Web designers are in high demand. U.S. government statistics from any year after 2000 reveal that web designers always have as much work as they can handle. The caveat is that successful freelancers need to know how to acquire the right technical skills, learn the trade, find a mentor and market themselves well. That’s a lot, but isn’t too different from the challenge most newly-minted engineers face the day they graduate from college.
What to do? Even if you are already well-versed in web design lingo and skills like C# logging, high-level page design and more, you’ll need to follow a certain pathway in order to turn your knowledge into financial rewards. Here are some of the most important steps that every prospective freelance designer should take:
Know Your Startup Costs
The majority of small businesses that fail do so because they did not accurately calculate their startup costs. Don’t fall prey to this common entrepreneurial pitfall. You’re a web designer, after all, and have some pretty incredible technical skills. Basic accounting and finance isn’t rocket science. If the subjects are not your cup of tea, hire an outsider to help you. College seniors prepping for the CPA exam are full of great ideas and usually willing to work for a modest fee. They’re in it for the resume-booster anyway, truth be told.
You’ll need to look at things like equipment, software, outside help (that accountant you hired, plus any legal or other professionals), office space if you aren’t using your home, permanent assistants (secretaries, tech helpers, et al), the cost of business licenses and permits and anything unique to your new company. Whatever number you come up with, add 10 percent and then go to work deciding where the funds will come from. If you already have money set aside, great. If not, consider getting a loan to cover your startup expenses.
Create a Separate Site for Your Portfolio
Before you begin building your freelance website, create a separate, simple site that can host your portfolio. You’ll want to send prospective customers there so they can see what your abilities are. What if you haven’t done any work yet? Volunteer with a community group or offer your services to a new law or accounting firm. There are endless prospects when you’re giving your talent away for no cost. But the point of working for free, just for a while, is building up your portfolio.
Along the way, you’ll make some valuable contacts. Remember that young CPA you did a free design job for? Maybe the firm will give you a rate on accounting and tax advice. The same thing with that young attorney you helped. You now have contacts with local professionals and can use to your advantage in the near future. Keep every business card and stay in touch with anybody you do work for. This is called building a business network.
Construct a Sales Cycle
Learn how to find new customers, give them your elevator pitch, turn them into actual clients, keep up with their recurring needs and nurture their long-term business. This is what a sales cycle is and why you need to map out how yours looks. Everyone has a different way of getting new business. Perhaps you find new customers through a health club or church you belong to. Whatever works for your style of client acquisition is fine, but remember to write down your system and follow it on a regular basis in order to build up your initial customer base.
Set Your Prices
The first question prospective clients ask is “How much do you charge?” You’ll need to list out all your individual skills on a spreadsheet and decide how much you will charge for an hour of each. Consider offering discounted packages for customers who need lots of work. The key point is to have a solid number you can tell someone who asks, “What are your rates?”
In fact, your verbal rate sheet should be part of your standard pitch. When someone behind you at the deli says, “Hey, I saw the logo on your bag that said, ‘Ask me! I’m a web design pro.’ How much would you charge to help my brother with his new dental practice website,” you want to have a ready answer and a business card to give them.
Keep Regular Hours
If you’re recently just out of school, there’s a chance that your daily routine is anything but set in stone. When you’re in business for yourself, you’ll need to accustom your body and mind to keeping regular hours. Your customers will expect to be able to call you during most weekdays and maybe during a few weekend hours for emergency website assistance. Try to get regular sleep, make time for recreation and stick to at least 40 office hours per week.