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New To Web Development Forum

Starting Out on Your Own
Suggestions on starting your own one-man web design service.
The Man in Black

 3:30 am on Dec 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

Greetings, all. Short time lurker, first time poster.

I, as I am shure like many here, am wanting to quit the day job and go full time doing web design. I have read other posts, and many write comments such as "Just do it.", and believe me, I am ready to call it all off starting tomorrow morning. The only problem is, for my age, I am making what many have said to me as "good money". Although I am living relatively comfortably, working a labor job isn't my cup of tea, and about $1,500.00 USD net a month isn't quite enough for my tastes.

I have been drawing since I was three, but never went down the artisian road. However, I have made websites that look better then some firms portfolios that charge in excess of $300.00 USD for only three pages. I have also been studying XHTML 1.0 for future development, CSS 2, and now getting into JavaScript. Just recently, after reading many posts here on the subject, I have studied up on Search Engine Optimization techniques. Most of those seem to be basic common sense, but with just having to follow basic search engine rules.

With all of this in mind, I want to start a business and offer web design and S.E.O. as basically an all-in-one package service. I was wondering if any of you viewers here have started such an endevor. Also, how did you get started? What type of income can one expect (none of your exact numbers of course) to make in this field? Salary.com says that a web designer in my ZIP code make a median salary of $55, 102.00 USD. You can check your own areas stats here: link. [salary.com] You'll need to entre your ZIP code, then click on the 'Search' button.

Is this what any of you make? I think those numbers are for web designers who work for corporations, not alone. I am concerned with this because I am not at all familiar with what "real world" folks in this field make, and I do not know if this business may make one become a starving artist. I usually use Google™ to search for other designers sites by using terms such as "web design portfolio" or "web design pricing". I do this to see how good their work is vs. what they charge, and if they charge that much for that kind of work, I could easily get $500.00 USD for a three page website myself.

Anywho, if any of y'all got any comments, tips, or suggestions on this in general, it is appreciated. I am mainly concerned with how to get started, client aquisition, what to charge, what one can expect in terms of earnings, how often work comes in, etc.

By the way, I do use Macromedia® Dreamweaver® 4 Fireworks® 4 Studio.

[edited by: engine at 2:13 pm (utc) on Dec. 13, 2002]
[edit reason] no sigs, please, we're minimalist here. ;-) [/edit]



 4:19 am on Dec 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

Welcome to the WebmasterWorld, and nice for you to post.

Basically, here's my take on being a freelance web designer:

By the way, I do use Macromedia® Dreamweaver® 4 Fireworks® 4 Studio

You and millions of other people are using Dreamweaver to create websites very nicely, and very easily. Web design isn't really a "high-tech" pastime anymore. My father - a rank amateur - is producing acceptable websites for other people.

The market is very crowded.

The Man in Black

 4:55 am on Dec 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

TO: txbakers

Thanks for the comments.

I do agree that the market is somewhat crowded as far as web designers go, but I wonder if that effects the market in terms if money can still be made. I still see dozens of companies around, Mom & Pop to corporate alike, that still do not have a website. Besides, there are millions of websites in need of a major overhaul.

Is this field in the media worth getting into? What are your takes on th best internet based job?

[edited by: engine at 2:14 pm (utc) on Dec. 13, 2002]
[edit reason] no sigs, please, we're minimalist here. ;-) [/edit]


 9:12 pm on Dec 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

In developing the business, prepare to "follow the money," i.e. go where your clientele takes you. Hone your skills and identify the kinds of sites and the kinds of clients you're best at serving; a higher level of service means you'll be able to command higher fees. And finding that niche within the niche is how you will differentiate yourself from Joe College or Jane Featureaddon or Apu Foreignwebsweatshop or Fred Giantconsultingcorporation that might take a broad-market approach.

Of course, there are a virtually infinite number of permutations of geographic areas, languages, technologies, industries, and so on so don't pigeonhole yourself into too small a sector too early.


 9:50 pm on Dec 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

In general, the reality of starting any new business is to expect to lose money for the first year, and possibly 4 years before you establish healthy "client roots" that serve as a steady stream of income and referrals.

I'm in the beginning stages and have been quite fortunate in the amount of opportunities I've received.

But it's taken a lot of hard work and cheap beer to get this far, and I'm not making anywhere near the amount of money that I'd hope to make. But it doesn't matter, as I'm very happy doing what I do, even if it's for less money in the short term.

I have friends who are freelancers and their experience followed a similar rags to decent wages trajectory.

My advice is to grow your business part time. When your wings are strong enough, i.e when the workload is heavy enough, make the leap.



 11:28 pm on Dec 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>>My advice is to grow your business part time. When your wings are strong enough, i.e when the workload is heavy enough, make the leap.

That seems like very sound advice. I too would like to freelance but it will take time to establish a good portfolio and get the word-of-mouth referrals to kick in.

I do find it a bit difficult to get a decent amount of web work done in the evenings after building stuff all day. I guess it just depends how bad you want it.

As for clients, start with people you know personally that are business owners. You could also try some door to door locally.

As for pricing, I would suggest doing quality work for less at first until you are established with a healthy portfolio. I only have two under my belt as of now, so I'm not quitting my day job yet.



 12:04 am on Dec 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

I have to turn down work and I am not the great of a designer. My experience is when people hear you have had some success on the Internet, they will want a site for their business and will pay reasonably, especially if you know how to market on the net and can give them that added value. For me it has been all about my own personal contacts and word of mouth. Fortunately, I don't need the clients but some day I might.

