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I'd like to moonlight and build websites for companies on the side, but I don't know how to get started.
Since most places want to see a portfolio, and what I do for work is internal there isn't a whole lot I can show.
Basically my question is how do you go about getting those first few clients?
ps if your glancing at my profile I realize the design on that side is pretty pathetic...
There are alot more people here with alot more experience than myself though :)
Sad but true I got a new puppy (westie) and wanted to put some pictures of her on the net, so worked how to use Pagemill and built my first site, that was 4 years ago the rest is just history and yes that site is offline now, animated gifs, flashy coloured backgrounds and big buttons
You know you want to!
I started my web design business by doing the official site for the football club I support (Cheltenham Town if you're interested :)), and then used that as a basis. Did three or four other sites and then started mailshotting. Am now sat in a nice office, slightly overworked because my first employee is on holiday at the moment.
You can do it :)
Word of mouth is definitely the way to go though. And that goes for most businesses I would say.
Why not do a search on your "specialised subject". Go down to the 1000th site for example, and then telephone, FAX or write to them. Say something along the lines of "Is your website performing as well as you expected"? or even "Do you have a website"? Then make your pitch...
Best of luck!
find a web design company that doesn't have your particular talents and offer them your services for a low fee or free of charge to get some commercial experience, to get "real" work to add to your portfolio and to learn a bit about other technologies.
and keep working on your portfolio. the bigger it is, the better. the work will come to you.
Barter. I don't mean joining a barter association or web ring, but it's a great way to find new customers who would like to utilize your services, but may not have the money available for a website.
Personally, I am a bit of a collector and use Ebay and other auction sites quite often. Usually, while I'm searching, I'll make a note to visit the websites of the sellers. Simply send off an email and ask if they would like to have their website redesigned or updated, not for money, but perhaps for that coffee table or antique coin set.
I've found this to be a great way to build a portfolio and a collection of cool stuff.
Just a thought..
Then it all made sense :)
Anyhow the advice so far has been great, thanks.
Another method that could generate good will would be to find a free community site, especially something related to your customer demographic, and offer your services in exchange for a credit on the site, or a small ad.
Pick a business sector, preferably one in your area, where web site exposure is the norm. One that you know something about would be even better. Study the existing sites and get a working knowledge of what that sector has on their sites... and why. If you aren't sure, ask. Get to know the market. Look at what improvements you can bring to the marketplace.
Get yourself a cheap domain and knock together 3 or 4 top notch demo sites as a "portfolio" using companies with existing sites but ranking nowhere in the SERPS.
Now comes the hard bit.... work out your marketing plan. Before you approach the companies with these demos, you need to have a strategy to convince them to do business with you and not the hundred other similar start-ups who email them everyday. Are you prepared to offer ongoing support, handle all seo, provide statistical reporting etc etc... ie... what value adding can you offer?
Then write a letter to introduce yourself and what you can offer.... and can you visit to show their demo site. DO NOT EMAIL THIS FIRST CONTACT. There is every likelyhood it will be trashed along with the daily email rubbish. The letter might also get trashed but it will at least be opened and looked at.
Businessmen buy because of return on investment so emphasise the commercial aspects, importance of the service provided and value adding...avoid the trap of talking geek technobabble.
If the first group don't convert, change the names on the demo sites and try the next group...and so on.
It might be a hard slog but think of it as your apprenticeship... we all have to do it and there ain't no shortcuts.
there ain't no shortcuts
Three failed ventures before ONE finally worked. And the rest was history.
BTW: Realize that you are going to work three times the hours (yes, that's 8 hrs X 3 = 24!) and five times as hard when it's your own baby :)
If you hate the place where you work, why do you hate it? It could be a lot worse working for yourself, if you're not prepared to be a salesperson, a manager, and a grunt worker. 8 hours for each role = 24 hour a day job.
You have to being making a lot more money (4 times as much) working for yourself, otherwise it isn't usually worth it. The self employment tax takes almost 50% (USA), the extra cash needed for liability insurance, the advertising costs, equipment and software costs, the emotional frustration of working with all types of clients, etc. Make sure you understand the business side of it first.
I would like to hear why you hate your current place of employment. Maybe we can all relate and offer tips on coping...
