The easiest advice you can give someone who is looking for side web design/development work is to sign up for one of the freelance websites like ODesk, Elance or Freelancer. These sites are hugely popular, and companies or individuals will often use them when they have no options for completing a website or specific tasks. There are some real benefits to these sites, both in the number and variety of projects available.
The main problem with these freelance websites is that there’s an oversaturation of developers on them, and the competition can be fierce. Often, projects will receive 20 or more competitive bids ranging from individuals to agencies.
The breakdown of developers/agencies on the site often acts as a pyramid, with the ones who are most likely to get the job at the very top due to a large amount of completed projects and reviews. The agencies have a real advantage here, with dozens, sometimes hundreds of developers of varying skill sets. This allows them to bid on projects involving JQuery, Ruby, PHP, C++ and anything else you can think of.
Agencies can also be shady and misrepresent themselves as individual developers, depending on the situation they are in.
Just because there is a lot of competition on these sites doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get work. You can get hired, but you have to be realistic and take the right approach.
Going through freelance sites is a good place to get started, but it is a tough road. I would estimate that for every 20 bids, you may get one lead on a project. If you are just starting out, the odds are stacked even more against you, as there is no history of you on the site.
To succeed, it takes perseverance and an ability to shrug off jobs you don’t get and projects for which you never even get considered. You will lose way more often than you win, but it’s important to keep playing the game. Using the freelance sites is a long-distance race. It doesn’t matter how slow you go in the beginning. As long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will get to the finish line eventually.
In the very beginning, start small. Bid on projects that range from $20-$100. Agencies won’t be very interested in these, and well-established freelancers will find those budgets too small to worry about.
If you go after these jobs, you will be bidding primarily against other new members and will generally have a better chance of success.