How To Become a Freelance Web Designer

How To Become a Freelance Web Designer

Becoming a freelance web designer is a common dream among many designers, although it takes quite a bit of talent, business savvy, commitment, and time. With all there is to consider when becoming self-employed, one can become overwhelmed — enough to deter themselves from trying at all.

Realizing many readers probably already have a head-start into the world of professional and freelance web design, this post is meant to act as not only a step-by-step guide, but also as a checklist for those who have already started their career. Hopefully this guide can cover all aspects of becoming a professional and freelance web designer, from business aspect and working with clients, to creating an effective portfolio and advertising one’s work.

1. Do the Necessary Research

The absolute first step into any freelancing career is to do the needed research ahead of time. Freelancing is a huge life and career change, and one needs to look into exactly how it will change life before diving in.

RESEARCH THE COSTS

Making money on one’s own terms sounds incredibly appealing, until the realization comes that it’s a lot less money than working at a company (at first, at least). Below is just a short list of expenses to consider. Make sure they are covered when venturing into a freelancing lifestyle.

  • Domain name and hosting services
  • Stationery, Business Cards, and other marketing material
  • Needed software
  • A desk space and supplies
  • Subscriptions to stock photo sites and other forms of resources

On top of that, consider basic living expenses and additional emergency or living money. At this point, a formal budget is not needed, but it’s a very smart idea to go over the basic numbers of starting a freelancing business, and maintaining it.

TAXES & INSURANCE

While most aspiring freelancers will slowly transition into the lifestyle, opposed to quitting their day job cold turkey, it is important to look into taxing information, insurance, and other assets that will be changed with self-employment. Because local laws and personal circumstances can vary so significantly, new designers should research this area on their own.

RESEARCH THE TIME

A more specific schedule can be setup later, but it’s a good idea to look into the time requirement for work each day, per week, and even per month to handle X amount of clients. For some, the time needed to be invested in this type of career path is not currently available.

Consider current social or family happenings, career responsibilities, and for some — even school. If it is not a good time in life to change focus, it may not be a good time to start freelancing full-time. Sometimes it is appropriate to put dreams on hold. With that being said, set a realistic date to begin a true freelancing lifestyle, whether that means just easing into it now, or setting a time in the future to go full-time.

If all consideration is put into place, the idea is well researched, then it can be time to start a freelance web design career! Below are the remaining steps to take.

2. Become a Brand

There are many differences between a young freelance web designer just trying to get by, and a successful freelance web designer with their business and future in mind. One of those differences is that successful freelance designers understand, and pay close attention, to branding.

Branding a business, even if only a one person operation, can do a lot of things in terms of the business’s sucess. A good brand builds credibility, client loyalty, delivers a target message to clients and other businesses, and even aids in marketing strategy.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

The name of a freelancing business can signify a lot, and most designers just choose to use their full name as the brand name. This is fine, but another option is to use a specialized brand name. Depending on the future plans of the business, it is smart to think closer about an official name.

If one plans on turning an individual freelancing business into a firm one day, a name other than the designer’s given name may be more appropriate. Also, a specialized brand name may be more memorable than the designer’s given name, and the posibilities are then endless as far as finding an SEO friendly name, or a name that gives off a portrayal of the business it represents.

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s easy to see the benefits of using a given name as a business name. Using a designer’s given name is always original, and something uniquely personal to the designer. Really, both can be successful decisions, but it is a decision that is often times taken too lightly. The way the brand is further marketed depends largely on this decision.

You should notice that designers who chose a specialized name for their brand often call themselves a studio. This gives the impression that they are a bigger business; a more formal organization. The portfolios with given names, though, provide a more personal appeal — something many clients look for. This often gives them more of the true freelancer feel.

Depending on how a designer wants to operate their business, the clients they want to attract, and based on the future goals of the business, the final decision of the freelancing business name can have many possibilities.

After the official brand name is decided, it’s time to start creating a logo around it. Many beginner designers don’t understand the importance a logo has in a brand, or even how important a brand is in itself. Opposed to creating a quick logo in the process of designing a portfolio template, a logo should be made separately and with the utmost consideration.

Because these designers, and so many more, took the extra time to create a well-branded and effective logo, they have the opportunity to expand the logo design to stationery, business cards, advertisements, and more. Not to mention, these logos serve the origial purpose of logo design — to create a brand, build business loyalty, and create an image that aids in recognition.

A designer will want to create a logo that represents their design style, and that will attract a client that is looking for that type of web design. To create a great logo, read up on logo design principles, tutorials, and logo design processes.

AN ELEVATOR PITCH

There is a lot more to being a successful freelance web designer than just being good at web design. Any sort of freelancer has to be an entrepreneur as well. Rule #1 for entrepreneurship: create an elevator pitch.

For those that don’t know what an elevator pitch it, it is a premeditated, well thought-out introduction to one’s services or a person’s business as a whole. Let’s take a look at a better definition. Excuse the use of Wikipedia for a professional reference, but Wikipedia’s definition of an elevator pitch is just about perfect for the freelance web designer:

An elevator pitch (or elevator speech) is an overview of an idea for a product, service, or project. The name reflects the fact that an elevator pitch can be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride (for example, thirty seconds and 100-150 words).

… A variety of other people, including entrepreneurs, project managers, salespeople, evangelists, policy-makers, job seekers (web designers and freelancers), and speed daters commonly use elevator pitches to get their point across quickly. — Elevator pitch, Wikipedia

Take the time to create an elevator pitch for a freelancing business. For a freelance web designer, it can venture beyond the traditional use of a speech in an elevator, to the introduction to a portfolio, the about page, or as an introduction to an application for a freelancing position.

