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How To Become a Freelance Web Designer

I get asked quite often how I became a freelance web designer, and what advice I have for others who want to do the same.

Below I’ll describe not only the technical skills you’ll need to become a web designer, but also the complimentary skills you should master to help you stand out and get hired consistently in a crowded market.

Before we dive in, a little about my career…

I started hard-coding my own websites fifteen years ago. I consider myself mostly self-taught, though I did study Multimedia and IT in college in Ireland, graduating in 2007 with a first class honors. After college I somehow managed to convince a university in the US to sponsor my visa and hire me as a web designer for three years. I left that job so I could travel the world. For the past twelve months or so, I’ve been making a living from freelancing. I started out charging $30 an hour, and just recently raised my rate to $150 an hour. I haven’t pitched a client in months; nowadays, they always come to me, either via this blog or referrals.

Alright, let’s get to the good stuff. Here’s what you need to do to become a successful freelance web designer.

1. Learn how websites work

HTML and CSS are fundamental. Learn them well via a site like Codecademy. Don’t rely on the likes of Dreamweaver to write code for you. That’s a fast track to trouble.

You should also be familiar with…

  • At least one server-side programming language (PHP is probably your best bet).
  • JavaScript (jQuery is pretty easy once you know CSS).
  • Databases (knowing a bit of SQL and how to navigate phpMyAdmin will save your ass on numerous occasions).
  • Content Management Systems such as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. I use WordPress for pretty much everything these days.
  • RSS and mailing lists (Aweber, MailChimp, Feedburner).
  • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

Not only do you need to know about each of the above components, but you also need to know how they fit together. This will come with practice.

I highly recommend you set yourself up with a web hosting package that allows you to host multiple websites, and then start practicing your ass off. Build a website about each of your hobbies, get used to different layouts, try to make random tweaks, see what happens.

2. Learn to troubleshoot and solve problems

I believe this is one of the things that sets me apart from other web designers. I’m pretty good at troubleshooting tricky problems and coming up with clever workarounds when all else fails. I’m also stubborn relentless, never wanting to rest until I figure out a solution.

Here’s how you can develop this skill as a web designer…

  • Learn how to use Google Search. This sounds so easy but I’m constantly amazed at how many people end up stumped when the solution they need is just a well-phrased Google search away. See here and here for tips on how to google better.
  • Define the problem and brainstorm solutions. Do all this in writing. I often figure out a solution to a frustrating problem while describing the issue in an email to the client.
  • Process of elimination. Gradually remove layers of complexity, testing as you go until the problem disappears. Then add back each layer until you can pinpoint exactly what file or chunk of code is at fault.
  • For issues related to HTML and CSS, learn how to use Firebug for Firefox, or the equivalent in other web browsers.

3. Learn about usability

Good web design is mostly about usability. You want to build websites that are easy for both your clients and their customers to use. Focus less on making your websites pretty and more on making them usable.

Two big recommendations here…

4. Sharpen your communication skills

I often feel that my clients are paying me more for my communication skills than my web design skills.

I’m nowhere near the best designer in the world, nor am I a great programmer, but I’m better than most when it comes to figuring out what a project entails, setting expectations, updating clients on my progress, showing them how to use their new sites… that kind of stuff.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure good communication with your clients…

  • Stick to these recommendations for e-mail communication.
  • If you chat with a client on Skype or in person, take notes and follow up via email with a few bullet points summarizing your discussion. Ask them to correct and clarify where needed.
  • Pick out to-do items as you read through client emails and list these in your project diary (more on this later).
  • Set expectations early. Let your clients know how much your services cost and how long each project is likely to take. Agree on a payment schedule.
  • Check in with your clients regularly. They should never be left wondering what the status of their project is.
  • Use screencasts instead of email for how-tos. Way easier to talk a client through something on screen than try describe it in writing. I use Jing (it’s free) to record quick how-to screencasts for clients and they’re always blown away.
  • Always try put yourself in the client’s shoes. Ditch the jargon and explain things in plain English. Try anticipate what questions they’ll have and answer them in advance.

5. Give the client what they need (not necessarily what they want)

Every now and then I talk myself out of a job. For example, I might tell a potential client that they’d be better off setting up a Facebook page for their business, rather than hiring me to build a website for them.

