If you’ve ever dabbled in the world of building websites, you might be interested in a career with freelance web design. You’ll have practically unlimited flexibility in terms of hours (for the most part), when and where you can work, and what projects you’ll take on, and provided you get work from a diversity of clients, you’ll have plenty of creative inspiration to keep you busy.
So what do you need to get started?
You can’t become a good freelance web designer if your only knowledge of design is based on your personal tastes, or on a history of browsing other websites. You’ll need some kind of education in web design and, ideally, development. Depending on your intentions, that could mean taking graphic design classes, learning how to code on a site like Codecademy, taking an internship with a design and development firm, or some combination of these sources.
Merely knowing how websites work and basic principles of web design isn’t enough to be a successful freelance web designer. You’ll also need to have some kind of experience under your belt. Designing websites for clients is much different than designing websites for your own personal taste, and applying principles of web development is much different than simply learning about them.
You can get this experience by becoming a full-time web designer for an existing firm, or by working as an intern or apprentice-type role under an existing designer. You may even consider designing a website or two for free while you develop your skills.
A Home Office
If you’re working for yourself, you’ll need a reliable place where you can do your work with uninterrupted concentration. For many new freelance designers, that means setting up a home office (though it could also mean subscribing to a coworking space). For a home office, you’ll need a computer with adequate memory and processing power, as well as a suite of design tools so you can create and show off your designs easily. You’ll also need to shop around for the best internet providers in your area to ensure you have a fast, reliable connection.
A Business Plan
Just because you’re operating by yourself, doing what you do best doesn’t mean you can get by without a business plan. If you’re going to be a freelance web designer, you need to decide who your target audience is, how much you’re going to charge, how you’re going to pay for your materials up front, and how you’re going to differentiate yourself from your competition – among other considerations.
You can technically operate without a business plan, but it’s not recommended. This is the blueprint for how you’re going to work and how you’re going to make money, so it shouldn’t be neglected.
A Personal Brand (or Business Entity)
Next, think about how you’re going to brand yourself. If you’re operating a sole proprietor, you’ll need to come up with a personal brand for yourself, including an area of specialty, core values, and other identifying characteristics.
You could also create an LLC or other business entity for your operation, though this is often best reserved for bigger-scale operations. You can brand your organization however you like, deciding on a name, a set of core values, a target demographic, a tagline, a logo, and even a brand voice.
Either way, your brand will be imperative for making an impression on people and helping you get started with your marketing strategy. Once established, you can create your brand’s website.
Most people won’t hire a web designer unless they can see a few examples of their previous work. You may be able to scrounge up examples of your designs from your previous experience or education, but if you can’t, you’ll need to mock up some original designs of your own. These will help you seal the deal with your first few clients, and serve as the basis for a stronger portfolio in the future.
Your First Client
With everything else in place, all that’s left is to get your first client. There are several possible approaches here, depending on your experience and your intentions. For example, you might reach out to local business owners as a direct-sales approach, or you could use marketing and advertising to raise awareness of your brand through your personal website. You could even use social media to network and look for referrals. In any case, you’ll need to close your first deal and get started on a project so you can start building a stream of revenue, and build your reputation.
After getting your first clients and completing your first job, you can start building momentum for the rest of your business. Provided you’ve done a suitable job, you can probably get a referral or two out of the deal. If not, you can invest more resources into your marketing strategy, add the site to your growing portfolio, and start making strides toward your future as a web designer.