Many marketing gurus leave the assumption that the creation of an elevator speech for a business will increase the client list dramatically. Usually, this isn’t the case — at least not directly. What it will do though is still quite useful:

  • Save the designer countless hours in coming up with a smart introduction over and over again.
  • Create a professional atmosphere for a portfolio, or whereever it is used.
  • An elevator speech will make sure that any new introductions don’t leave out vital information about the services or freelancing business.

The following is an example of an excellent elevator pitch for a 45royale web design studio.

45royale is an enthusiastic web design studio located in the bustling metropolis of Canton, Georgia. We promote web standards and bring energy and commitment to our work every single day. — 45royale Inc.

The above is a strong example for a small, yet established business. Freelancing can use the same principle, but with a more personal approach:

Hi there, my name’s Brian Wilkins and I am a web designer/front-end developer living outside Boston, Massachusetts. I currently work at Reelpoint, an online design and marketing firm. I build clean and functional interfaces. With a hunger to constantly grow and evolve as a designer, I have a genuine passion for art, typography, design, technology and creative thinking. — BrianWilkins.net

That detailed elevator pitch can be seen on his about page, telling potential clients exactly what he does. On the front page, as part of his portfolio design, he includes a much shorter, but equally effective pitch:

I’m a web designer that creates clean and modern content for the world wide web.

Taking the time to create an elevator pitch can help launch a freelance career through the use of business tactics. Below are some further resources for creating a great elevator pitch.

AN OVERALL STYLE

The last thing to do is create an overall style for the freelancing business. Fortunately, most of this is accomplished by the above several factors. The overall style, colors, textures, and even how a designer presents one’s self should reflect the style of work a designer completes.

To promote consistency throughout the life of the freelancing business, though, designers need to look at branding in a more broad sense when first starting out. Creating a color scheme, design style, and other overall design guidelines based off of the logo design, and information presented in the elevator pitch. Then, stick to the brand as the freelancing business progresses.

3. Create a Portfolio Website

Step number three is an obvious one — create a portfolio website. However, it deserves a decent overview and closer look because we as designers are our own worst clients. Many new freelancers, or anyone just entering the web design world of business, will open Photoshop and start grinding away. Instead, think about what a portfolio can actually do.

A mediocre portfolio will have a great design, and show off a designer’s past works. However, an excellent portfolio will do the following things:

  • Reflect and grow a designer’s brand.
  • Show a client not only what a designer can do, but what the designer can do for them.
  • Show great talent, but also business savvy and professionalism.
  • Intrigue potential clients strongly enough so that they stay on the website long enough to make contact with the designer.
  • Provide a user-friendly interface for the client (who very well may not be so Internet or design savvy).

Keep all of this in mind during the design process of a web design portfolio. Make note that a designer’s portfolio has to be their best work. Furthermore, consider the following items when creating, or even modifying a design portfolio.

CONSIDER A 1-PAGE PORTFOLIO

It’s called direct response marketing, and it’s proven to be one of the most effective forms of marketing to get the most sales. It’s bascially a method that involves making a huge impact in the most direct way possible. In the world of web design, this means an incredibily effective and amazing portfolio — but in only one page.

Of course, this isn’t a great method for everyone, especially those who offer more than just basic web design services. However, without a one-page design, a designer can still take use of this knowledge by applying more direct-response marketing to their portfolio. This may mean simplifying it, puting the contact form on the front page, and merging similar pages together.

USE A CONTACT FORM

Provide a traditional email address and other information, but most importantly, include an email form. It makes things easier for the potential client to get ahold of the designer, even if only to ask for more information. This then provides further opportunity for the designer to sell their work.

The form above (Komodomedia) is a perfect example because it gives the visitor various options for the form, rather than just requesting a quote. This designer has made themselves approachable, which is an excellent way to gain more clients. Also, above the form, there are other ways to contact the designer, which may be suitable for different visitors.

MAKE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS NOTICEABLE

Make sure the most important components of a portfolio design are out in the open and easy to use and find. For most, this means the contact form and information, the portfolio pieces, and the logo.

A perfect example is Alexandru Cohaniuc’s portfolio. The biggest text on the page is “Portfolio”, “Hi, I’m Alex”, and “Contact.” Right above the word “Portfolio” is the logo, strategically placed in the top left.

To make things really official, a designer has to create some legal documents. These can be reused for each client, but must be made initially to deal with potential problems later.

CONTRACT

A contract is a necessity for a freelancer of any sort. It will help protect the designer and the client, as well as outline some rules and guidelines. For more information on how to create a freelance contract, check out the resources below.

In addition, one can hire a technical writer or other writing professional to do the job.

TERMS & CONDITIONS

Terms and conditions are a more in-depth view of the rules between the web deigner and the client. Again, one can hire someone to write a terms and agreement paper for them, otherwise here is a great template: Terms and Conditions Template.

A third needed agreement is a separate copyright agreement. Designers are always at risk for work being stolen and miscredited. A copyright agreement is a way to protect that work, and a way to set further rules for who can use the work.

Because copyright law can vary among different countries, we won’t get much into it here. It is important, though, to research copyright law, know one’s own rights, and apply it to one’s own circumstances.

5. Find a Starting Wage & Budget

Deciding on a personal starting wage is difficult, because we never truly know how much to pay ourselves. As anyone can guess, someone just starting out in freelancing won’t be making much. A new designer just has to make sure they have basic living expenses paid, and a bit of cusion room for emergency costs or budget mishaps.

PROS AND CONS OF FIXED-PRICED PROJECTS

A fixed-priced project is one where the designer and client agree on an overall cost for a design project ahead of time, and the payment is completely independent of how long it takes the designer to complete. Below are some pros and cons of using this method.

Pros:

  • These types of project can be easier to apply to a monthly budget.
  • Designer’s with efficient methods to save time during a project won’t be unfairly punished with a low cost.
  • It is easy to see how many projects per month need to be completed to determine profits and budget handling.

