No matter what your career is, we all have a few unanswered questions that are often left unanswered. This article shouldn’t be treated as a definitive answer for those questions, but you can use it as a guide in the decision-making process.
1. Many new technologies are showing up, which one should I choose?
This is a problem that is faced by many web designers even since ten years ago. Web development is now a complex and diverse field and it is simply impossible to cover all of it in detail. It can be tricky to choose between mobile web sites, HTML5, CSS3 and other new development frameworks. Certainly, we must know a little bit about everything, but which technology you should focus the most.
The answer? You have to focus on all of them! It’s a bad idea to focus only one or a few technologies. How you can do this? Each time a new technology is introduced, you need to immediately learn the basics on your spare time, to grasp its general concept. For the time being, focus yourself on your current niche. For example, if you’re hired by a firm to re-design existing sites into Flash-less sites, you may need to be good at HTML5. However, if the focus of your work changes to streamline sites with complex structure, you should know about CSS. It would be easier to learn CSS quickly if you know its general concept beforehand.
Another approach is to choose a technology in which you are the most passionate; it may allow you stay motivated in spite of difficult obstacles ahead.
2. Should I invest?
Smart employees shouldn’t only live from paycheck to paycheck, they should allocate some part of their time to work on long-term investment, which allow them to have some sort of financial backups near the retirement period.
It’s a good idea to invest in stocks and bonds, but as a web designer, your first investment should be: knowledge! You should try to invest in improving your knowledge on latest design techniques, new trends and best practices. In addition, you may need to invest on:
- If you are a freelance designer, initially you should invest on creating a comfortable environment. Your room should have the right temperature, with good chair and desk sets. By being comfortable you may reach the highest productivity possible.
- Good computer, Internet connection and software. Adobe software packages should be your priority, plus a few small apps/tools to fill in some features that are not available in Adobe software.
- Gather stock images, fonts, icons, modifiable themes and others.
3. Should I go freelance?
Many web designers choose the path of freelancing today; a growing number of them are willingly compete directly with big firms or other freelancers. This path seems like a good idea for many reasons, for example, you get all the profits and you have more flexibility in dealing with your projects. But unfortunately, not everyone is good at freelancing.
Try to assess the pros and cons of being a freelancer and working in a firm. Each decision has some consequences and you should know what you can gain professionally. If you’re clueless, it’s a good idea to try them both, for example, by being a part-time freelancer while you’re working in a firm. After a year or two, it would become clearer which path you should take. Choose carefully, as it decides your future.
4. Should I learn how to code?
In short, yes! Web designers should know how to code, because you should know the consequences of your design plan to the site’s underlying codes, in fact, many average designers are required to make some adjustments on the existing HTML and CSS codes while working with the designs. By understanding how to code, designers can more conveniently work with programmers and clients to come up with a better site design. You may despise web programming, but it would make your life much easier in the long run.
5. Should I follow the crowd and make some WordPress themes?
WordPress (WP) is now among the most popular site platforms on the Internet. You may see that many web designers are creating stylish WP themes and proudly show them to their fellow designers. Creating WP themes may not be a lucrative activity at first, however many accomplished web designers are working quite hard in creating beautiful, useful WP themes and trying to include them into the official WordPress themes database (www.wordpress.org/extend/themes/). You may not earn even a cent from this activity, but if your themes are used by thousands of WP-based websites out there, it would certainly look nice on your portfolio.
So should you create WP themes? Yes, you should! But you may need to know some knowledge on HTML, CSS and PHP to make a really useful theme. If the programming part seems a little daunting, it’s a good idea to work with a web programmer and share the credit.
6. How can I market myself effectively?
As always, there is no the most effective way to market yourself in the industry, but certainly some methods are more effective than the others, some even require a lot of work and time for a meager gain, so you should know which method you should choose. These are three likely ways to market yourself:
- Referrals, after completing a project successfully, ask your client to provide a testimonial and use them inside your brochures, website or promotional letters.
- Direct mail to your local area, it would be relatively easy to win over business near your home or office, as they are located in your home turf. You may easily know what they need and how much you should charge for your service. With a well-designed mail, it is possible to get an order from 100 mails sent. If you spend $50 to send 300 letters and get 3 new projects that worth $500 each, you get 30 times return of your initial investment.
- Reputation building, building your reputation can be both tedious and slow, but after a few years you may find that it grows in an exponential rate and it keeps on building itself with limited intervention on your part.
7. How to allocate my time?
Web designing can be hectic and you should remember that clients pay the bills and feed your family, more importantly by completing their projects you’re slowly building on your reputation. However, it’s generally a bad idea to devote all of your time to work on client’s project.
You should allocate a small part of your time to improve yourself and your business. Allocate a few hours every week to learn about new trades in the web design field. Create a blog post on your personal website each day, manage your Facebook group and work on your marketing effort each day to make sure you’ll get a new project fast enough as soon as the current project is completed.
8. Should I charge my client hourly or use a fixed price?
The answer of this question has been hotly debated by the web designer community. The answer depends on your level of expertise and reputation. New web designers should use fixed price because they may not be aware how much time is needed to complete a project. Often, a project can go beyond the schedules, you may promise to complete a project in a month but end up finishing it in 45 days. Charging hourly in this situation will be pretty much annoying for your clients and you can be sure that you’ll never get future orders from them.
However, if you have plenty of experience, are confident of your expertise, can finish the project on time and have good reputation, it is a good idea to charge hourly. In general you may compare yourself to one of those expensive and reputable lawyers.