My advice is to take on a couple of clients and learn as much about the industry as possible, especially how to make your clients money with their sites.


 12:59 am on Dec 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

Some good advice already, particularly about testing the water by doing something part time. You will learn more in your first two or three client projects than any other work you do. A good portfolio is vital, even if you do the work for expenses only. Once you've built a few sites, word-of-mouth referrals from existing clients are easily the best marketing you will get.

Regarding money, I'm with Martinibuster - I'm earning a lot less than I was on a salary, but I'm enjoying what I do.

One note of caution - I'd be concerned about phrases such as "I have made websites that look better than some firms portfolios" and "I do this to see how good their work is" - setting up as a 'web site designer' is not about building pretty-looking sites. You are not just a designer. You are also a strategist and marketer for your clients' projects. If you believe the success of a site can be judged from its appearance, you will struggle to offer an 'all-in-one package' service. You need to be aware of target markets, of the aims and objectives of a site, and - crucially - search engine performance. Not all of these will be obvious just from the look of a site. As long as you recognise that design will be only one (small) part of the e-business consultancy that clients will expect of you, then you're on the right track.


 1:00 am on Dec 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think it basically comes down to: what can you afford? By that I mean, doing something you really love is worth a cut in pay and struggling for a little while *if* your struggling is not to the degree that you can't maintain food clothing and shelter. If you are making a good living now, why not start setting some of it aside for the day when you go full time on webdesign. That way you will have some reserves to fall back on to get you through inevitable lean times. I work a 9-5 job which allows me to do webdesign and seo (but I also have to do lots of other marketing stuff). I would rather be freelancing and working for myself - but I know I would not make enough right now to cover all my expenses. So, I take webwork on the side and hope it grows to the point that I can buy my freedom from 9-5.

As regards webdesign - it is a very very crowded market and there is lots of software that enables just about anyone to get a site up. Seo is another matter - but you really have to know what you're doing. I am learning that it's not as easy as it looks and my respect for the *pro* seos in this forum grows daily.



 1:05 am on Dec 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

You made some very valid points about takinga holistic approach to web design and communicating that. However, on a web site, you still have to keep that kind of talk to a minimum, or isolate it and make it accessible to those potentials who are looking for it.

I very often find that the Look of the site, and of prior work, sells. Rarely will a potential client run your work through the w3c, or even check it in the serps. They say things like, "I want it to look like the rolling stones' web site..."

But your points are totally 100% on target.


 1:09 am on Dec 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

It is an inescapable fact that initially you will spend far more time seeking work/clients than actually working.

When the lines on the graph cross and you are spending more time working than seeking work then you will have turned the corner.

I wish you good luck if you decide to take the plunge but testing the water part time while visiting this place regularly would be a wise move.


 1:17 am on Dec 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

"...Rarely will a potential client run your work through the w3c, or even check it in the serps. They say things like, "I want it to look like the rolling stones' web site..."

True enough - but I have found there is also a good market out there of people who have just spent a ton of money on a new website and now they wonder why they have no traffic. This is a market composed of people who are new to the web, understand very little about it, and wonder what's next (after getting their site up). They can be sold seo as well as new design, pages, etc.


The Man in Black

 1:26 am on Dec 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

TO: Posters of this Thread

Thank you all for your commens. I believe they shall become useful.

To quiet_man, I did not mean to imply that the page layout is the only important aspect of a website. I do believe, however, that it does play a significant role. For example, would you be more inclined to buy a book from amazon.com or Widget Book Store with neon green background, blinking text, and a 10 marquee website? I don't know about you, but I think amazon.com looks more credible in that situation.

As far as aquiring a portfolio, I am in the process of doing some probono sites to get my portfolio up. I am trying to keep these down to simple 10 page or less, not 1,000+ page websites. I plan to do at least 5 before I set out to get a paying client, as they will probably ask to see work examples.

And lastly I will adress how bad I want it. Well, I do not like working (like many I am shure), but in order for me to do something I like as a job, I would have to know it would constanly bring in the funds I need to live liberally comfortably. If this isn't the field to do that in, I may just keep it as a hobby.

[edited by: engine at 2:14 pm (utc) on Dec. 13, 2002]
[edit reason] no sigs, please. [/edit]


 2:42 am on Dec 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm in the same boat TMIB, not with web design but with an affiliate business model.

What I'm learning is that the key is differentiation - there needs to be something about you and your skills that is unique. That's what you can sell. So it boils down to "niche". If you can make a niche for yourself, and become very good at it, you could eventually build a solid foundation out of what you enjoy doing.


 6:53 am on Dec 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm sure location is a factor, but don't overlook staffing agencies as a way to keep body and soul together between projects. In my area there are a few reputable, specialized outfits who have hooked me up with some major temporary projects. Once some positive reports come back they'll turn to you often. It's a great way to learn (and teach) and gain new perspectives and "real world" experience.

Your church site is a good idea. Keep building it - include an events calendar or any other worthwhile features they might need. I built a site for a local environmental organization for free and have kept improving it to meet their needs; it's worth ten sites built and abandoned because it always reflects my current skill level.

When I started out I did a few sites for cheap rates - one continued to expect similar rates for further work, another bought a copy of Dreamweaver and butchered the site so badly I wouldn't claim to ever have had any part in it.

Better to build a few ongoing relationships with business clients who are interested in e commerce to some degree. Offer low cost initial services and see if they'll offer a percentage of future earnings in return.

Best of luck!

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