Cons:

  • It is much more difficult to determine a fixed-price for a project before actually completing it.
  • Sometimes designers are underpaid using this method.
  • Payment doesn’t come at regular intervals, which may not be suitable for all lifestyles.

PROS AND CONS OF HOURLY WAGE WORK

While hourly work may be what we’re all used to, there can be some equal pros and cons to consider when thinking about this payment system as a freelancer.

Pros:

  • Budgeting is easier for those that require a daily or weekly budget.
  • It is harder to become under or over paid for a project.
  • It is much easier to explain to the client the final cost of a project.

Cons:

  • It is hard to determine our own hourly rate based on the judgement of our own skills.
  • It is more difficult to work with a monthly budget.
  • Timesheets need to be filled out and there needs to be an effective way to transfer timesheets back and forth between the designer and client.

A closer look into these two types of payment plans can help a beginner decide. For further reading, look over Effective Strategy To Estimate Time For Your Design Projects.

TOOLS FOR MANAGING MONEY AS A FREELANCER

LessAccounting.com
Less Accounting is an all-in-one money managment application that will let one connect to bank accounts, and even let a freelancer invite a personal accountant login to help watch money. In addition, LessAccounting also features all the other basic money management needs for freelancers.

Mint.com
Mint may not be made for freelancers specifically, but it is one of the best tools out there for taking control of one’s own money. This is perfect for new business owners that may be low on money, and need to pay extra attention to their cash flow.

Tickspot.com
Tick is a time management tool aimed at organizing time so that freelancers can hit their budgets. It’s a great tool that breaks up time so a freelancer can enter hours worked, hourly pay rate, project pay rate, and more.

SlimTimer.com
Slimtimer is similar to tick, in that it is a time and budget management tool. One can create tasks, time their own work, run reports, and manage their money overall more efficiently.

INVOICING TOOLS LINK

SimplyBill.com
SimplyBill is a very simple invoicing tool to help effectively keep track of clients, their invoices, and to send invoices out.

FreshBooks.com
Freshbooks is a great invoicing tool for freelancers with a lot of versatility to meet anyone’s needs. Best of all, it’s free up to three clients, so this gives designers plenty of time to decide if FreshBooks is right for them.

Intuit
By the creators of QuickBooks, Intuit is a free alternative invoicing system that is perfect for designers just starting out that need to save that extra bit of cash.

FreeAgentCentral.com
FreeAgent allows a freelancer to manage all their invoices, and will even tell the freelancer what they owe the tax man.

6. Create a Résume

Without a strong portfolio just yet, new freelance web designers need to rely on a strong résume. This is a designer’s true chance to flaunt their skills in full detail. Most of us learned how to create a résume back in high school, and another good portion of us probably still hold on to our most recent one today. When venturing into a new freelance web design career, though, it’s time to tweak it to meet the needs of this new career path.

Below are some resources for creating the perfect résume for web designers and freelancers.

For a newly created web design freelance portfolio, providing a download link to a designer’s full résume may be just what the client is looking for.

7. Find “Portfolio Building” Clients

Now that just about everything is set up, it’s time to take action. Finding the first few clients is always tough, because nobody wants to hire a nobody. It may be near impossible to find good, well-paying clients yet, so sit tight and take on the first few “portfolio building” clients.

CONSIDER OFFERING FREE SERVICES
Image source: On the Block

Working for free is never fun, but it may be necessary. Do some volunteer work for a church or another non-profit/low budget organization. These services obviously aren’t hard to sell; just put an ad up for yourself up on Craigslist or in freelance and web design forums.

When creating an ad to offer free services, be sure to avoid failure. This means setting limits — no designer wants to spend a month on a complicated job making no money. Offer only PSD templates, 1-page websites, or something of the like.

Of course, this isn’t an option for everybody because we all don’t have the time, nor the patience to do a free job. If that is the case, explore some options below to get paying clients that will gladly deal with a new designer.

Put up fliers or an ad in the local newspaper to gain some local recognition. Not every potential client knows where to look online for web design services, and it may very well be that many are looking locally. Otherwise, they’re only finding top Google-ranked web design businesses that they can’t afford.

If a new designer comes to them offering cheaper services, whether in the form of a newspaper ad, a flier at a grocery store, or through word-of-mouth via friends and family, they’ll be very happy to hire.

OFFER FREEBIES OR SELL TEMPLATES

One more option requires no actual clients at all. Many designers choose to make free templates in their spare time, and use them to advertise their services, show off what they can do, and in some instances, sell them for some residual income.

Over at ThemeForest, Collis has sold a PSD template at $10 — 168 times. This means over a thousand dollars in his pocket, and a great portfolio piece to show off.

Unless one makes spewing out free or cheap templates, WordPress Themes, or scripts their full-time business, this isn’t going to be a great option for making monthly living expenses. It is however, a great alternative to 1) get a designer to create some portfolio pieces, 2) get the designer’s name out in the community, and 3) let the designer make a bit of extra cash.

However, it is important to try a few real clients as well, for the business experience.

THEN WHAT?

After finding a few clients, keep these few things in mind.

  • Create a personal (yet professional) connection between the first few clients. This may welcome great testimonials and word-of-mouth clients.
  • Offer variety in your services when starting out. For example, one may want to try logo design, web design, and basic coding. Later on, when trying to add a new service to the freelancing business, this will make for a much easier transition.
  • Just because new designers have to deal with low (or no) wages, doesn’t mean they should offer low-quality work. Put in the hours and create something great. Keep in mind that there is more to the first few projects than just the money.

TOOLS FOR CLIENT MANAGEMENT

BaseCamp
BaseCamp is a very popular project managment tool for freelancers. With BaseCamp, a freelancer can share files, set deadlines, assign tasks, organize feedback, and more.

Zoho Writer
Essentially, Zoho Writer is an online word processer. In addition to being that though, it is aimed at freelancers, with the ability to share documents and collaborate with clients in various ways.