Why do I do this? Because I want to make sure I’m building websites that the clients are invested in. I don’t want them hiring me on a whim and then losing interest in the project a few months later. That’s lose-lose, because they’ll have wasted a good chunk of money and I’ll be left with a lifeless site that I can’t add to my portfolio.

So I make sure to ask some hard questions of my clients up front, before I commit to working with them. If I feel they’ve simply got too much time and money on their hands and aren’t really serious about the project, I’ll pass up the opportunity to work with them.

Along these same lines, you’ll often have to talk clients out of their own bad ideas and convince them to trust your judgement. Many people will ask you to build them a nice website, but their definition of nice might involve seven different fonts and three different colors per paragraph. That might look pretty to their eyes, but it’s up to you to help them understand that nobody above the age of seven is going to read their copy if it looks like it was formatted by the Care Bears.

Two keys to convincing clients to trust your judgement:

  • Send them links to articles posted on well-respected sites which support your recommendations. For example, here’s one you might send to a client who wants you to right align all paragraphs on his blog.
  • Let them know that you have their best interests at heart. They might think they just want a pretty website, but they don’t. They want a website that people will actually visit and read and buy stuff from. Ultimately, that’s what clients are paying you to build, even if they sometimes lose sight of that themselves.

Granted, you’ll probably want to be a little less picky and argumentative with your clients if you’re just starting out as a freelancer. But as you improve your skills and begin to raise your prices, you should also start raising your standards in terms of the type of people you want to work with. More on this later.

6. Work hard

Work hard for your clients. Care about their projects. Go the extra mile.

This often means putting yourself out. I decided to cut short a recent trekking trip because I couldn’t get online in the mountains and I didn’t want emails from my clients going unanswered for too long. Sometimes I’ll miss out on exploring a cool city I’m passing through because I’ll be glued to my laptop working on a client project.

I should note that it’s much easier to work hard for a client when they’re paying you well. Keep that in mind when pricing your projects. If you’re getting paid peanuts, you won’t be all that motivated to work your ass off.

7. Stay true to your word

If a client hires you, they’re essentially putting their trust in you, and you have to take that seriously. Do your absolute best to follow through on whatever promises you make.

I’ve scoured strange cities for hours in search of reliable wifi so I could get client sites launched on schedule. Earlier this week I convinced a hotel reception desk to let me use their computer for half an hour so I could finish up some urgent client work and update them via email.

8. When you mess up, do whatever it takes to make it right

Inevitably, you will make mistakes and disappoint some clients. I know I’ve messed up plenty of times in the past.

A few months back I took on a pretty straight-forward project but neglected to set proper expactations with the client for how long the work would take. When I finished everything up and presented her with a hefty invoice, she wasn’t impressed and told me as much. At first I felt cheated, but when I looked back over our email exchange I realized I only had myself to blame for the miscommunication. So I offered a sincere apology and issued her a new invoice for a much lower amount. I’ve since received at least two referrals from that client.

When you do drop the ball, here’s how you make it right…

  • Accept full responsibility, even if you don’t feel you were completely at fault.
  • Offer a sincere, direct apology. Nothing along the lines of, “I’m sorry you feel that I didn’t meet your expectations.” That’s crap. Try this instead: “I’m sorry. That was my fault. I messed up.”
  • Get busy making it right. Give them a discount or work a few hours for free. Whatever it takes really.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re left with no choice but to break a promise you made to a client, let them know as soon as possible and tell them how you plan to make amends. Don’t wait until they call you out. Most people will be understanding and forgiving if you’re straight up with them.

9. Keep a diary for each project

I do this on Google Drive. I start a new document for each project and drop some notes in there every time I do a chunk of work. The format I use for each entry is as follows:

  • Date of entry
  • Notes (usually a bulleted list describing what tasks I just completed)
  • Next up (to-do list)
  • Time log (session duration, and total time spent on project to date)

I don’t share these documents with my clients. They’re just for me to organize my thoughts, work through challenges, record my decision-making process, track my time, and keep note of any other important data related to each project.

10. Screen potential clients

Avoid working with people you wouldn’t like to hang out with.

