How much does it cost to be a freelance web developer?

A computer, broadband and knowledge. Those three items alone are all you need to set up as a freelance web developer. You already have all three so, essentially, it costs nothing to start up your own web business: or does it?

Every business, even freelancers, should fully catalogue what their expenses are: for the one big reason – taxes, but it it’s also really helpful to know how much things are really costing you so you can work out how much you need to charge, and how much work you need to do to break even.

Here is a short list of of my outgoings over the last 18 months:

Item Fixed/variable Cost
Broadband Fixed (monthly) £12.99
Stock photography Variable £33.21
Web hosting Fixed (bi-yearly) £168.06
Email marketing Variable £15.15
iMac (and printer) Variable £881.16 *
Macbook Variable £615.12 *
Airport Express wireless (and new mouse) Variable £91
Apple memory (8Gb total from Crucial) Variable £106.89 **
External hard drive Variable £46.99
Stationery Variable £20.25
Books and magazines subscriptions Fixed / Variable (Quarterly) £182.86
Software Variable Lots (see below)
Fonts Variable £19.25
Travel Variable £0.40 (per mile)

At the time fo writing this, £1GBP is worth about $1.84USD (source: XE)
* Yes a PC/laptop would be cheaper but it would be less fun.
** Don’t buy RAM from Apple direct – always get from someone like Crucial – it is so much cheaper. I’ve made that mistake in the past.

More costs

I could go on and provide more and more costs, for heating/lighting, networking events, print cartridges, etc but I don’t want to bore you to tears. However, I will try to give you a brief insight:


Adobe Web Premium CS4 costs around £1500 – and needs to be updated every other version – meaning if you have CS3 now you can probably get away with waiting for CS5 before upgrading. Some of the software you need to be a front end web developer include:

  • Design & Development
    • Adobe Photoshop
    • Text editor e.g. Coda ($99) which is much cheaper than DreamWeaver
  • Browser testing software
    • VMWare Fusion/Parallels for testing sites
    • Windows XP
    • Windows Vista
    • Litmus app
  • Communication / Project Management / Finances


Conferences can cost anywhere from £50 (PHPNW) to £125 (dconstruct) to £395.00 (Future of web apps) and then you have to pay for your accommodation and travel.

Conferences can be invaluable, you meet like-minded people and make connections, discover new ideas and can leave you feeling very motivated, but come on £395 to feel motivated is a bit much.


This article is not meant to be a ‘oh woe is me… it’s so expensive to be a web developer’ moan, I’m merely pointing out the costs that a lot of people (myself included) overlook when they set out to work on their own. It is so important that you fully comprehend what you’re spending to ensure you can still afford to buy food and pay the mortgage.

Please feel free to comment on what you’ve found to be cheap/expensive when starting out on your own. Money saving tips are very welcome… unless you’re going to tell me I should use the GIMP instead of Photoshop or Linux instead of OS X. Although I am open to some alternative free/cheap software provided it does the job well enough.

9 responses to “How much does it cost to be a freelance web developer?”

  1. Freelancers should factor in at least $20 / month for a web-based project management tool. It may see like a lot of money, but the trade-off in increased productivity is well worth it. A good one to check out is Intervals, which does time tracking, task management, and project management; a complete suite for someone starting out as a freelancer.

  2. Excellent post, Phil!
    I mean it. Not many people think about ALL the costs, when starting a business.
    As for tips on cheaper solutions, you might wanna have a look at Wrike for project management. We charge per user, not per project. You might find this more affordable, just as Greg from did.

  3. Another fine post there Phil.

    It’s true that a lot of people can make assumptions that because you have a computer and you can do the work, that’s literally all you need.

    You alluded to the electricity and heating, etc which can add up but there could be accountancy fees (when self-assessment becomes a headache) and there’s domains (maybe that’s me buying too many?).

    There’s also non-financial costs such as fitness (if you’re working from home and don’t often leave to meet clients) and the encroachment on personal time, if you’re not strict enough with yourself.

  4. Hi, firstly a great post!

    I’m a web designer just starting out from Uni, and I’m about to hook up with a £12k p/a job at a local small-town web design firm. I’ve often thought about going Freelance (for the convenience, freedom, etc), but I’m quite concerned about not being able to make enough money to survive? At the moment I live with my parents, but being 21 I’m eager to get the hell out as soon as possible. What advice would you have to someone in my position? I think I’m good enoug to make the push to freelance but have these nagging reservations. Cheers!

  5. @Darren: The best thing you can do is to take that job and freelance on the side. When going freelance, you have to consider a lot of things – where will you find the work, what will you do if you don’t get much work one month?

    Get your own website, start promoting yourself and put yourself in a position where you can go freelance if you still want to.

  6. @Phil: Thanks for the advice, much appreciated! I will do just that, and hopefully in a few years I’ll be giving the same great advice to someone else. Thanks Phil!

  7. @Dan – it’s not just you buying domains, we buy a lot on a regular basis, too.

    As you do, we spend a lot on food – especially if we’re staying late, we’ll go out for a meal and then stay up working on projects.

    FOWA is expensive, especially since they’re charging ~$25000 to sponsors, but it’s still something I’ve been meaning to go to.

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