Big Contacts
Big contacts is an online contacts solution to help share files, email, have meetings, send notes, and more between the freelancer and client.

8. Create (and Stick to) a Schedule

A huge part of freelancing is finding a schedule that fits the designer’s needs, and allows the designer to get the necssary work done on time. It is a step in itself to becoming a professional freelance web designer.

FIND THE HOURS NECESSARY

To find a schedule, a designer needs to find how much time it actually takes them to do the tasks at hand. A freelancer has to ask themselves, “How much time does it take to create a simple PSD template, and then how long does it take to code it?” Depending on the skill sets of individual designers, this length of time can greatly change. However, work from previous clients or the creation of sample templates can give a rough estimate.

After determing how long the workflow takes, decide on a daily hourly input for work — and work only.

A DAILY SCHEDULE

A general daily schedule depends greatly on each designer’s personal lifestyle, and is something that needs to be predetermined in order to be successful. After a designer realizes how much time it takes daily to get the required amount of work done, he or she should create a daily schedule for themsleves.

A daily schedule will help aid the designer to stay on track, instead of constantly checking email, jumping back and forth between projects, or ignoring client work altogether.

A WEEKLY & MONTHLY SCHEDULE

On top of a daily schedule, freelance professionals should also make a weekly and monthly calendar. A broader calendar can be used to keep track of deadlines and plan out longer projects.

Whether it be a calendar hanging on the wall or a web-based calendar like below, make sure to keep track of deadlines, payment schedules, and other checkmarks along the way of a project.

FIND THE MOTIVATION

Anyone can see the benefits of a steady schedule, but the hardest part for most may be staying motivated to keep to it. Below are some things to keep in mind if the urge to break a preset schedule creeps up.

  • Do the same specific thing during work at the same time every day. For example, check email first thing in the morning, then start directly on client work.
  • For those who have already quit their day jobs to pursue this career: Wake up at the same time everyday. If it means sleeping in a few extra hours than the traditional worker, that’s fine. However, having a constantly altering start to the day can mess up a schedule, even if things are done in the same order during wake time.
  • Write a to-do list in the morning of items that need to be addressed that day.
  • Use a calendar and daily planner to keep track of daily, weekly, and monthly tasks.

A FEW TIME MANAGEMENT TOOLS

Dejal Timeout
Quite the opposite of most time managment software, this application actually tells you when to stop working. With timed breaks, this tool can help a freelancer have an overall more relaxing career.

Google Calendar
Google Calendar is a great option for those that use Google’s other tools a lot, in that it will be all in the same place. Like many of Google’s other tools, it is free, versatile, and very useful.

Ta-da List
Ta-da List is an easy to-do list tool hosted online for convenience. It is easy to create lists for one’s own use, or for others.

9. Create a Business Plan

One of the most boring and tedious tasks one can do is create a business plan. Most might feel free to skip this step, but wait a moment and consider the benefits (and assurances) of taking the time to create one.

Benefits of a Professional Business Plan:

  • Creates a real business in the designer’s eyes, and in the client’s eye.
  • A business plan can be used in tricky legal situations, to differ the business from just a hobby.
  • Identifies future plans, direction, and goals for the business.
  • Keeps the designer, as a business owner, on track with the development of the business.
  • Upgrades the simple monthly budget to a long-term financial structure.

Anyone can see the benefits range from business growth, to financial growth, and credibility. To learn more about creating a business plan, view the helpful article on About.com, Back to Business Planning: Developing a 4-Part Business Plan for Freelance Designers.

10. Know How to Gain Recognition

Not all designers are marketing experts, but a bit of knowledge about how to gain recognition in the freelance web design world is necessary to be successful. Designers should do research on marketing, and create a long-term plan for the growth of their portfolio and their reputation as a freelance designer.

EXPAND WITH SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES

Use social networking sites to not only promote a portfolio, but also to promote new designs and projects. In addition, one can use Twitter, or something similar to get valuable feedback on current projects. For more ideas on how to get the most out of Twitter as a web designer, take a look at Ramsay’s post: 5 Simple Ways Twitter Can Make You a Better Web Designer.

Also, those who are active within social media communities benefit far more than those who use them for only self-promotion. Create a community, find other designers, and even discover some interesting finds along the way. Take the time to enjoy social media websites, while gaining recognition as a web designer.

GET RECOGNIZED IN A CROWD OF APPLICANTS

Knowing where to look for more work is necessary when depending on that work for a decent income. However, with thousands of freelancers floating around in forums, job boards, and other sources of possible clients, getting noticed can be some hard work — especially when others (who may be doing it for just a hobby) are willing to offer their services extremely cheap.

To get noticed by clients and win a job, follow a few of these simple rules.

  • Don’t apply to jobs that are more than a few days old — chances are they’ve been filled, and it’s really a waste of time.
  • Use multiple job board websites and forums to have a wider range of possibilites.
  • Be a good designer. This sounds like a dumb tip, but often times clients get application for web designers that either 1) aren’t good at design or 2) have designs that show no unique abililty and are very ordinary.
  • Don’t apply for jobs that you don’t qualify. Client’s can’t stand hearing, “I haven’t done a design for the style you’re looking for, but I’ve been creating websites for X years and could probably do it.” The next designer that comes to them with a decent portfolio proving they can meet the client’s needs is going to get the job instead.
  • This shouldn’t even have to be said, but sadly, it does: Capitalize your sentences, use correct grammar, and don’t make spelling mistakes when applying for a freelance job.

As for the best tip of all — don’t sell work cheaper than it needs to be just to gain a client. If a client can’t see why a logo design costs $200 when the kid that applied the day before is offering the same service for $20, then it’s really their own loss. Somtimes it’s worth losing jobs, and that’s a part of the difficulty when just starting out.

