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How to become a freelance web designer

Quickstart Tutorial

Part I: Planning to Go Pro

It takes a certain amount of planning and preparation before you can start designing web sites professionally, even if you're just starting out part time. This is why we have included this Quick Start Tutorial... to give you some direction. You will be able to save a lot of time just by following these steps:

Step 1 - Design your own site first

One of the most important sites that you will create as a professional web designer is your own. Your site will be seen as a reflection of your design skills. Your potential clients will judge you on how well your site looks. It makes sense... if a web designer can't even design his own site professionally, how well is he going to design his clients’ sites.

At a very minimum, your site should have a clean design, have the ability to be viewed in both IE and Netscape, easy to read, and professional looking. You should also invest the $9 it costs for your own domain name.

Step 2 - Build up your portfolio

Most (if not all) clients will choose you based on how well you've designed sites in the past. This can be difficult if you're just starting out... so what should you do?

The smartest thing would be to offer your services for free at first. Find a charity that doesn't already have a site and offer to build them a site for free. If you tell them that you are doing it to build up your portfolio, they will most likely say yes. Who would pass up the chance to have a free web site?

You can also design sites for your friends and families. Do you know anyone who owns a business? You could also design sites for a friend's hobby. If you're really hurting for ideas, you could always design sites for made up companies. Not the most honest thing... but it works.

You should also get testimonials from the people you've designed sites for. Put these testimonials all over your site. This will build instant credibility!

Do everything you can to build up your portfolio. Not only does it show off how well of a designer you are, it is a great learning experience. Every site you design will teach you something. And hopefully each site will be better than the last!

Step 3 - Don't quit your day job just yet

Even though working a full time job and trying to design sites on the side will not be easy, it would be a mistake to quit your job too soon.

When you first start designing sites, you will probably not be getting new clients on a regular basis. It's hard to predict when the next time you will receive another paying customer. Always rely on that steady income from your real job until you really establish yourself in the field of web design.

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Part II: Marketing Yourself and Finding Work

Even with little or no marketing budgets, you can still do quite a bit to get your name out there.

Free and Cheap Marketing

  • Add a signature file to all your outgoing email that has your business name and a link to your site.

  • Print out business cards and carry a few with you at all times. Give them to anyone willing to take them. Even if they don't need a site, they probably know someone who does!

  • Start posting in online forums and include your URL at the bottom of all your posts. Find web design forums and try to help answer as many questions as you can. This will help establish you as a "web design guru" who people can trust.

  • Make sure to add a link to your site that says, "This site designed by SoandSo Designs" to all the sites you design for free.

  • Submit your site to the major search engines.

  • Write web design articles and submit them to web design ezines.

  • Visit local businesses and ask them if they have a web site. If they don't, tell them why they should

Paid Advertising

Some great "not-so-free" advertising methods you should consider are:

  • Paying for ads in ezines

  • Setting up an account at Pay-Per-Click Search Engines

  • Listing your business in the yellow pages

But when it comes down to it, most of your clients will come from referrals by past clients. This is why it gets a lot easier as you design more sites. If you make sure your clients are happy, they will tell all their friends about you!

Part III: Setting Your Fees

I wish I could tell you exactly what your fees should be. But there is no set formula on what you should charge. Your fees are based on how well you can design web sites and how much your competitors are charging. An easy way to find this out is by calling around and getting quotes from them. Just make up a basic project and see how much other web designers are charging.

But before you can even set fees you need to realize what exactly you are pricing.

Your prices must take into account your overhead. Even if you're working out of your bedroom, you have to factor in many things. These include:

  • Hosting of your web site

  • Business materials

  • Your Internet Connection

  • Money spent on Marketing

  • Purchasing of Software

Most new web designers make the mistake of not charging enough for their services. They underestimate what is involved in a project or lack the confidence to ask for more money.

But there are times when you might want to under charge a client. For example, you might want to lower your prices for a high profile client. Designing a site for a big company might mean more exposure to your business, and mean more profits in the long run.

It is normal for the first couple sites you design to be cheaper for the client than if they had gone with a more experienced designer... that's how it should be. But you should always charge a price that you will be comfortable with. If you ever feel that you are being taken advantage of... don't take the project.

As you become more experienced, you will be able to increase your prices. If you find that you are starting to get more clients than you can handle... raise your prices! It's much easier to design 2 sites for $1,000 each than it is to design 10 sites for $100 each!