As for why I hate my current job, that's a long story, alot of politics. The terse version is HR has a beef with my boss, I am only a term employee, I want permanent employment obviously. In 2 years I haven't had a raise and to become permanent I have to reapply, not a big deal so far. But despite my boss wanting to keep me, and the head of IT wanting to keep me. HR insists that they post the job open to the world and make me compete for it, then they have the nerve to tell me I don't have enough experience for the position (the very job which I have been doing for two years allready at this company) and they want to interview me as an underfill, this also means no raise. So after two years, no promotion, no raise, but I get to risk losing my job because HR has a beef with my boss.
Oh joy...and amazingly that was the terse version.
I got started by just jumping in the deep end. It was '96, my wife and I were commuting to 2 different cities, living in a third halfway in between. She tried to get a job in my city, but couldn't get a full-time one. I couldn't find an industry in her city that worked for me, either. Since she was making more money, had more seniority, and was working in the cheaper area to live - plus we had relatives there, it was easy to decide where to go. I asked if I could tele-commute my position, but that was too "space age" for the company I was working at (better for me in the long run that they didn't, but gee, I was basically a writer, I didn't need to be there.)
So we sold the house, moved into a low rent place, and I sat down with an HTML 3.2 book and started learn'n. I didn't create any free sites but I did create an ezine that did pretty well. Ended up working with over 30 writers/businesspeople around the world, and had 6 volunteers helping at the high point, so it did a lot to get me noticed. It was posted daily for six months, gave me tons of first-hand experience in web maintenance.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were a "dating service" for people with problems like ours!
Some of the recommendations I see posted here in response to your query "How did you get started?" are really quite good. If you were willing to do a "freebie" or two, as Quagmire did, then you'd likely be "in business" from that point on. This would be especially true, I should think, if your freebies enabled your clients to achieve their objective. This might not necessarily be to make money -- it could be a #1 ranking for a hobby site, for example -- but most people would probably be turning to you for assistance with a web presence for the purpose of generating a profit.
I mention this because I have gotten at least as far as figuring out that designing a website and making money with it are two different things. Do you think you are as good at "marketing" as you are at "designing"? Can you design *for* market?
Alternatively, could you achieve a good "marriage" between your designing talents and your client's marketing talents? Would you be willing to listen in areas where your client knows best, and talk in areas where you know best, so that the combined result is a website that "works" from a profit-pulling point of view?
You say, "If you're glancing at my profile, I realize the design on that side is pretty pathetic..."
I took a look at it to see what you might mean by this characterization of it and concluded that, while you seem to be competent in "hard" technical areas that I wouldn't dream of attempting, myself, perhaps there might be some room for improvement in "soft" perceptual areas like legibility and usability and so on.
For example, if all you did was decrease the intensity of your background colors, the words on your page would be much easier for people to read. The words on *this* page, you'll notice, are on a *white* background for just that reason.
Also, your site reveals that you are either (a) not familiar with what have come to be the commonly-accepted conventions of usability, or (b) choose for reasons of your own to ignore them. This could be why, despite the fact that you are "getting an average of 25 unique visitors a day, now, unfortunately people aren't sticking around and signing up". Another reason might be that they simply aren't able to figure out from your site why they should.
In any case, if what you want to do is "set up shop" designing websites for people, then maybe it's time to find a more appropriate place for your own "negative" comments than the front page of your website.
In the words of an old Chinese proverb ...
"Beat your gong and sell your candies!"
I have a MUCH better design in the works I just have to finish the backend first (I'm using XML to allow for a more flexible front end). This will also take care of the usability issues on the site.
Since that site is more of an application than a website my first concern is that it functions, then I tackle the looks department. If I made it look pretty first it would be like a Corvette without the engine. Great to look at, but utterly useless.
Hello, Gibble ... This is my reply to your msg #21.
I have called it "The Language Barrier" because, although I see what you say, I don't know what you mean.
If what you want to do is "get started" designing websites for people, then it seems to me that the first question you'd want to get an answer to is this:
Who's writing the checks?
I am what you might call "in the market" for a website. When I look at websites that purport to offer website services, I come away frustrated, confused and discouraged because I can't make head nor tail of them. When I write to a particular webmaster, I get a reply I can't understand. When I talk to one on the phone, it seems to make sense to me at the time but after I've hung up I find I can't repeat in my mind what s/he said.