This is where my blog comes in handy. Many of my clients come to me via my blog. They like what I write and feel a resonance and thus ask me to work with them. Or they recommend me to like-minded friends who are working on cool projects and need websites to help promote them.

You don’t have to have a blog, but you should have some kind of online presence that will help you attract your ideal clients and repel everyone else. Even a static website is fine as long as it accurately communicates your personality and values.

Also, avoid clients who expect you to work good, fast and cheap. Tell them they can only have two of the three:

  • If you want it cheap and fast, it’s not going to be good.
  • If you want if fast and good, it’s not going to be cheap.
  • It you want it good and cheap, it’s not going to be fast.

11. Pitch

Starting out you’ll probably need to pitch some prospects.

I recommend you reach out to a few select people you really admire, who you suspect need help with some cool project you’d love to work on. Think about your favorite bloggers or online entrepreneurs. Offer to help them for free in exchange for experience and referrals. Focus on how you can help them, not on how they can help you.

If that falls flat, try gain some experience and build up your portfolio via your existing network. If you have a blog, mention on there that you’re now offering web design services. Spread the word on Facebook. Bring it up in conversations with friends and relatives. Start out slow, you don’t need to charge much initially. Let people know that you’re still learning and so you’re much cheaper than other web designers.

Oh, and I’d advise skipping the likes of Elance and oDesk. Everyone’s competing on price in those marketplaces and so you won’t find many clients who will pay for quality.

12. Anything else you’d like to know?

If there’s anything I haven’t covered here that you’d like to know, go ahead and post a question in the comments.

I’d also love to hear from other freelance web designers. What would you add to this list?

UPDATE: Adding a few links below that will be a big help to your freelance career…

  • Great advice from Derek Halpern on what to do if clients try to negotiate you down on price.
  • Excellent free book called Breaking The Time Barrier which will really shift your thinking when it comes to pricing. This one quick read will literally make you thousands of additional dollars a year.
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  1. hey niall
    I’m a 18 year old girl and i’m completely new to this world. I just have found a website that is offering a web designing course for complete beginners. Do you think that I’ll be able to become a professional web designer just like you without studying in any professional IT institution. Thanks.

      1. how do you get clients if you don’t have a professional degree because people believe in certificates more.

        1. As a web designer myself, I can say with certainty that the #1 thing to getting a job in design is your portfolio, not your resume. In freelance work especially, it is not typically common that I will ever even mention my college degree, everyone just wants to see a portfolio.

          Once you have learned design, build a website that displays your own design work, and links to sites that you have built. You send that link to your prospective clients.

  2. I’d like to know a bit more about setting up a client’s host provider, phpMyAdmin, SQL, etc.. What does it take to get the bare bones WordPress site up, and give the client their new email address as quick as possible to spend more time on the fun part of design? Do you have a process you use to build a simple website for a client, let’s say “who just needs a simple contact us web site” for example?

    1. It often depends what host they’re using. But most hosts now have one-click WP install, so I use that. No need to go messing around with phpMyAdmin or anything.

      Email setup depends on the host as well, and on how the client likes to check email. Setting up an email address on the host side is usually straightforward, but making sure the client can then send/receive from that address via Gmail/Outlook/whatever can be a pain.

  3. vincent walsh

    Very informative and good information. I have been following your advice and working at learning all you mentioned in your video. For Phpmyadmin do you use the community version or business version when running an online business? Any advice would be appreciated-thanks Vincent.

  4. Hi Niall

    I have read your article and I think its great , I’m 18 right and I love web design I have messed around with it as a hobbie I have great knowledge of HTML & CSS and somewhat basic knowledges of Java script and PHP but I’m working on it , I’m actually an apprentice web designer, graphics designer & social media marketer , but I want to be a free lance web designer or even own my own web design agency/business so what would you say is the best thing to do if I want to get started? πŸ™‚

  5. Thank you for this post! I am still in an apprenticeship as a web designer/developer, but this post motivated me even more to continue with webdesign after I finish the course.
    Your points were clear and easy to understand.
    Thank you so much!

  6. Sir,
    Please can you tell how much “WordPress” we should be knowing before becoming a freelancer,, i am new to wordpress

    Thanks in advance

  7. Hi, am not a really good web designer bt I have only managed to build just one website for a client but I have not met any since then is it possible to go into some schools, hotels and churches in my area that I am a web designer and that I can help them build a website and what to expect from them please help me?

