I don't know how to do this. which honestly, is not a bad thing. Yeah. Like if that ever happens to you, and you admit like, Hey, I'm sorry, this is beyond my expertise. I don't think that's unreasonable, but I think more times than not, especially with as much information is out there. You know, it's figure out, like you can take some steps to get to that point, how much of the websites that you've built? Have you used a lot of the computer science stuff that you've been learning and working on in school?

Josh Ahles 11:15
That's the funny thing. Computer science stuff is more. So this is what I've come to find out as I've gone through school. So I'm in my third year, pretty close to the end, have a ton of back end knowledge. But the funny thing about that is is that it's a lot of the theories behind things picking up languages. It's a lot. What I've come to realize is that all this stuff in school is teaching me how to think how to, like think, in the mindset of a programmer. And so how that's kind of helped me is it's helped me troubleshoot different scenarios, figure out how to make things happen, not so much. Oh, I've learned this programming language in school. I made this in school and now I can use it on a project. That's never really happened so far. But it's helped me to have the mindset of, Okay, this is what I need to get to. This is how I can search online, read forums, how I can plug and play, how I can match things up. So, and that aspect that helped me, but not a lot of relation besides just the general knowledge.

Chris Misterek 12:28
Yeah. Okay. So do you feel like if you, let's say, go back in time, and you didn't start getting your computer science degree, do you feel like that would have kept you from being good at being a web designer building websites for other people?

Josh Ahles 12:41
Oh, not at all, like, anyone could, if they if you have a passion for this like it's something you can do without any education. I 100% feel like that's a that's, that's where I stand on it. Um, as long as you have you do have to I feel like you do. Have a little bit of a tech-savviness to you just to be able to navigate around things and figure things out, but yeah, nothing like no computer science programming needed.

Chris Misterek 13:14
You mentioned to me, you know, I was able to get you that first gig, which I was happy to do. And then you had a season where you were kind of looking on your own. So talk about that season, what did you do in those first few days to find your first few projects? And tell us about where you are now as far as project load and how things are going in that regard?

Josh Ahles 13:38
Definitely. So you got me that first project, which is awesome, super helpful. Thank you. landed that finish that up, and then it was kind of like, Okay, I need to figure this out on my point. And so in the beginning, I kinda I heard you talk about Upwork before, so I set up an Upwork account. I set up my own personal, like landing page to my site. I don't even have a built-out website at the time. Like it's just like a landing page. It's got some client reviews on and stuff. And that's about all I've needed right now, but probably down the road a little bit more. And then kind of from there, I started so I went on Upwork I found so many what need web design redesigns? You know, so many jobs posted about that. So I just applied like crazy to them. And there's probably a good month I didn't hear anything. You know, and I was wondering what I was doing wrong. So I had no gigs, nothing. I was asking around talking to people, but nothing was happening. None of my friends you know, no one I know needed a website at the time. So I was kind of just in that stage where I'm not sure where to go. I completed one site went well. I want to Do more but you know, nothing's just right in front of me. So, uh Upwork didn't land anything for that small amount of time and then I started narrowing it down further just to get a job. So before I was just applying to random redesign projects and then there's a software show it I'm familiar with so I narrowed it down even to further did just that found a good amount of show related projects. A lot less than just website redesigns in general. And so I applied to some of those guys a couple really low paying small jobs, not full redesigns or anything but I figured they'd be good for, you know, a root view and help build my portfolio. So I landed those, I was happy about that. And then let's see where to go from there. So from there, I from there Okay, so that was good, that was awesome. Those are low paying nothing too crazy. And then I heard that from a relationship I have is that there's a school design that needed to be done. So I approached it with the mentality that okay, this is another project that I know about, that I can go about doing. So I met people. And through my connection of talking to people there, someone gave me another job on another website. So I was another full redesign on the side of the school design. And then so both those just happened back to back. And then all this time, I was still applying on Upwork and then adding stuff on there. And then I connected with, you know, these people who, who run like a branding agency, and they do a lot of like website design stuff. So that was is a really good connection for me because then they kind of like pick me up for all their design stuff on the website design side of things and like WordPress and that was awesome. So that's a big one that I'm really happy about and then just went from there so there's the beginning period, nothing was happening and I was a little bit worried but once it all started like hitting back to back then I kind of realized like, okay, it's gonna be okay, but I just got like this big load right now.

