Become a Networking Powerhouse
Most people prefer to do business with someone they’ve met before. That’s doubly true of web design, because it involves skills that many people find mysterious and even a little intimidating.
Part of a freelance Web designer ‘s career is simply getting yourself in front of a lot of people, in the hopes that some of them will hire you.
Working through an agency can be a good way to build your network. Agency projects tend to pay less than the ones you find on your own, but the advantage is that the agency markets you and lines up the project so you don’t have to do as much of the work yourself.
Another way to find work is, surprisingly, through your competition. Go to tech-related events in your city and you’ll meet other freelance web designers, and some employed full-time in various spots. If you impress these people as being smart and pleasant to work with, they may well be the ones who call you when there’s too much work in their shops.
Become a Time Fanatic
Successful time management is absolutely key to success as a freelance Web designer. With no set work hours, and no boss breathing down your neck, you and you alone are responsible for making sure your projects get done, your skills and portfolio get updated, and your life retains some kind of balance.
There are many time-management training systems available, ranging from a simple paper calendar to complex web-based project schedules. Some common tips:
Establish a time and a process for handling correspondence, and develop a few e-mail templates (“here are the directions to my studio,” “sorry, I can’t take on this project at the moment” and so forth) to help speed your way through it.
When you set up a meeting, communicate clearly ahead of time about the purpose of the meeting, the time it will take, and the people who need to be involved.
Don’t fill every moment of the day. We all need time for reflection and relaxation, as well as connecting with our partners, families, and friends. If you don’t build this time into your schedule, you may find your subconscious takes it anyway, by keeping you from concentrating.
Constantly Refine Your Portfolio
Your freelance Web design portfolio isn’t something you create once. It’s a selling tool, and ideally you would revise it every time you seek a new job. At the very least you should revisit it frequently, culling out old work, adding your most recent projects, and showcasing new skills.
Of course, you should have a personal website for your portfolio, and apply the best design and usability knowledge you can to make it an enticing and informative experience. Rework this site anytime you have “down time,” but once you get busy, set aside a day or two a couple of times a year to continue making it better. The best sales tool you have is the one that effectively shows what you can do.
Develop a Specialty
Freelance web design jobs are all unique — each one is different. So it’s important to keep up your skills in all the basic web technologies.
At the same time, it can be lucrative to develop a specialty. Interface design — the process of making a website or application easier are clearer to use — is one area where contracts are widely available.
Another kind of specialty might involve one specific area of content. For instance, if you know a lot about opera and have a great portfolio, you might market yourself to popular opera singers, opera companies, and singers’ agents to build opera-related sites.
Designer and blogger Andy Budd describes the ideal skill set as being like an inverted T — a base of expertise plus one (or maybe more) deep specialty.
Many people who start out looking for web design jobs find they spend more time deciding how a site should be structured than how it should look. If this area of site construction fascinates you, you might consider specializing in information architecture.
Information architecture is based on the idea that we don’t just look at websites, we interact with them to perform tasks. A site with good architecture makes it easy for us as users to get those tasks done.
The information architect serves as the voice of the user, encouraging features that make the user experience easier and clearer, while discouraging those that are likely to confuse or irritate the audience. People in these jobs need an excellent understanding of design and technology, but also the ability to write clearly and conduct usability research.
Make the Web Your Passion
Great web design isn’t just about pleasing the client. It’s about helping inform and entertain an audience that potentially spans the globe. You have it in your power to make the web easier and more fun for your audience.
As a freelance web design professional, you’ll be more successful if you keep up to date on new technologies and tricks, and pay attention to what other sites are doing. That means spending some of your free time in a process of continuing education about your work.
If you care about doing great work, it will show, not only in your portfolio but in the way you present yourself and your skills. That passion is a selling point that can’t be faked, and your enthusiasm can enlist clients and prospects on your side.
Stuff to Learn
A freelance web designer needs some design training, HTML experience, and a knowledge of popular software such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver. What other skills can make you more marketable?
• E-commerce, particularly installing shopping carts and credit-card processing capabilities
• Database integration
• Search engine optimization
• Knowledge of popular affiliate programs and advertising options (such as Google AdSense)
• Knowledge of cross-browser and cross-platform issues
• Understanding of web color variations