11. Blog often, but pay attention to the quality of your posts

Blogs are great for improving search engine rank and gaining popularity in the web design community. Whether designers have a lot of time or barely enough, a blog showcasing interesting finds or discussing anything related to the web design or the freelancing profession can gain an audience fast.

Below are just a few websites that use blogs to promote their general careers as freelance web designers.

WellMedicated.com really doesn’t update that often — only about once every two months — but it’s still a well respected design blog in the community. Andrew Lindstrom is a freelance web designer, and spends most of his focus on that. However, with a great following on his blog, he can easily gain traffic to his web design portfolio through his sidebar and about page.

In a recent interview of Steven Snell of Vandelay Design, Steven discussed how the popular Vandelay Design Blog was indeed intended to bring more traffic and clients to the Vandelay Design portfolio. Well, that mission was very successful, and the blog changed direction to fulfill the wants of a different audience, as a full-time design blog.

Now, it is updated every few days and it’s goal is no longer to bring portfolio traffic. However, with a link to the portfolio and further information about the web design business, there is no doubt it still does.

Chris Spooner’s blogging experience started with just some simple experimentation, and as a place for him to simply explore and share. However, the blog soon gained a lot of popularity, and now does great work in promoting his portfolio as well.

So the lesson to be learned is, no matter what reason a designer has to start a blog, it can be a great source for traffic and a way to gain recognition in the community. Not to mention, the additional income from selling advertising spaces.

12. Get into the Community of Freelance Web Designers

Don’t be a freelancing loner. Getting involved in the community and meet other web designers and freelancing professionals to grow as a designer.

Make contacts within the community by blogging, joining a design network like Envato, and using forums. One could also donate freebies to larger communities, or try to do guest posts.

Below are just a few ways gaining a strong social network in the community can help a freelance web designer.

  • It creates a support group. Guessing that many freelance web designers don’t have many offline friends or family that do the same thing for a living, having an online support group for your field of interest can be very beneficial. Get into the web design community to share, rant, rave, and get feedback as a designer.
  • Learn new things. Following a blog regularly, being active in social networking sites, and participating in forums is a great way to improve your current abilities, and expand horizons. Instead of grinding away at what needs to get done or what needs to be learned for a current project, being a part of a community will help you to explore new things and find inspiration.
  • Become an authority and let the clients come. Being the best designer in the world doesn’t make that designer an authority figure. As skills and wisdom improve, others in the web design community will reference a designer’s work, portfoio, and services for them.

ATTEND CONFERENCES AND OTHER FACE-TO-FACE EVENTS

Attending various web design and other conferences for webmasters is not only a great way to network with other designers, but also a great way to learn new things and keep up with the latest trends. Get to some conferences, and become a real person, rather than just an online presence.

Below are just a few popular conferences within the community.

AnEventApart.com
An Event Apart is an intensely educational two-day conference for passionate practitioners of standards-based web design. If you care about code as well as content, usability as well as design, An Event Apart is the conference you’ve been waiting for.

Carsonified
For Web Designers, Creatives and anyone who cares about web design.

Web Design World
Since 1997, we’ve helped thousands of Web designers learn what they need to know to make better web sites, manage web projects, and get home at a decent hour.

As a freelancer, we have the ultimate schedule for attending these events, and it can be easier than for others to gather the funds. In order to truly succeed, freelance web designers should attend these events to socialize, learn, and grow their freelancing web design career.

13. Reinvest the Income

It takes money to make money, so when starting out, reinvest some of the income made back into the freelancing business. It’s tempting to pay off bills or buy something nice once it can be afforded, but dedicate a certain percentage to the business’s growth.

Among the many things that need to be maintained for a freelancing business are software upgrades, hosting and domain renewals, desk space upgrades, stationery, and more. In addition to maintinence items, though, some of the income may be turned into a luxury web design item — for fun and for work.

Figure how much of the income is actually needed for living expenses, and use either all of the remaining profit, or a strong percentage of the profit to go back into the business.

14. Get a Professional Space

Finding a place to do work may help new freelancers differ play time from work time. On another note, a good workspace is needed to keep organized and create an effective workflow. Below are two great workspaces that are effective and fun, both held as a home office.

The workspace of Ben Mautner provides a lot of worspace to get things done, with plenty of inspiration handing on the walls as well.

Jay Hilgert’s office space is is clean, neat, and trendy — but also has all the necessary equipment.

Beyond a home office’s benefit of staying organized and aiding in getting some work done, it can make anyone finally feel like a true professional freelance web designer. You may want to take a look at the workstations of other designers as well.

15. Keep Learning New Tricks

As the final stage of the transformation comes into completion, there is only one more thing that needs to be done to create and maintain the status of a professional, freelance web design career. That final step is to keep learning. Designers should always be discovering new practices, techniques, standards for client work — and also tweaking their own business along the way.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this walkthrough can help most web designers just starting out in freelancing go down the correct path. Freelancing in the web design niche is an exciting and freedom-filled career path, although it requires a mix between design, development, and entrepreneurship. Finding a good grasp of all three can only mean success as a freelance web designer.


How to Obtain Website Content from Clients

How to Obtain Website Content from Clients

Content from Clients

In a perfect world, we’d all have all the content we needed before we ever touched a wireframe, on paper or otherwise. The hate for lorem ipsum is real, and I do understand why, but it’s a simple fact that we do not live in a perfect world. Clients are often ready to hand over a down payment, but not actually ready to build the site yet.

If you find yourself in this situation (and it will happen a lot at the beginning of your career), you’ll need to help your client get ready. And if they don’t hire a copy writer, you’ll need to help them write the content themselves.

Note: Even though this guide is directed towards web design, the experiences and principles can be applied to virtually any project (in any industry) that involves procuring content from a client.

Give Them Constraints

If your client is writing their own content, they may need to be told what to write. Most people are not writers by nature. It’s a skill that can be learned by virtually anyone with varying levels of success, but it takes some persistence and associated time. Most people, when told to write some content for a website, are probably going to stare at the blank screen for a while.