  8. Hi there,
    Just wanted to know if learning php helps a freelancer to earn more money or should I go for some other server side language?

    1. PHP is the most widely used server side language, so it’s a good one to know, lots of work out there. But likewise there is more competition, and so the pay is usually lower. There are less python and ruby programmers and so they can usually charge more.

      I’d still recommend learning PHP first though. Easier to learn and practice and pick up odd jobs. And once you have a solid understanding of programming principles through learning PHP, you can learn other programming languages pretty fast.

  9. thank you for the advice just going into school for web development and read a lot of negative things but yours was positive thanks Julie

  10. Hey.

    Great article. I found it while i was struggling to find a difference between Web Designer, Web Developer, Webmaster and Front-End Web Developer…the point is i was always interested in building websites and be able to get some $ from it (doing things You like and getting some extra cash for it seems like a great idea to me).

    So during my google travels i wanted to find answer for one question, what do i really need to know (or what skills i need to learn) to be able to build a site from scratch for a client and get some money for it?
    I looked into many artcicles and couldnt find any good answer, people either mentioned that i need to team up with other people or that i can only do a PART of the website…such as web designer only creates graphics and web developer only is capable of programming.

    I almost lost my hope that i will be able to build sites solo but then i found Your article and it made me happy because now i see that its possible to do it. Altough i still dont know if i should call my self web designer or developer or front-end or whatever it is…

    My learning plan from the begining was:

    1.html and css
    4.basics of sql
    5.wordpress,joomla and drupal

    I hope that im on the right track πŸ™‚

    1. That plan looks perfect, Luke. You’re definitely on the right track.

      I usually consider myself a web developer, but most people understand web designer to mean that you code as well, not just design.

  11. Hey Niall

    Just wanted to say a MASSIVE Thank You for this post!

    I graduated from uni a few years ago in Multimedia/Web Dev but then ended up getting sidetracked playing music professionally for a few year afterwards. I’m now getting back into the Web Development and quite a lot has changed.

    Now in the process of settling down and therefore need a somewhat more responsible job so decided to get into Social Media Management and re-designing peoples Facebook and Twitter pages etc. This in turn led to me designing a client’s website using WordPress and using some of my earlier programming and design skills and now it seems that I am getting asked by a bunch of people to design websites for their businesses.. so have therefore stumbled back in to web design by default..

    Anyway, I realized after completing this first website that I completely undercharged for all the hours I put in (roughly 200) on top of my regular 9-5 day job at a music store. I completed the website within a month and put in a lot of effort to make the site look great and implemented various thing into it including shopping cart’s, custom graphics, images etc. etc.

    I’m too much of a perfectionist, but at the same time wanted to do a good job for for the client but for all of $800… at this point I realise that I should probably have charged more, but ind sight is 20/20 right!?

    Anyway, I have no idea how pricing really works and wondered, realistically, what would you recommend in terms of pricing and how do you work out not only how much you should charge but the time scale that you quote to potential new clients?

    It appears that I might be back in the game at this point and therefore don’t want to make the same mistakes.

    Cheers and thanks for any advice you can throw my way!!


    1. Hey Mark,

      Thanks for the comment. Re: pricing, it gets easier with experience. What I usually do is give a client an option of being charged an hourly rate or a project price. Either way, always overestimate how long it will take and how much it will cost. Best case scenario, it doesn’t take you very long and you can bill the client less than you quoted them. Worst case scenario, the project ends up taking way more time than you expected but your high initial estimate means you’re not kicking yourself too much.

      The other benefit of overestimating and quoting high is that you filter out price-sensitive clients. You don’t really want to deal with people who are going to be complaining about paying you all the time.

      Hope that helps.

  12. Again.i want your help.
    Please guide me!
    I have almost completed the javaScript from codecademy but there is no php tutorial in that website.please tell me the best website for learning php and finally tell me any link where i can apply my learning skills.I means i am blind about the development of any website.I don’t know how to take start and where i have to end-up.please tell me that from where i’ll get the process of application of programming languages in real websites.

