I’ve just reached my first anniversary in business for myself. It’s been an interesting ride! I thought I would share a few insights I’ve learned along the way in my journey as a freelance website designer.
1. Be open to learning new things, always
As far as web design goes, there is no point at which anyone can say “That’s it – I know everything!” There are always new languages, tools, platforms. methodologies and more to pick up. On my to-do list at the moment are to learn Sass and try out the Underscores starter theme. I’d also like a shot at building an accessible WordPress theme – there aren’t very many available at the moment.
I’ve found a couple of useful resources on Underscores to get started with it:
- Create a WordPress theme with underscores
- Building Themes from Scratch with Underscores: Presentation by Morten Rand-Hendriksen
2. Keep your accounts up to date on a regular basis
Don’t do what I did and leave it for 2 1/2 months, then get rushed into putting all the figures together quickly because HMRC want them. A colleague has suggested doing bookkeeping the first couple of days of the month. This is a great suggestion, though for me I think it would be better to spent about half an hour a week on it. The problem is, like so many things, I don’t get paid to do it, so it’s easy to leave it to the last minute (a bit like blogging, in fact…) But the end result is worthwhile – it feels so much better to know what money is going in and out.
3. Don’t forget your leisure time
When you work from home as I do, it’s easy to let the boundaries between work and life slip somewhat. Before you know it you’re running a 24/7 business. I think I need to be a bit more disciplined here, but I always take every Saturday off – I might check my work emails or send the odd tweet, but I won’t do any work. I have found that as I schedule business tasks into my calendar, so I need to do the same with social engagements. Otherwise, a week can go by and I realise I’ve been living like a hermit and haven’t seen any friends or gone out.
4. Network, network, network
I’ve been fairly consistent in my local networking efforts and it has begun to pay off. I think you have to give it time. No-one is likely to meet you and then ask you to do a piece of work the following day. It takes time to build up business relationships. I’ve met people and then been contacted months down the line about a job. (Having said that , I did get contacted about a job the day after I’d updated my LinkedIn profile.) Networking includes your online efforts as well. That involves some time management skills so that you don’t spend half an hour scanning your Twitter timeline and not getting any other work done.
You can cultivate your business relationships by sharing or commenting on others’ social media updates, emailing or messaging your contacts, phone or Skype conversations and meeting up with fellow professionals for coffee (assuming you’re in the same city!) The real sales magic occurs in offline activities, but it’s important to
5. Regard others in the same field as allies, not your competitors
Yes, they maybe doing the same job as you, but that doesn’t mean the market isn’t big enough for everyone. I’ve found it really helpful to make the acquaintance of other web designers and people in related fields. There are a number of reasons why:
- You can partner with them on work when appropriate
- You may be referred other business from them
- You can learn from them – particularly useful things have been handling client relationships and managing expectations, writing proposals and pricing projects.
- They can be a shoulder to cry on when you’re having a difficult or frustrating time on a project
People to support you can come from many sources: networking and business events, conferences, webinars, blogs, forums and social media.
6. You learn more from your mistakes than your successes
Well, it’s boring doing everything right first time, isn’t it? More to the point, it’s impossible to do and everyone who’s made a success of themselves in business has had their failures along the way. I’ve had a few experiences I wouldn’t care to repeat. I don’t so much mean mistakes in design – though this article on design failures is very interesting – but more breakdowns in communication. I’ve learned it’s crucial to communicate with clients honestly about what you can and can’t do for them (visuals help a great deal), not to over-promise and under-deliver and to be watchful for scope creep in projects – the bugbear of every website designer.
7. Value yourself and what you do
I’m still learning this one! I think the following applies to any professional. It boils down to realising that as a web designer, I’m an expert in my field compared to the average person. Even if I only know a tenth of what another web designer knows, it’s still a lot more than the layman. And that means not being too timid to charge an appropriate rate for the work I do. Setting prices too low devalues the industry as a whole, and can lead to problems: if the complexity of a project is underestimated, you’ll find yourself working on a job you resent for money that’s not worth the effort. Don’t go there! Value yourself and you will be more motivated to provide a better service for your clients.