For years I’ve tried to avoid this subject, but it keeps coming back. It’s like some sort of evil boomerang.
But underneath the question is web development a dying career? lurks a deep and nagging anxiety that I feel is shared across the freelance community and beyond.
I have to admit, there have been times in my career when I have wondered, with trepidation, what the future might hold. For years now, self-build website software like Wix and Squarespace have been getting more sophisticated, and we increasingly hear news of advances in AI that promise to put us web developers out of a job.
But then I come back to reality. And the reality is that the day freelance web development dies, is the day that the world as we know it ends. Let me explain why…
You are not a web developer
This is a theme that I come back to frequently: you’re not a developer.
Okay, you build websites for businesses, but in reality you are providing a much bigger service.
There may well be tools available in the near future that help to automate some of our web development processes. Heck, you could look at the plethora of amazing WordPress themes and surmise that “web development is dead”, but can your clients:
- Install and configure that theme?
- Add plugins?
- Setup their email inboxes?
- Secure their domain?
- Configure their hosting?
- Write content that isn’t terrible?
- Create sales funnels and calls to action?
- Conduct user testing?
- Interpret web analytics?
- Run PPC ads?
- Manage a social media campaign?
- Create effective landing pages?
- Configure a CRM?
The reality of web development is that designing and launching a successful website is still a monumental task.
And frankly, the saturation of low quality providers, web templates and Squarespace-style builders is only exacerbating the situation.
Yes, the day that software alone can do all of this, is surely the day that the economy as we know it ceases to exist. Because how could there be market competition when all of the above can be achieved without human instinct, experience and specialism?
Is web design dead? It depends who you
There are two types of freelance web developer:
- Those directed by their clients
- Those who direct their clients
For a long time, I was #1. Honestly, on some projects I still am.
But the point of our role as freelance web developers is to take a client problem, and to provide a solution by synthesising our knowledge, experience and skills.
The client tells you their desired destination, and you provide the route.
I have bad news for those #1 web developers: your web development career is dying.
Some clients don’t need us
(Or at least, they think they don’t)
You see — there are some clients who want to tell you the destination, but also want to direct the route. They are essentially using you to enact their own ideas, ignoring the value you can add. They are directing you.
And when these clients come across software that effectively lets them do it themselves, they’re going to see no value in hiring a web developer.
And so, in some senses, web development is already dead.
How to stay relevant as a web developer
Your chief task as a freelancer is to seek out clients who see the value in hiring a professional.
It’s less about finding clients, and much more about finding the right clients.
And to do this, there are a few things you can do:
- Specialise in a niche, such as “web design for …” and become the expert provider in that niche
- Switch your mindset away from making websites (or money), and towards solving business problems
- Increase your prices in-line with what a client who’s making an investment might expect (hint: bottom of the barrel prices gets bottom of the barrel clients)
Essentially, be seen as a business provider, and less of a geek for hire. As the book Key Person of Influence states: don’t be functional, be vital.
TLDR; web development is dying for some of us
In 2020 and beyond, how well you compete as a freelance web developer depends very much on your professional mindset. Lower quality, functional developers who do only what they’re told are going to have a very hard time, as web building software will supplant them.
But if you can position yourself as a trusted problem solver, who happens to know a LOT about tech, the world is your proverbial oyster 🦪