  13. Mr.Niall Doherty, I just want to say thank you for sharing your insight. It is just what I needed to take the next step in my career path. =)

  14. No niall i am not an I.T student.I have to start it from scratch and it takes a lot of time.Please tell me the shortest way or whether you conduct any training for making full flash website.I wants to learn it through training program where i have to practice directly from simple.

    1. The advice above works for anyone who has general computer skills. But it still takes hard work. Make sure you’re in it for the long haul or else you’ll get frustrated and give up before you start to see the fruits of your labor.

      I’m not great with Flash so I can’t help you with any specific advice there.

  15. hey niall.can you please guide me about how to become a freelancer without any knowlege of programming and desining.I am glad to here you.And tell me something beneficial for so i can start my work immediately.

    Thanx alot.

  16. Hi Naill,
    Don’t want to be the nay sayer but some of the things you mentioned on the post are not right!

    I am a web designer by trade, I studied graphic design at Uni and learn’t coding in my bedroom and continue learning coding and living design every day.

    I think too many people fudge a bit of code together copied from here and there and call them self a web designer.

    Or learn how to do a drop shadow in photoshop and say they are a designer.

    This makes real designers/web designers effort seem a waste as clients think, ‘yeh can build a website in a day’ When using some one elses wordpress theme and changing the logo isn’t what a web designer does.

    You said in a previous comment, once you know css, jquery is easy! 2 completely different languages, so I think you should be careful or you look like you don’t know what your talking about.

    Well done for living your dream and traveling all over. I’m saying this not because i’m envious but because I get fed up of people declaring them selves as designer or web designers when really they are fudgers.



    1. Thanks for the comment, Robin.

      Quite honestly, I think you’re holding the term “web designer” to too high a standard. I agree that it takes more than cobbling together some code and adding drop shadows, but I don’t believe you need to be a hardcore programmer or a Photoshop ninja either. I’m neither of those things, and I can still build kick-ass websites that my clients are generally thrilled with.

      Plus, as I mentioned in reply to another comment, there’s no shortage of skilled programmers and designers out there, and many of them work for dirt cheap. Hence my emphasis on learning complimentary skills like communication and reliability instead of striving to become a master coder/designer.

      As for the jQuery comment, I’m speaking only from personal experience there. I always found JavaScript tricky but jQuery was a breeze for me since all the selectors are virtually the same as they are in CSS.

      1. As a developer/engineer, I can agree with both you guys here and I think there is a market for designers which fall on each end of the spectrum. It’s all about what clients want and need. If you can knock out a site for them without being a photoshop ninja and get paid $100/hr and they are happy, who cares? Everyone wins, and it doesn’t devalue a top notch designer who has a different skillset. But what Robin says is true too, and there are clients who know the difference and will also pay for it. Some people want/need truly custom and unique sites with layouts and design created from the ground up that might require a different skillset. As a developer, I’ve worked with people who aren’t great designers but can build decent sites and I’ve also worked with designers who know their stuff and can do some truly impressive stuff.

  17. Great article as usual.
    Well, I have some of those skills, but to tell you the truth I don’t see how I can find projects that pay me even $30/hrs with all the good and smart engineers from India and other countries on freelancer websites. These people do such a great job just for a few $ per hour.
    Do you have any tips?

    1. Focus on what you have that they don’t. Usually that will be a unique mix of things.

      Sure, there’s always going to be someone cheaper out there, or someone who can program or design better, but nobody else will have your unique blend of skills.

      Think about how you can relate to and communicate with Western (i.e. high-paying) clients so much better than someone from India or the Philippines. Think about the industries you’re already familiar with and try leverage that knowledge to get gigs in those industries. People much prefer to hire folks who know their business.

      Also, just be friendly and cool. Sounds silly, but people are much more likely to hire someone whose personality they like, and we all tend to like people who are similar to us (age, race, background, etc.).

      Lastly, make sure you’re really delivering value. If you’re working hard and delivering results, you’ll feel fine about charging a high price and your clients will gladly pay you.

  18. Thanks for the reply!
    One more question: How long do you think it takes to become proficient enough to start marketing yourself to people? 3-6 months?
    Thanks again!

    1. I think you could start charging $10 an hour within a month, if you study hard for that month and practice a lot.

      Remember that you don’t need to know everything. You just need a sense of what’s possible and confidence that you can find solutions to the problems that come up.