Hesitantly they might begin to pluck out letters on their keyboard, one by one. It’ll probably be a laborious process, but they’ll have that first grand sentence: “Hi! Welcome to the home page of our website.” And then they might write a bunch of stuff that would probably be better suited for another page.

People have long made the argument that total creative freedom doesn’t make for good design; constraints do. Constraints force us to solve problems, but they also give us direction, and purpose. Yes, it means doing some of their website planning and strategy for them, but no one said you had to do it for free.

Go Through The Process With Them Before They Write

Even instructions like, “Okay, you need a paragraph of introductory text for the home page.” might be a bit vague for people unfamiliar with writing website copy. Get on Skype, or even meet them in person to take your client through the plan you have for their website (wireframes or other prototypes may come in handy here).

Also be sure to tell them how much content is intended for each page, page section, or UI element. If only a sentence or two will reasonably fit, make sure they know this. If they can go nuts on the “About Us” page, make sure they know that, too.

And yes, giving them a space to go nuts is probably a good idea. Everyone wants unleash their inner Hemingway, and if the “About” page ends up being as long and annoying as The Old Man and the Sea, that’s the price we pay for good relationships with our clients.

As you go through your instructions, write them down, and send them to your client via email for reference. This way, they’ll always know what the plan is.

Charge by the hour for this bit, at least.

Go Ahead And Annoy Them A Bit

Ever had a client give you a deadline, then disappear? You have no obligation to take that lying down. Now, they might be busy, and have other legitimate priorities. If they tell you a family member is sick, just work for another client for a while.

But if they just disappear on you, don’t be afraid to remind them once in a while. They might genuinely forget, and need the reminder. Even if they haven’t forgotten, they might need a little motivation. And yes, you might annoy them a bit, but clients should respect your time, too.

If they can’t finish even one project, there probably isn’t a long-term relationship on the table

Now don’t e-mail them every day. That’s excessive. An e-mail per week should be fine to start with, and you can always increase that number as deadlines approach. If they e-mail you back with something like, “Thanks, I’m working on it!”, or, “For god’s sake please stop, I’m working on it!”… you can safely stop sending them e-mails for a while.

Don’t worry too much about annoying them. If they can’t finish even one project, there probably isn’t a long-term relationship on the table.

Use Software To Make It All A Bit Easier

Of course, this is all a fair bit of work. You can automate the process of getting content from your clients just a little bit, though. If you’ve got the budget for one more darned SAAS product in your pipeline, you could try out Content Snare.

You literally just set up forms that specifically request the content you need. You can put in character limits, and basically define the information required with various kinds of inputs. You want constraints? They’ve got constraints, and automatic email reminders.

Now the downside to this software is the cost. At the time of this writing, the cheapest plan is $24US per month (billed yearly). It’s affordable, probably, for a designer with plenty of clients already. But when every dollar counts, this is one tool you can probably do without.

For anyone who’s a little cash-strapped, you can replicate the basic functionality for requesting content with a much simpler tool like Google Forms. Just make one for each page, and go. You can embed these forms, too, so if you already have something like a “client area” set up on your website, you could theoretically set each client up with their own set of forms to fill out, all in one place.

Automated reminder emails? Well, there’s no shortage of mass mailing applications out there. If you’re already using one, you could schedule some reminders pretty easily. Just be sure to turn them off once you’ve gotten a response.

Annoying them is one thing. Using robots to do it is another.

Provide Some Examples from Relevant Sources

A simple and effective way to get a client to understand fully what you want them to provide is to give them pertinent and specific examples of the needed content. For example if the client’s project is a construction website that specifically needs some text content for the Services page you could send them a url of a well established construction website’s a Service’s page and inform them to create something similar. It really can be that easy. Of course this method could be replicated throughout the site as needed.

What is a Favicon, and How Do You Make a Favicon?

What is a Favicon, and How Do You Make a Favicon?

Favicon

A favicon is a small 16×16 pixel icon that appears at the top of a web browser. It serves as branding for your website and a convenient way for visitors to locate your page when they have multiple tabs open. Because of their tiny size, favicons work best as simple images or one-to-three characters of text.

what is a favicon

Example of favicons on a desktop browser.

To get a favicon for your website, you could hire a freelance designer to create one based on your logo and brand colors, or (I would highly recommend) create the favicon yourself.

Favicon Sizes and Formats

16×16 pixels is the standard size used by desktop website browsers. However, many website builders will ask for larger sizes. For example, WordPress requires 512×512 pixels and Squarespace asks for 300×300 pixels.

This is because favicons are not only used in browser bars. They are also displayed when a user bookmarks a site or saves a shortcut to their desktop or mobile home screen. In these cases, the size of the icon grows much larger.

what is a favicon

Example of favicons on a smartphone home screen. These icons are significantly larger than the desktop favicons pictured further above.

To be safe, try to upload whatever image size is requested by your website builder. Again, for WordPress, this is 512×512 pixels. WordPress will automatically resize and display the proper image for each scenario, so you don’t have to worry about resizing them yourself.

The standard file format for favicons is .ico but most website platforms will also accept .png files.

How to Make a Favicon

The majority of websites I create is via WordPress (site icon), so I simply need to create a 512px x 512px (icon) png. I personally prefer using photoshop to create favicons, but other visual/photo editors should work even Microsoft Paint. Even if you have limited graphic design experience you should not be overwhelmed by any means by this “project”.

If you don’t have the latest version of Photoshop, here’s the official Adobe link:

Free Trial or Buy Photoshop at Adobe.com

1. Create a blank 512px x 512px canvas (working area).

2. Create a basic icon via combining basic geometric shapes with a shape tool or even simply large letters with a text tool.

What is a favicon and how do you make a favicon?
What is a favicon and how do you make a favicon?

