Learning Experiences as a Freelancer

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.

Losing Focus

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.

Google’s Personalised Search

GoogleSearch on the internet is changing. We all know how Google works – you type in your search term, hit the “search button”, Google beavers away in the background trying to match what you typed with the most likely matches and you’re presented with a list of results, all within a split second.

If you are logged into Google when you do the same search things are now slightly different. Once the results come back you are given further options. You can “promote” a site by clicking on the little up arrow next to it. This is your way of saying that this is the site you wanted and it will push it to the top of the list for next time you do that search. You also have the option of clicking “remove”, the cross. This means that the result is not relevant to you and won’t be shown next time around. Finally, you can “comment” by clicking on the speech bubble. This allows you to make notes as you go.

It doesn’t stop there though. Google doesn’t just remember your feedback on searches you have done but uses this information to predict your areas of interest. For example, if I do a search for “ajax” it will, in all probability, return results on Ajax the web programming technology. For someone else with no interest in web development but an interest in football it may return results on the Dutch football team.

The wider effect of this new personalised search is that as people start making use of it then what one person sees when they perform a search may not be what another person sees. In fact, after prolonged use it almost definitely won’t be. This means that the SEO companies who claim that they will get you top rankings on Google will no longer be able to measure how well your site is faring. They will be forced to revert to using numbers of visitors to a website as a measure of success instead, which, as any marketing person will tell you, is the only real measure anyway.

What is a website visitor worth?

What are your visitors worth?When looking at investing money in trying to get more visitors to your website you need to first work out what a visitor is worth to you.

So, how do you work it out? Well, to do it at a basic level is very simple. Choose a time period to analyse – the last 12 months, last 3 months, last 30 days, etc. Now, in this period see how much profit you made and how many visitors your website got. If you’re using a web stats package, unique visitors is the figure to use here. Simply divide the number of unique visitors by the profit and this will give you a mean profit per visitor. You can use this as a basis for spending on gaining more visitors.

Whilst more visitors means more profit you shouldn’t just look at boosting traffic but try to actively increase the value of each online visitor. If a visitor becomes more likely to buy from you they become more valuable and investing money in attracting more visitors then gives you better value for money. So, as well as your traffic you also need to try to improve your conversion rate. The conversion rate is simply the proportion of visitors who buy. There are lots of things you can do to boost your conversion rates but that’s for another day…