      As Kevin mentioned in a comment above though, be honest with your clients and let them know if a project is beyond your capabilities.

  19. Great article. I’m at the beginning stages of trying to do the freelance thing, although I’m more a writer and would want the html/web stuff as an added bonus.

    Do you feel code academy is the best place to start learning or do you recommend other places, such as treehouse, etc?

    How about books? Do you recommend any good books on this subject?

    Thanks again. Great post.

    1. Hey Cesar,

      I actually learned most of my code from googling around, although the website I used most was probably w3schools. A few people have pointed out to me now that w3schools has some incorrect info on their site, but it served me pretty well.

      As for books, the only one I really recommend is Don’t Make Me Think, as linked above. You can probably learn coding faster from a good book than by googling around though, so it might be worth checking reviews on Amazon and buying some of the most recommended books on there related to what you’d like to learn.

  20. Hi Niall,
    interesting reading with very good points, maybe it would have made an extremelly long post but I missed some advice when it comes to the legal and boring stuff, e.g. how and where to establish yourself as a individual company or freelance worker, how to handle the taxes paperwork and that… if you could tell us about it, that will be for sure very appreciate it πŸ™‚
    Best Wishes from Spain!

    1. Hey Jorge,

      I’ll have to leave that up to others to answer. I did register myself as a sole trader in Ireland almost two years ago, but had to deregister the business after I learned it would be illegal for me to have a business registered in Ireland without living there for most of the year.

      So right now I don’t have an officially registered business.

      1. That’s very interesting! So Ireland has laws that protect it from getting more money from taxes?

        I wish my country did this too. πŸ˜€

        P.S. Thanks for a great article! I’m still going through your older posts, as I’m quite new here. πŸ™‚

  21. Hi Niall!

    I am a fellow web developer, not freelance however, and I have 2 points, that I think are REALLY useful and important

    1) Validate your code: This I think is important to every new designer, it saves my butt finding website coding mistakes.
    validators are available for free at : http://validator.w3.org/

    2) Don’t lie about your skills, be straight up and honest: I think its all to common I meet a web designer stressing out because not only did he lie, but he accepted the project after and couldn’t follow through. This not only can screw you out of projects, but it can also make you lose clients through referrals as well. This does feed into #8, but to be honest, no-one wants to screw up.

    Bonus) If you use w3schools.com, you MUST read http://w3fools.com/. it is a dangerous game when misinformation is spread. If you’re unsure, it never hurts to make sure your information is accurate.

    1. Thanks for the additions, Kevin. Good stuff.

      I would add a caution to newbies though not to go overboard on the validation. I used to be a stickler for validating my code, but sometimes it’s a trade-off between having valid code, and having things display the way you want them across all browsers. If ever in doubt, go with whatever solution is best for the people who will be using the site.

  22. As someone who spent nearly a decade doing freelance work (offline, for both small businesses and home client)s, and then transitioned to doing online freelance work with PHP and WordPress as my primary source of income for two years while traveling, I can say that I learned every single one of these points the long and hard way over the course of my career.

    This is a fantastic summary of all the different areas one needs to explore and your points about communication often being the primary reason people hire is also dead on. People want to feel like they can trust and rely on you. Nail those two things down, and the rest is will be forgiven.

    I’d love to see this blog post turned into a short ebook. I’d be happy to contribute, buy, and promote it! πŸ™‚

  23. Hi Niall,

    Have you intentionally not mentioned graphic design? I know you bought a full-priced copy of photoshop! I’d agree with all your points but I’d add that I start most of my bespoke projects with a good few hours in various bitmap & vector graphics packages, before even starting the coding. A book I can not recommend enough is ‘the non-designer’s design book’ by Robin Williams. Obviously it depends on what sort of site you’re doing though…

    1. Hey Andrew,

      Yeah, I use Photoshop quite a lot myself, but I think I could still do quite well without it. I don’t do a lot of design from scratch, more like small tweaks to existing designs. Photoshop helps me mock up those tweaks so I can make sure they look good before implementing them in code.

      I think newcomers to web design tend to get too caught up in making things look fancy when they’d be better off focusing on usability, hence the understatement of learning the likes of Photoshop above.

