Help me set myself up
July 21, 2008 4:36 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to start doing more web design. I'm looking for a specific type of client. How do I go about setting myself up?

Over the last few years I've self-taught myself some web design skills. I'm no expert coder, but I'm told I have good aesthetic taste. I'd like to start doing web design on a paid basis (in the past it's all been personal sites and gratis work for friends).

An example of the type of client I would want would be an author/artist/small business that wants an attractive and professional online presence without shelling out hundreds and thousands of dollars for a big time designer.

So, basically, my question is how do I go about establishing myself and finding clients the fit my description?
posted by Autarky to Work & Money (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Networking at:

Spoken Word events
Art Galleries
Writer forums on the web
Craft fairs and farmer's markets
People your friends know
posted by rhizome at 4:50 PM on July 21, 2008

Good luck Autarky, I am a web professional myself, and have been so for over a decade...I'm more of a developer but also do design and have contractors that do heavy duty design for my company.

Anyway, there are a lot of web pros out there- sounds like you have a good idea to form a niche, and that is a good plan. You def have to differentiate yourself and you have a good idea for that.

Make sure you spend time reading current and back issues of places like A List Apart, Smashing Magazine and other reputable sources for good coding and design ideas/practices. Learn web standards and good techniques, and represent our field as a pro, not a hack. We have enough of those types to fight against for business.
posted by Chuck Cheeze at 4:51 PM on July 21, 2008

There are lots of little interactive web agencies that often need contract / freelance assistance. You may want to get established by working for a few of the local companies while you build your network and your referrals.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:41 PM on July 21, 2008

When a (current) colleague of mine went design-freelance a few years ago before ending up in my office, he sent out postcards to 200 companies that interested him and in the field of industry he felt he had the best chance with. He heard back from four of them and two became clients. That's a pretty good success, if you consider the billing and time it takes to design worthwhile web products.
posted by parmanparman at 6:24 PM on July 21, 2008

Best answer: Make yourself a website with a portfolio (that's where all that gratis work will come in handy) and add your marketing spin for the author/artist/small business crowd. It serves the dual purpose of showing what you can do while at the same time providing some online advertising for you.

Then get networking. Put out the word with friends, family, your former gratis clients, and business contacts that you are available. Go where your clients are. The postcard idea above sounds good for small businesses. If you're looking for authors, try the LuLu forums. For artists, I would try giving a few business cards to art galleries and maybe hang a flyer in coffee shops or other local artist hang outs.
posted by geeky at 7:46 PM on July 21, 2008

"I'm no expert coder, but I'm told I have good aesthetic taste. "

There are lots of coders out there with absolutely no aesthetic taste, so I think your best bet for getting started is looking around for web developers in need of design services so they can take on bigger and more varied projects. Create a really good portfolio site for yourself and start by informally contacting local firms for a chat; you're not a big, established company so don't try to pretend to be one.

You can obviously pursue your own clients in parallel but bear in mind that even if doing simple brochureware, nowadays people often expect things like blogging/content management, search engine optimisation and valid, accessible code, and you'll need to be able to set up hosting & email for them. The bar's very slightly higher than the days when creating a few pages of HTML was seen as near-magical, and at the low end you're competing with DIY page creation and outsourcing to low-wage countries.
posted by malevolent at 12:03 AM on July 22, 2008

Best answer: Networking is the way to go here. You do need to have your own site; eat-your-own-dog-food essentially in that a web designer without a website is a red flag.

But past that, hit up small business networking groups and consider cold calling some. You'd be surprised how receptive companies can be, especially if they're new (read: freshly published in the legal briefings section of the newspaper and clearly in need of a website) or if they know their site sucks.

Have a good, solid price range for them and let them know what that typically includes. And make sure your body of work is decent.
posted by disillusioned at 12:57 AM on July 22, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, this helps a lot.
posted by Autarky at 7:20 AM on July 22, 2008

Best answer: I've been looking at a similar path into freelancing. I am on the coding side of things, with little aesthetic skill.

The biggest thing I've been doing is getting myself into the local group of web designers. They have a meetup every month with ~20 people, some working freelance, some working in small companies. Getting to know these people gets my name out there, and lets them know that I'm a coder looking for work.

On the design side of things, a portfolio site is vital. Go volunteer for a local charity or two and build a simple site for them. Then put it up on your personal portfolio site, with all the details of backend and management, and what went into it.

Learning a content management system (Joomla, Drupal, CMS Made Simple...) will make your life easier. It's just as easy to style as plain html, but provides added value to the client, and makes editing content, adding photos, blogs, and other features much easier.

If you want to go after artists, learn to configure the CMS in such a way that it makes their lives easy. They want to upload galleries of their work, have a calendar of shows they'll be playing, or offer free mp3s.

There is lots of content out there talking about what to charge. The big thing to remember is that getting billable hours is HARD, and there's lots of work to be done that simply isn't billable. Accounting, finding new business, and learning are all things that you really can't charge for. So an hourly rate of $50 sounds outrageous, but remember that it has to cover all those hours you don't work (and the extra self-employment taxes!).

To sum up: network with business and also your competitors, learn to value-add over generic html, and find the right price range and stick to it.
posted by cschneid at 9:06 AM on July 22, 2008

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