I thought it might be useful to share some of my not-so-great experiences as a freelance web designer so that others can learn from my mistakes.
All Work and No Pay
What’s really frustrating is that I made the same mistake several times. That costly mistake was doing work and not getting paid for it. I’d get an enquiry for building a site by phone or email. I’d get straight back with some ideas and a quote and more often than not my quote would be accepted. I’d even have written confirmation that yes, they wanted to pay me for a website. On this basis I’d do the work and then when it came to sharing my design they’d say that they didn’t want to go ahead any more or that they’d found another designer.
It’s hard as a designer. You can get excited by a project. As soon as you finish speaking to the customer the ideas start flooding into your head and you want to capture that excitement and creativity there and then. Unfortunately, in my experience it often doesn’t actually materialise. They’re just not as serious about the project as you think they are.
My advice would be to assume that it’s just talk until you see some commitment, and by commitment I mean money. Ask for a deposit. It doesn’t have to be much, even £10 or $10 will do, but it’s just enough to prove that they’re serious. Don’t lift a finger until you’ve got a serious commitment. Trust me -you can’t afford to work for nothing.
The Price is Right
The other mistake I made was in my pricing. As I was fairly new to web design I thought I’d hit the low end of the market where I could compete on price and get lots of small cheap sites in my portfolio. It worked well for some customers but it’s surprising how many people expect you to travel to see them at your expense when you’re charging less than £100 for a website. The only way you can operate at the cheap end is by having very low outgoing costs.
Later, when I stopped being a full-time freelancer and moved into a permanent job I kept the web design going as a side line. At this point I could afford to be more picky about which projects I took on, and, without needing to be so competitive I raised my prices. In fact, I doubled my prices. Here’s the thing. I was expecting my number of enquiries to drop off. It didn’t. It pretty much doubled. I think that going too cheap was actually suggesting low quality or making people suspicious. Charging more can suggest higher quality and strangely provide some reassurance.
My advice would be to find the price that you think your service is worth and then double it. Serious customers want to buy quality services and with something like a website they’re looking for a long term relationship, not a quick handover.
The third mistake I made was spending my time on the wrong things. I spent a lot of time trying to market myself rather than focusing on client work. I put a lot of hours into studying Google Analytics, SEO and building other sites to promote my main business. It would have been far more cost effective to just pay for advertising rather than commit this time. Trying to market myself by spending time and not money was a false economy. Focus on what you’re good at and pay others to do what they’re good at.
Hope that helps someone.
A look at what awaits “cheap web design” seekers.
I’ve been running my own web development business since 2004 and in that time I have noticed a few changes to this market. There’s far more competition now than there was a few years ago. If you do a Google search for “cheap web design“, “budget web design” or “affordable web design” then there are a lot of web pages out there with those page titles.
What I find curious is that the web design product or service being offered in this market and the pricing structures don’t seem to have moved on since 2004.
The vast majority of companies competing in this market still seem to be offering very basic static brochure sites. The process here is 1) the client sends text and images to the web designer, 2) the designer puts them in HTML pages, 3) repeat stages 1 and 2. This means that if the client needs to make a change to the website’s information – new products, price changes, news updates, etc. – he or she needs to go through the designer who probably charges a modest (if you’re lucky) fee for the work.
Much stranger than the product on offer though is the pricing structure. The majority of these seem to be sold as packages (design, hosting, email) based on the number of pages in the site. This makes no sense to me at all. It’s usual for all pages within a website to have a similar look and feel. They generally all use a common template which includes the header, footer and navigation menus along with any styles (fonts, colours, etc.) used throughout the site. Therefore, most of the web designer‘s work goes into creating this template. Once this is designed it makes little difference whether a website has 1 page or 100. It’s very curious then that so many of these companies offering “cheap web design” will offer, for example, a 4 page site for £150 but a 6 page site will set you back £350. That’s a £200 jump in price for what I’d estimate to be half an hour’s work. Cheap web design doesn’t have to mean a small website and a large website doesn’t have to cost the earth.
Chris Smith Web Development offers something different. I offer not static web pages but an installation of a content management system. This means that rather than having to come back to me to make changes to your pages you can simply log in and do it yourself, whenever and wherever you want to. No delays and no additional fees. The pricing is based on the template design so there’s no limit on how many pages you can have. All you have to do is log in, select the Write Page option, write your content, click on Publish and it’s there for the world to see, as many times as you like. You can go back and edit or delete pages, reorder them, change their titles whenever you want to.
Since 2004 I have moved on and have developed a better product. Static sites, charged for by the page, are no match for the flexibility and freedom offered by a content management system.
The days of having your website managed by a web designer or design company are now on their way out.
In the past websites were a one-way read only process, an online brochure which people visited to get information. Now, with the whole concept of Web 2.0, it’s all a two-way interactive process with customers or fans playing an active part in a website.
Now, not only can you update all of your web pages or blogs yourself but you can also allow visitors to comment and discuss your website’s content all over the internet, reaching far greater numbers of people than ever before.
This two-way interaction not only improves communications with customers or fans but actually helps shape your products/services by allowing you to see where the demand is – who is buying and what they really want.
With Web 2.0 your web presence goes way beyond what you put on your site. You now need to look at review sites, forums, online communities, social networking communities – in short, anywhere where people can make reference to you.
When you’re looking to launch a new web project make sure it fits into the world of Web 2.0 or risk being left behind.
Want to know more?
I recommend O’Reilly – What is Web 2.0?