By Dan Bochichio, co-founder of Bocain Designs
It’s 2016, and just about everyone either does business online or uses the internet as a tool to discover, rate and engage with businesses they rely upon. With so much demand and opportunity, now seems like a great time to tap into the market for quality freelance web designers, but what can you expect?
As the old adage goes, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” Web design is an increasingly competitive profession. A good designer has both artistic sensibilities and business savvy. He or she should be able to ensure the end product will look sharp, run smoothly and meet the goals of its owner.
For those with an aesthetic eye, technical chops and a keen sense of marketing workflow, freelance web design can be a lucrative and rewarding job, but it’s by no means a walk in the park. Below are some relatively entry-level things to keep in mind while building out your freelance business:
1. Have a portfolio.
Rule number one is pretty simple — build up your portfolio. As a web designer, potential clients will expect you to have a personal website that can give them a sense of who you are and what you can do. Unless they’re spectacularly executed and easy to interface with, you’re better off keeping the crazy tricks up your sleeve and focusing on creating a clean, usable experience that promises a business page will flow just as smoothly.
Your online portfolio should serve as a gallery full of your prior work. It should be updated regularly too. Even if you don’t have a lot of prior experience, you can build tester sites for fake businesses or interactive use cases to showcase your skills and creativity. If you can pair a link to a site you built for a client with a rave review by them, even better.
2. The Network Effect.
Network effects are a standard of economics that suggest a business becomes more valuable as it is used, and that same principle applies to the popularity of your web design services. New projects will grow your portfolio, which will help you land more new projects. To book new projects, you need to find new clients, or have them find you, which makes networking incredibly important. Talk to your family and friends to start, they probably have a connection you would never expect. If not, they might be a great person to build a test site for.
Investing your time in expanding your network online can be smart too. I use Fiverr, a freelance platform, that lets clients buy my services for a flat rate. Freelance marketplaces and social networks are great places to look for new opportunities: they have built-in traffic, messaging and payment platforms and offer a sense of institutional security to new customers. A client you meet online could be a real boon to your new business.
3. Cover Yourself.
It’s exciting to start a business around building websites, but if you’re doing it professionally you need to take it seriously. This extends throughout your business including how you interact with clients and the expectations you create around your work. Don’t make the early mistake of lowballing yourself by giving significant discounts just because you’re new. Sure, it can drum up some business, but the problems come later when the person you sold to at a bargain refers you to others; they’re likely to mention the cheap price, and those referrals will expect the same. There will always be a push and pull between prospecting through discounts and recognizing the value of your time. Value your work early so others do too.
Baseline contracts and deposits should also be staples of your process, even if you know who you’re working with. Businesses are often fluid and their needs may change. When these shifts occur, not everyone conducts themselves with a perfectly level head. Contracts — especially those that outline a scope of work, expectations, review cycles and an estimated timeline — ensure everyone is held responsible for their part of the deal. Taking a reasonable deposit shows good faith from the client and keeps you from working for free on the off chance something does go awry.
With some thoughtful planning and proper execution of classic business tactics, freelance web design can be a great career. Just keep in mind that effectively managing your business is just as important as your design skills.
Dan Bochichio has been developing websites for over 15 years and is the co-founder of Bocain Designs, a web development company in upstate New York. Every day, Dan helps small businesses strengthen their online presence. His services can be found at: https://www.fiverr.com/boomlandjenkins.