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Desperate in Iowa
Here on WebmasterWorld, you'll find that there are a wide array of individuals. Some of us are advanced enthusiasts who do webmastering as a passion, while others work with the web professionally.
Many of us work from home, but don't take my word on that. I'd recommend you check out this thread [webmasterworld.com].
I can't tell you whether you'll be able to build a career for yourself, but this is the right place if you want to try.
Whatever your choice, good luck!
While I agree with you that just about anyone with a computer and a copy of Front Page can design a web site and make money, it should be about more than that. Personally, there is nothing that irritates me more than bad design. And there are literally hundreds of firms out there who do nothing but create lousy sites because their clients don't know any better.
Strive to be better than that. Learn from people in this forum, take a graphic design class, learn CSS and most of all learn to design beautiful, clean, functional web sites that make your clients proud. If you are going to do it, do it right. Not only can you make money, but you can make the web a more graphically appealing place!
I started out as an affiliate marketer just for fun in my spare time. Realized there was money to be made there, but it was a lot of technical work I only kinda had, but it was enough money for me to quit my other job and work from home.
So then I moved into general consultanting and designing for others, did that for a while, but realized that I had to make too many sales pitches for design work (I work from home, and just want to work, I don't want to spend all day talking to people - and I'm not a phone salesman - my skills just aren't there), but I was also marketing a site w/ banner ads and goto.com, and learning all about net marketing.
Once PPC started, I realized that was the new wave and ditched my old business plan, started a new one, and have only been doing marketing ever since - and have finally found my true niche.
There are many ways to make money on the web, and I think that many people go through a lot of options before finally finding what they truly enjoy.
So, that's where I'm at. I just didn't want to repeat past mistakes, and that's been - every time I've tried something, so is everyone else and I soon find myself in a field where there are 200 workers for every 50 jobs! Seems everyone is a webmaster. (you wouldn't believe some of the people I've seen in other forums passing themselves off as "expert webmasters" or "search engine experts". Geesh! It's scary.)
(Shadow says "meow")
Web related work will be around for a long time. One of the things that I have found successful in speaking with potential clients is that I make the distinction between a website designer and a website developer. Anyone can draw a pretty picture but it takes skill and experience to bring that pretty picture to life. It's not as simple as just sitting down with your favorite wysiwyg tool and building a website. There's much more to what we do than that and every day I find I'm learning another little tid-bit that I didn't know before.
There is enough business out there. It comes in at least 3 forms. New design/builds, overhauls/repairs of someone elses mess, and upgrades/add-ons for existing sites.
And as long as the web and it's supporting technologies keep advancing forward (XML, XPath, .NET, RPC, SOAP and dozens of others) then there will be more than enough work for those who understand the power behind these technologies and can integrate them into a client's site as needed.
I agree with Birdman that word of mouth can yield good results. You seem to have the right attitude, and you come from a technical background so adapting shouldn't be a problem. Try hitting it from a few different angles. Do some sites of your own with a view to making the most of affiliate programs, AdSense, etc. - it might not make you rich but it might keep the wolves from the door. You could then do some work for friends, family, acquaintances at 'cost' just to get the word-of-mouth exposure - as Birdman suggests, once word gets around the work will find you and then you can charge market rates. You might be pleasantly surprised.
This is exactly what I'm doing, and less than a year from not knowing HTML from my elbow (and stumbling across WW) I'm practically fulltime at this lark now - sitting at home in my boxers, and doing pretty well. And the wife has stopped nagging (at least on the 'work' issue). It doesn't get much better.
I can hear you, brother. It sounds as though our backgrounds are similair. I struck out on my own doing network installations/security a few years ago. Well, somehow I picked up a web job or two. Eventually that was nearly all of my work. Which is good because, as you said, companies just don't care about security until it's too late.
Anyway, there's a bunch of work out there if you're decent at design, treat clients well and can sell yourself. Word of mouth/referals are huge.
Join your chamber of commerce. Join the one in the next town over. Join some more. Now be active in them. Go to events. Talk to people you don't know. Learn about THEM and what they do. Show more concern in others and they'll get to trust you. Eventually they'll ask about what you do. By then they should already like your style. Build up a network of people that can help you.