Optional: I personally prefer a favicon w/o a background, so if using photoshop unlock the background layer and delete it which will create a transparent background.

3. Save the image as a 512px x 512px png file.

Congrats you’ve now created a favicon! It’s that easy!

Now you can share this knowledge/skill to anyone else asking “What is a Favicon?… How Do You Make a Favicon?”

Offboard Web Design Project in 5 Steps: How to Guide

Offboard Web Design Project in 5 Steps: How to Guide

Offboard Web Design Project – 5 Steps

As you draw closer to the finish line with a website, does your client see it just as clearly as you do? Or are they still wavering on design and copy choices even while you’re in the final stages of QA, or talking about additional features they’ll want to add to the site “some day”? It’s time to offboard web design project.

Unless you are getting paid — and paid well — for every single hour you put into a website, you have to be willing to enforce a final stopping point. If you don’t, your client will undoubtedly play the “What about this? Or this?” game for as long as you allow them to.

And you can’t afford to do that. You have other clients whose websites deserve your attention.

Just as you have created an onboarding process to smoothly kick off a new website project, you must do the same with an offboarding process.

Step 1: Collect Your Final Payment

Once the client has given you the approval on the finished website, you push it live. After some light testing to confirm that all is well on the live domain, it’s time to initiate the offboarding process.

You’ll do this by sending along the last invoice. Better yet, your invoicing software should automatically be configured to do this upon reaching the final project milestone.

One my favorite tools to do this with is AND CO.

AND CO

That’s because you can do everything in here:

  • Create a proposal;
  • Send the contract;
  • Track your time;
  • Send invoices.

Because each of these elements exist within the same place, setting up and scheduling invoices based on your project’s milestones (including the launch date) is really easy to do.

Don’t move on to the next steps until you collect the payment due though. Letting a client go any more than seven days after the project’s end without final payment simply invites them to ask you to do more work.

Step 2: Send the Wrap-up Email

Upon confirming receipt of payment, send your client a wrap-up email.

This doesn’t have to be lengthy. The goal is to get them to schedule the closing call as soon as possible. Something like this should work:

Greetings, [client name]!
I wanted to thank you for the opportunity to build this website for [company name]. I hope you’re just as pleased with it as I am!
I know you’re excited to put this website to work for you now that you have it, but I have just a few things I want to show you as we wrap up.
When you have a moment, please go to my Calendly and schedule a 15-minute Wrap-Up Session for some time this week. 
During this call, I’ll give you a behind-the-scenes tour of your website and show you how to edit your content. Afterwards, I will send along the login credentials you need to manage your website along with all of your design assets.
Talk soon.

As I mentioned in the message above, Calendly is the tool I use to simplify my scheduling with clients.

Calendly

All you have to do is create an event (like “Client Offboarding” or “Client Onboarding”), set up your availability, and then send the link to your clients to pick a time when you’re free. It makes life so much easier.

Step 3: Do the Wrap-Up Video Call

This final call with your client needs to be done over video or, at the very least, a screen-share. For this, I’d suggest using Zoom.

Zoom

The above example is how I used to do my offboarding calls with WordPress clients.

I’d log into their website and then give them an orientation of all of the key areas they needed to know. I’d show them how to create a post, how to create a page, and explain the difference between the two. I’d also show them important areas like the Media folder, the area to manage Users, and maybe a few other things.

This “training” call is yours to do with as you like. Just make sure the client walks away feeling confident in taking the reins over from you.

Step 4: Deliver the Remaining Pieces

The website is done, you’ve collected the payment, and you’ve had the final call with your client. Now, it’s time to deliver the remaining pieces you owe them.

Logins – If you created any accounts from-scratch (e.g. WordPress, web hosting, social media, etc.), send along the login credentials.

Style guide – Did you create a style guide for the client? Package it up in a professional-looking PDF and send it over in case they decide to work with another designer in the future.

Design assets – Again, on the off chance they work with someone else, you’ll want to send along the design assets you created in their native formats.

Licenses – You may have licensed certain assets during this project, like stock photos or design templates. If that’s the case, you’ll need to bill them for the licenses (if you haven’t already) and transfer ownership to them now.

While you could send these along before the wrap-up call, you run the risk of the clients taking the materials and running away… Only to show up months later wanting to know what all this stuff is, what they’re supposed to do with it, and wondering if you’ll have time to walk them through the website now.

Or they don’t open any of it and then message you months down the line, urgently demanding access to their site, files, etc. To avoid this from happening, clearly label everything and send it along in a shared Dropbox folder.

Dropbox

Even if they lose the link to the Dropbox folder at any point, you don’t have to repackage up all their stuff again. You can simply grab the link from your end and resend.

Step 5: Follow Up in 60 Days

Set a reminder in your project management template to follow up with website clients 60 days after the wrap-up. This will give them enough time to sit with the website and either:

  • Become really comfortable using it;
  • Realize it’s too much work.

Either way, it’s a good idea to check in.

If they’re taking good care of the website and using it to promote their business, that’s great. This email will simply serve as a reminder that you remain their trusted ally and you’re here if they ever need anything.

And if they’re not taking care of it, this is an excellent opportunity to offer your assistance in providing (paid) support and maintenance.

Bringing Projects to a Close with an Offboarding Process

If you’ve done a good job of setting expectations with your client from the start, bringing a project to a close should be no problem.

Then again, you know how clients can get. They’re so excited to actually have a website now that they can’t stop imagining the possibilities. So long as you’ve delivered what they paid for, though, you are under no obligation to keep this project open to entertain those ideas unless they start a new contract with you.

Use this offboarding checklist to ensure you give each of your web design projects as strong and final a close as possible.

references: webdesignerdepot, and co, calendly, dropbox

Combine the Power of Data and Design to Maximize Results For Your Website

Combine the Power of Data and Design to Maximize Results For Your Website

In today’s digital era, having an impactful and compelling website is a critical component for any business or organization. A useful site that connects with your audience instills trust, screams authority, and drives action, can mean the difference between remaining relevant and competitive or falling silently to the wayside.