Chris Misterek 17:28
And I think something cool that's it's important that you didn't just keep applying and keep applying. You looked at how you were applying and you and you adjusted your methods, so it wasn't just redesigned it was Show It redesigns and you dialed in. Okay, this is specifically what I do. And it sounds like that helps you quite a bit.

Josh Ahles 17:52
Yeah, definitely. So when you're on Upwork just with website redesigns. There's probably anywhere from like 5000 to 10,000 jobs that you can go and snag. And even if you do filter between five and 10, or one to five, I found like, there's probably someone that, you know, as a big name applying to those, or can do it for less money than you want to do it for. And I think that's kind of where I was limited in that in the beginning stages, at least. I'd have a portfolio or anything that set me apart.

Chris Misterek 18:26
Yeah. So you figured out another way to set yourself apart which is, which is perfect. So that's awesome, man. So So tell me a little bit about maybe the main things that you've learned in these in these first few months that you would want somebody else to know that's just getting started.

Josh Ahles 18:43
So when you're first getting started, don't get discouraged if you don't have jobs. Keep just finalizing like your workflow,

Chris Misterek 18:50
talk a little bit about workflow, because I think that's probably a foreign concept to a lot of people who aren't in like the computer science world or haven't done a lot of web design stuff.

Josh Ahles 19:01
So when you start a job, there's going to be steps you want to have in place to be able to be successful during the job. So, before you even pick up the job, you want to be contacting that person, you know, figuring out what kind of they want on their site where this project is gonna go. So you'll want to have some things in place. Personally, what I'll do is I'll communicate back and forth, kind of get the scope of the project down. So you want to figure out what you're going to be designing before you pick it up. And then, you know, just talk back and forth, get a contract, definitely have a contract, like laid out that you can just kind of customize per project. So that'll be good for you, and then just work on how you're gonna approach each project. Because if you don't have those, if you don't have like, you don't have steps in place for each project. You're never gonna be able to like, take on more And that's kind of what I've found, is you're gonna get a lot of things jumbled up. And it's gonna slow down your process. So if you can layout steps of how I'm going to get to point A to point B, what I need to do, how my contracts going to be, what messages I'm going to send users when I first and talking to them on how I'm going to be checking in with people, when it's gonna be complete stuff like that. Think that's important for picking up a lot of work.

Chris Misterek 20:25
Well, at the end of the day, it's not doing a good job isn't just about handing somebody a good website. It's about the process from when you get started to when you're finished. So it sounds like you're, you're figuring that out. So So you've got somebody who's like you six months ago, that's like, Hey, I'm thinking about doing this. What are the things that you say they have to start doing to be successful in this a start doing?

Josh Ahles 20:56
They have to get after it like no one's gonna do it for them. So they estimate their process like they can have tips from anyone else, they can follow anyone else, but no one else is gonna do it for them. So they have to be finding those jobs themselves getting after it. But one thing that's important that I've come to find is that in the beginning, you're gonna be eager to land, the jobs. Anything that comes after you, you're gonna want it and that's kind of what I was where I'm at. So, like, leading up to here, I've just been going out there anything because I have no portfolio and if you're just starting, you have no portfolio, so anything sounds great. But if you can try to keep in mind, like, just focus on the jobs that you're gonna be proud of, and that is gonna like that you can spend your time on rather than just picking up anything and everything like I think that'll be good for you.

Chris Misterek 21:56
Yeah, cuz you're in that place right now where you've got more work than You even want. And so now you're able to pick and choose which clients you're going to say yes to, in which clients are going to say, Hey, I might not be the right person for on this one.

Josh Ahles 22:11
Definitely, yes. So when you first start, like when I first started, I had no concept of what the value I'm doing as I had no idea. So people come to me and they'd say, Okay, can you do this site for this amount of money? And no matter what the value was, I'd never had a job. That instantly sounded like, Wow, that's a great value. So, yeah, I'll pick that up. I'll do that job for that amount. I'll spend this time but what I found out is that when you do your job, it's never they think the job's gonna take you you know, 40 hours, you're pretty confident. Well, you're going to do that job, you're gonna run into obstacles. You want to make it look good before you give it The user, it's probably gonna take you 60 to 80 hours, you know, finalize it. So I've just come to find out like, there is value in what you do, and people will respect that value. You just got to find out what that value is to you. So

Chris Misterek 23:19
let's talk a little bit more about Upwork. Because I know at the very beginning, when we were first chatting, you had applied to Upwork, but your account hasn't hadn't been approved. And then you circle back around and try it again. And then they approved you. So talk a little bit about that. What was the difference between the first time the second time?

