Web Design

Is a Career in Freelance Web Design Right For You?

freelance web design

I’ve been getting a few questions lately about pursuing freelance web design jobs from site visitors. I typed out basically the same email a few times before it hit me. It would be far more efficient to put my thoughts into a blog post that I can simply link people to. 😉 This will not be a ‘how to get freelance web design jobs’ article. Rather I want to cover what is actually involved and if it would be a good choice for you. Let’s dive in!

Web Designer vs. Web Developer

First of all, let’s clarify the difference between these two roles. A lot of people do a little of both, and you shoud but you will want to be clear on the difference before you apply for jobs. You will also definitely want to make sure that your clients are clear on the difference as well. It’s never fun to have somebody hire you and expect you to be able to do something that is most definitely not in your wheelhouse.

Web Designers

A web designer is somebody who designs the look and feel of the website. The colour palette, the layout, any graphics such as logo, headers and icons. Most website designs are going to be pretty straight-forward in terms of layout. Usually most of the design work will be in terms of branding which the customer may or may not already have. To increase their marketability, a lot of web designers will include branding services and/or light web development in their design packages. Branding services could include things like logo design, choosing brand colours, even down to specifics on what fonts should be used.

Some designers will also build their design into a functioning theme or template. Then that can be put onto a content management system such as WordPress or Drupal. Some people even make a career of selling templates for various content management systems! It’s a lot of work up front, but then a nice passive income source down the road.

Web Developers

By contrast a web developer is typically less concerned with aesthetics and more with website functionality. They might offer some light design work, like taking a pre-existing theme or template and customizing it. Simple tasks like changing colours, fonts, and graphics wouldn’t be unusual. However they typically wouldn’t offer a service like logo design. A developer does more work with creating or customizing web applications. Generally you will find them working in a text editor more often than Photoshop.

Most designers and developers find themselves somewhere in between the two roles. It definitely doesn’t hurt to have a few skills from both sides of the fence. Some people wonder whether it’s better to be a designer or a developer. I think that entirely depends on what you prefer to do! If you like being creative and artistic, focus on design. If you’re a code monkey, go into development.

Now, regardless of which path you choose you will need to consider…

How do you feel about Sales & Marketing?

Since the focus of this article is web designers, I’m going to assume that you are a creative type person. This is wonderful and the world needs your artistic vision, but I’m willing to bet that you prefer a blank PSD to a blank email screen that needs to be turned into a proposal. I see this a lot in creative professionals. “Ugh I hate the business side of things, I just want to make ________!” Here is the problem: you could be the best web designer in the world, but if nobody knows about you then it’s not worth a thing.

In fact, being a creative professional who is great at sales & marketing is probably the best way to stand out and get an edge over your competitors. When you think of sales, how does it make you feel? If you’re one of those people who thinks of super cringey commercials for used car sales lots, you’re thinking of a very outdated way of approaching marketing and sales.

Sales without being sales-y

Try this exercise for me. Think of somebody you know who could really use help with their website. What problems are they having right now that you could help with? Maybe the website looks very outdated, or maybe it’s not mobile friendly so people leave the website very quickly and move on to a competitors. Or maybe information is difficult to find on the website, so your hypothetical customer ends up spending a lot of time answering the same questions via phone and email.

If you offered your services as a web designer and helped your client correct these issue it would improve their business, their income, and quite likely their overall quality of life! Now do you feel scammy or scummy about it? If you come at it from a place of wanting to be of service to others as opposed to making phat stack$ then you won’t come across as ‘sales-y’. I know, we all wanted to go into business for ourselves to get the stack$. But that brings me to my next point…

Are you comfortable with having a variable income?

One of the appeals of having a regular job is that regular paycheck. Every two weeks, no matter what the markets are doing, you get a consistent sum of money. The freelance life appeals to people because they can have more freedom in terms of hours, projects they choose to work on, location, and a myriad of other things. But with great freedom comes great uncertainty. How would you feel if three weeks went by with no income? What about three months? On the flip side, if you got a big client who paid you a big retainer would you be tempted to blow it all right away? Or would you be responsible and drip those earnings out over the length of the contract.

If you think you could handle the variability, great! It’s definitely possible, lots of people do make their living as a freelancers. For any small business including those who work for themselves I recommend reading the book Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. Do I ever wish that I’d read that when I first started out! Would have saved me a lot of trouble. Let me save you the trouble, read it. The author can be a bit much at times, I admit. But, the system is sound so just push through the few bits of particularly obnoxious copy and absorb the incredibly useful information within.

So…what do you think?

There is obviously a lot more that goes into deciding whether or not you want to be a freelance web designer. I think the above two points are where the majority people get really stuck and end up flaming out though. If you’d like some more specifics on the marketing or financial side of being a freelancer let me know, I’d be happy to write more on the subject!

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