Despite the critical importance of websites in today’s competitive landscape, many web designers find their creations falling short on the performance matrix, under-delivering on KPIs and leaving those in charge scratching their heads for an answer.

Simply put, sometimes innovative layouts and stunning visuals aren’t enough. Lack of data in the design process can create a disconnect between what “works” and what looks or feels appealing.

The marriage of data and design makes for a compelling approach to data-driven design processes and can act as a guiding force for strategizing and implementing site architecture and design elements that not only look great but meet or exceed performance expectations.

Market Research – Where it all Begins

In life, as in business (and web design), having a clear direction and goal in mind from the outset will make for a predictable journey to that end.

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable

~ Seneca

Market research is all about understanding your audience, analyzing the competition and competitive landscape, and looking introspectively inward to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

MARKET DEMANDS

Your “market” represents the gameboard, along with all of its components and pieces upon which your design strategy executes. As it relates to market demands, what elements are vital, required or expected of your design and website?

Examples:

  • Visible accreditations or licensure;
  • Prominent reviews and ratings;
  • Specific contact or support channels;
  • Information such as guides or training materials;
  • Product/service visuals or demonstrations;
  • Transparent pricing.

Market demands vary and will be particular to your specific industry, geographic location, and other factors.

COMPETITION / COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE

You know what they say: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. While you don’t need to become best friends with the competition, monitoring their activities, strategies, updates, offerings and other prerogatives can provide you with insightful and useful information.

Competitive data can be used to leverage the time, resources and hard work of other brands to identify those activities or strategies that either perform well or fail in the market.

By doing so, you can learn from costly mistakes, while benefiting from winning concepts already battle-tested in the market and proven to either work.

Further, understanding the competitive landscape in its totality will help you understand what you’re up against, and can help you formulate ways to uniquely position your design in the market such that it stands out among the sea of competitors vying for the same business.

TARGET AUDIENCE / CUSTOMER AVATAR

Without a deep understanding of your target audience, any web designer is prone to missing the mark badly, failing to connect with, engage, inspire action, and meet the needs of their visitors.

Considerations with regards to your audience should include both demographic and user behavior data.

Demographic Data to Consider:

  • Gender
  • Age brackets
  • Income
  • Geographic locations
  • Family size
  • And other relevant data
  • Behavioral Data to Consider:
  • Needs and wants
  • Pain points or complaints
  • Issues/problems
  • Desired solutions
  • Likes and preferences
  • Purchase habits
  • And more…

The specific types of behavioral and demographic data that will be most useful and relevant to your design will be mostly dependent on your brand, vertical/niche, offerings, and other particulars.

PRODUCT / SOLUTIONS AUDIT

Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees as it were. Taking a step back and assessing your product/solutions and other offers can provide perspective on necessary design elements, positioning, and framing that can help turn a non-performing offer into a critical source of revenue.

Utilizing information uncovered in the previous steps, cross-reference your offers and take a hard look at whether or not your products or services meet market and user demands, needs and want.

In what way do your offers stand out (or in what ways can you make them stand out) from those offered by the competition. Utilize this data to formulation unique positioning and strategic approaches to incorporate your offers’ USP or value proposition.

Keyword Research

Keyword research is a vital component of the design process, and will largely dictate how information is architected, organized, presented and delivered on the site.

Approach keyword research from a bottom-up or top-down funnel approach.

Necessary components of keyword research include:

  • Keyword competition;
  • Keyword intent (buyer vs. research vs. informational, etc.);
  • Stage of funnel each keyword targets;
  • Organization of content for search engines and user experience;
  • Link modeling for internal link and ranking strategies.

Types of Content May Include:

  • Sales/landing pages;
  • Service/product pages;
  • Resources, guides, tutorials;
  • Informational and supportive blog posts or articles;
  • Information Architecture.

Information architecture is essential for user experience, search engine optimization, and conversion rate optimization. Utilizing data from the previous market and keyword research phases you can begin to optimally architect information in a way that is conducive to better performance.

ELEMENTS TO INCORPORATE INTO YOUR DESIGN ARCHITECTURE

Site Structure: Determined by both market and keyword research, your site’s structure can be first mapped out by using an organizational chart for ease of visualization.

URL Mapping: This step, while mostly administrative and somewhat tedious, involves the creation of each URL structure optimized for both readability by users and optimized for search engines to understand. Once created, assign designated keywords to their respective URLs.

Page Flows: An understanding of user behavior and the ideal buyer journey should also shape how information is structured and organized, helping both users and search engines to “flow” seamlessly through information in a way that answers their questions and solves their problems with the least amount of “friction.”

Value Propositions: An understanding of the problems and pain points facing your target audience will enable you to architect, draft and present unique value propositions tailored to each individualized problem or issue.

Topic Clustering: Once you’ve mapped out your keywords, pages, and content, group or “cluster” those topics that are semantically relevant to each other. Clustering your content can help with search engine categorization and relevancy metrics.

Interlinking: Once mapped out with pages and content clustered, seek out opportunities to link between related pages.

Closing Thoughts

Tailoring design to user needs and expectations is never far from any designer’s thought process, yet knowing exactly which strategies or tactics have the best chance of performing well is often unclear. By utilizing a data-driven decision-making process, web designers can leverage information in a way that helps them formulate a plan tailor-made to perform and exceed expectations. Designs using data versus personal opinion, experience improved levels of engagement, higher conversions, enhanced user experience and overall performance.

As a professional web designer, you have a responsibility to both the users, and to the organization for which you are working, to use and implement all available tools to deliver the best end product possible. Data is one of those tools and one in which there is an excellent potential for success when used correctly.

references: canva, webdesignerdepot, klipfolio