      Thanks for the book recommendation though. That sounds like it would be helpful.

  24. I think the most important thing by far is to never stop learning, or for that matter knowing how to learn by yourself (I guess that kind of fits in with your point about knowing how use google). The web changes at a pace so much faster than other industries and you need to be able to stay ahead of the curve to really excelle. It isn’t just a case of passing a course, getting a certificate and then having a career for life. A perfect example is the emergence of mobile which is really changing the landscape of things very quickly – in just a few years I suspect being able to design for all screen sizes will be a must.

  25. Funny how I see this post now as I’m considering trying my hand in the freelance game. A few people I knew ( especially one guy ) from my college days actually said to me that I actually have potential to be a good web designer.

    My only flaw is that I cannot for the life of me get my head around PHP. I tried doing it in college and I thought my head was going to explode. Then again, prehaps I were thrown too far into the deep end as we had to convert a hmtl site to php… something I found impossible to do. I guess there were trying to make us reinvent the wheel, so to speak.

    I’ll also agree with you on overly depending on Dreamweaver. One thing they did right in college was to start us off with coding hmtl and css in notepad before we even touched Dreamweaver. Even when we did use it, we’re told we should work in split mode.

    Like you said, though. There is always Google should one run into problems. I should really try my hand at it sometime. Just don’t break the golden rule of designers; Never do work for family! ( Trust me, I had to learn that the hard way! )

    1. Haha, I learned that one the hard way, too!

      As for PHP, I can’t see I’m anywhere close to an expert on that. I definitely don’t consider myself a programmer. More a hacker. Knowing a few basics, together with being able to Google and troubleshoot effectively gets me pretty far with PHP.

      1. That’s cool. I’m not programmer either, I’ve always being more of a visual guy.

        That being said, that Codecademy site is pretty good, just finished the first lesson. Seems pretty straight forward when it’s presented the way they did on that site.

  26. That was such a useful post! I took good note on the pearls of wisdom that are all the points but specially from point 4 on… πŸ˜€ And I can’t wait to implement them right after I finish writing these words to you.
    Number 4 is very handy to me. Thank youuuuu, sir! πŸ™‚

  27. Hey Niall,

    Awesome post, as usual. But this time you gave me a big Aha.
    I’m still struggling to find my first client as a translator and I think working for free for people I admire is a damn good idea.
    By the way, you’re on the list; anything I could do to help ?

    Keep up the good work.

    God bless.

      1. So far, French.
        Usually people are disappointed when I tell them that I only have 2 languages… until they see my work πŸ™‚
        I’m French by the way. You’ve seen my English.
        Let me know !

  28. Hey Niall, I’m a developer/software engineer and have started picking up side work doing web work, and I’m actually wondering what your strategy is for simply getting starting on new projects. It might sound silly, but even though I know my way around code and can do all the technical stuff behind the scenes, I struggle with finding a place to start with new web projects. I have a hard time deciding what layout and design concepts are the right ones to go with. Do you find examples of other sites that your clients like and use them as a base, or do you start from the ground up and create mock ups from scratch, then create the site or theme based on that? Thanks!

    1. Hey Russ,

      “Do you find examples of other sites that your clients like and use them as a base”

      Yup, that’s how I do it. I ask them to email me links to other sites they like, or to browse through some WordPress themes and pick one out.

      I usually start out with an existing WP theme and then create a child theme and modify it enough so it looks unique. I learned a few years ago that it’s usually a bad idea to start completely from scratch.

  29. Really cool post man! Knowing WordPress somewhat, and how the languages fit together, I found this really interesting… to see if from the designer’s point of view.

    I don’t think this can be stressed enough:

    “This sounds so easy but I’m constantly amazed at how many people end up stumped when the solution they need is just a well-phrased Google search away.”

    I say all the time that people need to google shit more. Seriously. With a desire to dig for a solution, and multiple google searches, there really isn’t too much that’s beyond behind found. And if so, there are always ways to get there πŸ˜‰

        1. Great article and nice to see someone lay down a plan for budding
          freelancers to follow. There’s loads of ideas on the web but most just
          say throw loads of mud at the wall and see what sticks. I like this
          because it is a battle plan. Thanks for the tips.