Just because you're at a party talking to some guy who runs the local widget shop and has no interest in being on the web doesn't mean he doesn't know 10 people who are looking for a web designer. You just never know.
Even better yet. If you hold onto his card and two/three weeks later you come across a woman who really needs a bunch of widgets, setup a meeting. And don't just give the woman a phone number. Make it personal. Call the guy, remind him that you say him at some party and say you know someone looking for widgets, could he give her a call? Of course, make sure she's serious and tell her to be expecting his call. You've just made two people happy and they'll remember you when they hear someone saying they need a website. And what did it take? Nothing but helping them out. Good karma.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on for a long time about how great building relationships is for business, but since I've been doing it, I have too much work to write long posts. ;)
I have to agree with everyone above me on this forum. Of course my situtation different, just like yours, however I make an excellent additional income doing web design/consulting. Mostly I work with a few freelance designers who do the graphics, navigation, etc. My backgroud is communications, so I create content for all sites I contract to do.
I must say that I find many people have no clue about the web. That is frustrating because they want me to sit down and talk web and marketing for hours on end, and not charge them anything for my time. To counter that I have a beginning chat where we talk about what they want to achieve through the site. I limit to 1 hour, yes it is hard, but that is up front. After that 1 hour, I include that time in the over all project.
Short answer is, there is much money to be made, even part time!
I need work. I like this sort of thing. I can learn, and if I could make money at it, my wife would support me spending some of the rest of our money on real training. My fear, with so many "I just setup a site for our neighbor's club so I'm a webmaster" out there, do I stand a chance? Some of these kids that still like flashing/blinking orange text and animations every-other line with Flash on every page seem to get work.
How would one get started?
Sounds like you are already doing some of the right things, although you might be hanging out in the "wrong" forums if you stick to HTML and CSS mainly. Some of the knowledge comes from networking (stickying, phone, in-person) - whatever you can do. You might have a WW member in your own area. I spend most of my time in the Supporters forum and this one, and occasionally in a shallow sweep of the rest.
Make sure you read some of the classic threads that are pointed out to newbies and memorise the general principles. Also read the new Florida threads to make a mental adjustment to old advice that is no longer applicable or guaranteed to work.
I was laid off a year ago and decided to work for myself. I was fortunate to get a SEO referral from someone I knew electronically who had only heard that I did SEO. At the time I was trying to be a marketing consultant in a couple of niches and had learnt SEO purely to get my own site on top. This client dragged me into PPC and I have thrived.
I have formal business and computing qualifications and have hand-coded sites since 1994 but worked as a marketer for major companies, so I bring a background that a young graduate can't match.
Most of my work thereafter has been for one major client and a sprinkling of short-assignment clients. I also hang out in other forums and newsgroups where potential clients can find (and have found) me.
There are days when I think I will need to offload work to fellow WWers soon, so my outlook is bright.
I shall include myself into the group that knows too much about your situation. I'm in marketing and am presently making the switch to web marketing. I have always kept uptodate as far as the web went and know html etc..
So anyway, your right, there are a lot of companies with websites produced by the owners 15yr old son and they're crap. I personally would suggest that you learn the in's and out's of graphics, but find a "professional" graphic artist that doesn't do web design to partner with. Together you can provide better results than if you had to do it all. This also goes with a copywriter to write the web copy, this of course depends on the client's inhouse resources and the budget.
Probably the most important thing about getting a website right is figuring out what the website is for and what it's supposed to achieve, how does it work with their other marketing tactics etc... For this you may want to learn some basic business and ensure that you pose these questions to the client so you know exactly where they are coming from or find a business consultant to work with. (Again it depends on the scope of the project)
To summerize, find people to partner with that can take some of the workload off of you and enable you to focus on learning the programming and building fast and efficient websites.
My personal site, up since '97, is a LOT old now, but still very popular. Especially my technical articles, which I'm in process of cleaning up - and removing the table framework in favor of cleaner code. It's related to my hobby and is referred to in several forums and lists as a site to visit for information and pictures for the hobby.
Oh, that brilliant young artist? He's my 21 year old son, Luke. He's so good that when he wanted to transfer to a more challenging school to finish his work, the college broke tradition and took all of his prior credits and applied them - they had not done that before - until they saw his work.
