If you’re thinking about becoming a web designer, this is a compilation of stories on how successful web designers got started and what they’ve learned along the way, which I hope will give you a good amount of inspiration and practical tips that will be highly beneficial to you. Here are the main pieces of advice that have been submitted so far (for each point, I’ve linked to the full comment including the story of how the designer got started):
- Take the first 1-2 years to really learn the trade and work with clients directly, and after that, look to leverage talent around you or abroad that you can subcontract out to earn more profits with less work (link)
- You have to be a good communicator. So much of the success in any freelance service is the ability to communicate your value to a potential client and to listen to their challenges and show them you can help with solutions (link)
- Be constantly learning and reaching out to other designers (link)
- Learn as much as you can on your own, and work for a few years for a larger agency (link)
- Think about the user and their experience (link)
- Join Facebook groups and networking groups for business owners and freelancers (link) (EDITORS NOTE: We’ve also published an excellent compilation of networking tips that would definitely be helpful for web designers)
- Never be afraid to apply for a web design job (link)
But this is just a summary, so I strongly recommend reading through all the comments below in their entirety. Also, if you happen to be an established web developer yourself, you’re welcome to add a comment to this article: click here to make a submission.
I got started in website design back in 1999 (can’t believe it’s been over 20 years now!!). At the time I started, I worked in the computer lab of my university and kept getting asked by lab users how to do things in photoshop. I wasn’t trained on it so I took the slow time at work to brush up on it and learn it. Being “a creative” by nature, it fascinated me and was easy for me to pick up. I then became the Web Design Directory for the Minority Business Society and from there, I built my first client site for an interior design company in south Florida for a whopping $300 (which was a lot back then haha).
My tips would be from my experience to become a business and thought leader first and foremost. Being a web designer is a great asset however scalability to really make this career field super lucrative is very important. Also, if you don’t want to push pixels for a living, it’s better to learn the ropes of web design and then start to accumulate a team of designers that you can hand projects off to. This frees up more of your own time and will help you earn more, faster. So take the first 1-2 years to really learn the trade and work with clients directly, and after that, look to leverage talent around you or abroad that you can subcontract out to to earn more profits with less work!
This has worked amazingly for me over the past 2 decades.
Fast forward to today, my digital agency has been awarded as one of the top agencies in Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Atlanta GA.
--Will Manuel, Core Media Concepts
In 1996, I was 20 years old and just a few years out of high school. I was doing freelance graphic design work at the time and one day my father said, “Why don’t you design web sites?” Like most people, I had little experience browsing the World Wide Web at the time but was always a bit technical so I went down to the local bookstore (pre-Amazon days!) and purchased “Teach Yourself HTML in 14 Days”. I read through it, practiced it and then bought ‘Teach Yourself More HTML in 14 days” shortly after. I was a web developer!
A lot has changed since those early days. In years later, I would teach myself SEO, learn web hosting and WordPress. There is still so much more to learn and never enough hours in the day. My advice to people considering entering the field, start small, narrow and specialize. Digital marketing and web technologies is so wide and broad now. Pick a specialty you have interest in and start learning. There is so much you can learn from free online these days. Find a method to learn that works for you. Sites like Udemy.com have a lot of pre-recorded courses that can be a great starting point with instructor support. Don’t take to be an expert at everything. I realized very quickly that there were creative designers with stronger design skills than me so I would contract with them to help with the designs and I would handle the build out of web sites from that point.
You also have to be a good communicator. So much of the success in any freelance service is the ability to communicate your value to a potential client and to listen to their challenges and show them you can help with solutions. There are lots of people in this space and so often what wins the project is your authenticity and ability to connect with the prospect!
--Link Moser, Windhill Design
I am a freelancer web designer doing freelancing full time. I live in Toronto, Ontario and it is not easy to survive here without good income. I started out with web designing because of my few friends from back home (India). I saw them making good money with web designing and boasting it out on social media networks. This gave me a push to start out my new adventure in the world of web designing and development. I do not have computer background which made it only difficult for me to start but I did not give in and kept myself focused by learning relevant skills. I took few courses online from LinkedIn and from Udemy. It helped me gain basics and from there, I did everything on my own by practising. I started designing my own blogs and then started working with SEO on it. Slowly, I got good grip over it and could design a customized website the way you want. Luckily, I got couple of local business to design their website and then started selling my services on Fiverr. From there, I started flying in the world of web designing and development. Today, I, successfully, am managing bunch of websites and have done lots and lots of website designing for local businesses. I would say, it all started with the need to survive myself and the drive to do the best.
