What tips do you have for designers on starting a business or small company? What should be done and what should be avoided?
Henry Jones: I have a couple of tips for designers who want to make it on their own. First, establish a high profile or, in other words, become well known in the design community. This may sound like a daunting task, but it can actually be quite easy if you have the proper skills. There are several ways to accomplish this, but probably the easiest is to have your portfolio and other projects featured on popular design galleries. This will lead to your work being seen by thousands of people each day, both fellow designers and potential clients. It is actually surprising just how many potential clients visit these websites in search of design talent. Once you have established a high profile, you will find that little to no effort is needed to find new projects, because they will find you.
Secondly, don’t take on more than you can handle. Once those emails start rolling in with requests for your services, you will naturally want to say ‘yes’ to all of them, because establishing a good client base is important for a new design business. However, doing so can be detrimental to your reputation if you are unable to keep up and deliver high quality on all of your projects. A better approach is to only take on the projects that interest you and that are a good fit for your skill-set.
Liam McKay: When I went self-employed and started my blog and small design company I never really had a real plan. The only things I had were a lot of confidence and a solid understanding of good design. I saved a bit of money from old jobs and decided to dedicate some time to building my blog and some free resources to give away upon the launch of the blog. I was very conscious of the fact that a steady stream of traffic could bring a lot of potential clients, so the whole point behind the free icon set and free WordPress themes was purely to generate traffic, followers, friends and ultimately clients. The design community is definitely a very welcoming place; it’s a community always searching for new information, resources, opinions and inspiration. It’s very easy to get involved, whether by making your own blog or website or by participating on other blogs. If you are looking to start your own blog or design company, it would be stupid to neglect the impact that involvement in the design and development community can have.
After working with my partner Spencer on building the blog and realizing how good he was at WordPress (and just how versatile WordPress is as a CMS), I decided that our best bet was to focus on our strengths: good design and solid WordPress development. Because of our focus on these areas, a lot of the work requests we got were based on WordPress, which made things a lot easier in terms of pricing, quotes and dealing with clients. People already knew what to expect: they knew what WordPress was, what it could do and what we could do for them. So without a doubt, associating ourselves with the two things we do best was a clever idea because it allowed us to focus on our strong points, and it meant that our clients were already very clued in to what we could do for them.
Jonathan Snook: One of the most important things to remember about running a design business is the business side. It’s easy to get wrapped up in designing and client work, but you also need to be able to manage cash flow, taxes and sub-contracting, among other things. You also need to make sure you’re charging enough for the work that you’re doing. If you’re used to a full-time job that pays you $25 an hour, you may think that charging $35 an hour is worthwhile. Unfortunately, when you start tracking your time (and you should, even just a little bit), you’ll realize just how little work you can reasonably get done in a day. That $35 an hour averaged over the course of a day starts looking like $10 an hour.
Chris Spooner: First, being confident in your skills and abilities is a great place to start before offering paid services. It’s also a good idea to keep this in mind when taking on work, and not entering into projects that require coding languages and design styles that you’re not completely familiar with. With this in mind, it’s always useful to describe your specific skills or limit your work to a particular niche.
Keeping up to date in the industry is also crucial, especially with the world of Web design moving at an exceptionally fast rate. Being knowledgeable about upcoming changes, styles and new languages will keep you at the top of the game. Being an active blogger or social media user is a great way to constantly feed yourself and share this knowledge with fellow designers.
Andy Budd: The freelance market is extremely saturated, so to stand out from the crowd you need to be good at what you do and be able to prove it. This means developing a great portfolio of work for high-profile clients and then showcasing it in magazines, online galleries and events. It’s very difficult to develop this quality of work by focusing on end clients, so I’d recommend working with agencies that can expose you to larger, more complicated projects. I recommend that both designers and developers specialize. For example, aim to be the best designer, front-end developer or Ruby developer in your particular area, and people will seek you out.
Jon Hicks: My biggest tip is, ignore your accounting at your peril. Make sure you keep money aside from each invoice for your tax bill, and ensure that all your paperwork is in order. If you have any doubts about keeping your own books, don’t waste time with accounting software: hire a bookkeeper and accountant. If you compare the cost of them doing it to you doing it at your hourly rate (and possibly getting it wrong), which would you rather do? They’ll also be able to advise you on running your business and how to save on your tax bill.
What main principles should you follow in designing a portfolio website?
Larissa Meek: Showcase your best work and not all of your work. Case studies are a great way to highlight the strategy behind your design choices.
The portfolio of Shannon Moeller from Colorado, US.
Elliot Jay Stocks: Provide links as well as images (in fact, any portfolio that just shows images without any links that people can follow to verify the work is, in my opinion, a bad and potentially unreliable one). Let the work shine, and allow the content to breathe. Be honest about what you did or didn’t do on a project. Wow the visitor by showing them the breadth of your work, but at the same time don’t bog them down with too much content. Include a minimal amount of written content with each portfolio piece, unless it’s a specific case study. Keep case studies to a minimum: five is enough, and any more won’t get read.
Gregory Wood impresses the visitors of his blog with unconventional layout; every blog post has its own, unique design.
Veerle Pieters: First of all, the work should do the talking, because it is your calling card. If you are a Web designer, you should use W3C guidelines as best practice. Take care of the little details that show the labor of love, such as thinking about typography. Don’t use a completely Flash-based website, but use Flash in a well thought out way. Don’t make things overly complicated by over-innovating. Put yourself in the mind of potential clients and think of how many steps are needed to get a picture of the work. Don’t be afraid to show your work at a big size, so that potential clients really see the details without having to squint at tiny images. Be honest about what your part was in a job. All too often, I see examples of people who aren’t clear about their part in the process so that clients will believe they did it all. This doesn’t help you in the long run. There isn’t anything wrong with specializing. You don’t have to be a one-stop shop to be successful.
Chris Spooner: Because a portfolio website is a showcase of a designer’s skills and knowledge, I think the main principles are to present a good understanding and knowledge of design theory by putting them into practice with the actual design of the portfolio itself. However, I also believe that the overall portfolio design shouldn’t be so brash and in your face that it takes away from the examples of your work; so, I’d say a slightly minimalist design that focuses on layout and typography is a good style to aim for.
An insightful “About” page is also a handy addition to any portfolio. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to prospective clients and allows for that interaction between your personality and the users.
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