Step 1 – Find a Mentor
Networking is probably one of the most important things in starting off freelance web designing. Forum’s, Question communities and blogs are a great way to start. The thing that really helped me was finding someone I could trust with more experience then me willing to help. I am sure if you look hard enough you could find a tutorial out there for just about everything you could think of. These tutorials are not going to answer your questions though unless you post a comment and wait. The best thing about finding design friends online is if you have enough people who are willing to help, you always have an answer when you need it. Sites like Yahoo answers and Answer.com are also great sites when learning.
Social networking is now a standard for web design. Twitter, digg, linkedin, facebook, blogs etc… have taken over the web. For designers these have become a great way to get your name out there and even learn some things from the pro’s. Start a blog join some forums do what ever it takes to get used the the scene. This will help you gain traffic down the road too. You can’t expect to get traffic for nothing but if you start with networking options like these you will begin to see some results by the time you are ready to take things serious. Whenever you have free time post comments, read tutorials and blogs. The best blog and tutorial resources have great twitter posts like free tutorials, source codes and plug-ins. Take advantage of these things early on and I guarantee that you won’t regret it later on.
Step 2– Know your Stuff
Every new designer or aspiring designer obviously wants two things, creative freedom and money. Just make sure you know what you are doing before you think you deserve either of these. Whether you are a recent grad or a design cowboy learning the ropes as you go, you have to know your stuff. Good thing you picked a job that works with the worlds greatest resource..
The world wide web. You can just about find any piece of information that your heart desires. Tutorials, online schools, designer blogs are all great resources for info. You will learn that most designers are adding blogs or tutorials to their site to gain traffic and networking. Take advantage of these and read as many of them as you can. W3schools, Net tuts, Web designers wall, A list apart etc.. are all full of valuable info. Google is also a great tool so learn how to use it!! I would recommend books too, Amazon is a great resource for this or even e-bay.. Used books are still useful books. Look around at reviews and peoples comments about these before you just go and buy one and make sure they are up-to-date, the internet is out dating things all the time.
Step 3 – Understand the Industry
I will let you know right now being a web designer is overwhelming in many ways. You are always going to find new software, better designers and more ways for us to lose out jobs. To keep in touch with the new design trends and software you gotta do your research and keep up-to-date once a week. Keeping up with the newest deigns and trends are very important in helping you gain clients. Do you think that a new clients wants his designer to be out dated? Of course not. Great sites for this are A list apart, A web designers wall and sites like this. These are top designers so take the time to listen what they have to say.
Why is everyone trying to make web designing so easy? Well money is the answer to this of course. I always wondered myself why web designers are trying to find ways to make designing quick and very affordable. Quickest way to make a million dollars is to maker a lazy man lazier. I still sleep good at night knowing that no matter what there will always be valuable information that we will know and be able to incorporate that our clients now and upcoming will never know. Keep up-to-date and always learn the best and most solid ways to do things and you will never have a problem.
Step 4 – Find Your Niche
Don’t try to do it all. The best web designers work in teams and so should you. I would recommend finding your strongest skill and sticking with it. Early on you should notice that you pick up somethings quicker then others. Front end work, back end work, graphic design etc.. Pick what you do best and excel. Later down the road it will help you in not feeling so overwhelmed you will be strong in what you do and there will always be work for someone dedicated to that skill. If you try and do it all yourself you will lose out on creativity, time and trying to keep up-to-date. I am not saying that there isn’t any one out there that successfully has done this or is doing it. If you can though find designers to at least work with when you need a hand. This will help you get more clients and put out a better quality of design.
Step 5 – Put Yourself out There
When you are ready to start getting clients you are going to learn that it isn’t that easy. Some good ways to start are get your first couple clients through family or friends. These people already trust you and it will be a good learning experience. If you still are having troubles then there are places like Freelancer and Craigslist.
Another good way to get your first customer is to go to local businesses. Advertise your self as a new and local designer willing to give a price break or free work for customers willing to act as a reference and be displayed in your portfolio or resume. As you begin to get clients and build your name things will get easier. One of the best ways to get clients is word to mouth from happy existing clients. Again blogs and social networks will also help. These ways are not as safe or solid as other methods but I can still say I found some clients through them.
Step 6 – Protect Yourself
In the beginning stages of freelance designing you are going to learn that people are going to try and take advantage of you. I highly recommend using a contract for all clients and meeting face to face is another great way to gain trust and a good sense of who you are working with. People will ask for slave labor from you, tell you your work is bad, keep asking for revisions or even try and not pay you. No matter what happens be professional and try and keep these relationships for they may end up being another great line in your portfolio or resume whether it works out or not. Sometimes you have to suck up your pride and work for barely anything these days to get your name out there but make sure you have leverage.
Contracts are the best way just make sure to state things clear and get it out of the way. Make sure to try and get payments in advance from customers you may not trust ask for 50% down and then the remaining payment on completion of the site. If it is a big business or at least an established business you can give them a little more slack. Some designers use hidden FTP programs to make sure if the client dose not pay then you can at least delete the work you have done. I am not recommending this but it is a method people use. Once you have gone through these processes you will learn what to do and not to do. Creating a solid process is a good way to do this to ensure quick delivery on sites and payments on time. I will go over thi
s in the next step on details.
Step 7 – Create a Process
When you freelance web design it is easy to get unorganized. If you stay organized from the beginning then you will get a good understanding on how to stay organized when work starts to pile in. I use a external hard drive to back up all my work and store clients info and things. Make sure you back up work if you lose it all that time will go to waste and trust me it happens. Folders are a big key to keeping organized. I have folders on my desk top that have names like, New Clients, Old clients, Resources, web design etc. I also use folders in my bookmarks because I have over a hundred of them. These folders I named like Friends of the web, Resources, Tutorials etc. Get used to doing things like this and it will save you hours off time looking for things.
Another good way to stay organized is to create a step process for each client. Start with a list of questions to ask your clients when they are interested in your work. This will help you come up with a quote quicker and give you a better understanding of what you will have to do. Then work in the contract and make sure all details are clear. Next steps will be design steps. I use a whiteboard for this and then I use flow charts to show my clients and idea of what will be made. There are many different ways to do this and I recommend finding one that suites you the best.