--Aditya Vyas, brightvi.com
I got my start in college by getting my degree in Graphic Design. I was originally a communication major but found the creativity of Graphic Design a lot more interesting. After finishing school, I took a job as a product designer for many years while designing websites as an odd job on the side. The fortuitous meetup between myself and Brandon Howard, the CEO of All My Web Needs, didn't happen until years down the road at a birthday party for a mutual friend.
We both were building websites at the time, and I had the design knowledge that Brandon needed to compliment his programming. At the time, our knowledge and experience combined to create one great web designer. It started out with me working on a project basis until Brandon offered me a full-time position. Over the year, we have both learned from one another and have bettered each other by learning different aspects of web design.
I'd say that one major tip I can give to any aspiring web designer is to be constantly learning and reaching out to other designers. One thing I did when I first started was taking existing websites and redesigning them to improve my skills. I then would send them to other designers or with Brandon to get feedback on the new design that I had come up with. The web design space is becoming more accepting in the fact that designers are becoming less critical. Designers are learning how to broaden their horizon and learn new styles. Getting this feedback from others in the field helped me grow tremendously early on.
--Cory Jones, All My Web Needs
I had always wanted to go into web design but I graduated college right after the dot-com bust. I went down another career path for many years until about 6 years ago when I was put on bed rest with my 3rd child and he was born early. It was no longer a good choice for our family for me stay on at my current company. While I was home, I thought it was the perfect time for me to switch to my dream career of being a web designer. I checked out many books at the library, took a community night class at my local arts college, and practiced in my very limited spare time. As, my child started preschool, I started building websites for people for a low price and for free for non-profits. I built up my portfolio and started charging more. As I had more free time, I started refining my web design prices, networking, and marketing my business more. My youngest started Kindergarten this past Fall, which I then pursued web design full-time last year. I now have a full-time web design business and expecting to expand my business this year to hire my first contractor to help with my growing business. I still dedicated 10% of my time to education and personal/business growth and have hired a group coach to inspire me and guide me. I also spend about 10-20% of my time marketing my business. I love what I do and I love all the aspects of running my own web design business. If you have the will and passion to be a web designer, it is a wonderful career.
--Jessica Rhoades, Create IT Web Designs
When I first started building websites, I was working in a commercial bread factory. I wanted to leave that career, so I started learning web design from online school and courses. About ten years ago, I built websites for family and friends, just to get practice in and learn how to design and build web projects. After a year of that, I started selling websites to local businesses, and also subcontracting for other agencies virtually. The next few years I completed scores of websites for agencies, to learn what made good design, and how to manage a web project successfully.
For those wanting to start a career in web design, learn as much as you can on your own, and work for a few years for a larger agency. It's very difficult to get enough clients to support your own business when you are first starting out. I encourage you to work on your personal brand as much as you can from day one. Share what you are learning about web design. Start a blog, start a YouTube, interact with your peers around the world, and build relationships with other web designers. Cultivating your expertise, and building a name for yourself within the industry will help you get more work and publicity in the future. The worst thing you can be as a web designer is someone who focuses only on the design or development work, and doesn't have time for self-promotion or marketing. Make time every day for marketing yourself, and in a few years, you will have colleagues who will help you sustain your business.
--John Locke, Lockedown Design & SEO
I’ve been in IT for 30 years but only transitioned into website design in the past two, going fully freelance in February this year so that I can have a flexible lifestyle and be around for my family.
I started my IT career as a programmer in the late 1980s, then moving into systems analysis and project management. I missed the technical side of the industry though so I started a blog in 2018 which meant that I got closer to the coding aspects that I’d been craving for so long.
Then in 2019 a friend asked me to build a website for his business, and then another. It made me wonder if I could turn that into a real job so I started reaching out and pitching for more work. I picked up some content writing, SEO analysis and social media management assignments too, all of which I’d learned from my blog.
