Topic: Just starting out... How do I get some starter sites?

Greetings all,

I just caught wind of this site last week and have loved what I have seen so far.  As the title of this post states, I'm just beginning to (re)start do some design work.  While I was in college I did some web work at night to help pay for some of the bills, but the web has changed dramatically since then.  I've been keeping up with standards based dev and really enjoy the design aspect of development (ie branding, visuals, layout, print...).  I just stripped my old site of all the extremely old content last week looking to start fresh (http://www.creativedivergence.com/). 

I already work full time as a Windows Systems Admin, but would like to start picking up projects on the side to help supplement our income (my wife is currently doing the very difficult but enjoyable job of staying home with our 3yr, 2yr, and 10mo olds smile ).  I need some practical advice of building a portfolio and getting starter clients/projects.  I have about 4 years of experience on the Network and Systems side of technology.  But the my web dev experience is out-dated and the sites that I use to maintain had been passed off to others once I started to have kids.

Thanks for the help!

Last edited by orli (2006-11-13 08:21:43)

Re: Just starting out... How do I get some starter sites?

I was a pastor for eight years and just dabbled in web design. Then I left the ministry and started to build a business. Frankly, it is less about talent than it is just doing work. I started out doing my own projects; then trying to do REAL web sites for anyone who would give me a chance.

The most important thing is running a good project; not just building a site for your portfolio. Why? referrals is where you get real jobs. The more good projects you run, the more clients will refer you to others. It builds but it takes time.

But I'd set realistic goals; most web projects will never pay enough to make a living. So you got to have a strategy for how to make money in addition to designing sites -- like adsense on a blog, building your own web application, selling web host services, consulting, graphic design (print) or selling icons or WordPress blog templates.

I personally am not able to string together enough good paying gigs to do it full-time. But I bootstrap having a full time web design job (it took me about three years to be qualified to get the job I have now). The projects I do now are hard because I fit them in my free time (with little kids this is challenging -- but I don't need much sleep.

One caution, keep doing free work to a minimum. If you do, invoice your client and discount your project to zero. This way you know AND they know what web design is worth.

Re: Just starting out... How do I get some starter sites?

Oh -- there are three skills web designers can have:

* Graphic design (look feel, purely Photoshop skills)
* XHTML/CSS (taking Photoshop files and turning them into valid XHTML/CSS pages or templates for Textpattern or Wordpress)
* Programming (php, or Ruby on Rails or some kind of development skills)

Basically, a successful designer needs 2 of the 3. (Rarely do they have all three). I chose to focus on #1 and #2. But I'd advise you to focus.

* If your going to do Photoshop (I like Fireworks), make sure you have great skills and know how to design stuff that can be coded via CSS/XHTML.
* If your going to code markup/CSS, learn web standards and CSS. Be an expert. It doesn't take much.
* Development -- this is in my skill set but it can range from AJAX, JavaScript to PHP to Ruby on Rails to JAVA or .NET.

I might also add the there seems to be a new skill set for interaction designers of rich web experiences -- AJAX stuff. It is one thing to design successive screens -- its a new skill to design how a screen changes as the user interacts with it. Then another to code that experience.

I also believe that the a web designer needs to be a skilled project manager; no matter what their skill set. It is also a value add if you understand online marketing.

Re: Just starting out... How do I get some starter sites?

I think that in order to consider oneself a "web designer" a person must have at least proficiency in both design and XHTML/CSS. According to Cameron Moll, and I whole-heartedly agree, those who only do design do not really have a place at the table, when considering those who do both. I would take a good-looking functional site, over a great-looking static mockup any day of the week. If someone is going to focus only on graphics, then they should push themselves to be good at print as well, so they are the "total package" when it comes to visuals. Such a person would be a "graphic designer" but not a "web designer".

When it comes to JavaScript (technically a programming language), I think this is something that both web designers and true programmers can be good at, though the web designer probably has a leg-up if he/she understands the Document Object Model - and you will, if you get really comfortable with XHTML/CSS, using descendant selectors to style things, rather than tons of <div>'s. If someone knows just graphics, XHTML/CSS then I would say they're a "web designer", but as they delve more into JavaScript and using CMS's, then that blurs the lines into "developer".

Cameron Moll wrote:

Those who code XHTML/CSS as well as they design will always have an edge over those who only design. You’re able to foresee potential layout and coding issues while the comp is still being designed. The benefits of such are rarely overrated, as time and money is saved and frustration is minimized.

Source: http://www.cameronmoll.com/archives/001211.html

Give me liturgy or give me death.

Re: Just starting out... How do I get some starter sites?

I would agree, you do need to be proficient in at least XHTML and CSS, manipulating CSS using DOM is an extra ace in the pack something I am working on in my own skills. Having a good knowledge of color and layout of elements is very useful and will set you apart from other professionals. Understanding how people use sites and the ability to work with people of more technical ability, such as dedicated programmers will also put you higher in people’s eyes.

Re: Just starting out... How do I get some starter sites?

I wholeheartedly agree with everything that's been said so far. Tim's point is well-taken: it can be difficult to do freelance web design full-time, so you need to offer more than just coding services. One of the things that my clients (mostly non-profits) like is that I can offer them the whole package: graphic design, coding XHTML + CSS, hosting, email newsletters, blog customization, webmaster services, and consulting on everything from SEO to SEM to figuring out how to use their computers better. The average web client doesn't want to deal with three or four or five people for their site, so you're better off being able to add value by adding services.

I also started off doing projects for free (my church's site, personal sites, etc) until people started bugging me to do their business sites. My first price sheet listed a by-the-page price of $30, and I was happy to get it. I've slowly narrowed down the free work I do, raising my prices regularly based on the amount of work I have waiting.

Having tried and failed to go full-time four years ago, and being full-time now, I can say without hesitation that I believe God's blessing to be on my work at this point...otherwise I'd be running a customer service department for a tech company somewhere, wishing I could do what I do now. Because of this belief, I'd suggest that the main thing to consider is whether you're seeking God's kingdom first.

We're all looking forward to the future...but none of us more than the giant, evil robots.