Is web design for me? Real world advice for aspiring web designers

So, you’ve worked out that you have a keen eye for design, meticulous attention to detail and a ‘way’ with people? Or maybe you have a concept for ‘something like Facebook, only better’? Perhaps you just like working in your pyjamas? Whatever the reason, you’ve decided to become a freelance web designer.

Well good on you, I guess. It’s a brave decision, and one that could be the making of you. But before you go and get your cracked copy of Adobe Creative Suite, let me try and give you some perspective.

A few key points for you to consider:

  • You will run into a heap of problems.
  • It’s not an easy living.
  • There is a mountain of competition.
  • There’s a very real chance of becoming a sociopath

Allow me to tell you a bit about how I got into web design …

In 2005, I moved to Spain with my girlfriend for a change of pace. The plan was to get a job in a bar, or as a pool guy or something. Three weeks later I was shaking hands with my new employer, a real estate tycoon who needed a junior web developer. Previously, I’d worked in I.T. and had an interest in web design, but not in a professional capacity. It seemed a good opportunity, so I gave it a go.

Months later, I was knocking out a couple of websites a week and learning about SEO and internet marketing from some of the most successful guys in the country. To coin a phrase from Goodfellas, Spain was ‘wide open’ at the time and there was a lot of money to be made. Mine was a baptism of fire and rather than focus on my skill set, it was all about the Euro’s back then.

When I returned to the UK, I decided to go it alone and setup in my Mum’s garage. Months went by and, even though I had work, I wasn’t earning enough to call it a success. A year had passed and I decided to take a job to make ends meet.

Here’s where I went wrong

  • I thought I knew it all – I hadn’t really invested any time in gaining a thorough understanding of what I was doing. I just got by with what I knew.
  • I wasn’t strong enough – I devalued my services by constantly discounting on price.
  • I worked for friends – A notorious way to break any relationship.
  • I was a hermit – I relied on my own website to generate business instead of trying to build relationships through tried and tested business to business methods. I rarely left the sanctity of my Mum’s garage.

I returned to web design in 2012, this time with 5 simple rules.

  • Be pro-actively open – Attend networking events, training courses, corporate events … anything that will enable you to make connections.
  • Stay on top of your game – I went away and really worked on my HTML & CSS. I also picked up some development languages that have been vital. I can’t stress how important this is.
  • Be tough! – Don’t bow to others’ expectations. What you do has a value far beyond the price on your invoice. The real worth of your work is almost certain to be realised for months or years to come. I have a story about that 😉
  • Don’t promise the world – Something I learned from a previous mentor of mine. It’s better to deliver work that is at least as good as, or better than you promised. Be realistic with your clients and it will serve you well.
  • Have fun! – This one’s a bit cheesy, but pouring your heart and soul into something that brings you no joy is wasted time. Find something you enjoy within the industry and pursue it.

Just like any other profession, web design can be tough at times. But if you stick to these simple rules, I don’t think you’ll go too far wrong.

‘Mistakes, I’ve made a few’

As a web designer/developer, who makes a living designing and building websites, I’m still faced with challenges on a daily basis that can sometimes make me question my methods and ideals. It’s at times like these when I have to call on my experience to make sure I don’t take a wrong turn.

For the inexperienced, this is often where we lose time, money but most importantly, we lose sight of our goals. Getting ‘lost’ in a project is something we’re all guilty of at one time or another, and it’s vital to have the support you need to get yourself back on track.

I’ll continue to contribute what I see as helpful advice & tips to the web design community. If you’re with me, feel free to subscribe.