I’ve now been working as a freelancer for six months and I absolutely love it. I’ve built more than a dozen websites and my clients are delighted with what I do. I offer them excellent service and help out with all aspects of marketing their businesses. I love being able to see my elderly mum when she needs me as well as supervising my 12 year old son’s homeschooling during lockdown. I’ve now got a wait list for my website design and build services and am really looking forward to starting my next project.
My biggest tip for web design is always think about the user and their experience. I hate it when I can’t find the information I want on a website so I always try and make things like contact details really prominent and ensure navigation is easy.
--Ali Richards, Summerley Digital
How I got started:
I began my corporate career as web designer for a financial institution as my second job out of college. I designed landing pages, social media graphics, website banners, etc. For me, I was wearing a lot of hats besides being just a web designer. We were a small team, so I took on basically any digital design related task and figured out how to handle anything from videography, photography, video editing and animation. As I was working in corporate, I realized I did not want to climb the corporate ladder and I knew I wanted to be my own boss. I started a lifestyle blog on the side to channel my creativity. I built my own blog using a template and started playing around with customizing it based on the features I needed. I also did a lot of research on online marketing techniques to generate more traffic and optimize for SEO. Over time, I started sharing about my experience as a graphic designer on my social media account for my blog and I booked my first client from that platform. From that first client, I booked 2 more clients and that was the start of my business. I began freelancing in 2018 and my 2019 I took the leap to go full time. I now work on 2-3 website clients per month, along with other design related client projects, and I help service based females build the websites and brands of their dreams.
Tips and Advice for Getting Started:
The biggest piece of advice I have for aspiring designers is to start! Use yourself as a guinea pig and build yourself a website or ask a family member or friend who is starting a business or venture if you can help them on the side to gain some experience and build your portfolio! Reach out to your personal network on social media and tell people what you are doing! Also, network online to find clients! Join Facebook groups and networking groups for business owners and freelancers! I still book a ton of clients by connecting with people through online Facebook groups! Wherever your ideal client hangs out, that's where you should hang out too. Then once you start consistently booking clients and you have a portfolio under your belt. Like 3-5 websites or projects you want to show, RAISE YOUR PRICES.
When we start out, we automatically think we should charge really low fees because we feel as though we don't have enough experience to warrant being paid a significant amount, when the thing is, we are providing a tool to our clients for them to make money. If you're charging $750 for a website (that was me! My first website!), I can GUARANTEE my client made more than $750 in bookings from the first website I designed for her. Create prices around the value of the service we are providing, the expertise and client experience you provide, AND for the transformation we are providing to our clients' businesses. The last and final tip, don't feel like you have to do everything in your business yourself. I used to think that in order to design websites for clients I had to be the designer and the developer. I quickly realized I do not have the skillset to execute the coding for the types of designs I wanted to create. I realized I could outsource the development of my websites and focus only on my expertise (the strategy and the design), and now I can create a better quality website for my clients and outsource the part of the job I do not enjoy. I build that pricing into my packages for my clients and now I'm freed up to work on other tasks that I enjoy and excel at while a final design that I created is in development. It's totally changed by business for the better!
--Jade Buford, J. Alexandria Creative
The first piece of advice I would give an aspiring web designer is to never be afraid to apply for a web design job. I remember when I was first applying and I hardly had anything in my portfolio, I felt like I still needed years to prepare before I applied for anything related to design. Luckily, I was surrounded by people who pushed me out of my comfort zone and reminded me that the worst thing that could happen was that I wouldn't get the job. My first UX/UI experience was for a small startup in Salt Lake City as an unpaid intern. I worked at a daycare during the day and once I got home I would spend an hour or two working on projects for them. I eventually got hired on there, but that time where I was working for free was an important investment in my UI/UX future. Even if I hadn't been hired on, I still would have gained actual work that I could put in my portfolio and experience to put on my resume. All the jobs I have gotten since my days at the startup have been in large part because of the work I did while I was at the startup. So, my second piece of advice is to find a way to get experience. It doesn't have to be a startup, you could volunteer your time at a non-profit that you care about (they need web designers, too), or maybe you help a friend out with a project they are working on. Find something you can do to start getting experience that will strengthen your portfolio and give you something to talk about when you get that interview for your dream job.
--Anna Jarman, Work with Objective