Part IV: Utilizing Contracts and Getting Paid

Every experienced web design has at least one story about a client from hell (I know I had a few). But it's also true that many clients have a "designer from hell" story of their own. These problems can be avoided by having a clear understanding on both sites when it comes to what a project involves and how much it will cost.

(Side Note: Nothing here purports to be legal advice and is offered merely as a matter of the author’s opinion and is based on personal experience.)

A contract should have, at minimum:

  • A time scale for how long it will take to complete the site

  • Details on how and when payment will be made

  • How additional charges will be applied and agreed apon

  • How many revisions are allowed within the agreed price before additional charges apply

  • Who will own the copyright to any materials created for the site

  • A detailed list of what is included in the project and what is not

  • How the final project will be delivered

  • How and in what circumstances can either party end the relationship

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Getting Paid for Your Hard Work

It is vital to get a deposit from a client before even starting any job. By having a deposit you are able to cover the cost of the initial work and that the client now has a vested interest in bringing the project to a conclusion.

When and how you get paid is up to you... but this is how I do it:

1. Initial Fee - This covers the design of any "templates" or "examples" I show to the client, the planning of the site, and consulting. This would be collected before the project starts... right when the contract is signed.

2. Mid-Project Fee - To be charged near the middle of the project, or when you show the client a substantial amount of work has been done.

3. Completion Fee - The final amount owed is collected before handing over the site to the owner. As a rule, I do not upload any files to the client’s server until the entire site has been paid for. The project is hosted on my site while I build it. This way the client knows that if they pull out at any time, they have nothing to show for it.

Part V: Managing Your Projects

The first step to effective project management is the creation of a detailed outline. The outline should show what will be done at each stage of the project. It may be difficult to do when you are first starting out (because you've probably have never done it before), but it is vital in ensuring that you properly get paid. Also, having an outline helps establish good client relations because they will know each step of the project. The client should never be in the dark when it comes to your design process.

Most web design projects can be broken down into the following stages:

1. Information Gathering

This is when you should get a detailed a picture of the requirements as you can from the client. This stage takes place before you even collect any money. In fact, this stage is what you will base your quote on. You need to establish the following things with your client:

  • What will be included in the site

  • What features the site will have

  • How images and copy (text) will be provided (who will create them)

  • Who will be hosting the site

  • What the budget for the project is

  • How will maintenance will be handled

  • Whether or not you will be handling the maintenance of the site

At the end of the first phase you should be able to provide a quote and ask for a deposit. Remember though... this stage takes place before a contract is signed and any money is collected. Be prepared to complete this stage with clients who will end up going to a different designer. Don't take it personally... it comes with the business.

2. Planning the Design

In this step you will be working closely with the client to come up with a rough draft design for the site. For you, the designer, this will involved presenting different design ideas to the client. For the client this phase involves collecting content and getting it to you in the agreed format.

3. Building and Testing the Site

At this point a design has been agreed upon, a contract has been designed, and a deposit has been made. Now you with start to actually build a site and continuously test and refine it with the client. This phase includes adding the features required, testing them, creating and/or placing images and copy, cleaning the HTML, adding meta tags, etc.

You should also test the site in different browsers and operating systems, making sure the site will is ready for public viewing.

4. Launching the Finished Project

This final step takes place once the testing has been finished, the site is ready to go live, and a final deposit has been made. This is when I would upload the entire site to the client’s server, or sending the entire site to the client on a CD.

Part VI: Taking Care of Your Clients

You will quickly realize that your clients are your greatest assets. They deserve you care and attention.... even the ones you designed sites free of charge for. Most of you future clients will be referrals from past ones. You should make sure that your clients are always happy and you should always keep in contact with them... even long after the project has been finished.

You should always answer your clients emails quickly, be honest when you deal with them, build them the site that they want... even if its not how YOU would want it, and always try to over deliver on your promises.

It may seem obvious, but you should always be helpful and pleasant when you deal with your clients. We all like doing business with people we like... your clients are no different.

Write your emails with a friendly tone... as if you were talking to your best friend. This creates a feeling of trust and bonding with a client, who makes them feel comfortable discussing any issues they have with your work. You'll find that you have and easier time since most problems arise from a lack of communication.

And in conclusion...

If designing web sites is something which you have a passion for, then becoming a freelance designer may be the perfect job for you!



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