He said he'd do the layout and graphic work if I did the technical stuff. I said "deal".
My personal site, up since '97, is a LOT old now, but still very popular. Especially my technical articles
Technical articles? Very popular? Hmmmm ...
Suggestion: rework your own site enough so it could be considered a "topical" site rather than a "personal" site, then apply for Google Adsense.
In fact, I'd say do that no matter what else you try. Your existing traffic and link popularity are assets -- harness them!
I know my hobby of old/antique engines is VERY popular. My article on cleaning rusty metal using electrolysis has become discussion items in other forums and my "how to" and "how does this work" pages are actually part of an index of antique engine how-to articles and links. I guess I never thought of taking it to that next level.
Maybe, they would want to split the question and answer into a different thread so others could learn about it?
Focus first on your existing URLs that have links and traffic before you worry about making new pages. Do not take down any existing pages, even if you tweak them somewhat. They're your best chance to get accepted by Adsense.
When someone visits your site, do they get the impression that "this site is about Joe's hobbies" or do they get the impression that "this is a site about fixing antique cars"? The latter will have a much stronger chance to be accepted by Adsense, so that's what you want to play up. Tweak and rewrite as needed to strengthen the "antique cars" focus, especially on the home page. It might just be a matter of rewording some headlines and anchor texts to play up the "content" rather than "you". You don't have to sacrifice your personal touch to do that, it would just be a matter of shifting the emphasis.
Once you're accepted by Adsense, start adding Adsense panels to the pages containing your technical articles. You want the page layout to look good but it's even more important to write well so Adsense can discern what the content is about and deliver relevant ads.
Example: for an article about cleaning rusty metal, Adsense might display ads about metal polish, car wax, etc.. If a visitor clicks one of those ads, that puts a few cents in your pocket. It's the relevancy that makes Adsense profitable, for both the advertiser and you. Multiply that by more pages, more traffic and enough clicks, and you can cash a Google check every month.
Also, hunt for automotive merchants who have affiliate programs. Don't plaster ads all over your existing pages, though; think more in terms of building new pages that discuss this gadget or that goody, with links to relevant merchants where people could buy them. Depending on your traffic levels, sales commissions from that might become another income stream.
You have quite a learning curve ahead of you, but if you learn how to put money in your own pocket with your own site, you'll be in a stronger position to advise potential clients, as well.
You should also look at ways to develop and promote your wife's site more effectively. With the number of sales you mention, you have barely dipped your toe in the waters of possibilities.
One final comment for now: As you crawl up your learning curve, do some serious reading about website usability, and insist that your son does too. There's a lot more to designing a successful website than just having pretty pages. Pay particular attention to the issue of download speed ... There will often be compromises between "how it looks" and "how fast it loads" that can be painful for graphically talented folks. But it doesn't matter how good a page looks if too many visitors bail out before it loads!
Shadows, make the most of you existing web site, it's good experience tweaking sites, and you get paid to do it by adsense ;-)
Your willingness to learn is one of your greatest assets.
My mantra is learn from the very best, guys that have been there and proven their skill.
For search engine positioning, you don't get much better free information than here.
Sticky me if you want to know my opinion on the top Internet Marketers, guys I have followed closely and have had huge success with.
For Simple and Easy sites, you don't get much better than Jakob Nielsen or Steve Krug.
I wouldn't worry much about design unless you are determine to do sites for other folks. I would take a stab at doing sites for yourself and building some revenue streams that are not dependant on clients.
Even if there are tons of sites made by 15 y.o.s, all you really need is a portfolio and sell them on how you can do a better job (well, you have to know how to sell that without angering the father's son, but that's another story.:)
There are TONS of businesses that would benefit from online presences.
My point is that if you focus on ROI, company image, branding, functionality and user satisfaction you may even sway people with sites to have them redone.
I read on some other thread that this guy went to the yellow pages, got addresses of the relevant businesses for his industry,and mailed them (usps) a small flyer/promotional info/package. Reportedly he got fair enough leads and sales through that that it was worth his time. I can see that working with web development services as well. If you're starting, offer a discount/special promotion - once you have a portfolio, then things should pick up a lot easier.