Josh Ahles 23:37
Um, so we were talking in the hot tub, you mentioned Upwork. And I was like, Oh, yeah, I applied to that. I applied to that probably, I don't know. Maybe a year ago. I had a buddy. He gave me some work on migrating content from WordPress to Drupal. So, both, you know, kind of Similar software, and he said he posted the job on Upwork. So that's my first kind of heard about Upwork. And I made an account on there and yeah, I got declined. It said that my cow was too similar to other people. So I had nothing that set me apart from so I didn't get accepted. And then this time around, I think what I had on there was a lot more experience just with everything that I do a lot more knowledge for sure. I put on there things like things that I picked up in school work, I'm just everything courses, I've taken anything related to it that I thought might separate me. I put on there and then I was accepted.

Chris Misterek 24:45
Did you add like portfolio images? Or was it all text-based kind of stuff?

Josh Ahles 24:49
Uh, the funny thing is, I just put I put the portfolio image of that one site I had designed and then my main, like landing page. That's it. Everything else was Thanks.

Chris Misterek 25:00
But it just sounds like you probably put a lot more effort and intentionality into it the second time around with the how you filled it out and what you're placing on there.

Josh Ahles 25:10
Yeah. So I think what I did was more like you said, more intentionality. I had to get that in place, I think. I think probably when they saw it was a lot more like, kind of felt probably to them that there's more value in what I was doing. Whereas the first time around, I kind of just was seeing what was up with it.

Chris Misterek 25:31
So talk to me about the future. What are your plans in hopes of freelancing and it's gonna be a full-time career or are you just keeping this a side hustle? what's going on?

Josh Ahles 25:41
So right now, I'm not sure to be completely honest, I know that I enjoy it. I know that it's adding to my portfolio, which I'm super proud of. And to my knowledge, but I'm not sure where I want to take it. I do know that so far. It's helped me pay through school. And so far I'm debt-free in school. So I'm kind of happy about that. But where I want to take it, I'm not sure. Like, I know I want to develop one day.

Chris Misterek 26:15
So, I'll probably keep this as a side hustle probably won't be my main thing, but it's gonna be up there for sure. Something that I am passionate about. Well, I mean, the cool thing is you can pivot it a little bit and rather than focusing on the design side of things, you can focus on the development aspects of it because there's a huge market out there for that as well. Well, Josh, I appreciate you I'm proud of you man for going for it and not giving up I know it can get discouraging and, and, and a lot of people quit, but you kept going. So so well done, man. Good job. Thank you. I'm excited to see what happens. Any parting words for the audience before we sign off here?

Josh Ahles 26:55
I would say if you're considering this, if you don't know what to do, where to start, you know Just figure it out and get after it because you can do it. If you want to do it, and it's scary, but Chris helped me out. He can help you out like, I'm very thankful for Chris. Thank you, Chris. Yeah, but you're welcome. Yeah.

Chris Misterek 27:17
Okay. Tell, tell everybody where they can find you if they want to look at your website and all the things that you've done. Yes. could find me at Josh That's Josh. Ah, le s calm. Awesome, man. Thanks so much, Josh. And look forward to seeing what comes of what you're doing in the future.

Josh Ahles 27:34
Thank you, Chris.

Chris Misterek 27:36
Well, I hope that encouraged you. I hope that you're gonna walk away from this podcast, and feel empowered to just go for it to just put in some work and and and do the deal and figure out how to do this because I know that you absolutely can, Josh, at one point was a lot like some of you out there listening To this podcast right now, he was a little bit anxious and probably a little more than just a little bit worried that he was going to be able to figure this out. But he took a step of faith, he went for it, and he landed on solid ground. And I know that you can too. And hey, if, if this episode has been an encouragement to you, I would love it. If you would leave me some feedback, subscribe, leave a review, and let me know what you would like to hear in the future. It means a lot to me. And it can help a lot of other people find this podcast who needs it as well. Hey, I can't wait to see you next week. When we do this again. 12 am and midnight on the button, it's gonna be fantastic. There's going to be another guest coming to you giving you some amazing insight and I know that you are going to benefit from it. And remember, if you don't quit, you win. We'll see you next week.

How to Crush it as a Freelance Web Designer in college || a college student in cap and gown doing a dab


Hi, I'm Chris and I'm super glad you're here. 7 years ago I taught my self-web design and freelancing. Now, I do my best to teach others what I've learned so they don't have to struggle as much as I did.

Every week, I write an article and release a podcast episode. Sign up if you want to get notified when that happens.



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