Question: Am I going to write a check when I don't understand what I'm writing it *for*?
Answer: No, I'm not.
On the other hand, you could be the rankest beginner in website development but if you could *communicate* with me for the purpose of enabling me to get what I want then I wouldn't care because I would figure that if you're able to do that, then you're certainly able to go look in a book for whatever little tidbits of code you might be missing at the moment.
I realize that this is a forum for webmasters; that it's a place where you can "let your hair down", so to speak, and "talk shop" and be understood at least by your fellow designers if not by me and the rest of the inhabitants of the "actual" world.
And I realize, too, that I'm going to have to become a member of this "virtual" subset if I mean to solve my website problems sometime this century and that's why I'm here.
But to you I would say this:
If your "Most Wanted Response" is checks in hand from happy clients who are enabled by virtue of your services to achieve their objectives on the world wide web, then begin *today* to learn everything you can about how to talk *their* language.
What do you mean, for example, when you say, "and the layout was just mashed together while I coded the backend"?
Are you talking about potatoes and gravy?
Why do you have to do what you call "finish" this thing you call "the backend" and why do you have to do it first?
Are you talking about Alice in Wonderland?
What do you mean when you say you're "using XML to allow for a more flexible front end"?
Are you talking about the Indi 500?
Why do you say your site "is more of an application than a website"?
Are you talking about the ironing rather than the iron?
As for the "Corvette" ...
... now you've got my attention!
I want one of those!
Put the engine on order and drop it in later!
Those are two really great postings. Keep that up. It is very enlightening to see how webmasters and coders are seen from the other side, the client´s side, the side where the money comes from ;).
Marcia, one of the forum administrators, wrote a wonderful WebmasterWorld Welcome and Guide to the Basics [webmasterworld.com] post. That might help you get started in your endeavor to understand WebmasterWorld and its inhabitants ;)
The problem is a language barrier, I completely agree. I just had an interview where I had to explain to HR that I knew my technical abilities but if I explain it technically I see their eyes glaze over and they get that "deer in the headlights" expression. Conversely, when I put everything in laymans terms the IT (information technology) staff that are their look at me like I'm ignorant about what I'm talking about, so inevitably I had to try and use enough technical terms while explaining each one throughout the interview so that I used the words the IT staff wanted to hear, and yet the HR staff understood me.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and the only way to truly explain something to someone ignorant about a topic is to show them first hand.
Working in IT we I feel the same way you do when a user talks to me. I have to realize that when they say the littl grey thing with the X they mean the close button on a window (well that one was simple but you get my point) Alot of the time over the phone I get completely lost since they aren't using technical terms and I have to make the trip down and see what they mean myself or get them to describe it a different way and hope their next description is a little less vague.
In that same interview I got the question "It's 1am on a saturday a critical server is 'down' your the only database programmer we were able to page, what do you do?" from the Head of HR, well that question is literally impossible to answer without a machine infront of you. They can't give you any more information on the problem because they don't even know what 'could' go wrong. The answers I came up with were so extremely vague that I had to give the obvious, well if it's off turn it on, then try and see what the problem is, after all it could be anything. I couldn't give a definite answer which I as being prodded for. Thankfully the IT staff understood my difficulty in answering, because I kept reiterating the question was just to vague to answer.
My point is, it's very very hard to explain to someone what you can do when the only way to express what you are saying is with visuals.
When I deal with users at work, I get them to describe what they need, I make a prototype, get them to kick the tires a little and then now that we have a visual to work with, we can actually work towards building the application/website (whatever) to meet their needs AND be usable.
They don't care how it's done, they care that the end result is what they want. You have to trust the people doing the work that they will make the right technical decisions, because they are the ones who know what the are doing. That is another reason I despise where I work. I can argue with my boss for hours about how something should be done, but in the end, it's his say. Then six months later we inevitably end up starting over doing thing the way I wanted to in the first place. Supervisors forget that they hire developers because they have the knowledge and skills that need. They should learn to trust that, and it would make the company more productive.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were a "dating service" for people with problems like ours!
There is: [elance.com ] and click on the Elance Online - Marketplace. I know a few people who have used it and had a good experience.
answer = call the engineers - it's their job to look after the servers. you're just a database programmer :)